When the nights are long and the days are chilly, it’s time to buy a portable heater. These devices can warm a room on the coldest nights, then roll out of the way and be stored when not in use. They use electricity to heat the room, so you don’t need to worry about fumes or open flames. Instead, you get cheap, safe, and controllable warmth that you can use when you need it.
Space heaters are also handy for spaces outside of your home heating, such as garages and basements. These places can get a little chilly at any time of year and putting in a small electric heater is a lot cheaper than extending your HVAC.
The best electric heaters are quiet, relatively energy-efficient and in some cases, even look like décor, instead of industrial equipment from Soviet Russia. Some of the entries in our guide to the best fans double as heaters. In particular, a number of entries among the best Dyson fans do.
Yes, you could opt for a more high-tech solution and get one of the best smart thermostats but a fan heater or oil heater provides instant and greater heat, and can be taken with you as you move around the house. Or get one for every room.
Something else to consider is that if your house is particularly humid, then you might also benefit from reading our best dehumidifier guide, as damp rooms can feel particular chilly in colder weather.
What are the types of room heaters?
The room heaters that we tested all have the same purpose: to warm a single room using electricity. They all plug into a standard wall socket and turn the electricity into heat. However, the way they deliver this heat to the room differs. There are four types: oil-filled radiant, ceramic, fan, and infrared. You can find more details on each type and the bottom of the page.
The best heaters, in order
The DeLonghi Radia S Eco (TRRS0715E) is an oil-filled radiant heater that does a great job of warming a room and has the controls to make it more flexible. As well as the standard thermostat and three power levels, it also offers a frost mode that triggers the heater at low temperature, so it can stop your pipes from freezing or warm your seedlings. It also includes a long 6-foot power cable and an eco mode that lowers power usage.
All in all, we found the Radia S to be an excellent device for warming a chilly room, although it takes longer to warm the room to begin with than a fan heater. It is much quieter and more comfortable to use, though.
Read more in our full DeLonghi Radia S Eco Review.
Dyson's fans offer quiet and 'non-buffeting' air circulation thanks to their lack of blades, and oscillate very elegantly. This top-of-the-range model does a load more besides.
Most importantly for the purposes of this buying guide, it heats, and very well too. Via the reliable iOS and Android app you can set a favored temperature, even when you're out of the house, and it will maintain that heat with minimum fuss. There's also a neat little remote that provides most of the same functionality, albeit only at closer range.
The fan also cools in summer and removes impurities and allergens from the air too, with the filter needing a change about once a year or so, depending on how often you use it. The app will tell you when it's time. This is useful for people with allergies as the HEPA filter will trap pet dander, pollen and other airborne impurities.
The Pure Hot+Cool is energy efficient too, automatically shutting itself off when no longer needed and back on when the temperature needs changing. Also, it’s the only fan heater to have Quiet Mark accreditation, so it won’t get in the way of a good night’s sleep. The lack of blades means it’s also much easier to clean than a traditional fan.
If you have the wonga to spare, then this is one of the most technologically adept fan heaters on the market.
The Vornado AVH10 is a simple, straightforward heater that does the important job of heating up a room well, but without extra features. You get plenty of heating power directed straight out of the front fan and onto your cold toes, with two power modes and a simple thermostat. You don’t, however, get a timer, fan speed, or other controls that might make it a bit more flexible for general use: the fan only runs at one speed.
But that’s often all that you need, and this well-priced heater offers quick, efficient warmth at a reasonable price.
Read our full Vornado AVH10 Whole Room Heater review.
The bigger brother to the Radia S model, the Dragon 4 offers almost identical features. This unit is bigger and heavier though, and consequently can heat a much larger area and work more efficiently. Its unique chimney design heats quicker than regular fins and retains the heat for longer, even after the heater is turned off.
There’s a large digital display with clear control buttons that include a 24-hour timer, display dimmer and eco button. The four wheels are smooth, making it easy to move the unit around and there’s grab handles on both sides. Aside from a few gentle pops as it warms up, this heater is completely silent and managed to heat a rather drafty room through the height of a Chicago winter.
The Pelonis PHTPU1501 is a small, but nicely designed fan heater. When you turn the oscillator on, the entire top of the tower rotates about ninety degrees to spread warmth around the room. As well as the controls on the top of the rotating body, you get a credit-card-sized remote control that offers the same controls. The heater does a good job of warming the room, and the rotating body means that the heat is more evenly distributed around the room than with many heaters. This can be turned off if you want more heat on your cold toes, though.
It also offers an 8-hour timer and a thermostat that goes down to 40F, which means it can be used to prevent your pipes or seedlings from freezing.
The Vornado Glide Vortex shows that heaters don’t have to be boring looking: it is attractively designed and wouldn’t look out of place in an Ikea showroom. It is a decent heater as well, with good output power and a relatively quiet fan. You can tilt the body of the heater up by about 20 degrees, which means you can direct the warm airflow a bit, but the body does not rotate. There are no other features here: no timer, no true thermostat, and no way to turn on the fan without the heater.
The Lasko 753120 Oscillating Ceramic Heater is a tall, thin tower heater that offers a large area for the warm air to spread out from. To further spread the precious heat from this 1500W heater, the tower can oscillate around by 90 degrees, driven by a motor in the base. That means it can warm an area quicker than most, but the downside is that the fan is a bit noisier than some. It also includes a remote control and a thermostat, but the latter only changes in 5-degree steps, so you don’t get much precise control over the temperature.
Water and electricity don’t mix, so you should never use a room heater in a bathroom unless it is designed to be used there. The Lasko CD08200 includes Appliance Leakage Current Interrupter (ALCI) that cuts off the power to the heater if it detects an electrical short, a great additional precaution if your bathroom is a bit chilly first thing in the morning.
The CD8200 is a small, simple heater, about the size of a loaf of bread. The simple approach applies to the controls as well: you get two power modes, a 1-hour timer, and, erm, that’s it. It does a decent job of heating a small room, though, so it’s a great option for warming a chilly bathroom first thing in the morning.
The DR-978 is a small heater that looks a bit like a miniature wood-burning stove, right down to the dull glow from the heating element you can see through the front. It’s a fairly simple heater with two output levels and an Eco mode that only turns the heater on every half hour, just to prevent a warm room from getting too chilly. There is also a filter on the back of the heater, which stops pet hair from getting onto the Infra-Red heating element inside. That’s a good thing if you have ever smelt burning cat hair. The slightly noisy fan directs the warmer air out the front of the heater, but you can’t tilt or angle the flow of air. It is a little on the expensive side, though.
Looking for the cheapest way to heat a room quietly? That would be the Amazon Basics Portable Radiator Heater, a no-frills oil-filled heater that has only the basics. It offers two output levels and a simple dial control to set the overall output by turning the heater on and off over time, but no timer, no true thermostat and no other features. It’s a basic model in every way, but the price is right.
One problem that we did find is that when first heating up, the radiator makes a lot of pinging sounds, rather like rain on a window. That mostly goes away when the entire radiator is heated up, but it is a bit annoying while it is starting up.
How to buy the best portable heater
Not all heaters are hugely effective. Some do little more than threaten Jack Frost, while others prize power over peace and quiet. Some sip electricity, while others may bankrupt you. What we have here is the crème de la crème of 'chaud', as the French say.
There are several things to consider when you want a heater. The first is how you want to use it. Do you want instant heat in short bursts? A fan heater is for you. Prefer something more like a radiator? Oil-filled is the way to go. And if you fancy only being heated if you stand in a perfect position directly in front of the heater, a ceramic heater with motion detection is your friend.
There are big differences between the way heaters work. Some use spinning blades to circulate air, which is effective if a bit noisy; others let the heat radiate. And some use very clever airflow design to pump hot air around with less noise.
What are radiant heaters?
The first (and most popular) type is the oil-filled radiant heater. These work by heating an electric element that is immersed in oil. This oil is inside a radiator that looks like an old-school steam radiator. That’s because it does the same thing that a steam radiator does: it radiates the heat from the oil out into the room, providing silent heating. But unlike a steam radiator, oil radiant heaters are sealed: nothing gets in or out of them except the heat.
These heaters are great because they are silent. There are no fans to move the heat. They rely on the natural movement of the heated air to spread it around the room. They are also efficient. All of the energy that the heating elements give off goes into the oil, which then radiates it out. If you only need a little heat, they can still deliver, and most come with variable controls or thermostats that can automatically control the heat level.
The downside of these devices is that they can be rather slow to start. The heating element has to heat up the oil before it can start heating the air, which can take several minutes. You then have to wait for the warmer air to circulate around the room. So, you don’t get immediate heating. They do get rather warm when running at full power. We measured the temperature at the top of one of our review units at about 90ºC / 194ºF. That makes them great for drying off your socks, but like all heaters, they need to be used with caution. All of the models we tested also come with built-in switches that disable the heater if they tip over to keep them safe.
To clarify one common misconception: you never need to replace the oil inside these heaters. This oil is never used up, it simply works as an efficient way to transfer the heat from the electrical element to the outside. Most also use mineral oil, which is very difficult to burn. So, they are very safe and efficient.
What are fan heaters?
The simplest type of room heater is the classic fan heater, where a fan blows air over an electric element, which heats the air. In effect, a scaled-up hairdryer.
The upside is speed. Because they heat the air directly, you get hot air almost immediately. So, they are great when you come in from a cold day and need heating up quickly with a blast of warm air.
The downside is that they are noisy. The fans have to blow to keep the heat moving. They can also be dangerous. If you inadvertently block the air input or the fan fails, the electric element can overheat and cause a fire. All modern heaters will disable the heater if the fan fails, but they can still overheat, even if you partially block the air input. They are also inefficient in that they draw a lot of electricity to heat the air quickly, which can lead to electrical fires in cables, sockets and wiring.
What are ceramic heaters?
Ceramic heaters are like your toaster: an electric element is wrapped around or embedded in a ceramic element, which heats up and radiates the heat. A fan blows air over the ceramic elements, transferring the heat into the air.
The upside of this is that you get quick heat: because the ceramic heats up quickly, you get hot air almost immediately. They are also quieter than fan heaters because the ceramic elements have a larger surface area than their fan cousins, they can use smaller fans that are less annoying.
The downside is that they have the same issues as fan heaters: blocking the air inlet can cause fires, and they draw a lot of power in a short time, which can stress older cabling and can cause electrical fires.
What are infrared heaters?
Think of an old-style filament lightbulb, but one that gives off heat instead of light. That’s pretty much what an infrared heater is. A quartz bulb filled with inert gas and an electric element radiates infrared radiation right into the environment, heating things directly.
The upside of this type is that they can heat a small area quickly. They radiate the heat directly so it goes straight out into the environment around them, warming people directly. They also don’t need fans because they are giving off the heat radiation directly, so they are great for warming a small area like a workbench.
The downside is that the heat lamps that they use have a limited lifespan. The heat lamps they use eventually fail and will need replacing. They may last for thousands of hours, though. They also need to be used with caution: they can burn if you get too close to the heat lamp, and they can cause things near the heat lamp to catch fire.
How do I use a heater safely?
All forms of room heaters need to be used with caution. Any of them can cause a fire, a serious burn, or other injuries. To use them safely, always do the following.
Plug them into the wall socket. Never plug them into an extension cable or power strip, as they can easily overload these devices and start an electrical fire.
Don’t use more than one. It may be tempting to plug a couple in to warm a cold room, but you could overload the electrical wiring and cause a fire. Only use one device on each fused circuit and make sure your wiring is capable of handling it. Consult an electrician if you aren’t sure, as older wiring may not be capable of handling the amount of power they draw.
Give them space. All heaters are potential fire risks, so stay safe by making sure there is at least a three feet gap between the heater and furniture or other fittings. They have safety features built-in, but they can still start fires. So, only run them when you are there and awake to watch and turn them off if a problem develops. Don’t run heaters overnight: they need to be watched while in use.
Keep the kids away. Little fingers can fit between the grills that keep the hot parts safely tucked away, but children have smaller fingers that can fit into the gaps in these grills.