Looking for the best heater as the temperature has plunged due to 'Storm Julian' or whatever we are up to now? We understand: even with the central heating on, you're probably finding certain parts of your home are currently too cold for anyone other than polar bears, and that means it's time to acquire the best portable heater money can buy.
In the past this would have meant a three-bar fire or paraffin burner, and almost certain death – or at least a nasty burn. Now however, the best electric heaters are quiet, relatively energy-efficient and in some cases, even look like décor, instead of industrial equipment from Soviet Russia. Fan heaters – including the best Dyson fan for heating – and at least one oily one can be found in this, our red hot list of the best contenders for a cosy winter's day.
- The more high-tech solution: the best smart thermostats and radiator valves
- Best jackets for cold weather
- The heater's sworn foe, the fan
How to buy the best portable heater
Not all heaters are hugely effective. Some do little more than threaten Jack Frost, while others prize power over peace and quiet. Some sip electricity, while others may bankrupt you. What we have here is the crème de la crème of 'chaud', as the French say.
There are several things to consider when you want a heater. The first is how you want to use it. Do you want instant heat in short bursts? A fan heater is for you. Prefer something more like a radiator? Oil-filled is the way to go. And if you fancy only being heated if you stand in a perfect position directly in front of the heater, a ceramic heater with motion detection is your friend.
There are big differences between the way heaters work. Some use spinning blades to circulate air, which is effective if a bit noisy; others let the heat radiate. And some use very clever airflow design to pump hot air around with less noise.
So, without further ado, let’s get to the meat and two veg and take a look at what’s on the heating menu.
The best heaters, in order
The Dyson Hot + Cool Fan Heater (or AM09, if you prefer a more technical name) is essentially the Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Link Fan Heater and Air Purifier (see below) without the air purifying bits.
This is the model to go for if you want a whole room heated up in short shrift. Its adjustable bladeless Jet Focus tech sucks in air from the rear and multiplies the airflow by up to 15 times before its blasted across the room either as a tightly focussed stream for personal warmth or a wide, diffused stream for heating a wider area. Now, it must be said that the airflow doesn’t feel that powerful when you’re up close but it’s certainly warm enough and thankfully uniformly delivered, with no scorching hot points to set your trousers on fire. The tilting base also helps focus the airflow and, of course, it oscillates for maximum coverage. The included remote makes it easier to control, too – just don’t lose it or you won’t be able to control some of the functions.
Even without it's big bro's bells and whistles, you're still getting a lot of great design flourishes and top build quality for your money here. While there are plenty of me-too products mimicking Dyson’s designs for a lot less money, they’re not a patch on the real thing.
This little fan heater measures just 225 x 170 x 150mm but it punches way above its weight, outputting between 900w and 1,800w of toasty heat, depending on what setting you’ve selected. Seriously, for its size and keen price, this writer is mightily impressed by the amount of direct instant heat it delivers – too hot to keep a hand within six inches. Although it’s really small, the MeacoHeat 1.8kW Fan Heater is good for rooms up to about 55m³ and perfect for personal heating whether used on a desktop or the floor.
However, the really clever thing about this model is that it comes equipped with a motion sensor that detects when a person is in the room, switching on and off accordingly. Hence, as soon as you move within range of the sensor, the heater turns on and stays on. But when you pop off to make a cup of tea, it turns itself off after about 30 seconds. This is a major plus since it won’t continually heat a room unnecessarily – and add a load of pennies to the electricity bill.
The MeacoHeat is also fitted with a tilt switch that cuts the power if the heater’s knocked over – unlikely given its firmness when in position – a one-to-seven hour timer and an obligatory thermal fuse which shuts it down if it’s overheated because some household fool draped a pair of damp socks over the front grille.
The MeacoHeat is available in three colours – white, black and red – and there’s also a taller 2kW version available for larger rooms. If you’re looking for a small, highly efficient ceramic heater for close-quarters warmth then this is the model to go for. It’s easy to use, undeniably efficient and small enough for under a desk, on a desk or in the corner of a room. An impressive piece of keenly-priced kit.
Dyson's fans offer quiet and 'non-buffeting' air circulation thanks to their lack of blades, and oscillate very elegantly. This top-of-the-range model does a load more besides.
Most importantly for the purposes of this buying guide, it heats, and very well too. Via the reliable iOS and Android app you can set a favoured temperature, even when you're out of the house, and it will maintain that heat with minimum fuss. There's also a neat little remote that provides most of the same functionality, albeit only at closer range.
The fan also cools in summer and removes impurities and allergens from the air too, with the filter needing a change about once a year or so, depending on how often you use it. The app will tell you when it's time. This is useful for people with allergies as the HEPA filter will trap pet dander, pollen and other airborne impurities.
The Pure Hot+Cool is energy efficient too, automatically shutting itself off when no longer needed and back on when the temperature needs changing. Also, it’s the only fan heater to have Quiet Mark accreditation, so it won’t get in the way of a good night’s sleep. The lack of blades means it’s also much easier to clean than a traditional fan.
If you have the wonga to spare, then this is one of the most technologically adept fan heaters on the market.
The Anna Little is like Stadler’s other Anna heater, but cheaper and, yes, littler. Don’t let its tiny dimensions fool you, though: it still chucks out a very creditable 1,200W from its tiny fan, making it ideal for smaller spaces.
Stadler heaters are made to high standards and tend to deliver very quiet performance, and this is no exception. It’s worth noting that it’s very much a no-frills product, though: if you want a heater that’ll oscillate, chill you in the summer or switch itself on in the morning, this is not that heater.
It’s worth pointing out another omission: unlike many small heaters, the Anna Little doesn’t have a carrying handle. It’s a heater that’s designed to be placed in one place most of the time, so if you need one that you can move around easily, you might be better off with something less elegant but more flexible.
The main downside of fan heaters is that they stop heating the air as soon as you switch them off, so you often find yourself in the cycle of “too cold!” “that’s better!” “too hot!”. And of course whenever they’re on they’re burning through your electricity bill.
An oil-filled radiator isn’t as instant – they all take a while to warm up – but the oil and metal surround stays hot for a long time, continuing to warm the room long after the heating element switches off. That makes them particularly well suited to everyday use in a wide range of places. Also, the inclusion of a timer is particularly handy in places where central heating isn’t available.
You might want to trial one if you’re planning to put it in a small bedroom, however: some people find the timers overly noisy, and like other radiators there’s a tiny bit of noise as they warm up and cool down.
This particular six-fin model produces 800 watts of radiating heat and comes replete with a thermostat and overheat protection. It’s cheap as chips to buy but not the best looker.
Paul is an adaptive heater, which means that like the Dysons, it adjusts its output to maintain whatever temperature you choose, in much the same way the heating and cooling system in your car does. It’s accurate to plus or minus one degree and has eight heat settings that you can control remotely or from the integrated control panel.
One of the main benefits of the Paul heater is that it’s very, very quiet even at the higher airflow settings, wafting the air around rather than blowing it in your face. It works as a fan in the summer too, circulating air around even large rooms.
Although it’s more of a premium model, it’s cheap compared to a Dyson, and well engineered. It's also smaller than it looks, pumping out up to 2,000W of heat from a relatively restrained, 18cm footprint. You can get no-name knock-offs that are much cheaper, but they’re also less efficient and a lot more noisy.
This is a wide dispersion heater, designed to warm up a fairly large space quickly: in this case it’s for rooms of up to 22 square metres. Like an industrial fan heater, it blows very hot air very vigorously, and that means it can be quite noisy compared to some, especially over time. We’re not talking jumbo jet noise levels here, but it’s probably better suited to the shed, garage or workshop than a bedroom.
Even at full tilt, the casing doesn’t get too hot, but it’s best to stay away from the front of it when it’s been on for a while. There’s a useful temperature warning marker that changes colour so you know when it’s okay to touch.
This particular model doesn’t have a frost protection feature like some others in the range, but its two thermostat settings and adjustable aim make it suitable for a wide range of chilly settings.
The Russell Hobbs 1.5kW Retro PTC Heater is perfect if you're looking to heat a fairly localised area. It can deliver warmth to around 15 square meters of space, which makes it ideal if you're working from home a lot more these days.
There's retro styling, which might not be to everyone's taste, but the unit is pretty dinky anyway so it's hardly an issue. You get the benefit of two heat settings, 750W or 1500W, or a fan-only option, plus a variable thermostat that helps to maintain a steady temperature.
Crucially for such a small portable heater there's overheat and tip over protection, with the unit switching off automatically if it gets knocked over. The cool touch design also means you won't toast your fingers if you need to move the heater at any point. As a small option that'll take the edge off a cold snap this makes a great option.