Are Space Heaters Safe? 10 Things to Know

Updated: Nov. 28, 2023

When the temperature drops, a portable space heater can be a convenient source of supplemental heat for your home. One common question is: Are space heaters dangerous? No, unless yours is really old or you're using it incorrectly. Make sure you're using yours correctly with these tips.

space heater _724455943Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock

Space heaters are a great option for that stubborn corner of your home that just won’t get warm, no matter what the thermostat says. They can also help your HVAC system by letting you warm up a room you’re using without cranking the heater for the whole house.

But there are some downsides. Used improperly, they can make you uncomfortable rather than cozy. Space heaters can also be a fire hazard if you’re not following a few basic rules. In fact, space heaters are responsible for about 1,700 fires and 80 deaths per year, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Before you turn on your space heater, it’s essential to know a few things about how it works and some general rules to follow for using one in your home.

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Follow the Instructions

Your space heater should have a label that shows it was tested in a recognized laboratory. Before using the heater, read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels. If you follow the instructions, the answer to the question are space heaters safe? is yes.

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electric space heater

Use for Supplemental Heat Only

A space heater is meant to provide supplemental heat only. They should never be used to warm linens, cook food or dry clothing. While they may work to warm up smaller rooms in your home, they are not very energy-efficient appliances. In fact, the Department of Energy’s EnergyStar program doesn’t certify space heaters for this reason. Space heaters should be used as a short-term fix opposed to a long-term solution. That being said, these are the most energy-efficient space heaters in the market.

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Make Sure Your Smoke Alarms Work

This is essential whether your using a space heater or not, but given the risk of fire associated with portable, plug-in heaters, make sure your smoke alarms are in good working order. Remember, most smoke detectors only last about 10 years, so if yours are older than that, it’s time for new ones. Unless you have a hardwired smoke detector, change the batteries twice a year; most people make that a regular maintenance task when they set the clocks forward and backward when the time chances in the spring and fall. Learn from the expert how to replace a hardwired smoke detector.

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Check the Cord

Check the cord for cracks and make sure the plug isn’t broken. When plugging in, make sure the connection is secure. Loose connections can be a fire hazard and are inherently dangerous. You can fix a damaged cord, but don’t use the space heater if the cord is replaced or repaired.

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Don’t Leave Space Heater Unattended

Space heater safety 101: when leaving a room, turn the space heater off. You should also turn the heater off when sleeping and never let pets or children play too close to the heater. Have a little one at home? Make sure you’re always watching them while the space heater is on. You don’t want them burning themselves.

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Keep It Out of the way

A cord in the middle of a hallway or laid across a high traffic area between the living room and the kitchen is an accident waiting to happen. Keep your space heater in a corner or an area of the room where people aren’t walking so that nobody trips on it. Not only is it dangerous for the person walking, it could result in the heater getting too close to flammable materials.

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Family Handyman

Plug Directly into an Outlet

It’s tempting to use an extension cord to get the heater exactly where you want it, or jamming into a crowded power strip so you don’t have to unplug another device. Don’t. Space heaters draw considerable electric current, which can shock you and overheat extension cords and power strips. Find out how much electricity a space heater use.

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Family Handyman

Keep Space Heaters Away from Flammable Material

Make sure space heaters are kept at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. That includes rugs, clothing, bedding and paper. They’re best used on a flat, uncovered floor; that means no carpeting underneath it. Don’t run the cord under a rug either.

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Mirko Graul/Shutterstock

Look for Safety Features

Look for a space heater that has safety features such as a tip-over switch, overheat sensor and touch sensor. Because, these features can help prevent overheating which can result in a fire. Temperature control is a good feature to have too. If you’re concerned about whether or not space heaters are safe, safety features like these can help set your mind at ease.

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Look at Watts

Look at the wattage to determine how much heat a space heater will produce. Most electric space heaters range from 400 to 1,500 watts. Additionally, many models will allow you to adjust the output over a given range.