Sometimes, even luxurious things have humble beginnings. Case in point: the first towel warmer. It was just a plain old radiator that someone draped their soggy, 19th century towel over - a long way from dry elements and designer finishes, but an effective enough start.
Not that we're trying to shatter your illusions... warm towels are amazing. We're just making the point that towel warmers have been efficient, multi-purpose contraptions from the get-go. That's right: towel warmers can be efficient! If you're tired of damp, smelly towels and cold bathrooms, but feel like a towel warmer would be a scarlet letter, read on: even the most energy-conscious can enjoy a warm towel guilt-free!
If you're new to warmers, take a look at our Towel Warmer Buying Guide for some helpful background information, and handy usage tips!
Pros and Cons of Hydronic & Electric
Because they utilize an existing hot water supply and don't put too much additional demand on the water heater, hydronic towel warmers are often among the most energy efficient. They do, however, require pumps that require electricity, and will lose some heat through plumbing - be sure to use a quality pump and insulate hot water pipes.
Hydronic warmers are typically connected either to the water heater supplying the home (as part of an "open loop" system), or to a dedicated heater powering a hydronic heating system (a "closed loop" system). Water that's run through the unit is returned to its source to be heated again, making these units water-efficient, as well.
If you're wanting to connect a towel warmer to the home water heater, be sure that the warmer is safe to use in a domestic hot water system; many manufacturers will braze the interior of their units with a drinking water safe metal to allow for this. Warmers that aren't safe for potable systems must be connected to their own dedicated heater as part of a closed system.
Quick tip: Warm towels in the summer? Hydronic units that are connected to home heating systems will require an additional pump in order to operate through the warm season when the heating is turned off. Some European warmers allow for a "dual fuel" option, which includes an electric element that operates independently from the hydronic system.
With oil-filled electric warmers, the energy required to initially heat the oil is much greater than the energy required to maintain that temperature. This is why most modern electric warmers are designed to be left on 24/7: as counterintuitive as it may seem, leaving the unit on all the time usually uses the least energy. And unlike hydronic warmers, electric units don't need to worry about transporting the source of their heat. This means that heat energy isn't lost to pipes, further increasing efficiency.
If you don't need the extra heat, or just don't like the idea of something drawing power when you aren't even using it, consider a timer. Timers allow you to select specific times for electric warmers to turn on and power off, ensuring that energy is not wasted. We recommend setting any unit to turn on at least 30 minutes before you think you'll be stepping out of the shower.
Our Top Choices
Ranking by energy efficiency can become extremely complicated, and the most accurate judgments require that the full host of particulars be accounted for: house design, insulation, habits, preferences, and so on. Obviously, we can't do this. So think of the following list as a general guide; a sampling of some of the most efficient units we offer. They're smaller, and not designed to provide a secondary space-heating function (which could actually be a big part of your personal efficiency equation). If you're simply looking for something to warm your towels without consuming too much energy, you've come to the right place.
Please note: These warmers will not produce a steaming hot towel, but rather a comfortably warm one. The longer towels are left on, the warmer they will be. To better insulate against heat loss, put a towel over the one you plan to use - this will keep it warm and ready to go.
Myson Buttermere B30
Because they only require hot water to flow through them (without any other parts or components), hydronic warmers can often be larger and warmer than electric units, making our top choice for an efficient hydronic model a bit heftier than the other warmers on this list. Part warmer, part drying-rack, part radiator, the 40" tall Myson Buttermere B30 is a brass unit featuring a classic look, with paired bars and arched tops providing plenty of space and options for towels and clothing. Rated at 1200 btu/hr, it may even get the chill out of small, well-insulated bathrooms!
You Need to Know: Hydronic warmers can be difficult to install. If not part of a new construction, they need to be connected to an existing hot water system, which usually entails the additional expense of a plumber, and can be a challenging task.
One of our most budget-friendly options, Amba's Swivel models are also the least power-hungry. Utilizing only 36-72W (depending on the model), they heat up to about 136°F, and plug into a standard outlet. While many electric warmers heat an oil-filled cavity, the Amba models in our list use a dry element, cutting time to heat drastically. Convenient and effective, these warmers are perfect for bathrooms with limited space, dorm rooms, or RVs. Two styles are available: looped or straight, with each loop or bar on a swivel hinge. Amba's warmers are constructed of type 304 stainless steel.
Myson Lekoro ES40-1
The Myson ES40-1 Lekoro is a gorgeous little brass unit that looks like a simple towel shelf, but with its hardwired electrical connection, puts 115W to good use. Because of its design, the Lekoro isn't the best option for quicker towel drying, but it's superb for warming - rolled up towels can fill the middle, while folded ones on top keep heat in. Measuring 18" wide, 12" deep, and nearly 7" high, it can fit nearly anywhere without calling too much attention to itself.
Amba Sirio 2121
At 21-1/2" square, the Sirio 2121 can hold two or more towels, but won't take over a room. And at a maximum temperature of 167°F, towels will be warmed to perfection. The Sirio line is manufactured in Italy, and features a look that's distinctly modern; the inclusion of round bars, however, gives some serious design flexibility. Like the Swivels above, the Quadro below, and nearly every Amba warmer, these are constructed of type 304 stainless steel, and are available in Brushed Steel, Polished Steel, or Oil-Rubbed Bronze finishes.
Amba Quadro 2033
Anyone in search of something striking that won't swell their carbon footprint need look no further than the thoroughly modern Quadro 2033. It's the largest wall-mounted unit on this list at 20-1/2" x 33", and features two sets of six square bars - no gentle curves here. Its generous size does call for greater power, making this the most energy-intensive electric warmer on the list at 172W. This increase in power consumption and surface area makes the Quadro another highly effective Italian-made unit that will warm multiple towels more quickly, and radiate more heat than its counterparts above.
If not even the Quadro sounds like it's going to do the job, worry not! As we noted in the introduction, this is a very general, imprecise ranking; there are plenty of other warmers out there, and each of our manufacturers is committed to making efficiently operating units.
Remember, there are many ways in which a towel warmer can complement existing heating systems, and contribute to an efficient design - all of which are determined by each unique context. One of the first steps to figuring out how to work a larger warmer into your heating plan is to use an online tool to calculate the minimum BTU to heat whatever room you're considering. This will give you a rough idea of the kind of warmer you'd need, and the energy demands involved.
Whether you decide to get a towel warmer or not, keep in mind that energy efficiency doesn't just mean low-wattage: a true account of your own efficiency calls on much more than the listed power consumption of your devices. Do your research, be critical, and be mindful of the many ways energy is used throughout your day - that's the smart way to use energy!
Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list and is intended as a general reference guide only. Please use your best judgement for your specific situation. PlumbingSupply.com® makes no guarantees or promises as to the performance or actual energy usage of any product noted here.