This post looks at space heaters, emergency heat options and regular home heating systems for the chemically and mold sensitive.
Generally, space heaters with fans are the most difficult type for the chemically sensitive.
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1. Heat Dishes/Infared Heaters
Optimus dish heater is one I have used before. Others very sensitive have found that this type of heater has very little to offgas and does not take a long time.
It does burn things if it is too close to objects and that is a risk.
There are a number of brands selling similar dish-style heaters on Amazon.
One super sensitive person did well with this tripod infrared heater another reader mentions in the comments that they did well with a refurbished option from sunheat.com.
2. Ceramic Heaters
For the extremely sensitive, universal reactor, the Ceramiciruit portable space heater is the way to go.
This is the most tolerated that I have seen, and I have not seen anyone not tolerate it yet.
But it is very costly at $988 plus shipping (approx $50 to ship to many parts of the US). If you are not a universal reactor I would try some of the other options from Amazon first.
Update: In Winter 2020/21 this is no longer listed on their website.
Another type of ceramic heater is the one pictured above. This is a wall panel that is quiet and low profile. I tried that one and it did have an odor at first (I had to put it outside for 24-48 hours). I found it fine after that amount of time.
It’s not as good for the chemically sensitive as the Ceramicircuit above but I like this style a lot.
Keep in mind it’s only 400 watts, so you need three of them to make up one regular space heater.
3. Cadet Portable Baseboard Heater
Another great option for the highly sensitive. Baseboard heaters are normally wired in but this one plugs into a regular outlet.
It’s 1500 watts.
Check Amazon and Home Depot for availability.
4. Quartz Heaters
The next best-tolerated type is quartz heaters. Some sensitive folks have recommended the Optimus tower quartz heater.
There are other types of quartz heaters, but simpler is better. Optimus also makes a lower-profile version that others have liked.
While space heaters with fans are not always the top choice, I have used some successfully with a few days of offgassing. Other sensitive folks have found this Vornado series (VMH10 to VMH600) to be very good.
5. Convection Heaters
The Patten Utility Heater was tolerated by someone who could not tolerate other convection heaters after some offgassing.
It has been reported as noisier than others. There are a number of metal housing utility heaters. Some report only needing a couple or a few days to offgas them.
Dyson, heater/fan/HEPA filter is also well tolerated by some.
6. Radiator Heaters
Oil-filled radiator heaters are used by many EI folks. The oil is well sealed and should never leak out. I have seen it happen once but that is a major defect and failure.
They look inert but they do offgas through the small vents in the front piece. Depending on your level of sensitivity I would say these heaters need to be offgassed for a while.
Not having the noise of a fan is a plus for most people. You can find inexpensive versions. If you plan to run this and offgas it for a while, I would get a good quality one so that it will last you a long time.
7. Glass Heater
This heater is two pieces of glass with a 500-watt heating element in the middle. I have not seen it myself but I would expect it to have no to very little offgassing since glass is a perfect block of VOCs.
Emergency Heat Options
Heating blankets (can take a very long time to offgas), biomats (a little more tolerable) – those two won’t work for the most sensitive.
Mold and HT-sensitive folks have liked the Biddenford brand of electric blankets the best.
But the most tolerated hot water bottle is the Japanese Yutanpo metal water bottles. The least toxic plastic hot water bottles are the Fashy thermoplastic line.
It’s a good idea to have emergency hand and feet warmers (really good to take out with you or for power outages – I find them totally non-toxic).
Other Heating Options for the Chemically and Mold Sensitive
The first type, the kind that is not safe for sensitive folks, in my opinion, is a portable propane heater like the Mr. Heater Buddy Heater.
They use air from inside your living space to burn, then vent the combustion gases inside your living space.
These are designed to be used outside or in a garage or space with lots of ventilation. They are not really intended for indoor spaces.
The second type called “B vent” or Natural Vent uses some air from inside your living space, but vents the combustion gases outside. This is similar to a gas fireplace. They’re usually used in residential houses or mobile homes which are large enough to have oxygen to spare and ample make up air.
Direct Vent Heater
A direct vent heater has an exhaust and an intake. The device is a sealed system, using no room air for combustion. Exhaust fumes vent out of a side wall or roof.
This type is safest (and most efficient) for small or tightly sealed spaces.
It takes air from outside and uses it for combustion, while also bringing in air from inside and heating it in a sealed heat exchanger before sending it back inside.
Indoor air is never used for combustion and it’s physically impossible for the combustion gases to get inside. Technically all combustion takes place outside of the building envelope.
Ductless Mini Split Heat Pump
This unit does not exchange inside and outside air. There is not much offgassing compared to other heating and cooling units.
Carl Grimes suggests if new AC equipment like heat pumps have an offgassing odor then that could be from heavy oil on stamped metal parts.
It can be removed with a petroleum solvent, rinsed with hot water plus a non-toxic detergent, then water only.
Keeping a mini-split heat pump mold-free:
There is some debate on whether a mini-split can be kept clear of mold. I find these units easier to keep mold-free than any other type of AC.
The unit should come with a fine mesh filter on the front, once you take off the front panel you can access the coils. Keep that filter clean. Clean this filter once a week.
I never got dust and mold on the coils in my mini-split. If your coils start to get dirt, grime, or mold, clean them. Make sure your unit is easily accessible.
You spray the coils down with water and cleaning products. Companies can come and do this part for you since it’s a little tricky.
You can also do this as a preventative cleaning.
MIAQ says to do this every two years as you might not see the mold unless you open this up and take a flashlight to it. You can do this every year if you are sensitive to mold.
If you are there for the installation, make sure the condensation tube is not too small. It should have a straightforward route out and where it empties should be easily accessible for you.
You can pour hydrogen peroxide down the tube to clean it or you can also blow it out with pressure or suction it out.
Don’t wait until it’s plugged and overflowing to clean it. If that becomes moldy it may be impossible to perfectly clean so preemptively cleaning it is a good idea.
You could ozone the unit a couple of times without damaging it.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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Hi, I’m chemically sensitive and it usually takes a long time for me to offgass a space heater. Worse, a lot of the cheaper ones break quickly and then I have to buy another! I’ve tried all kinds of types. Recently we decided to try an infrared space heater. After a number of terrible experiences with broken space heaters from Amazon, I tried a refurbished infrared space heater from sunheat.com. This came with a 5 year warranty and I was so pleasantly surprised to turn it on and there was no horrible smell! It’s very well made and gives great heat. I do not know if their brand new models would have more of a smell initially, however this one needed no offgassing at all. These are a bit more expensive but won’t need to be replaced in a year.
awesome, thanks for sharing.
I know most of the concerns here were about offgasing, but what about toxic coatings that some animals are sensitive to? Any sources/ creators that share info for a non toxic home for animals?
As far as I know there is no blog covering that topic, at least not in an accurate way according to my bird owner friend. However, birds are very similar to extremely sensitive humans from what I’ve seen.
This is an HVAC-related question. Didn’t see a category for it, so this seemed as good as any place to ask: Any input on A/C coil cleaners? We need to clean the coils but I’m concerned about the nature of the products that do that. Any and all input would be greatly appreciated.
HVAC isn’t a topic I cover, I don’t know enough about it.
Thanks. I noticed no categories for it in the drop-down menus, but thought I’d ask. HVAC systems are really complicated. I appreciate all of what you do and share so generously on this site and also appreciate that you don’t try to address things beyond the scope of your expertise and ability to research with a reasonable degree of confidence. You are impressive!
Cathy Kirby says
I need help finding a new air conditioner. The GE I purchased tightened up my airways so quickly I couldn’t even put it in the window! Any suggestions would be appreciated.
You say the CeramiCircuit portable space heater is best tolerated by the universal reactor. Except it’s no longer available. What about the regular wall-mount heaters they sell? Do they have the same qualities (whatever they were) to make them as tolerable??
I’ve tried most of the options in this article so far and am still looking for something I’ll be able to tolerate.
I have “Suburban” RV type heater attached to wall and gas line in my apartment, gas and electric system. I’m EI, asthma, CFIDS, chemical intolerant. Just had it checked by utility co. for gas leak, then had thorough service call. I still get lightheaded and cardiac arrhythmia every time I turn it on “Heat” setting.. Why? A loaner radiant heater worked very well for me, but not allowed here. Living without heat for now, temps in the 30’s!
Why are radiant heaters not allowed? Being that cold, when chemically sensitive, is harmful to the adrenals. Use the heater that works for you, not one that is causing health issues.
Thank you for this article! It’s nice to have so many options to try.
I want to write down the model numbers for the quartz heaters, because they are the only ones I can use and I want people to have access to them. They’re unavailable on Amazon, and after a while Amazon won’t show the listing anymore so they’ll be no info. I ordered another brand of quartz heater last week, and it came with a prop 65 for lead which I believe the Optimus version does not have.
Optimus H-5511 Infrared Quartz Radiant Heater, mini version
Optimus H-5232 Tower Quartz Heater, tall version
I tried the ceramic heaters this year and can’t use them because they smell like burnt metal to me. Hopefully, the quartz will still work for me!
Michelle Maczka says
Update: I called the company, and they said the Optimus heaters do not have a prop 65 warning. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they get poor reviews online. Basically, usually only the low setting works. The overheat sensor is too sensitive. I bought three of the small ones. One did not work at all, and with the other two, only the low setting works. I believe the larger versions of this model have fans.
If anyone knows of another type of quartz heater, I would love to know about it! All the ones I’m finding online have fans and/or prop 65 warnings.
You can ignore the prop 65 warnings. Businesses that sell products in California have to overlabel to prevent lawsuits from bounty hunters. Check out wellnessmama blog article on it and also her comment section: https://wellnessmama.com/349297/california-prop-65/
Are there any safe electric fireplaces?
I got a new air handler and heat pump, all electric. Something happened and 1 – 2 hours after it was installed my family and I got severe symptoms. Neurological, sinus, stomach things, nausea, airway spasms, and towards the end before we left blackouts and possible mild seizures. Is there any thoughts about what could have happened? It perplexes everyone I have spoken to. When we try to remove items, we get sick in the car. Thanks so much.
B J says
Id like to hear more about your experience. I had similar symptoms to yours after sleeping in a hotel room with a constantly running AC through-wall heat pump.
I just bought a Aikoper Ceramic electric heater for my office space; just read warning on box: product expose you to chemicals such as Leaf and Lead Compounds. I’ve had breast cancer surgery – should I return it to the store?
I haven’t seen that brand before. Sometimes there is lead in the electrical parts that could happen with almost any brand as far as I understand it. If you wash your hands after touching the cord that is likely fine but I don’t know where the lead is for sure.
Unfortunately from my experience purchasing and returning several space heaters they all seem to have the warning. Corinne is right; a huge issue is the cord but there could also be heavy metals and other toxic chemicals in the paint and buttons as with many other appliances.
You could try contacting all the brands you are looking at to find out all the toxic chemicals in their products and if a consumer can become exposed to them. Prop 65 ( the warning you saw) is useful but unfortunately it’s not detailed enough.
Hello, I am sensitive to emfs, just moved to a new place, & have electric wall heaters that are very expensive. I want to get a good oil heater. (Maybe). I have an older one now that was given to me. How long do they take to off gas? Im going to get a brand new one. And is there anything toxic that comes from the oil heaters? Metals? I saw in one picture there was a warning for one on Amazon, that someone pointed out. I cant afford to get a ceramic, I dont think. Do those help save much? Im basically trying to not get another $250 electric bill, & also be free of mpre toxins. I suffer from chronic disease caused by lyme & mold. Thanks ~Bettina
These are all electric so they won’t help to save money.
HI Betina, I was curious which one you decided to go with. I would so appreciate any comments from you that could help and advise. I hope you are doing so much better and I appreciate you reaching out back to me. Warmest, Brittney Ryan