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8 October 2021

How to buy the best electric heater

Find out how to choose the best electric heater - from what type to choose, what features to look out for, to which model is best for you and your budget.
Jake Massey
Feet on heater

Buying the wrong electric heater will leave you cold, stressed, and wondering why you wasted your money. We'll help you to pick the best electric heater for your needs and budget. 

In this article we'll update you on the pros and cons of the different types of electric heaters, their key features, as well as energy costs, safety, and more. We've also picked out a selection of the best electric heaters we've tested. 

Only electric heaters that heat quickly, keep your room temperature stable and don't rack up huge energy bills are good enough to be recommended by our experts

Best electric heaters

Below are some of the best heaters we've tested in a range of categories. 

Best budget electric heaters

  • 80%

    This Best Buy fan heater is small, light and will rapidly heat up a cold room. Perfect if you’re looking for a compact, portable device that can be easily carried to exactly where it’s needed.

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  • 76%

    This heater did well enough in our tests to earn a Best Buy. It'll heat a room quickly and does a great job at maintaining temperature in mild, cold and very cold conditions. It's a brilliant budget option.

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  • 70%

    There isn't too much wrong with this compact portable heater - it heats up quickly and it's quieter than many of its competitors. But although it's not too bad at keeping your room at an even temperature, you may notice it goes up and down by a few degrees from time to time.

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Table last updated October 2021.

Best mid-range and high-end electric heaters

  • 81%

    One of the best heaters we’ve tested – scoring highly on every trial we put it through and pushing the envelope with its smart functionality that lets you control it from your phone or tablet.

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  • 75%

    This heater scored well in our tests and was one of the quietest heaters we've tested. It heats the room in just 10 and a half minutes and does so efficiently.

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    First month only £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel any time

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  • 74%

    It keeps the temperature in your room stable, it heats up a room quicker than average, and it includes a wealth of features not normally seen in an electric heater.

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Table last updated October 2021.

Not found the model for you? Browse all of our electric heater reviews.

What types of electric heater are there?

Electric fan heater

These are the lightest and most portable type of heater. They’re great if you want to heat a room fast, as they warm up quickly.

They’re also easy to set up first time round - usually you just take the fan heater out the box, plug it in and you’re ready to go. On the downside, this type of portable heater can be quite noisy.

Convector heater

Convector heaters are quite tall, but are usually thin and light - making them easier to move from room to room. Like fan heaters, they heat up quickly - but they are quieter.

Convector portable heaters are often wall-mountable, which means they can be located out of the way. Brackets and instructions for wall mounting are usually included, but you do need to drill holes in your walls.

These heaters have exposed heating elements which heat up cold air as it passes. 

Oil-filled radiator

Oil-filled heaters tend to be cheap to run, but some can be really slow to heat up after switching them on. Their oil acts as a heat reservoir and it stays hot for some time after the heater's switched off. 

Most oil-filled heaters are fairly heavy and cumbersome, so look out for models that come with wheels as this makes it easier to move them around.

Some radiators are called 'oil-free'. They function in a comparable way, but they don't contain any fluid and they only use an internal heating element. 

How much do you need to spend to get a decent electric heater?

Electric heaters vary in price from about £10 for a small basic one, all the way up to £300+ for more powerful and advanced models.

Budget heaters

We've tested a lot of heaters that cost between £10 - £50, and even found some Best Buys in this price range. But you need to shop carefully, because quality varies a lot in the budget price bracket.

Most of the budget heaters you’ll see are compact fan heaters which generate heat and blow hot air around the room. But you can get hold of cheap convector heaters too.

Just don't be drawn into a false economy. If you buy a heater with low up-front costs that doesn't work properly while it guzzles electricity, you'll rack up bills and feel shortchanged before long. Check out our electric heater reviews  to make sure the bargain you had your eye on isn't a dud.

High-end heaters

You can easily spend a few hundred on a portable heater, though many cost around £50 - £100. 

A high price is no guarantee of quality. We tested one heater that cost £100 and yet it was nearly a Don't Buy. But if you do spend a bit more, there's more choice of brands, styles, designs and features that deliver on the quality front. 

There are heaters of every kind at this price point. The most expensive have additional features, such as with a fan heater which is also a cold air fan, and an air purifier. 

If you wanted an oil radiator that offers a slow burn well suited for long periods, or a powerful convector that thoroughly heats the environment, then you can buy one at this price point.

Before you splash out a lot of money on a portable heater, decide whether or not you'd be better served by a central heating system or a storage heater. These offer more robust heating at lower running costs and might be better suited for heating your whole home.

Our latest electric heater tests uncovered an excellent model for less than £60 that beat heaters more than double the price to make our list of Which? Best Buy electric heaters.

Useful electric heater features to look for

Some portable heaters have useful extras, such as an LCD screen that displays the current temperature or a remote control for turning the heater on from across the room. Some of the more expensive models may feature some of the following too:

Fan heater timer switch

A timer is useful for setting a heater to turn on just before you get home or wake up, so there's no waiting around for the heater to warm up. Some models also include frost protection, which means the heater can be set to automatically heat when the temperature drops below 5°C.

Cold air setting

Some fan heaters can help cool you down too. They're not nearly as effective as a dedicated air conditioner, but a light breeze of cold air is better than nothing.

Fan heater climate control

Climate control is a useful feature to have - your portable heater will heat the room, and when the desired temperature is reached, the heater will try to maintain the room at that temperature. 

Every heater we review has a star rating for how well it keeps the room temperature stable, so that you can buy a model that doesn't have you manually turning the heater on and off every five minutes.

Smart connectivity

Some heaters can be controlled remotely through a tablet or smartphone along with the rest of your smart home devices. When we find a smart heater, we put it through our rigorous digital security test to make sure that it has no vulnerabilities and that it's responsible and legally compliant when it deals with your data. 

How much do electric heaters cost to run?

Portable heater use is best limited to keep costs under control. A 2kW heater operating at maximum power for one hour might cost you around 37p to run, though this will vary. 

A heater with an effective thermostatic control will save you money. This is because it will turn on and off only as required, so won't waste electricity but will keep your room at your chosen temperature.

The quickest Best Buy heaters we've tested were able to raise the temperature of our test room in less than 10 minutes - the worst took more than 30 minutes. You can use our tests results to see whether it would actually end up costing you less to buy a heater with more power.

Can an electric heater help reduce your energy bills?

Portable heaters allow you to heat just the space you need to be warm, and not your entire home. This means they can actually work out cheaper than putting the central heating on - especially if your heating system doesn't have individual room control.

But you need to be careful because electric heaters will cost you a lot in electricity after a while. They are much more expensive per hour than gas heating and less efficient than alternatives such as a storage heater that draws electricity during off-peak hours. And if your home isn't well insulated, you'll be getting less value as the heat you're paying for escapes. 

Depending on the size of your home, it may be more economical to set the main central heating thermostat to low and use a portable heater in the living room, for example. This means that your living room is nice and warm as you snuggle up in front of the television, while hallways and bedrooms are maintained at a comfortable temperature.

Our experts test electric heaters to find out exactly how long each one will take to heat your room, how well they maintain that temperature and to see what they're likely to add to your electricity bills. Only electric heaters that heat quickly, consistently and cheaply are given our Best Buy status.

See our round-up of the Which? Best Buy electric heaters.

How powerful does a fan heater need to be?

Another important consideration is the power of the heater. Measured in kilowatts (kW), higher power means the heater will be better for heating big rooms. If you want to heat a small room, a good, low-power portable heater (less than 2kW, say) will be fine – and cheaper to run.

However, manufacturers’ claimed power is not always what it seems. Our lab testing has found that some fan heaters don't match the power claimed on the box . This means that you could end up with a model that leaves you shivering in a cold room for longer than you had expected.

We test each heater to see whether it achieved the full claimed power. The only way to find out if you'll get the wattage that you pay for is to see our electric heater reviews. 

Are there any dangers to using an electric heater?

As long as you use them according to their instructions, they are safe appliances. Nearly all have some kind of carry handle for moving them about, and many have a safety cut out feature - this will switch off the heater if it gets dangerously hot.

Never place anything on, or cover up, a portable heater as it massively increases the risk of a fire. Some heaters also have a ‘tilt protection’ feature – if the heater is knocked over, it will automatically switch itself off. It's worth considering this feature if you have a large, enthusiastic dog.

What about heater style?

Portable heaters aren’t the trendiest looking household appliances but, all credit to their designers, some of the latest generation have a hint of style about them.

For example, the Dyson Hot and Cool AM09, which is both a fan and a heater, has a distinct futuristic design and comes in multiple colours to suit your room. Check out our Dyson Hot and Cool AM09 review to see whether it heats well too, or if it's a case of style over substance.

What heater is best for your space?

Portable heaters are lightweight so can easily be moved from room to room. Heavier models often have a carry or tow handle and wheels that allow you to easily move them about.

All the portable heaters we've tested and reviewed are mains operated. Most have a cord that is over 1.5 metres – so you have more flexibility about where in a room you place the heater. The smaller, lighter ones are ideal if you have a caravan or mobile home.

Some heaters can be wall-mounted. This is a space-saving boon because it frees up floor space, but does mean you won't be able to move it about freely. If portability is more important than space saving, then a freestanding heater will make your life easier.

We weigh every heater we test so you can ensure you choose one that you can manage. Find out the weight of each one on the tech specs page of each of our electric heater reviews.

Where to buy an electric heater

When buying an electric heater, make sure you're handing your money over to a reputable seller. Check the retailer's returns policy and pay attention to customer feedback and reviews. For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty products, see our advice on shopping online

Argos, Screwfix, George at Asda and John Lewis are some of the most searched-for electric heater retailers at the time of writing. We’ve included links to these retailers - they're handpicked by our experts because of their stock availability, best value price or warranty options. 

  • Argos – offers a modest range of electric heaters to suit all budgets. Brands include Dimplex, Delonghi and Challenge. You can get same day in-store collection in selected Sainsbury's stores and it scores highly in our annual retailer survey of more than 2,000 members of the public. 
  • Screwfix – sells a mixture of freestanding and wall mounted electric heaters. Prices start at just £10 for basic models and go up to around £300. You can get free delivery for orders over £50 or click and collect in-store within 48 hours. If you're not happy with your model you can get an exchange or refund within 30 days. 
  • John Lewis – has a handful of own-brand electric heaters and a few models from Dyson. You'll get a two-year guarantee at no extra cost and and you can get a full refund within 35 days.
  • Littlewoods – stocks a small range of electric heaters, with the majority from Dimplex and Black & Decker. Prices range from just £30 and go right up to nearly £700. You can get free delivery or click and collect and their returns policy runs for 28 days

When is the best time to buy an electric heater?

A lot of new heaters come out at the end of summer and beginning of autumn. But this doesn't mean you can't shop before then if you want to get in ahead of other consumers. 

We've found in the past that availability can become an issue, particularly once winter starts. If you're anticipating needing an electric heater, it can be wise to preempt this and snag one before they're most needed. 

What is EcoDesign Lot 20?

Lot 20 sets out a new set of rules that electric heater manufacturers must follow in order to make their products more efficient and less wasteful of energy. 

This regulation means that electric heaters must have mechanical thermostatic control functions. This means that they must be able to measure the room temperature and adjust accordingly in order to avoid wasting energy. 

Lot 20 legislation covers all local space heaters manufactured for sale in the EU after 1 January 2018 which use electricity, gaseous or liquid fuels.

Because this legislation has been in force for a few years now, non-compliant heaters will be sparse and probably only sold second-hand. 

Lot 20 is a minimum standard and we go further than this when we measure the thermostatic control of every electric heater we put through our test lab. We give every electric heater a star rating out of 5 according to its ability to maintain a stable temperature in a range of different climates.