Part of the charm of city living are the no-frills accommodations. Plain white paint coats your walls, trim, and door frames, a standard boob light is mounted on your ceiling, and you probably have an austere radiator in the corner in every room. Nondescript, metallic, and efficient, these things heat your home well—but if you’ve lived with one long enough, you know there are drawbacks. For instance, they’re loud as hell.
Sometimes they hiss. Sometimes they clang. Sometimes they gurgle like a fishbowl. It can be hard to focus (or sleep) when your radiator is making a racket, but good luck getting your landlord in to fix it. Or maybe you own an older home, and the problem is yours alone (congrats!). In either case, there are a few things you can try to quiet down your radiator right away, without calling in a professional (or bothering the super again).
How to fix a gurgling radiator
An old TimeOut New York post accurately describes this signature radiator sound as like “your dad gurgling Listerine for hours at a time.” This isn’t quite a clang or a bang, but is definitely a nuisance that you’re familiar with if you’ve lived with a radiator through a winter or two. They just kind of…slosh and grumble.
Luckily, this is likely caused by accumulated air within the radiator and can be fixed easily by “bleeding” some excess water out of the device. To do this, you’ll need a radiator key, a cheap little piece of metal you can pick up for about $5 at Home Depot. At the top of your radiator, you should see a valve that this key fits on. Turn it counterclockwise slowly until water dribbles out. Place a towel underneath the radiator to catch any major drips.
How to fix a hissing radiator
No, your inflatable chair hasn’t sprung a leak, nor has a snake emerged from the toilet: That’s your radiator is hissing. Air that is not supposed to be escaping is somehow finding its way out of the thing. You might thing, hey, free white noise machine! Which is fine until you have to hop on a video call and no one can hear you over the din.
According to Bob Vila, to deal with this issue, try closing your intake valve and removing your steam vent, then soaking it overnight in a bowl of vinegar to dissolve calcium deposits that could be contributing to noise. You can also just buy a new steam vent at the hardware store for a few dollars. Bring some pictures of your radiator to help the sales associates find you what you need.
How to fix a banging radiator
Banging radiators are a little more insidious than their gurgling and hissing counterparts because they can scare the hell out of you and wake you from a sound sleep (or at least, wake me from a sound sleep). Call it knocking or call it clanging, this sound is absolutely obnoxious.
According to A Good Plumber, the noise is usually attributable to steam in the radiator coming into contact with cooler water, which itself may be caused by a leaky valve. You could also have a dirty boiler or back-pitched pipe. Add a few shims under the lower end of the radiator so it tips toward your boiler, which will stop cooler water from settling where it will encounter steam.
Other tips to avoid noise
Bleeding, shimmying, and cleaning your radiator are the top ways to combat unwanted sounds. Do all three of these early in the fall—or whenever you can—to prevent most noises.
Never keep your radiator valve partially open. Either shut it all the way or keep it all the way open. If you’ve ever kept yours in a halfway position, you probably know it makes it run louder already, but A Good Plumber points out that when non-professionals mess with the valves too often, they can damage them, creating leaks—and more sounds.
You can also add a little insulation around the steam pipes near your radiator to muffle any noise they’re making. My apartment has two radiators on opposite ends of the living room, but three big pipes that help heat the bathroom and my bedroom. They are the culprit in the majority of my noise complaints, but simple, pre-made pipe insulation drastically reduces their annoyingness. You can buy purpose-made insulation jackets, so check the hardware store and ask about which ones are recommended for pipes that get very hot. Or ask your landlord to handle it. Maybe by next winter you’ll be set.