When the heated towel rail first made an appearance in the 1980s, these accessories were seen as a luxury and were usually only found in the most elite hotels. However, as their popularity increased, more people wanted to incorporate this addition into their own bathrooms.

Now, a towel rail is less of a luxury item and can be found in many bathrooms across the UK. This is because they’re an affordable, stylish way of warming your towels and heating this room. But how good are they at heating your bathroom, and are they as effective as radiators? 

Does a towel rail heat a bathroom?

People are choosing to replace their bathroom radiators with heated towel rails, and it’s not hard to see why when you look at their modern design. But you might be wondering whether a towel rail can actually keep your bathroom warm during the colder months.

A towel rail will heat a bathroom efficiently, provided that it’s sized correctly for the space it’s in. A small heated rail, such as the one pictured below, is designed for hand towels and likely won’t make much of a difference to the temperature of your bathroom in winter. 

However, if you were to purchase a full sized towel rail, you would not need a radiator in the room too. The main benefit of towel rails is their height. Compared to a radiator, they take up a lot less space horizontally because they can go from floor to ceiling. This will make a big difference if you have a small bathroom with restricted wall space.

When you’re thinking about what size towel rail you will need to heat the room, you may want to consider how big the bathroom is, what the insulation is like, how large the windows are and whether they’re double/single glazed, and how many people will be putting their towels on the heater.

You may also need to work out the BTU for your room. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit and is a way to work out how much heat is required to heat one pound of water by 1 °F. In simple terms, the BTU for a radiator tells you how much heat it will release and therefore how efficiently it can heat your room. But why does this matter? If you wrongly calculate the size of your towel rail, it will either leave the room feeling too cold or mean you end up overpaying on your heating bills.

Every towel rail will come with a BTU figure that you can use to determine whether it’s the right size. So how do you go about calculating the BTU for your bathroom? First, you should measure the width, height and length of the room in metres. Make a note of each of these measurements. Then measure the area of the window. This can be done by multiplying the height by the width. You should now have four separate measurements written down. Take the width, height and length figures and multiply these together. Then use this figure and multiply it by the window area. This total is the BTU for your bathroom.

Make a note of this number and use it when you’re shopping for a towel rail. Then you’ll be safe in the knowledge that your bathroom will be sufficiently heated by the rail without the need for an additional heat source. Just remember that if the heated rail is always laden in towels, it might not heat the room as efficiently. Place your towels on the rail until they’re dry, then move them to another location such as the back of the door or a shelf in the bathroom so that the rail can heat the room up. This will also prevent damp towels from going mouldy when they’re left in a heap on the floor. 

Are towel rails as warm as radiators?

A towel rail usually gives out less heat than a radiator, however, if it has been sized correctly, then it should still be able to make your bathroom a warm and cosy place.

A towel rail might take less time to heat up than a radiator. When you turn on your central heating, it can take around 15 minutes for your radiators to reach their full temperature. An electric towel rail could heat up fully in just 5 minutes. Whether you choose a radiator or an electric towel rail, your bathroom will be heated efficiently.

How to operate a heated towel rail

There are two main types of towel rail: plumbed and electric.

How to operate a plumbed rail

A plumbed rail will work with your central heating system and is powered by your boiler. This means that the heating needs to be on in order for the rail to work. There may be a way to isolate the rest of the system so that the rail can still operate in summer without the other radiators coming on, but you may need to get in touch with a suitably qualified engineer to do this for you. 

How to operate an electric rail

An electric towel rail works from the electric mains and it usually has an on/off fuse switch located near it. This means that, unlike a plumbed system which will likely come on and off to a programme, your electric rail will need to be adjusted manually. 

How to turn off a heated towel rail

Your plumbed towel rail will automatically go off when your heating goes off. If you have a smart thermostat that has been programmed, the towel rail will adhere to this programme.

An electric towel rail will likely be on all the time until you turn off the switch on the wall. Some may be programmable, but it does depend on the kind of rail that you have. 

Can you leave a heated towel rail on overnight?

A towel rail can safely be left on all the time, however you may need to think about the environmental impacts and the cost. If no one is using the bathroom in the middle of the night, then it might be wasteful to leave it on. 

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