Thanks to the energy crisis, a lot of people have turned to alternative ways of heating their homes.
And this has led to lots of questions about the general use of space heaters—and what kind of problems they could cause.
One question asked often is is it bad to sit in front of a space heater.
Let’s find out.
Is Sitting in Front of a Space Heater Bad for You?
It’s not going to set you on fire, and it’s not going to give you cancer.
But it could cause other issues since excessive heat exposure does affect the body.
So while the answer is yes, it really depends on several variables.
- How long are you sitting in front of the heater?
- How close you’re sitting
- What setting is the heater on? Highest or lowest?
- What type of heater it is could also come into play
Fan Powered Electric Space Heaters
Your skin could suffer most from space heaters—no matter how close you are to them.
Space heaters are known causes of robbing their environment of humidity.
They also increase the air’s capacity to hold moisture as they warm the air.
But your relative humidity is decreasing if you’re not running a humidifier—or somehow adding moisture to the air.
The relative humidity is the amount of water the air is holding compared to the amount it can hold.
Low relative humidity can and does cause:
- Flakey, itchy skin
- Respiratory issues like a scratchy throat and itchy nose
- Dry, irritated eyes
- Chapped lips
- Static electric shocks when you touch something
If you have a space heater at home and aren’t replenishing moisture, all of these things can happen, no matter how close you’re sitting to it.
It will just happen that much faster the closer you are.
And whatever you do, don’t sit your baby too close to a space heater, sucking the humidity out of the air.
Their skin is much more sensitive and delicate than an adult’s, so the issues mentioned above would be magnified for a baby.
Dehydration to the skin is bad, but prolonged dehydration is terrible for the whole body, making space heaters especially dangerous for people who don’t drink enough water.
Chronic dehydration can cause the following:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Exhaustion—mental and physical
Toasted Skin Syndrome
Toast should make you think of breakfast, not your skin. But toasted skin syndrome is a real thing.
And it’s often due to space heaters, especially when you spend too long up close and personal with one.
Eventually, the skin changes color, becoming spotty looking.
The issue happens when the outer layer of the skin is damaged.
The dark spots result from the tiny, superficial veins under the skin being destroyed due to overexposure.
What About Infrared Space Heaters?
Like any other heat source, sitting too close to it for indefinite periods could cause skin issues.
While these emit radiation, it’s important to note that it is different than those used in x-rays or germicidal light bulbs.
Infrared space heaters are unique in that they do not heat the air.
They heat objects.
This could be any object in your home, including your furniture and, more importantly, you.
If the heat is extreme, which could happen if you’re sitting too close to it, it could burn your skin.
Equally, if not more concern, is that although our eyes block infrared radiation, it can still cause the eye to overheat, leading to potential damage or blindness.
Do Infrared Space Heaters Cause Cancer?
As mentioned in the section above, the technologies used in infrared space heaters differ from what’s used in x-rays or germicidal light bulbs.
Infrared radiation is the same radiation the sun emits and warms your skin.
Not to be confused with ultraviolet (UV) light, which is known to cause cancer.
As the very name implies, infrared space heaters use infrared radiation, a convection type of heating.
Convection heat means that objects such as your body or furniture are heated, which is different from forced air heating, which warms the air itself.
So you don’t need to worry about getting cancer from your infrared heater.
But you still need to worry about the potential harm to your skin and eyes if exposed to prolonged, extreme heat.
Are Space Heaters Really Safe?
Considering some of the scary details above, some might wonder if using a space heater is safe.
To put your mind at rest, yes.
Typically speaking, space heaters are safe as long as you’re using them the way they were intended.
The following is a short list of general rules and guidelines to help you use your space heater properly and protect yourself from potential health and fire hazards.
Be Aware of Fuel Burning Space Heaters
Fuel-burning space heaters would include any that run on:
Granted, charcoal-burning space heaters aren’t typically found in North America.
However, fuel-burning heaters produce carbon monoxide, so ensure that the model you use vents directly outside.
The combustion created as the fuel burns releases toxins and carbon monoxide into the air.
Never ignore warning signs on space heaters.
If you have one that requires outdoor venting, follow the instructions.
Keep Them at a Distance
Space heaters can burn you or your surroundings.
The owner’s manual that comes with the new purchase of a space heater will indicate a safe distance to keep it away from walls and furniture.
They generate an incredible amount of heat; if placed too close to flammable objects, they can start a fire.
They can also burn your skin.
Not the slow build-up to a burn that can happen from sitting too close for too long, but the severe burn that can occur if you touch their hot surface.
So don’t place them in high-traffic areas where you might trip and fall over one or somewhere where you might accidentally touch them.
Space Heaters as a Primary Heat Source
As mentioned at the outset, many people—especially in Europe—are buying space heaters this winter.
Thanks to the war, they’re afraid they won’t have the necessary gas to heat their homes.
But portable space heaters were never meant to be used as primary heat sources.
They’re marketed to those with a room or area that doesn’t get enough circulation and warm air from their main HVAC equipment.
So think of them as supplemental heat, not primary heat.
Additionally, for the most part, portable space heaters are not economical for long-term warmth.
They’re great for those hours you’re sitting at your desk and freezing.
You don’t leave your office or workspace at the end of your day and leave the heater running.
Most portable heaters can’t regulate their heat, so the surface temperature could rise to dangerous levels and create a fire risk.
So never leave a space heater unattended, and never run one overnight.
Is It Bad To Sit In Front Of A Space Heater: Conclusion
So, is it bad to sit in front of your space heater?
If you’re sitting too close and for extended periods, yes, it is.
You run the risk of damaging the small blood vessels close to the skin and causing something called toasted skin syndrome.
You also put yourself at risk of dehydration, which can lead to several health concerns.
However, the good news is that, in general, space heaters are typically safe to use as long as you follow the instructions in their user manuals.