23 Jun 2009

Heated towel rails

Lolli, my favourite Icelandic plumber, has pointed out that my section in the Bible on heated towel rails needs updating. He’s right. The mere ten lines I devote to the topic is very 1990s in both content and pricing.

It’s somewhat amazing to reflect on just what has happened to the towel rail market. It’s exploded. And at the same time, its sort of disappeared. Back in the 1980s, a heated towel rail was seen as a bit of an indulgence, an upmarket option for people wanting to throw money at a bathroom. The name everyone conjured with then was Zehnder: a Zehnder towel rail was white and it had a dinky little collapsible rail which you could use to hang your towels over. Other people, notably Myson, did towel rails, but they didn’t have extendible bits – they were basically just radiators designed to hang towels over.

Shoot forward to 2009 and there are now hundreds of designs to choose from dozens of manufacturers. Zehnder are still very much a top end option, although the plastic pull out bits seems to have gone by the wayside – I suspect they broke too easily. Wickes sells 11 different designs, varying in price from £70 to over £500. And there are several internet outlets which are easily Googled. The usual brand names all produce towel radiators: Stelrad, Quinn (formerly Barlo), Brugman, Myson, Acova (formerly Worcester), Aeon, Bisque. Plus now there are specialist companies that have sprung up, such as the Radiator Company and Radiating Style.

In fact, several radiator companies make no distinction between heated towel rails and ordinary radiators. They are, afterall, just radiators that you stick on the wall, which happen to be a slightly unusual shape.

But it’s not quite that simple. Because for one thing, you often want a towel rail to work to a different beat to your normal radiators. You may not want the towel rad to come on at the same times, or you may want it to work outside the heating season. As a result, you see towel rads with electric heating modes. Indeed, you can also find some which only operate using electricity – including some made of glass, would you believe.

Another option is to plumb them into a separate circuit so that they come on when the hot water is heated, rather than the space heating. This can work well, but it can also be a real waste of heat as it takes that much longer to heat the hot water and there is no knowing that the hot water heating times are better suited than your space heating times.

Towel rads are available in many different sizes. The larger they are the more heat they give off: small ones tend to emit around 300W. Large ones, anything up to 1kW, which is probably rather more heat than you would need in a small bathroom. Prices vary enormously. The cheapest are made of white-painted steel, next comes chrome plated, then stainless steel, then chrome, then brass, if you can find one. Cheap makes — you can pick them up for around £60 off eBay. A big brass one can cost you over £1500.

Final question. Do you actually need one? Well, it’s a good idea to have heating in a bathroom. We get cold when we are naked and wet. But you don’t actually have to have a dedicated towel radiator. If you are a slob, you can just chuck a towel over a chair and it will still dry out if there is some heating in the bathroom. And a lot of people like to fit underfloor heating in bathrooms, esp. electric mats. So, no, you don’t need one. But nevertheless, you might want one.


  1. I think the underfloor heating explosion is a major factor here. There is still a need, especially in winter to dry clothes out - and in summer you don't want the heating on just to dry clothes so radiators are not a great solution. With a young family I can vouch for the fact that most days the house looks like a laundry with clothes and sheets draped over every available warm surface! Are there any better solutions to clothes drying available?

  2. I think they have become more of a bathroom feature rather than a necessity. People like to hang towels neatly.


  3. AnonymousJune 27, 2009

    We used to have a hot water tank in the airing cupboard that you could wrap damp towels over and then close the door. Changing the hot water to an on demand type system meant we needed another place for towel drying.

    A rail over the bathroom radiator does the job. In winter the radiator is on and air rises to dry the towels. In summer the ambient temp is plenty to dry them.

    Can't see the need for one of these 'luxury' items. They cost, waste energy, and provide no benefit. I'm sure plumbers like them though.

  4. Nick DevlinJune 29, 2009

    We are in the process of designing a self build low energy house. It includes a wood stove with back boiler, solar thermal and DHW cylinder and one heated towel rail. The airing cupboard has an oversized foot print and 3.3m floor to ceiling height. The aim is to include a high level clothes line so that in winter clothes can be dried there. We are also currently reviewing options for heat recovering ventilation... I would certainly agree that clothes drying needs thinking about in the early design stages.

  5. Is it better to have a white or chrome-plated towel rail for energy efficiency and why? And why are white ones cheaper?

  6. I don't think it will make any difference at all. The white ones are cheap steel, painted white. Chrome is a more expensive finish.

  7. I've recently moved into my first home, and there is a towel rail in the downstairs loo (this is a traditional Victorian house so would have originally been the kitchen.

    The floor is naturally cold, concrete covered in very nice slate tiles. The room is FREEZING cold all because the person before put in a shiny chrome towel rail which is burning hot don't get me wrong - but not a heater.

    I'm trying to find something which will do both - is it possible?

  8. Be ready for winter,
    Read more about heated towel rail


  9. Price will be a big consideration to most people when shopping for a heated towel rail. Stainless steel towel rails will generally be more expensive but they are more resistant to corrosion than mild steel that has been chrome plated so they are a good long term investment