Can a Space Heater Catch on Fire?

Space heaters can indeed pose a significant fire risk, with the National Fire Protection Association reporting that more than 56,000 home structure fires and 510 deaths were attributed to home heating equipment in 2013, with portable or fixed space heaters being involved in four out of five of these incidents.

Understanding the Risks of Space Heater Fires

Tipping Over

One of the most common ways a space heater can cause a fire is by tipping over. When a space heater tips over, the heating coils or elements can come into direct contact with nearby flammable objects, such as curtains, furniture, or bedding, sparking a fire in a matter of seconds.

Overloading Outlets

Overloading an electrical outlet by plugging in a space heater, along with other appliances, can also lead to an electrical fire. The outlet may become overloaded, causing the wiring to overheat and potentially ignite nearby materials.

Prolonged Use

Space heaters that are run for extended periods of time can also pose a fire risk. Over time, the components of the space heater, including plastic parts and wiring, can break down and become more susceptible to ignition.

Malfunctioning Components

Faulty or malfunctioning components within the space heater, such as a thermostat or heating element, can also lead to overheating and potential fire hazards.

Choosing a Safe Space Heater

can a space heater catch on fire

When shopping for a space heater, it is crucial to look for the following safety features:


Look for a space heater that has been certified by a reputable organization, such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) mark. This certification ensures that the space heater meets specific safety standards.

Shutoff Features

Space heaters should have automatic shutoff features, such as a tip-over switch or sensor, that will turn off the heater if it overheats or falls over.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Plug

A GFCI plug can help prevent electric shock by quickly cutting off the power supply if a ground fault is detected.

Sturdy Cord

The power cord of the space heater should be thick, durable, and free from any damage or fraying, which can reduce the risk of electrical hazards.

Safe Usage Guidelines

In addition to choosing a safe space heater, it is essential to follow these guidelines to minimize the risk of a fire:

  1. Maintain a Safe Distance: Keep the space heater at least 3 feet (0.9 meters) away from any flammable objects, such as curtains, furniture, or bedding.
  2. Use on a Level, Non-Flammable Surface: Place the space heater on a flat, level, and non-flammable surface, such as a tile or hardwood floor, to prevent it from tipping over.
  3. Never Leave Unattended: Never leave a space heater unattended while it is in use. Always turn it off and unplug it when not in use.
  4. Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions: Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper and safe use of the space heater.
  5. Avoid Extension Cords: Whenever possible, plug the space heater directly into a wall outlet to avoid the risk of overloading an extension cord.
  6. Regularly Inspect and Maintain: Regularly inspect the space heater for any signs of damage or wear, and have it serviced by a qualified technician if any issues are found.

By following these safety guidelines and choosing a space heater with the appropriate safety features, you can significantly reduce the risk of a fire and ensure the safe use of your space heater.


While space heaters can indeed pose a fire risk, taking the necessary precautions and following safe usage guidelines can greatly mitigate this hazard. By choosing a space heater with the right safety features, maintaining a safe distance from flammable objects, and never leaving the heater unattended, you can enjoy the warmth and comfort of a space heater without the worry of a potential fire.