Why Is My Towel Rail Radiator Not Heating Up?

Do you have a cold towel rail radiator? Let's discover the reason why its stopped working.

Towel rail radiators are a superb addition to any bathroom and are often fitted as an upgrade. These types of radiators are often typically-shaped and are taller than average, but they’re still radiators at heart!

Like all radiators, towel radiators are subject to issues, but luckily, most are fairly easy to fix.

Here’s what to do if your towel rail radiator isn’t heating up.

So why is my bathroom towel rail radiator not heating up?

There are a few possibilities that depend on whether the fault developed in an existing towel radiator or a newly fitted towel radiator.

If your radiator is new and isn't heating up properly, check the valves at each end of the radiator. There should be two; one going in (the thermostatic or TRV valve) and one heading out (the lockshield valve).

Modern grey Lockshield valve

Ensure the valves are not closed or are sufficiently open. Also, some modern TRV valves are bi-directional, but it’s still better to fit them in the flow pipe going into the radiator - check that each valve is fitted on the right side.

If the radiator still doesn’t work, shut your other radiators off and see if it heats up on its own. If the cold radiator begins to heat up, this points to a balancing issue. A balance issue means that water in the system fails to reach every radiator.

Problem 1: Towel radiator needs bleeding

Most radiators should be bled once a year. Bleeding involves releasing small quantities of obstructive excess air and water from the radiator.

Most bleed valves are located in the top corner of the radiator and can be opened with a bleed key or screwdriver.

Problem 2: Valves are closed or seized

Check the valve on each end of the radiator to see if they’re sufficiently open. If you can verify that the valves are open, then the valve pin inside might be stuck.

The valves might seize if your heating has been turned off for a long time. Paint, dust and debris can also seize the valve.

Problem 3: There is a blockage

Older radiators can become blocked with sludge, limescale and debris. This might cause only portions of the radiator to heat up or for it to not heat up properly at all. Blockages can also form in the valves or pipes (though this is less common).

Problem 4: Flow and balancing issues

Heating systems need to distribute warm water to all radiators in the home, but can become unbalanced. A balancing issue might cause your towel radiator to heat up slowly or not achieve maximum temperature.

Turn off all other radiators in your home apart from the one you’re having issues with; you’ll be able to diagnose a balancing problem if your problematic radiator proceeds to heat up properly in isolation of the other radiators.

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How can I fix my cold bathroom radiator?

Most bathroom radiator issues should be relatively straightforward to fix. Sometimes, it might be necessary to disassemble the valves or check the cold water feed in the loft, which might require the service of a trained heating engineer.

Solution 1: Bleed the radiator

Bleeding the radiator is quick and easy and should be your first port of call for common radiator issues. First, turn off your heating and allow the radiator to cool. Then, locate the bleed valve (typically in the top corner of the radiator - there might be one or two).

Bleed key inserted into radiator

Use a bleed key or screwdriver to gradually loosen the valve until you hear air rushing out (some water might leak out, too, so place a towel on the floor if needed).

Once the radiator stops releasing air (not water), shut the valve tightly.

Watch out for valves that don’t open properly because they’re clogged with paint - you might need to carefully dig some of the paint out before you can open them!

If too much water leaks out during the bleed process, you might need to top up the system to obtain good pressure.


Solution 2: Fixing closed or seized valves

If your towel radiator is newly installed or you’ve recently altered the settings on the valves, make sure the valves are sufficiently open. If the valves seem fine on the outside, they might have seized on the inside.

To fix seized valves, firstly remove the valve head to reveal the valve pin. Use the flat part of a screwdriver to loosen the valve pin - it should spring freely between open and closed positions. Make sure you refit the valve head properly to align with the current settings.

Solution 3: Remove the blockage

Blockages can form practically anywhere; in the valve, plumbing or the radiator itself.

Consider flushing the radiator if your radiator is heating well at the top but not the bottom. You can perform a DIY flush, but you should only consider a more comprehensive flush on the advice of a heating engineer.

You can also try disassembling the valves to see if they’re blocked with sludge - you’ll ideally have to shut off the water before doing this.

Solution 4: Rebalance the system

If your towel radiator heats up slowly or fails to reach maximum temperature, try shutting off your other radiators to see the problematic radiator heats up in isolation from the others. If it does heat up successfully, try rebalancing the system.

Rebalancing is fairly time-consuming as you’ll need to adjust all radiators in sequence. Check out a more in-depth guide here.

Summary: Why is My Towel Rail Radiator Not Heating Up?

Towel rail radiators are an excellent addition to any home, and they suffer from broadly the same issues as any other radiator. However, most problems have relatively simple solutions, such as checking the valves and bleeding the radiator.

Even so, if you’re ever unsure or come unstuck, it’s wise to call a qualified heating engineer. The price of advice is rarely greater than the price of damage to your heating system!

While most radiator repairs don’t pose much risk to you or your heating system, some complex faults should be diagnosed and fixed by a professional heating engineer.

Read our other guides on radiators

Fix your leaking radiator
Fix your hissing Radiator
Fix your noisy boiler
Fix your rattling radiator

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