What are Oil Heaters?

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  • Originally Written By: Shannon Kietzman
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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A type of convection heater, an oil heater is an alternative way to keep small areas of a home or building warm. Electricity powers a built-in heating element, which in turn heats the oil kept inside hollow columns of the device. As the hot oil travels around the columns, heat is conducted outside of the heater and into the surrounding area. Many people choose to use a heater that runs on oil over gas due to the safety hazards that natural gas may cause, even though such heaters tend to be more expensive to purchase and run than gas heaters. Such heat sources can be purchased on the Internet, from most major home improvement stores, or from many discount department stores.


Oil heaters are typically known for their long-lasting performance. They are most often constructed of heavy-gauge steel, filled with oil, and usually have a durable, rust-free enamel finish. The metal fins of oil heaters can be welded by machine to prevent leaks, as the most prominent danger of oil heaters is the possibility of leakage. Designers of oil heaters, however, have worked through most of the original design flaws, and leakage is typically no longer an issue.


Most oil heaters are designed to look like a radiator, radiating heat throughout the home. The device can be found in various sizes, and in most cases, the size of the device corresponds to the amount of space it can heat; often an area ranging from 50 to 144 square feet (4.6 to 13.3 square meters) can be heated by such a device, depending on its size. In addition, most have four wheels on the bottom, which makes them easier to move from room to room. The controls usually feature three heat settings, as well as an adjustable thermostat for personal comfort. Other options may include an adjustable thermostat to keep the heater operating at the desired temperature or a programmable timer.

Like radiators, oil heaters can take several minutes to completely cool off, and may remain warm to the touch until they have cooled completely. It is usually advised to keep the heaters away from furniture and walls when the device is running to help minimize the risk of starting a fire. Many also recommend unplugging the devise when it is not in use.


Most heating units burn fuel of some type, whether it is oil or gas. In other types of heating units, fuel is burned until it evaporates, creating the continual need to purchase more when it runs low. With oil heaters, however, electricity acts as the fuel to heat the oil, which circulates through the unit when it is on, being heated as it goes. As a result, heat from the oil is released into the surrounding area until the device is turned off, at which point the oil remains, cools off, and is ready to be heated again the next time the device is turned on.

Energy Efficient Heaters

In an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, some people choose to use "waste oil heaters," which heat used oil, instead of oil that has never been used; such waste oil most often comes from cars, trucks, or other vehicles. Heating used oil instead of new oil helps aid in the reduction of pollution and is deemed to be more energy efficient. It is possible to build a heater that uses either type of oil; many companies online sell do-it-yourself kits for such projects or offer step-by-step instructions.


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Post 4

To anon77248: Go and see your doctor - seriously.

Post 3

I used a oil heater (radiator) for the winter. For the past week or so I have been smelling the oil in my nose everywhere i am. The smell is with me 24 hours everyday for over a week. Keeps me awake at night.

The heater has been unplugged for awhile. no one else can smell it except me. It like it's stuck in my nose. I can't go on like this its driving me nuts. It won't go away, no rest from that oil smell.

Please, if there is any way you can help me find out how i can get rid of the smell? I'm finding it so hard to function. Please help.

Post 2

Are there other dangers of oil filled heaters? I have a "The Incredible Heat Machine" Delonghi heater and I heard some sounds coming from it that freaked me out. Kind of like sizzling, like you would hear when heating deep frying oil when it's hot or heating up. The thing is that it's been off all day and I had just turned it on after having it off for 8 hrs. Please help coz I'm already a little paranoid about space heaters but I also don't want to freeze tonight (it's like 8oC right now). Thanks

Post 1

I've collected about a barrel of waste vegetable oil and have filtered it (TIP; through the legs of old jeans!!) but now I want to fire it up in a home-made burner that will in turn sit in an old water' heater-coil from a high pressure hosing unit.

Anybody got any real ideas as to how to get to burn. I've tried soaking an asbestos (sort-of) wick and tried to superheat it as it dribbles out of a flattened copper pipe that it might work as a "flame-thrower" but it won't burn well enough or stable enough to be safe.

All serious answers welcome.


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