Trade account
Do towel rails heat the bathroom?
DIY advice

Do towel rails heat the bathroom?

Posted by Adam Chard in DIY advice | 3 years ago 8 min read

When choosing your heating, can a heated towel rail be used to warm your whole bathroom space? We find out…

Whether you heard about them through posts on social media or from discussions with friends and family, you'll know that heated towel rails have a great reputation. What's not to love about small, easy-to-operate units that keep your towels toasty warm?

Bathrooms in the 1980s may have been a bit hit and miss in the style stakes, but we did witness the first appearance of the heated bathroom towel rail. After some time, these energy-efficient designs became more accessible and more affordable, boosting their popularity throughout the UK.

Today, designer towel rails make an ordinary bathroom feel like a spa. These functional accessories are no longer a luxury, available in a variety of beautiful designs that elevate a bathroom in style, allowing you access to warm, cosy bathroom towels at any time.

But what makes towel warmers so ideal for bathrooms, other than their elegance, of course? Well, for starters, they have an impressive heat output for something so small in stature. Indeed, many people wonder if they're powerful enough to heat their entire bathroom. Could a small towel heater match the temperature and function of a family bathroom radiator?

Let's take a deeper dive into exactly how these units work and whether you could use them to heat your bathroom.

Designer heated towel rails from Victoria Plum

How does a towel rail work?

These versatile rail devices come in 2 general designs. You can choose either plumbed towel rails or electric towel rails. Both products operate as a heating source from the inside out. However, there is a difference in the way they operate.

In the sections below, you'll find out how to operate each unique towel rail and determine which is the best one for your bathroom.

Plumbed towel rail

A plumbed rail, also known as a hydronic rail, operates using a unique power source: hot water. The boiler in the home powers this towel rail system in conjunction with your central heating system. The hot water that heats your shower will also fill up your rail device.

The only problem that you may run into is that since the central heating system powers the temperature, the heat must be on to operate it. This means that in the summer, you may be out of luck trying to get these types of rails to work without also heating your whole home. However, with some models, you may be able to fit a heating element, which allows you to switch between electric and water, allowing you to warm your towels, even when your central heating is off.

These systems are very popular but can also take longer to heat up than their electric counterparts.

Bathroom heated towel rails at Victoria Plum

Electric towel rail

The electric towel rail offers the benefit of not being connected to the heating system. This means it can be turned on independently of radiators for extra convenience all year long.

This type of heated towel rail connects to the electric mains. You can adjust your electric towel warmer manually with a single on/off fuse switch. Turn your unit on and it will be warm by the time you get out of the shower or bath.

The downside of using this type of towel heater is they won't work during a power outage. Whilst this is rare (and let's face it, who even has a back-up generator?) it's not a good choice if your electricity supply is a little unreliable.

Electric heated towel rails at Victoria Plum

Can I use a heated towel rail instead of bathroom radiators?

You may have seen, used or owned heated rails before and noticed that the heating element could emit a lot of heat. That's because a heated towel rail heating element is designed to send warmth not only to the towels but to the space around them. This means you can generate heat in the bathroom without a radiator.

However, are there advantages to using a radiator to warm the room for your shower over a heated towel rail? If you read articles online, they point both ways, but what are the facts?

Here's a comparison between heated towel rails and radiators you need to know.

Heat output

Getting good heat output with a towel rail

In terms of how much warmth is provided to the bathroom space, towel radiators have the upper hand. A towel radiator unit tends to be larger than the average rail, so your entire bathroom heats up much faster.

Despite this, heated towel rails can still warm up any bathroom space. To ensure this, you'll need to know the size of your space and the heating capacity of the rail.

Nothing can account for how well the heat will transfer to the room of a larger size with towels layered on top. For this reason, it may be best to only rely on rail warmers for heat output in smaller bathrooms.

That being said, heated towel rails have a huge benefit over radiators when it comes to heating towels. They require less energy. You may not heat the room as quickly, but you'll use less power. Plus, if you're using a rail for a smaller bathroom, you won't need as much heat anyway.

So, why waste money on high heating bills? Towel warmers are convenient and boost energy-efficiency.

Traditional heated towel rails at Victoria Plum

Space and storage

Towel warmer hangers take up less wall space than a bulky bathroom radiator. The rails also serve a dual purpose as your towel rack. This means people who use the electric towel warmer in this room when they shower instead of a radiator gain another advantage. They end up with more floor space in their bathrooms.

Your bathroom will feel like it's a bigger size when you switch from a bulky warmer to heated towel rails for the same style and type of service. Budget your room better with a rail for towels instead of a floor unit.

Radiator valves at Victoria Plum

How to make sure your towel rail can heat the bathroom

One of the essential factors that will determine how well a heated towel rail can warm your bathroom is the BTU of the rail vs. the BTU requirement of your room. Radiators and heated towel rails alike come with a BTU included in the guide. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit and it refers to the ability to heat 1 pound of water by 1°C.

You must think about your BTU rating to ensure that you get a heated towel rail that is the right fit for your spaces. If you have one tiny bathroom, you could end up overpaying with the wrong BTU-rated heated towel rail.

Measure your space to calculate BTU

Once you know the BTU for the heated towel rail, you need to match it to the BTU of the room to be sure they are even and level. This way, you'll avoid a style of rail that is potentially ineffective or too powerful. This process is simple and only requires a tape measure and access to the room for which you want to calculate the BTU. You can find out how to calculate your BTU in our comprehensive guide, but the quick and easy way to do it is as follows:

  1. Measure the room by its length (l), width (w), and height (h) in metres, then multiply l x w x h
  2. Measure the window in addition to the room by its height (h) and width (w), then multiply h x w
  3. Multiply the total from number one by the total from number to get the BTU for your bathroom

The only thing to bear in mind, with BTU being an accurate measure, is that it can change depending on the materials placed on the rack, which could potentially keep the heat contained. You may want to use your unit to warm other clothing items, like gloves or swimsuits. Remember that heating these accessories along with towels will require more power and energy, which will affect how hot the room is.

Conclusion: Can towel rails heat the bathroom?

A towel rail is a great choice for families and anyone who wants to purchase a heater alternative for bathrooms. You can find products in any style and, depending on the type, it can provide several functions, such as towel warmers, racks and room-heaters. They can't offer more heat than a radiator, but benefits like energy-efficiency and more floor space make up the difference.

We hope this guide has helped you figure out whether a heated towel rail will give your bathroom enough heat. It all depends on whether your bathroom BTU requirements match the BTU capabilities of your heated towel rail.

Stylish heated towel rails at Victoria Plum

More advice on heating your bathroom

Whether you’re searching for general advice or have a specific question in mind, you’ll find all the bathroom heating information you need right here at Victoria Plum. From our comprehensive bathroom radiator buying guide to our handy how to fit a heated towel rail guide, we’ll help you find the perfect heating for your home and even show you how it is installed.

Shop heating

Whatever option you choose, you'll find a fabulous range of heated towel rails and radiators designed specially for bathrooms at Victoria Plum. With a variety of colours and styles, all at affordable prices, why not browse today by clicking on the image below?

Shop heating

Author, Adam Chard

Posted by Adam Chard in DIY advice | 3 years ago

A born & raised West Countryman, now living on the Yorkshire Coast, for over 10 years Adam has been bringing home interior ideas to life at Victoria Plum. Adam’s favourite interior styles have been shaped by both urban and natural influences.

Sales Line 0344 264 4141 Track order Design Service Trade account

Looks like you haven't added anything to compare yet

Just look out for the Add to compare around the site and revisit this link

Close and continue

Thank you for using our comparison feature.

You can add as many products as you like, there is no limit. When you’re ready simply visit this page to start comparing your products.

Close and continue

Loading menu. Please wait


Your Shopping list is loading, this shouldn't take long.

Your basket is loading, this shouldn't take long.