Best Desktop Heaters

Updated November 2021
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

36
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193
Consumers
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Hours
Researched

Buying guide for Best desktop heaters

If you’ve got a cold spot in your home or office, a desktop heater is a cost-effective way to make that space warm and cozy. It gets up to temperature more quickly than an oil-filled radiator and is easier to move around and more compact.

Or, perhaps you have one of those electric bar heaters that are roasting hot up close but don’t seem to spread that warmth at all. Their impact on your utility bill can be pretty shocking, too. It’s time to get an energy-efficient desktop heater.

The popularity of desktop heaters is underlined by the variety available. Having a wide choice is great from a buyer’s point of view as long as you understand what you’re getting for your money.

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If your space gets cold in winter and hot in the summer, consider a dual-purpose heater that can blow cool air, too.

Key considerations

How they work

All heaters are one of two types: radiant or convection.

Radiant heaters warm people and objects, so you might think that one would be ideal for a small space. It heats you while you’re there but not when the room is empty. The real benefits of radiant heat are usually felt in rooms used by several people at the same time (a TV room, for example) or outdoors. Radiant patio heaters are very efficient.

There are a couple of disadvantages to radiant heaters. First, unless you keep turning the heater off every time you leave the room, it will continue to consume energy. Second, this type of heater is relatively large. Office heaters are usually flat-panel radiators designed to fit under a desk.

Convection heaters warm the air. They have a heating element inside the device, and a fan to blow that heat into the room. Most desktop heaters use convection heat. In the past, the element was coiled wire — like those bar heaters mentioned above. Today, they’re most often a ceramic plate that heats up almost instantly, retains heat better, and uses less energy.

Output

The amount of power a desktop heater generates is measured in watts. While the following gives you an approximate guide, different models can vary considerably, so you still want to check the heater’s dimensions before ordering.

  • 200 watts: This size fits on the smallest desks and is useful for direct, personal warmth.
  • 400–500 watts: This heater is still very much a desktop model, but you would position it a little farther away from you and use it to create a warm zone around your desk.
  • 800–900 watts: This model is still compact enough for most desktops or side tables, but it has the capacity to heat a larger area.
  • 1,200 watts and up: These efficient, small space heaters are likely to be floor-standing models.
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Did You Know?
Most desktop heaters are rated for watts, but British thermal units (Btu) may also be given. One watt equals 3.41 Btu per hour.
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Features

Safety

The simplest (and cheapest) desktop heaters are either on or off, but they may still offer various safety features.

Overheating protection is common: the heater will shut down if it gets too hot. Overheating might happen in the case of a fault (though these devices are usually very reliable), but it can also happen if the heater outlet gets covered accidentally or the air vents get blocked.

Tip-over safety is another great feature that automatically turns the desktop heater off if it gets knocked over.

ETL or UL listing is also reassuring from a safety point of view. Both are independent testing agencies, and products must meet national standards for approval.

Settings

Temperature: More advanced desktop heaters are likely to have two or more temperature settings. These should be thermostatically controlled so the heater turns off at the desired level. You might also have a fan-only mode, so you can use it to cool you in the summer.

Oscillation: Some people find heat blowing on them uncomfortable after a while, so another feature worth looking for on larger desktop heaters is an oscillating function. The fan sweeps back and forth so you’re not constantly in the path of the hot air. It also helps spread the heat more evenly across an area.

Volume

It’s worth checking the noise the desktop heater makes, too. A lot of them aren’t particularly quiet. Fifty decibels (dB) is about the same as human conversation. That might not sound much, but it could get annoying if it’s droning away next to you all day. It can be difficult to find an indication of the noise level of these heaters, so it’s worth checking owner feedback for opinions from people who have used these devices.

Airflow

Most of the time, a desktop heater will be in a position where it gets adequate airflow. Vents that allow cool air into the machine are frequently in the front. However, if you’re thinking about buying a floor-standing model to go under your desk, be careful that there is sufficient space for the heater to operate safely. You also need to be aware of the spaghetti of computer, printer, and other cables that might be under there.

Handle

A carry handle isn’t particularly important, but it is a convenient extra.

It is not recommended that you use an extension cord with electric heaters because of the high current (amps) they use. However, desktop heaters have much lower demands. Even 1,000-watt models use 10 amps or less, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Check the cord rating just to be sure and use one that’s as short as possible for maximum efficiency.

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Desktop heater prices

Inexpensive: With good-quality desktop heaters available for as little as $20, there’s really no reason not to be snug in your workspace.

Mid-range: There’s an enormous choice between $25 and $40, including desktop heaters with multiple power settings and a full range of safety features. We expect the majority of buyers will find what they need in this bracket.

Expensive: If you pay more than $40, you can either get a dual-function model that can heat and cool or something big enough to heat a whole room. These tend to push the “desktop” moniker to the limit and are often called personal space heaters.

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Caution
New desktop heaters or those that have been unused for some time may give off a slight smell at first. It’s usually just dust particles being burned off. However, if the smell gets worse or the power cord gets hot, you should have it checked by a professional.
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Tips

  • Stop drafts. Even in a small room, a draft can be a major cause of heat loss and discomfort. Fitting weather stripping to windows and draft stoppers under doors is a quick, easy, and cheap solution. They can also keep out noises that disturb your concentration when you’re trying to work.
  • Keep doors closed. Desktop heaters aren’t very efficient in large spaces, so try to keep any doors closed. If you start to feel claustrophobic, take a brief walk. Health experts recommend stepping away from your desk once every 45 minutes.
  • Position the heater correctly. A stationary fan pointed directly at you can become uncomfortable. Angle it across your seating area or choose a heater that oscillates.
  • Use a low heat setting. If you pick a desktop heater with multiple temperature settings, use the highest setting to rapidly warm you, but turn it down as soon as possible. It will reduce your energy bill and be better for the planet.
  • Turn off the heater when you leave the room. If you’re going to be out of the room for 15 minutes or more, leaving the desktop heater on is poor economy. Ceramic models heat up very quickly, so turn it off when you leave.
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If you use a desktop heater in your office, make sure it isn’t directed at your computer or it could cause overheating. If the computer’s fan keeps turning on, the heater is probably too close.

FAQ

Q. Is a desktop heater safe if there are children around?

A. These devices are very popular in home offices, so it’s not unusual for young kids to be in the same space. The heater can get very hot where the warm air is expelled, so care is needed. If it’s out of reach on a table or other surface, it shouldn’t be a problem. We’d suggest looking for a model that shuts off if it’s accidentally tipped over. A heater with a cool-touch exterior is also a good idea. However, we wouldn’t recommend that you use a desktop heater in a child’s bedroom. Though the risk may be small, there are too many potential hazards.

Q. Can I use a desktop heater in a bathroom?

A. It’s not recommended, and many manufacturers caution against it. Though they’re designed to heat small spaces, it’s never a good idea to have an electric heater in an environment where there’s water or high humidity. A better option is a dedicated bathroom heater or a towel warmer that serves two purposes.

Q. Is there an easy way to work out what power my desktop heater should be?

A. When assessing a primary heat source for a room, it’s usually suggested that you need 10 watts per square foot of floor space. However, desktop heaters are generally used as more direct heat, either close to you on a table or desk or down by your feet, which means less power is required. Models in the range of 200 to 600 watts are usually adequate for personal heaters.

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