About 25,000 house fires and 300 deaths are attributed to space heaters each year, mostly caused when a heater is placed too close to curtains, bedding, or upholstered furniture. In addition, 6,000 people end up in emergency rooms with burns from touching a heater’s hot surface. Here are the safety features to look for when buying a space heater and how to safely use one when you get it home.

Space Heater Safety Features

Safety is an important aspect of our space heater tests. A heater that rates poorly on our fire-safety test can cause cotton to ignite when operated on its hottest setting. "We don't recommend buying a space heater that gets a poor fire-safety score in our tests," says Chris Regan, who oversees our space heater testing.

Models that rate poorly on our hot-surface test can get hot enough on the highest setting to cause burns. Heaters with a score of Very Good or Excellent in that test stay cool enough to touch safely. Here are safety features to look for:

More on Space Heaters

Certification. Make sure the heater you buy carries a safety certification label from an independent testing organization, such as the UL mark from Underwriters Laboratories, the ETL label from Intertek, or certification from CSA International.

Shut-off features. A smart sensor that 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 plug. Most space heaters don't come equipped with a GFCI plug, which prevents electric shock, so manufacturers say they shouldn't be used around water.

Sturdy cord. Most space heaters come with a cord that’s 6 feet long. Never use an extension cord with an electric heater.

Vornado TVH600, Dyson AM09, and Heat Storm Logan space heaters.
Vornado TVH600, Dyson AM09, and Heat Storm Logan (from left).

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 and not 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 such combustible materials 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 not in use by pulling the plug straight from the outlet. Check the cord for damage periodically, and don’t use it if it’s frayed or worn.
  • Don’t plug another electrical device or an extension cord into the same outlet as a heater, which can cause overheating.
  • Install working smoke alarms on every level of your home, and test them monthly.

Looking for a Space Heater?

When choosing a space heater, think about what type of heat you’re seeking. If you just want to bathe yourself with heat, get a space heater that did well in our tests for spot heating, such as the Honeywell HZ-980, $190, and two models each from Vornado and Heat Storm.

To heat an average-sized room, consider one that did best in the room-heating test, including the Lasko 1048058 sold at Costco for $40, three other models from Lasko, and two from Honeywell.

If you need both spot and room heating, consider one of the space heaters that aced both tests, including the Dyson AM09, $450, as well as more affordable models from Comfort Zone, Lifesmart, Honeywell, and Heat Storm. For more details read “Time to Cozy Up to a Space Heater.”