Can you put a space heater on a table? When I googled this phrase initially, I found answers diverging all over the place.
People answered “yes” and “no” everywhere without actually proving their point somehow.
I am going to place my three space heaters (oil-filled radiator, infrared heater, and propane heater) on top of a living room table and see if anything happens.
Additionally, I am going to prove that you can place your space heater on tables as well using simple physics.
Quick answer: Yes, you can put a space heater on a table. Space heaters radiate heat away from the tabletop, so there is no risk of fire. Running infrared and propane heaters from a table can increase their perceived heating efficiency since you can point the heaters directly at you from an elevated surface. Placing an oil-filled radiator on a table makes no sense since radiates the heat in all directions anyways.
Let’s have a deep dive.
Experiment: Can you put a space heater on a table?
I am using a regular living room sofa table for the experiment. It’s made of regular cheap compressed wood.
I placed 3 space heaters on top and turned them all on and let them heat up.
Well… nothing dangerous happens. And my house is not on fire yet. I did a few measurements using a laser thermometer. Let’s have a look at these.
Why you can place your space heater on a table
There are three things we have to look at to tell whether space heaters are safe on tabletops.
How hot do tabletops get because of space heaters?
Space heaters get very hot. Oil-filled radiators have a surface temperature of 180°F. The heating elements of an infrared heater get over 750°F. And propane heaters get over 932°F.
That’s where my laser thermometer’s measurement range ends.
These are, however, the hottest temperatures present in the space heater.
What really counts for table safety is the heat to which your table is exposed.
For each space heater, I took a temperature measurement of the tabletop right in front of it (for the infrared and propane heater) and the tabletop right below it (for the oil-filled radiator).
|Heater type||Tabletop temperature|
As you can see, the tabletop temperatures that these space heaters cause are absolutely safe.
None of the space heaters get anywhere close to dangerous temperatures.
These are not even enough to stain or age your tabletop finish (like the yellowing of paper with time or heat).
I am positively surprised by the oil-filled radiator which does not heat up the tabletop at all. The reason is likely the design of oil-filled radiators. Oil-filled radiators work using convection, which is the movement of hot air.
Hot air always rises, so the heat is carried away from the oil-filled radiator. None of the heat sinks down to heat up the tabletop.
Maybe the tabletop heats up through radiation if you wait longer. But I’d suspect the upper temperature limit for the tabletop below an oil-filled radiator to be around 120°F (same as infrared and propane heater).
Infrared heaters barely heat up the tabletop as well. The reason is that they always radiate the heat slightly upwards and never into the floor. Of course, a part of the radiation reaches the floor (or tabletop in this case).
But that’s just a small fraction.
Propane heaters emit a majority of their heat using convection as well. Yes, they glow like infrared heaters as well. But only very little heat comes out of the front if you compare it to the amount of heat coming out of the top vents.
So, propane heaters also distribute their heat mostly upwards.
Which table materials can you put a space heater on?
Let’s have a look at three common table materials and whether you can run your space heater on them.
Most tables are made of wood. Wood randomly auto-ignites at above 1,100°F. That’s the temperature where wood starts burning without a coordinated ignition.
For example, when you kindle a fireplace, you use kindling material, topped with thin pieces of wood and then larger logs. In this case, wood starts burning at a much lower temperature!
But when running a space heater on a table, you don’t have a coordinated ignition setup.
That’s why you have to consider the random autoignition temperature above with wood ignites independently of how it is kindled.
The temperature to ignite a wood table is too high for a space heater to reach. Additionally, space heaters radiate the heat away from the table. So, a fire is unlikely.
Some tables are, however, made of different materials such as plastic or glass.
I would not run a space heater on a plastic table.
Most plastic materials start melting at around 250°F. Even if the space heaters in the experiment above did not heat the table top to this temperature, it might well be that different heater models do.
Never place a space heater on a plastic table. Plastic has a low melting temperature which some strong space heaters or space heaters with a bad heat distribution might reach.
Glass only melts at very high temperatures. And it never ignites. So, it is fire-safe.
However, apart from heating, space heaters could potentially break glass tables due to their weight.
At least an oil-filled radiator can.
Oil-filled radiators weigh 18.9 pounds with the heaviest models around 27 pounds.
This might be too heavy for some glass tables.
You can place most infrared and propane heaters on your glass table since they are very lightweight.
But oil-filled radiators are heavy. So, avoid placing them on any surface that breaks easily.
Does putting a space heater on a table make sense?
Putting a space heater on a table absolutely makes sense for heaters that radiate heat, eg. infrared and propane heaters.
You can use your table as a pedestal for infrared heaters.
The main advantage of infrared heaters is that they radiate the heat in one direction only. And the best placement for infrared direct-path heating is rarely from the floor.
If you, for example, sit on your living room couch, you can place your infrared heater on top of the sofa table so it directly heats you.
If you run your space heater from the floor only, it might only be able to heat your feet. And if you lie on your sofa, there might not even be a good direct heating path.
So, the closer you place your infrared heater to you, the more heat you feel.
Putting a space heater on a table in order to increase your personal heat exposure increases the heat you feel and it lowers your electricity bill (since you can run your heater on lower settings).
On the other hand, putting an oil-filled radiator on a table makes no sense at all. First, oil-filled radiators radiate their heat in all directions evenly. So you might as well put them on the floor.
And also, oil-filled radiators stand on rolls. So it’s very easy to accidentally push them off the table.
To summarize: Running infrared heaters (whether electric or propane) on a tabletop makes sense. But placing an oil-filled radiator on a tabletop is not a good idea.
Safety tips for running a space heater on a table
The worst thing that can happen when you run your space heater on a table is that it tips over and drops on the floor.
Likely, this won’t start a fire. However, the impact can damage your floor.
In general, heaters don’t just tip over on their own. There always has to be someone bumping into the table or into the heater.
Therefore, I recommend running your space heater only if you don’t have pets or small kids at home.
Or at least, don’t leave a space heater unattended on a tabletop.
It makes sense to put infrared and propane space heaters on a table to increase their perceived efficiency.
Placing them on the table improves the direct-path heat radiation that reaches you and therefore makes you feel warmer without using more power.
So, putting radiant heaters on a tabletop can improve your heating efficiency.
However, putting convection heaters such as oil-filled radiators on tables does not make sense. These heaters usually distribute the heat evenly across the room. Placing an oil-filled radiator on a table does not make a difference.
To increase an oil-filled radiator’s efficiency, put your feet against it and lower the settings!