What are Heat Lamps?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Heat lamps are incandescent bulbs which have been designed to produce radiation in the infrared area of the spectrum, generating more heat than visible light. Often, the design of the lamp may include a red filter which is designed to cut down on the emission of visible light even more. These lamps are used in a wide variety of settings, and they come in a number of different styles.

Heat lamps can be used to keep chicks warm.
Heat lamps can be used to keep chicks warm.

The power used by a heat lamp can vary. Since the bulb is designed to get very hot, some special design considerations are involved. Plastic parts are usually not present on the lamp because they could melt, and the fixtures used with such lights also should not contain plastic. The lamp may also come with a metal cage or shield which will prevent accidental contact with the hot bulb, and a reflecting shield which directs the heat radiated from the back of the bulb, making the lamp more efficient.

One of the classic uses of heat lamps is in animal husbandry. Reptiles may be kept with these lamps so that they stay warm, and they are also used to keep baby animals from chicks to lambs warm. In very cold climates, a farmer may use a heat lamp to create an area of warmth in a barn or shed so that animals can stay warm.

Heat lamps are also used in various applications when people need to dry things. For example, these lamps are sometimes used to dry photo paper after developing, ink, and paint, and they are also used in auto shops to dry out engines and components which have gotten wet. The heat produced by the lamp can also be useful in a restaurant, where a heat lamp may be used to keep food warm until it can be served.

Gardeners take advantage of heat lamps to provide a little extra warmth to plants which need it, such as seedlings in a greenhouse which are being cultivated when the weather outside is still cool. Tropical plants may also appreciate these lamps. In these cases, the position of the lamp has to be carefully adjusted to avoid burning or damaging the plants, as too much heat can be dangerous.

Heat lamps also appear in some bathrooms, where they are used to add some warmth to the room so that people do not feel cold after a shower or bath. They can also be used in medical environments to provide gentle radiant heat when it is desired or recommended.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I can't stand to be wet and cold at the same time, so I use a bathroom heat lamp. The central heat coming through the vent was not enough for me, but the heat lamp makes it comfortable in there.

I used to dread stepping out of the shower, because I knew that the cold air would hit me and make me tremble as I dried off. The only relief would be when I finally got toweled off enough to put some clothes on.

I put the heat lamp right outside of the shower entrance, so when I step out onto the bath rug, I am stepping into an area of warmth. Now, coming out of the shower is more like stepping out of a lake in the summertime into the warm sunshine.


@cloudel – My mother-in-law used a radiant heat lamp to keep her kittens warm, and it worked great. It always makes me happy to see someone using a heat lamp to keep their animals comfortable.

Once the kittens were grown and went to live with other families, I borrowed her heat lamp to use for some of my seedlings. I kept them outside in a storage shed by a window, but they really needed the heat for protection from spring's chilly night temperatures.

With the heat lamp, I was able to grow two containers full of zinnia seedlings while frost was still forming outside at night. By the time the danger of frost had passed, the zinnias were already a few inches tall.


I used an infrared heat lamp to keep a litter of puppies warm. They were born in the fall, and though they slept in the barn with their mother, I wanted to make sure they had all the warmth they needed.

Little puppies are very vulnerable to the cold. If they wander away from their mother, their body temperatures could drop quickly. That's why I wanted to have a heat lamp in the stall where they slept.

I came out to check on them one night after the lamp had been on for about an hour. I put my hand on them and found that they were nice and toasty. I had the lamp up high enough that it wouldn't burn them but not so high that it couldn't efficiently heat them up.


My best friend runs a catering business, and she uses buffet heat lamps to keep her trays of food warm at events. Often, she has to show up nearly an hour before guests start arriving, so these lamps are very helpful.

You would think that even with a lamp, food would get at least lukewarm within an hour or so. However, I have eaten food heated by her buffet lamps, and it is still steaming by the time it reaches my plate.

I can feel the heat from the lamps when I pass my hand underneath them to scoop the food out of the serving tray. I couldn't leave my hand there for more than a couple of seconds without feeling the burn.

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