The best space heaters in 2020

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • If you have a home that heats unevenly, a space heater can keep you comfortable without wasting energy.
  • After testing eight space heaters, the Lasko Ceramic Portable Space Heater is our top pick thanks to its affordable price tag and ability to churn out heat quickly.
  • It’s also compact, lightweight, and perfect for heating up a small home office.

Temperature is incredibly subjective: I see this in my own home, where I am perpetually hot and my husband is always cold. It’s an objective fact, however, that my furnace does a bad job of heating certain recesses of my house. The basement feels like the inside of a half-open igloo and the kitchen, with its large window, heats up like a greenhouse. It makes controlling the thermostat difficult. 

Space heaters can help warm the chillier bits of your home, reduce friction if you’re constantly fighting over the thermostat with your housemates, and (building codes permitting) offer you some control over the temperature of your surroundings in places like offices or dorms where the heat is not adjustable. They’re also a good solution in between seasons where it’s not quite cold enough to turn on whole-house heat, and an obvious choice for garages, RVs, boats, and other places that may not have access to gas-powered heat. 

In addition to testing portable outdoor heaters and writing our guide to the best patio heaters, I’ve been testing and reviewing products for nearly half a decade, covering everything from fitness gadgets to kitchen appliances. For almost two months, I put eight space heaters through various tests to see how they would affect the ambient temperature in my home office. I evaluated their performance, ease of use, settings, noise level, and safety features. I also interviewed Matthew Griffith, fire prevention section chief with the Montreal Fire Department, and Dan Mock, brand manager of Mr. Sparky, an electrical services company, about space heater safety. At the end of the guide, you can find a breakdown of my testing methodology, along with information about what to look for in a space heater and tips on space heater safety

The best space heaters

Prices and links are accurate as of 12/10/20; we rewrote this guide with new recommendations after comprehensive testing, and added guidance on shopping for and using a space heater.

The best space heater overall

lasko space heater overall slide

The Lasko Ceramic Portable Space Heater is a practical, no-frills miniature heater with enough juice to turn your chilly home office into a cozy, warm nook of productivity. 

Pros: Compact, incredibly efficient, easy to use, housing stays cool to the touch, overheat detector 

Cons: No tip-over safety switch, no temperature display 

This unit is the first space heater I tested and the one that I keep coming back to for my own personal use. It’s one of the smallest heaters on this list at just about 10 inches tall, but pulls a powerful 1,500 watts of power to heat efficiently for its miniature size. There are three settings (low, high, and fan) and an adjustable temperature dial. The temperature dial uses dots instead of specific temperatures, so it took some time to figure out how to adjust the unit to my preferred temperature — I ended up watching a YouTube video to get the gist — but once I got it working, the heat cycling feature kept me comfortable for hours. It’s relatively quiet and I didn’t feel the need to shut it off during Zoom calls. 

That said, it’s definitely not a whole-room heater: the unit only increased the overall temperature in my office by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in my testing. However, sitting close to the heater and feeling the warmth blowing directly at me, I felt much, much warmer. (It’s also worth noting that how well any space heater will heat depends on the size of your room and the ambient temperature.)

The heater has cool-touch housing, which didn’t heat up during use, but the front grille does get hot (though this is par for the course with most space heaters). It’ll also shut off automatically if it detects overheating. The manual didn’t specify at what temperature this function triggers, and I didn’t encounter it during my testing, but it’s a must-have safety feature for any space heater. There’s no tip-over safety switch, but if you’re only using it under supervision (as safety experts say you should with any space heater), I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker — especially since the unit is so stable. I really had to shove it off my desk for it to tip over. 

I can see myself using this frequently when I’m unwilling to turn on the furnace. It’s easy to store and tote around the house. I recommend this unit to anyone who works in a chilly office (home or otherwise). 

The best full-size space heater

Lasko full sized space heater slide

The Lasko Cyclonic Digital Ceramic Heater is a full-size space heater that takes up minimal space and delivers an effective dose of warmth. 

Pros: Lightweight, accurate internal thermostat, overheat protection

Cons: No fan-only option, no tip-over shutoff 

When my grandfather was looking for a space heater to warm up his bedroom, which doesn’t seem to heat as well as other areas of his apartment, this was the model I decided to recommend to him. At almost two feet tall, it’s a full-size floor model but it is surprisingly lightweight, so it’s easy to move around from room to room. The light-up control panel is legible from afar and allows you to choose your desired room temperature, select high or low heat settings, and set a timer. You can also adjust the angle of the airflow, which is helpful if you don’t want hot air blowing directly on you. 

By selecting the room temperature, the unit will automatically know to cycle off (and eventually back on) when it senses that it reaches the right temperature. This function was very accurate when I compared its temperature display to my reference thermometer. It’s a lot quieter than I expected for such a large machine, and it does a great job of heating up a room quickly without blowing uncomfortably hot air. On a chilly morning, the heater was able to warm the air by 6 degrees Fahrenheit in under an hour. 

Unfortunately, this unit doesn’t have a fan-only option, and while there’s a thermal overload detector to prevent overheating, there’s no tip-over shutoff. Unlike other space heater models I tried, this model purports to be safe to place against a wall because of the way the air enters and exits the machine. Safety experts usually recommend keeping the backside of a space heater clear, but I did confirm that no hot air was blowing out the back of the machine and it never overheated during use.

The best high-end space heater

Dyson space heater

The Dyson Pure Hot+Cool boasts an impressive design; features like air purifying, app compatibility, and some cooling capability make it an expansive home appliance that does much more than heat. 

Pros: Air-purifying feature, all parts stay cool to the touch, 360-degree oscillation, automatically shuts off after nine hours or if overheating is detected, beautiful design, app compatibility and controls, smart assistant compatibility, tip-over switch

Cons: Display is difficult to read, replacement filters are expensive

This Dyson unit is the macdaddy of space heaters. It’s a full-size heater with a unique oblong, donut-shaped design. Setup is super easy; just click in the filters and plug it in to get started. You can use the remote or an app (available on iOS or Android) to control and adjust the airflow speed, oscillation, temperature, airflow direction, and turn on the sleep timer or night mode — a feature that darkens the display and reduces the airflow speed to prevent night time disturbances. There’s also a “cooling” mode, which is really just a fan. In testing, the cooling mode barely made a dent in room temperature, though the breeze did make me feel more comfortable. 

The heating function on the Dyson works really well. The room starts warming almost immediately and the heat is effectively dispersed throughout the room. Within the first hour of testing, the temperature increased by 6 degrees Fahrenheit — a welcome bit of warmth on a particularly cold day. To run the heater, you select your desired room temperature in degrees. On auto, the heater will run at the ideal speed to quickly heat your room (and purify the air), but you can override that and select your own airflow settings.

The noise level depends on the selected airflow speed, which runs from settings one to 10. Setting 10 will require some volume adjustment on your TV while a one or two is barely noticeable and didn’t disturb me at all while I was working. The heater has an auto-shutoff that prevents it from overheating and it will automatically turn off if falls over or detects that the heating mode has been active for more than 9 hours. It’s also the only heater where no part of the exterior is hot to the touch, making it safe for use around kids. 

In my opinion, the air purifier is the main advantage of this device over other heaters. I quickly became obsessed with tracking my home’s air quality and love the detailed info I get from using the app. The machine reacts quickly and automatically to air contaminants I had never really thought about. For example, while I was preheating my oven for dinner, the unit automatically adjusted to its maximum air speed to help purify the “contaminated” air caused by my dirty hot oven. Other users report it ramping up air flow when you’re using household cleaning products, to help dissipate the chemicals.

Unfortunately, this feature means that, unlike the other heaters on this list, the Dyson requires regular maintenance. In addition to the initial cost, you’ll have to spend more on filter replacements, which don’t come cheap at almost $80 each. The rate at which you replace them depends on usage and air quality. For reference, I’ve been running the unit for a few weeks and the app says that the HEPA and carbon filters have 98% life remaining.  

Another drawback is that the Dyson’s onboard display is almost totally useless; it’s so small that it’s impossible to read from across a room. You really have to have your nose right up to the unit to peek at the tiny, round screen. However, you can access the same information in the app. 

The Dyson is also, by far, the most expensive space heater we tested. It comes loaded with tons of extra features that might justify the price tag if you’re concerned about air quality in your home or want a connected device that can be used with an app or virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. However, if you’re just interested in warming a chilly space, you’ll get similar heating power from the cheaper picks in this guide.

The best space heater that’s also a fan

Honeywell space heater

The HoneyWell Versa Two Position Heater is a space-saving heater with a powerful fan and thoughtful safety features not usually found in most space heaters. 

Pros: Powerful fan, cool-touch housing, overheat protection, unique safety features intended to prevent electrical fires 

Cons: Noisy, no heat cycling, no tip-over switch

The “two position” feature of this heater means you can place the unit upright or on its side, so you can use it in a variety of spaces and situations. I primarily used it in the upright position and was impressed by how this little rectangular heater warmed my office by 3 degrees very quickly. It uses a fan to push heat around, and the warmth spread evenly throughout my office instead of being concentrated in one area. Since the heat disperses so well, it didn’t leave me sweating while I was waiting for my office to warm, unlike some other models I tried.

In addition to being a good feature for dispersing heat, the fan can also be used to keep you cool. While the fan is powerful when used on its own, this feature does make a fair bit of noise, which I could hear from adjoining rooms. 

I also appreciated the thoughtful safety features of this space heater. While it doesn’t have a tip-over sensor, the unit stays cool to the touch and the wiring is thermally insulated to prevent the cord from overheating. It also has an overheat sensor and an ALCI plug like those found on many blow dryers, which reacts quickly to shorts like a surge protector does. Overall, it’s a great space heater for those who are safety conscious and those who want a product they can also use in warmer weather.

What else we tested

What else we tested space heater

All the heaters I tested worked as intended, quickly raising the temperature in my office by several degrees. A few just missed the mark for inclusion in our top picks. Here are some heaters that might be worth considering depending on your needs:

Honeywell Uberheat Ceramic Heater ($34.99): This is a sleek little heater with an attractive aesthetic that looks more like a designer speaker than a space heater. It takes up minimal desk space and has several key safety features like a highly sensitive tip-over switch and an overheat detector. It has one control knob to select both the setting (high or low) and the temperature, which was pretty easy to use after a quick peek at the instruction manual. However, the cycling function didn’t do a great job at maintaining a consistent temperature. More often than not, I felt uncomfortably hot. The unit would cycle on when the room temperature hadn’t dipped at all. This leads me to believe that the internal temperature sensor isn’t particularly accurate or the machine turns on and off at preset intervals. The front grille also gets very hot, so I had to be extra careful when handling the unit, though the rest of the housing does stay cool to the touch. Still, if you use the heater without the cycling function, it produces a fair bit of warmth and looks good doing it. It’s a great little heater for the design-conscious individual. 

Taotronics Space Heater ($64.99): The moderate size of this heater was surprising, especially since marketing photos on Amazon make it look much bigger than it actually is. In reality, it’s a little under a foot-and-a-half tall: too small for a floor heater, but too tall for a tabletop heater. When I used it on the floor, I felt like only my lower legs were warmed, and when I used it on my desk, it was impossible to adjust and check the heat settings while seated, since the controls are at the top of the unit. It’s likely why the unit comes with a remote, but if I’m using this in my home office, a remote is a silly extra thing to have on hand and only serves to clutter up my workspace. It heats fine, looks sleek, and swivels, but it’s an awkward size and shape for a space heater.

What we don’t recommend

What we don't recommend space heaters

Some models didn’t quite make the cut because of safety concerns, design flaws, or other limitations. Here are the heaters that we don’t recommend buying:

Trustech Ceramic Space Heater ($29.99): Straight out of the box, this unit intrigued me with its streamlined design, but as soon as I put it on my desk I changed my tune. The heater has an oscillation feature with a spinning disc on the bottom of the unit, but it makes the heater wobble and feel unsteady compared to other models I tested. While it does have a tip-over switch, I never quite felt comfortable using this heater because of how much it wobbles. It heats up just fine, but no better than other heaters I tried, and not enough to justify the design concerns.

Vornado Velocity 5 ($99.99): This square-shaped heater looked rugged and powerful with its large fan placed prominently on display, but it was surprisingly underpowered. It didn’t do a good job of dispersing heat, and I often felt chilly sitting right near it if it wasn’t pointed directly at me. The crisp display is one of the most legible of all the heaters I tested, but the built-in thermostat is very inaccurate. Anytime I checked my reference thermometer, the reading on the heater’s display was at least 3 to 4 degrees off the mark.

Testing methodology

Our methodology space heater

In addition to interviewing two safety experts about space heaters, I relied heavily on my own experience reviewing heating devices like patio heaters and portable outdoor heaters for this guide. I put all eight space heaters through the same set of standard tests and used a reference thermometer to collect temperature data. Here’s what I looked for with each test:

Ability to heat: This is the most important function of a space heater. I tested every heater in my 100 square foot office. I used a reference thermometer that was always positioned on the corner of my desk, smack dab in the middle of the room. I placed the heaters diagonally from the thermometer — compact units sat on my desk while full-sized ones were placed in the far corner of my office. I tried each heater’s various settings and took notes about the accuracy of internal thermostats. I was also looking for how well the heaters could hold the room at my desired temperature — usually around 70 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit — without surrounding me in a nauseating heat cloud. To the best of my ability, I made sure that I didn’t turn on my thermostat throughout testing except when there was a risk of pipes freezing or danger to my parrot’s health. Most of the time, testing began when the temperature in my office was hovering somewhere between 60 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Time to heat: I used an indoor thermometer and a timer to evaluate how long it took for the space heater to bring the room up to my ideal temperature. Some models operate by blasting heat higher than your target temperature to get the room hot faster, but I found these left me feeling hot and sweaty. Units that were too slow left me still feeling the shivers a few hours later. I was searching for the sweet spot in the middle. Units with an accurate cycling feature received bonus points for maintaining comfort levels in my office. 

Easy-to-use controls: It’s a space heater, not a spaceship. While safety experts recommend reading the manual cover-to-cover before using a space heater, I put myself in the average consumer’s shoes and tried to figure out the unit on my own before referencing any manuals. I looked for controls that were intuitive and easy to figure out.

Size: In a small office, there’s not a whole lot of extra room for a device like a space heater. Extra points went to units that were powerful, but still compact, lightweight, and easy to fit in a confined area. For those who have larger spaces to heat, we did include picks for full-size heaters.

Noise: Every space heater made some noise, which is to be expected, but some were a bit quieter than others. I docked points from units that I felt needed to be turned off for Zoom meetings or phone calls. 

Safety features: I verified whether safety features were functional (except for overheat functions, since that would have presented a safety hazard), including tipping the units over to test for automatic shut offs.

What to look for in a space heater

Space heaters convert electricity into heat and contain a fan that helps propel and disperse the heat throughout the room. Most space heaters all share a few standard functions, like a power button and high or low temperature settings. However, we’ve found a few key features to consider when shopping for a space heater:

Power: Most heaters in our guide have 1,500 watts of power, which is pretty standard for space heaters. More powerful heaters are usually marketed as “garage heaters” and either need to be hardwired into your electrical circuit or run on a special appliance circuit. Fortunately, a heater with 1,500 watts should be enough to heat a room of about 150 square feet. 

Heat cycling function: For comfort and energy efficiency, you’ll want a space heater with a heat cycling function — this allows you to select a desired temperature that the unit then attempts to maintain by cycling on and off when the temperature dips above or below the threshold. This is similar to how a built-in thermostat works in your home and prevents you from having to manually turn the unit on and off to maintain comfort levels. Not all cycling features work well, however; our picks above outline models with cycling features that are accurate and easy to use. 

Size: You can also choose between compact models and larger full-size units. A small space heater is great for desktop use in a home office, dorm room, or office building. It’ll usually heat just the area right around the heater comfortably, which is good enough if you’re just looking for a small bubble of personal comfort. A space heater with a bigger footprint has a larger fan, which helps blow air around the room and is ideal for heating large spaces like garages or full rooms. Opt for a full-size heater if you have a lot of space to heat.

Safety: We outline more safety features to look for in the section below, but overheat protection is a must.

Space heater safety

Space heater safety

Sure, space heaters are ultra-convenient, but the safety experts we spoke to said they can also be dangerous if not used properly. According to a 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters cause 43% of U.S. fires due to home heating — and 85% of related deaths. 

Both Matthew Griffith, fire prevention section chief with the Montreal Fire Department, and Dan Mock, brand manager of Mr. Sparky, an electrical services company, said the number one rule for using a space heater is to never leave it unattended. 

Beyond that, experts said that space heater safety starts with buying and unboxing the unit. Griffith said customers should look for a space heater that’s certified by the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL, or ULC in Canada) and has safety features like an auto-shutoff and tip-over switch. Mock also recommends reading the instruction manual cover-to-cover and inspecting the device before running it. “A lot of times things can get cracked or broken or the plug gets pulled loose or gets dirt in the heating element. You just want to make sure it’s nice and clean,” said Mock. The best way to dislodge trapped dust is to use a combination of canned air and a dry cloth. It’s also a good idea to keep the packaging so you can store the heater and keep it dust-free during the warmer months. 

Where you place the space heater matters, too. Griffith said not to put a space heater too close to walls or flammable materials, and keep the backside of the heater clear, as the unit can overheat if blocked.

Additionally, paying attention to what you’re plugging into electrical outlets can help prevent fires, said Mock. The average circuit breaker is rated at about 15 amps, but a powerful space heater can take up the entire power load of the circuit. “A circuit breaker is really only supposedly safe up to about 80% of its maximum capacity, which is about 12 amps,” he said. “So if you think about it, a 15 amp electric heater on a circuit is drawing everything it can out of one circuit breaker. So if you add a lamp, if you add anything else to that circuit, you’re overloading the circuit and you’re standing a good chance of causing an electrical fire.” While circuit breakers provide some protection from electrical fires, it’s important to be mindful of repeatedly overtaxing the circuit. Mock also warns against using extension cords with these types of appliances (as do most space heater instruction manuals) because they can heat up significantly, which increases your risk of starting a fire.

The bottom line

Keep an eye on your space heater. Think of it like a candle. You’d never leave the house or go to bed with one burning; treat your heater the same way.

Check out our other winter guides to keep warm

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