Stripper can be your best friend for those pesky old steam pipes in our precious pre-war buildings. Those of us who walk by our kitchen or bathroom pole and cringe at how rusty the peeling paint has gotten might not realize how easy it is to get it to look brand-spanking new! All you need is stripper (spray), high heat spray paint (in various colors), after wash, gloves, goggles, a mask and a scraper tool.
Behind the pole, tape up drop cloth (or just cut into plastic shopping bags the long way) to protect your wall. With gloves, mask and goggles on (this stuff is toxic), start at the top and spray the stripper solution generously over as much surface area as you can reach. You can do the entire pole but sometimes it's easier to do it in two or three parts. The stripper will drip down and start working on the lower half.
Let it sit on there, working its magic, for a good 20 minutes. You'll see in the photo that it does a lot of the work for you. Once time has passed, take your scraping tool and go to town. Scrape down so it all collects on the floor on top of your plastic drop cloth and doesn't land on any exposed skin. You might not get it all off the first time. I had to spray it twice to get some of the more stuck-on pieces. Be patient though. Let the solution work for you so you have less scraping to do. Behind the pole, where your spray range may not have been ideal, you might have to just scrape at that and do your best. But remember, no one will see that portion so don't worry too much as long as big bits are gone.
Once you've removed as much as possible, use the after wash on a rag or stripper cloths to clean residue off for painting. Once it's dry to the touch, start at the top and work your way down with the high heat paint. Spray far enough away so you don't make drip marks. You might have to do two coats since the pole is quite dark stripped down to the metal and you'll notice shadows with just one coat. To finish off the pole at the base, you can buy a $4 chrome plate to cover up any nasty bits.
This is obviously not a job to do with kids around. There may be lead paint on portions of the pipe depending on when it was last stripped. But the result is a pole you can rub your hand down and not get cut. And let's not forget the best part, it's pristine. Viola!
Steam and water may still leak down your pipe but it usually takes 3-4 years before signs of rust start showing up again. If this happens, you can skip most of these steps and just put another coat of the high heat paint on. Some folks might spray Great Stuff in any crevice up top to stop leaking but my friendly Home Depot experts said that this will not matter since the condensation from the steam doesn't have to travel through those holes.