Need to know
- CHOICE experts recently tested 15 electric heaters from brands such as DeLonghi, Goldair, Arlec and Kmart.
- Six models failed our safety tests. These detailed safety tests assess aspects of the heaters that could cause personal injury or damage to the appliance or your home.
- It’s important to use heaters safely – check our reviews to make sure you’re buying a safe model.
When the temperature drops, many of us opt for an electric heater to keep us warm – they're usually portable, cheaper to buy than other types of heaters and, although they can be expensive to run, a good option for heating a small space for a short period of time.
But recent testing at CHOICE has shown that some heaters are plain unsafe, and our experts warn that you need to be careful about which model you buy and how you use it to avoid damage to the appliance or worse.
'A terrible result'
"Of 15 current electric heater models we recently tested, six failed our safety tests, which is quite a terrible result we haven't seen before," says CHOICE heating expert Chris Barnes.
"Some of the heaters were so damaged after our safety tests that they were no longer operable – one blew a thermal fuse when we simulated knocking it over. Another became unusable after we tested how securely its power cord was attached.
Some of the heaters were so damaged after our safety tests that they were no longer operableChris Barnes, CHOICE heating expert
"It's a timely reminder that using heaters can be hazardous, so you need to ensure that you not only buy a safe model, but that you operate it safely as well."
Although we recommend models that achieve a CHOICE Expert Rating of 70% or more, and at least 70% for heating performance, we don't recommend any models that fail any of our safety tests.
The heaters that failed our safety tests – and why
- DeLonghi TCH8993ER ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test
- Goldair GCT330 ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test
- Goldair GCT270 ceramic tower fan heater – failed towel drape test and tilt stability test
- Click CPN2500 convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test
- Noirot DM73588TWIFI convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test
- Mill AUSG2000LED convection panel heater – failed cord anchorage test.
Left: the Goldair GCT270 undergoing the towel drape test before it buckled and fell over. Right: the resulting damage to the base.
How we determine a safety failure
Tilt and 'knock over' test
One of the safety tests we perform is the ‘tilt stability test’ to see how easily each heater can be knocked over. We then perform another test where we lie each heater on its side to simulate it being knocked over, and see how quickly the tilt switch or thermal cut-out feature shuts the heater off. This is an important test to make sure the heater is not going to cause damage to your home, itself or cause a fire if it’s accidentally knocked over.
In some of the heaters we recently tested, the safety mechanisms either didn’t work or the model didn’t have them.
Towel drape test
Another test that some of these heaters failed was our 'towel drape test'. We drape a towel over the heater while it's on full power. Our expert testers check that the heater doesn't overheat and that it shuts down before the towel or the heater is damaged.
The reason we do this test is to simulate how people often use their heaters in their home (even if the heater's safety instructions advise them otherwise). For example, some people drape clothes over a heater to dry or warm them up, and sometimes things end up draped over the heater by accident.
We failed three heaters on this test because they buckled or were deformed or damaged after this test.
Cord anchorage test
We also test 'cord anchorage' – that is, how securely the cord is attached to the heater. A power cord that is not securely attached to the heater could result in various electrical faults, which could cause damage or even fire.
This test is based on the electrical safety standards in Australia and New Zealand. Our experts perform a series of 'pull and twist' tests on the cord to see if it moves more than a few millimetres.
They also assess the type of electrical connection the heater has and its electrical strength – important for making sure the user is not at risk of electrocution.
Heat safety test
The testers also measure surface temperatures at various points on the heater.
"The point of a heater is to heat the room, not the heater itself," says CHOICE's Chris Barnes. "If it can heat the room whilst staying cool (relatively) to the touch then there's less risk of burning yourself on it.
"Thankfully all the heaters in our recent review passed this important safety test."
What to do if you have one of these heaters
CHOICE has contacted each of the manufacturers of these heaters to advise them of the results of the safety test, so they can investigate and act accordingly. Each of them has replied (see below) and are taking the results seriously.
We have referred any heaters that failed our safety tests to the ACCC, which will work with manufacturers to determine whether or not a recall of these products is necessary.
In the meantime, if you own one of the heaters named in this article, particularly one of the models that failed our cord anchorage test, we advise you to stop using it.
Tips for buying a safe electric heater
- Make sure it has a tilt switch (so it will switch off if it falls down) and a thermal cut-out (so it will power down when it gets close to overheating).
- Look for heaters that have a timer and an automatic shut-off so you don't accidentally leave it on overnight or when you're not in the house. Some heaters now have Wi-Fi or smartphone compatibility so you can turn them on or off remotely.
- Generally, you should never use a heater in the bathroom or let it come into contact with water. That said, we recently tested a heater that does have some level of waterproofing, which adds an extra level of safety.
- Although there are a few cheap heaters that perform well in our tests, it's often cheap heaters that end up being weak performers, have safety risks, or get recalled – this may be due to their having lower-quality components, for example, or less focus on optimal design. But even pricey (and safe) heaters occasionally turn out to be duds in terms of performance or energy efficiency.
- Check CHOICE reviews before you buy to be sure you're not buying a dud.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.