Are Infrared Heaters Safe? & How Do They Work?

Researched & Written by Craig

Infrared heating is amazingly effective and very cost-efficient. So much so, that during my research I found it to be the cheapest type of heater to run. But there’s a catch! It can seem a little dangerous.

So, are infrared heaters safe? The short answer is yes, infrared heaters are completely safe. They produce heat in the same way the sun warms us, but with much less intensity (explained below). That said, they do have the same dangers as any other space heater (e.g. being hot to the touch). Read on to find out more.

To help keep things simple, I’ve written this article in a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ format. Feel free to jump to the questions that interest you and find the answers.

Infrared Heaters – Frequently Asked Questions:

How do infrared heaters work?

Infrared heating has always confounded me. If you’ve ever been quite cold sitting on a patio, then felt the instant heat of an infrared heater being turned on, I’m sure you’ve felt the same!

It turns out these magical red lamps have a fairly simple explanation. Infrared heat is generated by the vibration and rotation of molecules by a rod or quartz lamp/tube within the heater. This produces energy in the form of invisible infrared radiation waves. These shoot through the air at the speed of light until they hit an object and transfer their energy into heat.

While this sounds scary, don’t worry! Infrared is the same type of heat we receive from the sun. It’s completely natural, and we even produce a little bit of it ourselves!

This type of heat actually the same way a microwave works! The radiation in a microwave collides with the water in food and causes it to heat up that way. I’ve written a microwave buying guide covering how microwaves work and the different types.

Here’s the full electromagnetic spectrum below. Can you see where infrared is?

Infrared is a wide part of the spectrum starting just outside of visible light

While I’m not (yet) able to make good explanation videos, I found this great one below. It’s by a Scottish company that produces infrared panels. They give a great little explanation and some benefits of infrared heating.

In short – infrared heaters work the same as the sun. They heat up objects, and not the air. This means the heat lasts longer and isn’t affected by a cold wind. It feels comfortable, and can even feel warm while the air is cool! They use up to 40% less energy and, unlike air heaters, don’t swirl up a ton of dust.


Are Infrared Heaters Safe?

Infrared heating sounds scary. Radiation, electromagnetic waves, invisible heat… not relaxing words to say the least!

Don’t worry, though. Infrared heat is not dangerous. It works the same way the sun does – just with MUCH less intensity. You can’t get sunburn from an infrared heater!

The only dangers are those that come with infrared heaters are shared with all common space heaters:

  • Possible burns due to touching a hot exterior. This can be a problem with young kids or curious pets. If so, try to use a wall heater or one with a cool-to-touch exterior.
  • Dangerous when damaged. A fully working heater is completely safe, but a damaged one isn’t. Just like with any heating appliance, make sure it’s not going to get knocked around too much and get it checked if you have any suspicions.
  • Potential fire hazard. If you (or any unknowing kids) leave flammable objects on a heater, you’re asking for trouble. Infrared is no different. Stick to the best practices and keep the space in front of the heater clear.

To make sure you’re using an infrared heater safely, follow these easy tips:

  1. Protect the power cord. Know a leading cause of home fires? Damaged power cables. Make sure the cable isn’t just left stretched out across a room, or anywhere it could be getting a lot of wear and tear.
  2. Keep away from small hands and paws. The coils of an infrared heater can get If you have young kids or curious pets then I’d recommend getting a wall-mounted heater, or one that has a cool-to-the-touch exterior.
  3. Keep it clear. Don’t leave any clothes, drapes, or other flammable objects on top of or right next to the heater.
  4. Check your smoke alarm. Just in case, make sure you’re smoke alarms in full working condition. I know we all should be doing this anyway, but let’s just say some of us (including me) need a reminder now and then!
  5. Use a grounded outlet. On high power, some of the larger heaters can use a lot of electricity. Make sure you don’t overload your grid by using a grounded outlet, and potentially some surge protection.
  6. Make sure it’s got safety features. Any good modern model will have at least two types of safety protection. These are tip-over protection (if it falls over) and overheat protection (you guessed it).
  7. Make sure it’s safety-certified. If you really want peace of mind, check if your model’s certified by approved associations. The logos from three of the main organizations are below, sourced from Consumer Reports.

From left to right – UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory), ETL (Intertek), and CSA (Canadian Standards Association). Source.


Do Infrared Heaters Cause Cancer?

Infrared heat does not cause cancer. Although infrared heat works similar to the sun’s heat, the radiation does not have an ultraviolet component like the sun does. This means no skin tanning (aww), no sunburn (yay), and importantly – no cancer (woohoo!). Aside from the common dangers of heaters (i.e. hot-to-touch), infrared heat is completely safe.


Are Infrared Heaters Safe to Leave on Overnight?

In general, infrared heaters are safe to leave on overnight. They are not temperamental, and any modern heater worth its salt has safety shut-off switches in-case it falls over or gets too hot. That said, you should still be careful if you’re leaving one on while you’re asleep or out.

I’d recommend you make use of any timer functions to switch the heat off automatically after a set time. This can be great if you just need the room to be a little warmer as you sleep. Second, just make sure that the heater isn’t covered – especially not by anything flammable – and that it’s in good condition. Particularly check for any damage to the heater or fraying of the power cord.


Can Infrared Heaters Heat a Whole House?

Infrared heaters are a fantastic solution to high heating costs. Instead of heating a whole house, you can only heat the rooms you do need. While they could be used to heat the whole home, it’s likely that this would be more expensive than just using your central heating system.

Infrared heaters are built to give you targeted, cost-efficient heating in the areas you need it. While many heaters could heat a whole home, it’s not the best (or the intended) use for them.


Are Infrared Heaters Cheap to Run?

I’ve spent a lot of time researching which types of electric heater are cheapest to run. Every time, infrared heaters come out on top. Often infrared heating can provide up to 40% cost savings in comparison! They’re the cheapest to run because they typically use much less power to provide their heat. A 1200W infrared heater is quite a powerful one, whereas a 1500W ceramic heater is just standard.

Infrared heat is also long-lasting. By heating objects instead of the air, you won’t lose all your heat to a cold draft or an open door. This can be a huge cost saver and mean you’re not needing to put the heater on full-blast like with an electric space heater.

One huge cost-saver with heaters like these is to get a model with a thermostat. They may be slightly more expensive, but they save you tons of money. By switching to lower power once they’ve hit your desired temperature, your electricity bill won’t be nearly as high.


Are Infrared Heaters Worth It?

Whether an infrared heater is worth it for you depends on what you need! They are fantastic for silent, gentle, cost-efficient, and long-lasting heat. Although they cost a bit more up-front than a standard heater, they’ll save you a ton of money on bills in the long run. They’re especially good for draughty rooms or places without much insulation.

That said, they’re built for heating smaller areas. If you’re looking for a whole-house heating solution, they may be a great addition but they’re not cut-out for a whole household.

For me personally, I think they’re a fantastic heat source. Infrared heat gives a room a really cozy feel, and the fact the heat can come from something simple like a panel on the wall is just fantastic.


What are the Pros & Cons of Infrared Heaters?

Infrared Heater Pros Infrared Heater Cons
Cheap to Run - Infrared heaters are typically the cheapest type of heater to run. They use less watts in general, and don't need to work extra hard if a space is draughty. Since there's no moving parts, they're also super low maintenance. Only on/off - One downfall of infrared heaters is you can't quiet control the temperature. It's typically either just on or off, and with only 2 or 3 power settings. This can make things tricky if you're really looking for a perfect room temperature.
Silent - Aside from some heating noise on start-up, infrared heaters are mostly silent. Perfect for bedrooms. Can get hot / kids touch - Lastly, these guys do get really hot when on high power. If you've got any kids or curious pets, be careful! A great alternative is having them on the wall, out of reach of inquisitive hands/paws.
Heat Lasts - Since they heat objects and not the air, a cool breeze or an open door won't mean you lose all of that heat.
Wall Options - There's tons of creative options for infrared heaters. The latest take are simple, minimalistic panels that sit on the wall and gently heat the whole room. They can even come as art pieces, or mirrors!
Gentle, instant heat - One of the most satisfying things about these heaters is that they're both instant, but gentle. When you turn them on you feel the heat immediately, but that same heat doesn't then get too much (since the objects are warm, not the air).
Safe - These heaters provide heat without the often-present dangers of other heaters. There's no moving parts, fuel-lines, or open flames. Especially with modern safety features like tip-over protection and automatic shut-off.