Do infrared heaters heat the air? Or do they magically radiate heat through the air?
“Infrared heaters don’t heat the air” is the single most common infrared heater myth. Since I started writing for this website, I’ve read it everywhere.
Just for fun and giggles, I googled “Do infrared heaters heat the air?” and the (current) number one result says that “infrared heaters don’t add [heat] to the air”…
That is plain wrong!
Hi, my name is Daniel, I am an electrical engineer, who worked in the heat sensing industry! And on top of that, I’ve been conducting my own infrared heater experiments for this website!
In this article, you’ll learn that infrared heaters do heat the air (contrary to what everybody says), why they heat the air, and I’ll show a stupidly simple way to prove it.
After reading this article, you’ll know exactly why everybody gets infrared heaters wrong (or only partially understands them).
And in the end, I’ll recommend you my favorite infrared heater that can heat entire living rooms!
Do infrared heaters heat the air?
Yes, contrary to what most people think, infrared heaters do heat the air. When you run an infrared heater, room temperature rises. You can easily prove that with a thermometer.
Although everybody says the opposite, this plain simple physics experiment with a thermometer proves that infrared heaters do heat the air in a room.
The statement “Infrared heaters don’t heat the air” is not true.
Infrared heaters Turn Objects to Heaters
However, infrared heaters heat the air through a different mechanism than other heaters.
Regular electric space heaters work through convection. An electric heating element heats the air. And a built-in fan blows the hot air into the room.
So, the immediate result of running a regular space heater is hot air.
Infrared heaters, on the other hand, radiate heat waves into the room. So, initially, the heat energy is stored in the electromagnetic waves emitted from the infrared heating elements.
These infrared wavelength heat waves pass through the air almost without any energy absorbtion, meaning they transfer very little energy to air molecules.
And that’s where the misconception comes from!
People stop at this point and conclude “Ah, that must mean, infrared heaters don’t heat the air!”.
But that’s wrong!
As soon as the radiation hits any object in your room, the object’s surface heats up. And the heated surface, in turn, creates hot air.
Effectively, infrared heaters turn the objects in your room to heaters.
Everything an infrared heater radiates at starts emitting heat!
So, infrared heaters do heat the air, although they do it indirectly.
Why Infrared Heaters Directly Emit Hot Air
But that’s not it. The infrared radiation heat effect is just part of the heat. It’s impossible for an infrared heater to emit all the heat energy as infrared radiation.
That’s why you can see infrared heaters glow red. Red is not infra-red!
Red is visible light. And infrared is invisible to the human eye.
This means that a large portion of the heat conversion is imperfect.
Aside from some of the radiation escaping as visible light, some energy is “lost” passing through the electric circuitry of your infrared heater, which creates direct convectional heat (hot air).
Also, the infrared heating tubes get very hot. I did an experiment on infrared heater safety once and found that the infrared heating elements got over 900°F hot. Of course, this creates hot air. No matter what they tell you. Any object that hot will heat the air in your room.
And, on top of that, the infrared heating elements usually sit inside the infrared heater’s case. The front side of the case is open for the infrared waves to escape, and the backside (behind the infrared tubes), is usually fitted with reflective material.
So, half of the infrared heat energy directly escapes through the front of the heater, while the other half of the heat energy goes the other direction and is reflected.
And since the reflective material is never perfect (i.e. it always absorbs part of the heat energy), it heats up and creates hot air as well.
So, there are three more mechanisms (aside from emitting infrared waves) through which infrared heaters create hot air:
- Infrared heating elements surface temperature: Infrared heating tubes get very hot. Mine are >900°F. This creates hot air.
- Electrical resistance: Electric components inside the infrared heater heat up and create hot air.
- Imperfect reflection: The reflective material sitting behind the infrared heating tubes converts some of the radiation to heat.
For these 3 reasons, infrared heaters do heat the air directly.
And these are the reasons why infrared heaters always have vents for hot air to escape.
So, even if a manufacturer claims that their infrared heaters don’t heat the air, you know they’re lying if you see the hot air vents on the top or backside of the heater!
An Analogy to Prove that Infrared Heaters do Heat the Air
Oftentimes, infrared heaters are compared with the sun’s radiation. And it’s actually true: The heat coming from an infrared heater feels just like the heat coming from the sun.
How does sunlight heat the air?
Sunrays hit the earth’s ground, which, in turn, heats up. The hot ground then heats up the air.
The underlying mechanism is exactly the same as in infrared heaters.
Infrared radiation hits objects, and these objects, in turn, heat the air.
People that believe infrared heaters only heat objects, must, by extension, also believe the sun heats only the ground you’re walking on, but the air remains cold. And not just cold as in “freezing cold”, but rather a “cosmic cold” (i.e. no heat at all, as in interstellar space).
If the logic of people claiming infrared heaters don’t heat the air was true, there’d be no life on earth.
What’s the Reason to Buy an Infrared Heater over a Regular Space Heater?
If all space heaters heat the air, why should you buy an infrared heater?
One website claims “you don’t waste energy heating an entire room”. We’ve already learned that this is false. Infrared heaters always heat entire rooms.
However, we learned that infrared heaters turn objects into heaters (through radiation). And you can use an infrared heater to turn yourself into a heater (by facing it toward you).
This effectively turns you into a source of heat. And if you are the source of heat, you’ll feel very warm, even at low heat settings.
So, while an infrared heater eventually heats the entire room, your perceived warmth will be very high.
You will feel very warm although your room is still cold.
Similar to how a fire in a wood stove is warm, even though the room is still freezing cold.
Overall, infrared heaters just feel much warmer than other heaters.
For more arguments, check out: Ceramic Heater vs. Infrared Heater – Which is more efficient?
Recommended Infrared Heater
It’s a solid device, emits heat both through radiation (through the glowing red opening) and using a built-in fan.
So, it heats directionally as well as overall rooms!
The Dr Infrared heater is a bit pricier than many other infrared heaters. But it’s absolutely worth it.
It works in the coldest cold, and, due to its wooden case, can take hits and falls. And it’s so sturdy, it will last you for decades!
Contrary to popular belief, infrared heaters do heat the air.
Some simple arguments prove it.
You can prove it experimentally using a thermometer. And you can argue that the sun wouldn’t be able to heat the air in our atmosphere if infrared radiation would not heat the air.
Infrared heaters are one of my favorite types of electric space heaters. They excel when it comes to heat output and energy efficiency.
Get yourself an infrared heater! You won’t regret it!