infrared vs oil heater - which to choose and what are the differences?

Infrared vs Oil Heater: 21 Pros and Cons

There are clear differences between an infrared vs oil heater. But they are actually very simple to understand. In this article, I’m going to show you 21 pros and cons of using an infrared vs oil heater, so you know which one suits you best.

The difference between infrared heaters and oil heaters is that infrared heaters are designed for quick, directional heat and better efficiency, whereas oil heaters are meant to replace your home heating unit by heating whole rooms evenly and with more strength.

In order to learn more about the exact differences between infrared and oil heaters, let’s take a look at all the pros and cons.

1. Weight

Oil Heater

Pro: Heavier because of a solid, durable metal body.

Con: Heavier, less portable.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Light, easy to carry around.

Con: Big infrared heaters can be heavy as well.

Generally, oil heaters are heavier than infrared heaters because of their large oil-filled metal body. Infrared heaters are lighter because they are often built with lighter materials, such as plastic or thin metal.

Also, the heating elements of an infrared heater weigh next to nothing. They are light infrared tubes.

But there are exceptions: There are some big infrared heaters that can get heavy as well. In the upper price range, where you get big heaters, infrared heaters can become as heavy as oil heaters. So, the weight of an infrared heater and an oil heater depends from model to model.

Most oil heaters weigh around 25 pounds, whereas most infrared heaters weigh only 10 pounds. However, you can find lighter (mini) oil heaters and bigger infrared heaters which weigh 25 pounds as well.

2. Size

Oil Heater

Pro: Big, but compact (not unnecessarily big)

Con: Sometimes too big.

Infrared Heater

Pro: From small to big – you can find all sizes.

You can get infrared heaters in absolutely every size. From very small desk-heaters you can use in your office, to really big and powerful heaters that are able to heat whole apartments.

The size of an infrared heater is not limited. It’s simple for the manufacturers to change the size of the infrared heating element.

In contrast, oil heaters can not get arbitrarily large. Too big models would be too heavy to handle. That’s why you mostly find oil heaters in similar sizes. They are compact and size-efficient. Oil heaters appear big at first. But they need a good size to distribute the heat evenly.

Usually, oil heaters are one-size-fits-all. Of course, there are some exceptions. You can, for example, find mini oil heaters or oil heaters with very thin heating bodies. By using these you sacrifice heating capacity though.

3. Heating Speed

Oil Heater

Con: Slow heating speed.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Fast heating speed. Reaches full heat within a minute.

Heating speed is mainly determined by the technology that’s used in a heater. Heating speed is one of the fundamental differences between an infrared vs oil heater. And it’s one of the key differences you need to decide which model suits you best.

Do you need a fast heater or a slow and steady model?

Infrared heaters are extremely fast. They are the racing cars among heaters. It takes an infrared heater just a minute to get to full heat. As soon as you turn an infrared heater on, you can feel the heat coming out. They are a great solution if you’re freezing and you want to warm up immediately.

Oil heaters need more time. They are the snails among heaters. It takes them several minutes to get warm. The reason is that the metal body contains lots of oil to distribute the heat. Before any heat reaches you, the heater has to warm up the oil first. That’s what takes time. Because of that, oil heaters are good for longer heating periods, for example keeping a living room warm throughout the evening.

infrared vs oil heater: infrared has higher heating speed

4. Efficiency

Oil Heater

Pro: Efficient heating of large rooms.

Con: Not efficient outdoors.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Efficient heating in small rooms.

Con: Not efficient heating large rooms.

Both heaters, infrared and oil heaters are efficient in their own ways. You just have to know what you want to use them for. Each of them is best in certain applications.

Infrared heaters produce directional heat (radiation) that heats just space in front of the space heater. That’s why infrared heaters are 40% more efficient than other heaters. It’s because you can focus the heat in one direction. For that reason, infrared heaters are good at heating single persons. You can point the heater at them. But whole rooms are hard to heat using infrared, because the infrared rays usually don’t cover the whole room.

In contrast, oil heaters distribute the heat more evenly. They produce warm air that distributes everywhere in a room. Because of that, oil heaters are better at heating bigger rooms.

However, oil heaters can’t heat outdoors at all. The wind immediately blows the warm air away, whereas the directional heat of infrared heater withstands the wind. You can’t blow away radiation.

5. Price

Oil Heater

Pro: Price-effective.

Con: Few models in lower price categories.

Infrared Heater

Pro: More heaters in lower price categories.

Oil heaters and infrared heaters both are available in very similar price ranges. You can find most models between $50 and $200.

However, in the lower price range, you can find more infrared heaters. I guess the reason is that they are easier to produce overseas and import than the heavy oil heaters. That’s why there are a lot of cheap infrared heaters: They are easier to ship.

Still, you can find oil heaters for cheap and infrared heaters that are expensive. There’s no real limitations for the price you pay.

However, remember that an oil-heater is better in heating large spaces. This means that for the same price, you can heat more space. Meanwhile, infrared heaters are more efficient in the long run. The long term cost to run an infrared heater is usually lower.

infrared space heaters electricity cost less than others in some occasions

6. Safety

Oil Heater

Pro: Very safe. Also safe to touch.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Very safe.

Con: Not safe to touch.

Oil heaters and infrared heaters both come with a vast amount of safety features. From safety certifications to overheat-protection, automatic shut-off, tip-over protection and everything you wish to feel safe.

However, there’s one small difference that makes oil heaters safer by a small margin.

Infrared heaters emit heat through a focused area where the heat comes out. This area is usually protected by a metal grid, so you can not put your hand inside. Even though the metal grid is a safety measure, it heats up as well and becomes hot to touch. I tried it myself and burned my fingers.

In contrast, oil heaters distribute their heat over a large surface. This way the heat is spread evenly instead of being focused. That’s why oil heaters are usually safe to touch and don’t get burning hot.

7. Portability

Oil Heater

Pro: Rollers increase portability.

Con: Still rather hard to transport compared to other heaters.

Infrared Heater

Pro: High portability, easy to transport.

When you want to move your space heater to another room, portability becomes important.

Because of the lower weight, infrared heaters win this point. They are easy to lift and light. Usually, they are already handy to carry or they have a built-in handle to carry them easily.

On the other hand, oil heaters also try to do the best they can. Oftentimes they come with rollers, so you can easily move them around. However, oil heaters become really hard to transport when you have to move them upstairs. The rollers are only useful as long as the heater stays on the same floor.

8. Heating Capacity

Oil Heater

Pro: Very high heating capacity. Stores and produces lots of heat.

Infrared Heater

Con: Low heating capacity. The heat immediately disappears after turning it off.

Heating capacity is the amount of heat that the heater stores and emits over time. More heating capacity means more heat and more heating strength.

Infrared heaters have absolutely no heating capacity. Once you turn an infrared heater off, the heat vanishes immediately. It doesn’t store any heat.

Meanwhile, oil heaters have a high heating capacity. Even after turning them off, the oil remains how and continues to deliver heat until it cools down. It’s similar to how a hot water bottle works.

That’s why oil heaters can heat more evenly and are better in delivering heat over longer periods of time.

9. Versatility

Oil Heater

Con: Low versatility. Only useful in closed rooms.

Infrared Heater

Con: High versatility. Useful in many locations.

Oil heaters are best for heating closed rooms. Especially indoor home heating is what they are made for. But they can also keep small wood workshops warm. The issue with oil heaters is that they attempt to heat the air of the room. That’s why they are not useful (compared to infrared heaters) in heating uninsulated rooms. You also can’t use them outdoors at all.

Infrared heaters are much more versatile. They can heat indoors, in garages, uninsulated rooms, attics and even outdoors. Basically, you can use them wherever you want. The reason is that infrared heat is such a special type of heat that keeps you warm even when the air around you is cold. It’s similar to how sun rays feel in wintertime.

10. Maintenance

Oil Heater

Pro: No regular maintenance.

Con: Hard to fix in case it breaks.

Infrared Heater

Pro: No maintenance. Easier to fix.

As long as you’re not an electrician, you shouldn’t do any maintenance jobs on your heater. Still, this point is important in case your heater breaks.

It’s possible to let an electrician fix your heater. So here’s the maintenance difference between an infrared vs oil heater.

Infrared heaters are generally simpler types of heaters you can easily understand. They consist of a power conversion stage and a heating stage. It’s not a big deal for someone who likes electronics to locate the issue.

Oil heaters are a little more complex. They have a similar power conversion and heating stage. However, the heating element is embodied in the metal body and is very hard to fix.

When an oil heater breaks, chances are, you better buy a new one.

Still, both heaters are maintenance-free and you don’t need to check them regularly.

11. Design

Oil Heater

Con: Oil heaters all look about the same. Good designs are rare.

Infrared Heater

Pro: All designs you wish for.

Oil heaters look like typical heaters. And they all look about the same. They have a thermostat attached to a metal body. That’s it. There’s no fancy design and finding a good looking one is hard. Oil heaters are hard to fit in a stylish apartment. At least, you’ll have to spend time looking for a good looking model that suits your purposes.

Meanwhile, infrared heaters are available in all sizes, shapes, and designs. From what I have seen, you can find models that fit every style you want. The design point goes to infrared heaters.

12. Comfort

Oil Heater

Pro: Oil heaters produce even heat.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Dry heat that feels like sunlight.

When you use a space heater all day long, it’s important that the heat it produces feels good and you are comfortable with it.

My impression is that infrared heat feels like sunlight. Also, it’s very similar to the heat of a fireplace. It’s very focused heat and it feels like it dries your skin. You might now that dry-skin feeling when you’re sitting at a campfire. Here’s an article on 3 Heaters that don’t dry the air!

When I have my infrared heater next to me while I’m working, it heats only one side of my body, which I don’t really like.

Meanwhile, oil heaters produce heat that feels much better. The heat does not rely on radiation, but it warms the air, which feels more comfortable. Also, oil heaters heat a room evenly.

13. Storage

Oil Heater

Con: Storable, but hard to fit in a small storage room.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Easy to store.

During summertime, you don’t always want to keep your heater in your room. So you need to store it.

But which one fits better in a storage room? Infrared vs oil heater?

Both heaters are definitely easy to fit in a storage room. Usually, oil heaters are a little bigger and cumbersome which makes them a little harder to store in small rooms. Also, they are very heavy, so you can’t really put them on a shelve.

Infrared heaters are easy to store. They are smaller and lighter, so you can easily put them wherever you want. And you can take them out easily at any time.

14. Availability

Oil Heater

Pro: Available everywhere.

Con: Hard to find in small local shops.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Available everywhere.

You can easily find both heater types online. There’s no difference in availability between an infrared vs oil heater.

However, in local shops, infrared heaters are more present – at least where I live. The reason is probably that they are cheaper, easier to sell and more portable. People would hate buying an oil heater off the shelve and carry it home.

You can find both heater types used online. So, you can get even better bargains.

15. Overnight Use

Oil Heater

Pro: Safe to run overnight.

Infrared Heater

Con: Emits light which disrupts sleep.

When you use a space heater overnight, what you’re looking for is even and long-lasting heat. Which already gives you a hint on which heater is the better choice.

Also, you want it to have sufficient power, even on lower settings and enough safety features.

Important note: Only use a heater overnight, when you’re at home.

Infrared heaters are not suitable for overnight heating. Even if they provide enough heat and come with all the safety features you need. The heating elements of an infrared heater glow red which definitely hinders your sleep.

In contrast, oil heaters don’t emit any light and are better suited for heating a room overnight. Check out this article for the 3 Best Oil Heaters to run overnight!

Both heaters, infrared and oil heaters are silent at night.

16. Noise

Oil Heater

Pro: Very silent.

Con: Can occasionally make a clicking noise (during heat-up and cool-down).

Infrared Heater

Pro: Silent.

Con: Makes clicking noise as well.

Both heaters are silent as long as you don’t buy special models with a built-in fan. Usually, you can check that in the product description.

When an infrared vs oil heater heats up or cools down, they both can sometimes make clicking noises because of the expanding and contracting surface material. Due to the heat, the material moves a little and makes a little noise when it releases tension. That’s normal and you cannot avoid it.

However, these clicking noises are very rare.

It’s also possible that a transformer hums (very) silently or that the infrared tubes hum.

Generally, both types of heaters are comparably silent and you can run them while doing concentrated work or while sleeping.

17. Children & Pets

Oil Heater

Pro: Child and pet safe.

Infrared Heater

Con: Oftentimes hot to touch.

If you have children or pets at home, you want to make sure, that nobody gets injured. So, what’s the better child- and pet safe heater? Infrared or oil?

Because infrared heaters have an opening where all the heat comes out, they are usually hot to touch in that area. The opening is usually protected by a metal grid, so you can’t put your hand inside and touch the heating element directly. However, this metal grid gets hot too.

Oil heaters, on the other hand, have a big surface and the heating element is embodied in oil. So, there are no hot to touch spots. Oil heaters get hot, but not hot enough to be dangerous.

Image by Mark Turnauckas

18. Outdoor Use

Oil Heater

Con: Not useful outdoors.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Can be used outdoors.

Which heater is best for your next outdoor garden party? Which one should you set up in your party tent next summer?

Because infrared radiation heats objects and not air, you can feel the heat even when you are outdoors. That’s why infrared is good for garden parties or garage heating. Also, the heat is directional, which is very handy at parties. Guests who feel cold can stand next to the heater. Others can spend their time elsewhere.

“Outdoor infrared heaters warm up specific areas and objects rather than the air, you don’t waste energy and save money on your utility bills”

Oil heaters are not effective to run outdoors, because they try to heat the air. Outdoors, the wind would blow away any heat. Oil heaters are a waste of energy when you run them outdoors.

19. Thermostat

Oil Heater

Pro: Better thermostats.

Infrared Heater

Con: Usually not as good as oil heaters.

Generally, temperature control is working fine with both space heaters. For most infrared vs oil heater, you can find the temperature controls in two different designs.

Either it’s a simple power switch where you can set the power you want (usually 750W or 1500W). Or it’s a more advanced thermostat where you can set the exact temperature you want.

From an engineer’s perspective, it’s easier to control the temperature of an oil heater because it heats the air that surrounds it. So, the thermostat measures the current temperature, then compares it to the one you set and makes automatic corrections.

With infrared heaters, that’s more difficult because the infrared rays are harder to measure.

That’s why most (but not all) infrared heaters come with simple power switches and oil heaters have a thermostat.

But you can find both types of controls for both heaters.

20. Stability

Oil Heater

Pro: Very stable. Built with solid and heavy materials.

Infrared Heater

Con: Usually rather fragile.

Oil heaters are more stable than infrared heaters because of their heavy metal body that encases the oil. It’s their design that makes them stable. Oil heaters have to withstand changes in pressure (because the oil heats up) and therefore they have to be reliable.

Infrared heaters are often cheaper and less stable. With a plastic surface and parts that are not as solid as they should be. But when you think about it, infrared heaters don’t really need to be stable at all. All they do is emit heat. They don’t carry a huge load of oil compared to oil heaters.

That’s why oil heaters are more stable than infrared heaters.

21. Durability

Oil Heater

Pro: Very durable. Lasts up to decades.

Infrared Heater

Pro: Durable, but a little less than oil heaters.

Both heaters have no moving parts. So, they can’t wear down. This makes both heater types (infrared vs oil heater) very durable.

However, I always see tons of used oil heaters for sale online (on eBay or craigslist) that people found in their garages. They seem to last for decades.

Infrared heaters usually consist of less durable materials, which is why they don’t last as long as oil heaters.

Compared to other types of heaters (ceramic for example), both infrared and oil heaters are very durable.

Infrared vs Oil Heater – Which to Choose?

Answer: Infrared heaters are better for you if you want quick heating on all occasions and you want to be versatile with your heater. On the other hand, oil heaters are the better choice to replace a heating system and reliably heat a large room long-term.

Which one do you prefer?

You can easily find out which type of heater you need by creating a checklist for each of the points in this article.

Write down a plus and a minus for each point you like and don’t like. Then, you can count the score (add plusses, subtract minuses) and find out which one scores better for you personally.

Attributions: Title image – Pelonis Oil-filled Heater & Air Choice Infrared Heater

About the Author

Daniel Hirsch

Daniel is an electrical engineer, blogger, and author. He studied electrical engineering and information technology and decided to blog about heaters after working in the temperature sensing industry.