What is a four-way or multi-purpose radiator key?

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 Parts of a four-way key 
 Four-way radiator key on radiator 

 The parts of a four-way radiator key are:


  • The hub

  • The legs

  • The shapes - recesses and projections - at the end of each leg to fit various valves and fastenings

 Four-way multi-purpose radiator key 

Also known as a utility key or services cabinet key, this type can be used on the drain-off cocks, also known as drain taps or drain valves, on some radiators.


Four-way keys are usually made of brass, galvanised or zinc-coated steel, an alloy (a mixture of two or more metals), or tough plastic. These materials ensure the key will not rust.

 Draining a central heating system 

For certain kinds of maintenance work, all the radiators of a system might need to be drained. 


Making use of a radiator drain cock near to an outside door, a hose can be attached to the drain cock or valve and the valve opened with the appropriate leg of the key.

 Four-way key diagram 

This image shows some of the uses of one kind of four-way key.

 Key in gas meter cabinet 

Most four-way keys have fittings at the end of their legs to operate some radiator drain-off  valves; gas, water and electric meter cupboards, as seen here; some air conditioning units; some stop valves; mains consoles; some square headed gate valves; some central heating pump cocks; and some outside taps.


However, the keys are not all the same - they may have some fittings but lack others - so it's best to check that a particular key fits the kind of fittings and fasteners you want to open and close.

 Lockshield gate valve 

Some four-way keys are ideal for turning what are known as lockshield drain-off valves. These valves have a collar of metal around the square head to prevent operation except by the owner of the key.

 Square sockets of four-way utility key 

The appropriate leg of a four-way key fits perfectly inside the collar and over the square head.

 Brass four-way multi-purpose radiator key 

Radiator drain valves can have different pipe sizes. Some four-way keys will fit square spindles on valves with 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch and 1 inch pipe connections.

  Four-way radiator key 

Some four-way keys have a leg that fits air release valves for bleeding radiators.


Turning on stopcock with four-way key


The four-legged design is useful - two of the three legs not in use make very effective handles for turning sometimes stubborn valves

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