How to Find the Safest Space Heater for Your Home
Key safety features to watch for as you shop, plus the three safest choices from CR's tests
About 25,000 house fires and 300 deaths are attributed to space heaters each year. They’re mostly caused when a heater is placed too close to curtains, bedding, or upholstered furniture, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition, 6,000 people end up in emergency rooms with burns from touching a heater’s hot surface.
In this guide, we’ll cover the safety features to look for, make recommendations about the safest choices from our space heater ratings, and walk through how to use one without incident when you get it home.
Safety is a critical aspect of our space heater tests. A heater that earns a Poor rating in our fire-safety test could cause cotton to ignite when operated on its hottest setting. “We don’t recommend buying a space heater that gets a rating of Poor in our fire-safety test,” says Chris Regan, who oversees our space heater testing.
Safety Features to Look For
Certification. Make sure the heater you buy carries a safety certification label from an independent testing organization, such as the UL mark, the ETL label from Intertek, or certification from CSA International.
Shutoff features. A smart sensor that automatically shuts off a heater when it overheats is a must. You’ll also want a tip-over switch that does the same if the heater is knocked over.
Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plug. Most space heaters don’t come equipped with a GFCI plug, which prevents electric shock. Heaters without one should not be used around water, manufacturers advise.
Sturdy cord. Most space heaters come with a cord that’s 6 feet long. To prevent overheating, never use an extension cord or a power strip with an electric heater.
Safest Space Heaters From CR's Tests
The three space heaters below all have tip-over switches that automatically shut the appliance off if it gets knocked over, and they earn Excellent or Very Good ratings in both our fire-safety and hot-surface tests. They’re listed below in alphabetical order.
How to Use a Space Heater Safely
Half of all home heating fires happen during the months of December, January, and February. Our experts, as well as the pros at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the National Fire Protection Association, offer the following safety tips:
- Place the heater on a hard, level, and nonflammable surface. They are intended to sit on the floor, not on a table.
- Establish a 3-foot kid- and pet-free zone around the heater, and never put a space heater in a child’s room.
- Keep the space heater at least 3 feet away from combustible materials, such as furniture, bedding, and curtains.
- Don’t use a heater in a workshop or garage near paint, gas cans, or matches.
- Turn it off when you leave the room or go to bed.
- Unplug the heater when it’s not in use by pulling the plug straight from the outlet. Check the cord for damage periodically, and don’t use the heater if the cord is frayed or worn.
- Don’t plug another electrical device or an extension cord into the same outlet as a heater—that can cause overheating.
- Install working smoke alarms on every level of your home and in every bedroom, and test them monthly.