What's the straight dope on heated towel rails?

I ask since I’ve just bought my first house with my wife, and the bathroom just had a small radiator and a towel rail on the adjacent wall. We’re having a new boiler fitted, so I decided while the system was drained, I’d have a new set of TRVs fitted and a heated towel rail.
Upon discovering this, Mrs. Bob’s interfering auntie starts spouting off about what a waste of money they are, apparently a towel rail above a radiator will dry towels better AND heat the room more.
We’ve had both setups in rented houses, and I thought the one with the heated rail kept warmer, although that was double glazed vs knackered old sash windows which would have skewed it quite a bit.
So what’s the crack? Is the old bat right for once or should I continue to ignore her?

Well, the heat can’t go anywhere but into the room, so in theory, these devices should never actually be energy-inefficient, unless they’re making the room too hot.

In my experience, a good heated towel rail dries towels better than an unheated rail above a standard radiator, because the latter is designed to radiate heat out into the room, not just above it.

(And cue the “ewwwwww! You use towels more than once!” Germophobes…)

That was my thinking on it, as long as the radiator and towel rail had roughly the same surface area then the amount radiated should be about even.
The towel rail is chromed, whereas radiators tend to be white, but shouldn’t make much difference, surely?

Germophobes can stay out of this thread, please. If you are using a towel you just got out of a bath or shower, so why aren’t you clean? If you’re clean then how can the towel not be clean, it’s only absorbing the clean water off your body?

In such a small room, your splitting hairs. Further, heated towel racks are often used as exclusive means of heating bathrooms and are very good at heating towels… far better than a radiator and towel rack… and if your towels are warm, dry and toasty, you’ll be less inclined to jack up the whole house temp because your bath experience was chilly.


the heated towel rail might let heat get to the ceiling quicker than a baseboard radiator, the floor area might feel cooler. you might use a fan to mix the air.

in floor heat is nice for bathrooms. heated toilet seats might be also (i haven’t experienced those).

I have a friend who has a bathing room [as opposed to the water closet which is down the hall a bit] that is entirely heated by a floor to ceiling towel heating rack. Toasty warm towels and toasty warm room.

+1 for underfloor heat. We have that plus an electric heated towel rail. (We don’t have water-based central heating so it was the only option, really).

By heated towel rail, do you mean a radiator that doubles up as a towel rail? We’ve got one of those and tbh I think they’re better than normal radiators in many ways as they seem to have a larger surface area to volume ratio and they do a great job of drying/heating towels.

Technically, soap removes dirt, but can still leave skin cells and other stuff. Therefore, it depends on your shower methods: do you just clean yourself with soap and rinse, or do you use a loofah or similar rough surface to remove dead cells? Because if you only do the former, the towel will remove stuff and become “dirty” over time.

Nevertheless, I don’t see what germophobes have to do with it: whether you re-use the towel or want to wash it, you need to dry it first. Because throwing a wet towel into the collection bin, where it will stay moist and crumpled, breeds much more nasties than hanging it up to dry and then putting it in the bin.

(And no, I don’t believe that after a nice shower, you immediately rush to the washing machine to do the laundry - who does that?)

As to the efficiency: I don’t have numbers handy, but in all modern house& home magazines I’ve read they recommend them, for comfort feeling. Given Germany’s energy-saving law, however, they must at least not waste energy compared to older models and may even save energy because temperature is partly subjective.

I never heard of a heated towel rail before. No idea if I’ve ever seen one or not. Sounds like a great idea.

Basically, it’s an upright radiator with rungs spaced apart so you can hang your towels over them, both to make them toasty before drying off and to dry them after use.

It’s still pipes with warm water in them, just different design.

Some pictures via Google.

Or, as I mentioned, you can get electric ones, which look basically the same, but are filled with (I believe) oil, which is heated by an electric element. These obviously don’t have to be plumbed in to a central heating system, but do the same job.

My brother got a pretty nasty burn off one in a hotel room one time.

I’d love underfloor heating, but I have neither the time nor the money to rip up the tiled floor and install it, so I’m glad to hear that replacing my radiator with a towel rail isn’t mad, the mad auntie is off base again, and the status quo has been maintained.
Thank you, straight dope message board!

an electric towel rail is warm anytime you want to use it.

a towel rail as part of your home heating is only warm during heating season and when your system is calling for heat, though you could zone your bathroom and manually call for heat anytime.

use an electric portable oil filled radiator as the poor man’s towel heater.

I have never seen a heated towel rail before, I don’t think they’re known in the UK. Are they supposed to dry your towels faster? Isn’t it very inefficient to keep basically an oil heater running permanently?

Does anyone know how much those things cost to run and if they do actually dry your towels any faster?

If they’re part of your existing heating system, replacing the old-style radiator in the bathroom*, then you’re not wasting any extra heat.

I don’t know if they dry the towels much faster; it’s more “It’s very nice bit of extra comfort to have your towels pre-warmed when you come out of the shower” and "You hang up the towels to dry anyway, and the radiator is on low anyway, so this achieves the same end maybe a bit better.

  • They’re often used as alternative to normal-sized radiators because bathrooms are often so darn small and by being vertical along the wall, they don’t need so much floor space.

I’m in the UK, and we’ve had them in the house since I was growing up in the 1980s, in both the kitchen and the bathroom. (We don’t have one in the kitchen any more since we refitted it). I don’t think they’re that unusual.

They’re not expensive to run - I haven’t sat down and calculated it, but it can’t be more than a few pennies a day. In summer we have it on the lowest heat setting, just enough to keep towels fresh, and in winter it can be cranked up to provide room heating as well, just like a radiator.

We have one similar to this - an electric model, with a maximum output of 600 watts. In practice, of course, it’s not using anything like 600W most of the time.

Or you can get ones that connect to central heating systems, like these.

Surely you’ve seen things like this in the UK, in hotels if not in private houses?