My friend, the towel radiator.

towel radiator

This morning, as I was wrapping myself up in a nice, hot towel after my shower, it occurred to me that I’ve never really written about my friend, the towel radiator.

One of the dilemmas we faced when renovating the downstairs bathroom was how to deal with the need for heat. We have cast iron steam radiators in every other room in the house, but when this bathroom was carved out of a former pass-through butler’s pantry sometime in the late ’30s/early ’40s, the piping for heat wasn’t routed into the room. I’m not sure what they did for heat for the next 50 years, but at some point a little electric heater was added to the bathroom under the sink. That’s what was there when we bought the house, and, of course, it was broken and rusty and worthless.

Initially we considered electric underfloor radiant heating since we knew we’d be gutting the room down to the subfloor, but what at first seemed financially doable added up to too high of an expense once all of the various parts were factored in. (The dogs would have loved radiant heating, no doubt. I imagined them lying in there all day like lizards, bellies warming against the tile…) Anything that sat on the floor or protruded too far from the wall was out of the question; the bathroom is just too tiny.

Enter the towel radiator!

Towel radiators are common in Europe, but far less common in the US. You do sometimes see heated towel bars, yes, but that’s different—they will warm a towel, but they don’t product enough heat to warm a entire room. We don’t have a lot of options here, but we really liked the look of the Runtal Omnipanel, which is available for both hardwired electric installation (that’s what we have) and forced hot water heat systems. We got the 24″ wide TW12, which is just powerful enough to heat a 5×6′ bathroom. They come in a gazillion colors (they can even be custom color-matched), but white obviously made the most sense for us.

There’s also an optional programmable timer that you can buy to set the heat to come on at designated times for each day of the week. We have one, but apparently we’re too stupid to figure out how to use it right (the manual is a doozy!), because every time we think we’ve finally got it right, the set time comes and goes and the radiator doesn’t come on. And then we forget about it.

The particular model we chose retails for about $1000, but we managed (incredibly) to find one on eBay for $500 that was being sold by a rich person who decided to re-renovate their bathroom for the second time in five years. It looked like it had barely been used.

towel radiator

It does stick out from the wall a bit, but it’s less than 4″ total—very slim. We were able to fit it in at the end of the bathtub (our tub only has walls on two sides; we have an L-shaped shower curtain rod), so it’s virtually out of sight but towels are still easily accessible after a shower. And the warm towels…oh my goodness. It’s like wrapping your wet, shivering body up in an electric blanket, only without the risk of electrocution. Total heaven. It really feels like the kind of luxury I imagine people with ponies and maids enjoying every morning.

As a side benefit, the radiator also dries wet towels very quickly, virtually eliminating dreaded “musty towel odor” (a.k.a. my biggest bathroom fear), and it also cuts back on moisture in the air. We don’t have any ventilation in the bathroom other than the little window (which we always open during a shower, even in the middle of winter), but in the two years that have passed since we finished renovating the bathroom (I can’t believe it’s been that long!), we’ve never had a problem with mildew or mold or anything like that.

We don’t want to waste electricity, so we actually don’t leave the radiator on unless we’re taking showers (and for about 20 minutes afterward so the towels and room will dry out). Yes, I realize that defeats the purpose of having radiator, and yes, that does mean it’s freezing in there much of the time, but we’re used to it…though maybe a heated toilet seat is in order!

46 comments
  1. the domestic fringeMar 21, 201110:51 am

    Wow! That’s fabulous. I want one for my bathroom. :-)

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  2. LorenMar 21, 201110:53 am

    We had an electric radiator like this in my house growing up and it was THE MOST AMAZING THING. We did the same thing, it would stay off unless we were using the shower. I’d turn it on before I took a shower, and by the time I got out my towel and the bathroom would be all warm & toasty. Sometimes I would put my clothes for the day on it too so they would be warm when I got dressed. We’d turn it off when we left the house for the day.
    We lived in a 100 year old farm house at the time so there was no central heating in the house, and the insulation was terrible, this thing was a life saver.

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  3. LMar 21, 201111:09 am

    WOW! What a fabulous invention — and a fabulous find for you. I had one of those heated towel bar thingies (in Michigan) and it was heavenly, but it was yard saled when I moved to FL many years ago.

    Now I miss it. Sigh.

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  4. ChristineMar 21, 201111:21 am

    I am so glad you wrote about this! We also have a tiny bathroom that currently has a forced hot water wall-mounted radiator in it… I hadn’t realized that some of these models can actually heat the room as well. Something to dream about if we ever renovate…

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  5. deanMar 21, 201112:17 pm

    “…the kind of luxury I imagine people with ponies and maids enjoying every morning.”

    hilarious.

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  6. MarthaMar 21, 201112:28 pm

    Love this! Having used one like yours in Spain, I’ve been throwing my towel over the top of my run-o’-the-mill radiator during my shower for a while now. So to those who don’t have a pretty towel radiator, know that you can also warm a towel on an awful-bronze-spray-painted-regular-radiator :) I do, however, curse my radiator if it doesn’t happen to be warm when it’s time for my shower… so having a timer or on/off switch would be a nice bonus. Great find, Anna.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    If you did that in my house, your towel would be covered with paint chips and rust! :D

  7. jbhatMar 21, 20111:05 pm

    What a marvelous solution. And your post reminds me that I need to find the manual for our timer/adjuster thingy for the radiant heat we have under our bathroom floor. We have it, but I don’t know how to make it work. How lame is that?

    jbhat

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  8. maggieMar 21, 20111:19 pm

    Wow, that does sound like it hits or exceeds “pony” on the luxury scale. Our bathroom doesn’t even have a fan, much less a heater, and it gets pretty damp and it drives me crazy. My landlord euphemistically calls it “passively ventilated,” which I guess means leaving the door open. Ha!

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Yeah, I’ve had several apartments with “passively ventilated” (HA!) bathrooms, and you really do have to leave the door open. We actually leave the door open even though we have a window, too. Damp rooms make me nervous.

  9. ElizabethMar 21, 20111:51 pm

    I have this exact same one and LOVE it. warm towels totally = happiness.

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  10. AnnaMar 21, 20112:12 pm

    Wow, thank you so much for posting this. I had no idea there’s such a thing called a towel radiator, what a fabulous find!

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  11. AngelaMar 21, 20112:51 pm

    This is fabulous! And suddenly I don’t feel so bad about having to shower with the window open no matter what the weather because of poor ventilation in our 100ish year old house. Thank you for that!

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  12. KathyMar 21, 20113:03 pm

    Oh my god I had no idea these existed! Hmm… very interesting!

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  13. Rebekah@thenaughtyrenter.comMar 21, 20113:19 pm

    I have a large window IN my shower! I’ve covered the bottom portion with contact paper on the glass (its wood framed, yummy eh?) and can open the top. You get a decent view of roof tops and can see just the top of my head, I like it, but do get a little creeped out when I hear people passing by :)

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  14. GracieMar 21, 20113:29 pm

    ha ha ah, ponies and maids

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  15. SallyMar 21, 20114:38 pm

    Is this a fire hazard at all?

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    Anna @ D16 /

    No, not at all. This isn’t a space heater or anything like that—it’s a bathroom radiator specifically designed to be used for warming towels!

  16. Carolina VerissimoMar 21, 20114:47 pm

    Unrelated but urgent! I’m at IKEA (Chicago) and just learned that the ENJE curtains have been discontinued. I made the poor saleswoman triple check. What is going to be of all my windows?

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Hi Carolina, check the comments on this post — there will be a new, cordless version introduced later this year.

    Carolina Verissimo /

    Thank you, Anna, that was the post that inspired me to be an ENJE convert. Will keep an eye open for the new version.

  17. MigMar 21, 20115:06 pm

    Warm towels are bliss.

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  18. SüskMar 21, 20115:54 pm

    Hurrah!
    We’re renovating our home and both bathrooms and the utility room have these bad boys installed. The utility room one was my idea- sock/knicker/underthingies dryer! Next best thing after a warm towel is warm socks. Everyone knows it.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    I would LOVE to have one in my laundry area! First I think I need to focus on having it not be a dirt hole, though. :D

    Süsk /

    We’re de-dirtholing ours as we speak, too. Shudder.

    Thanks also for the twitter mention- I thought for a second my grandad or some other hapless family member had just hit refresh a lot of times (it can easily happen, they get confused) and caused me to have lots of traffic, then I realised you’d mentioned my blog! I feel so popular. And also, slightly worried now that I might actually have to write content instead of just whinge loads.

    Ha! *eye dart*

  19. Jason Hudson Dot ComMar 21, 20115:59 pm

    Nothing like a warm towel.

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  20. JoMar 21, 20118:25 pm

    There was one of these in the house where I stayed in Denmark, uncountable years ago, along with a heated floor–and it was one of those bathrooms where there was no shower stall, just tile that stretched all over the floor.

    Ever since then, this has been my benchmark for luxury. You can keep your Toto toilet seats with built-in bidets (although a separate bidet is still on my bucket list) and your radiant heating under the wood floors in the living room: a warm floor and a hot towel in Scandanavia is IT.

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  21. wondergalMar 21, 20119:26 pm

    you won’t go wrong with a heated toilet seat. I have one and cannot sit on a cold seat ever again.

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  22. IsabelleMar 22, 20113:17 am

    $ 1000 – uuuuuuuaaaaaaaaah. They cost around $ 100 here in Europe. Usually they are connected to the general heating system. We are using it to do the “switching” from high temperature radiator heat to under floor low heating system – marvelous trick from our Italian plumber. We also got a BRAND NEW electrical version luxury edition at the church fleemarket for $ 5 only.
    And yours looks very elegant.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    It is possible to buy the kind that’s connected to the heating system here, too, but only for forced hot water—we have steam heat, and the piping doesn’t even go to that part of the house. Ours is electric, but it’s hardwired, so there’s no visible cord or outlet.

    It’s hard for me to imagine something like this costing $100, honestly, which makes me wonder if it is indeed the same thing you’re talking about. It’s incredibly heavy (hard for one person to lift alone!). The output is 2400 BTUs. I did a little comparison shopping, and it looks like the equivalent product in the UK is about $500. Less than in the US, sure, but you have to remember that this is not a common product in the US—there are only two companies selling them. I’ve never seen one in another home here before!

    (Also: Runtal manufactures their radiators for the US market domestically. Manufacturing costs within the US tend to be quite high when compared to goods that we import from China, etc., so that adds to the price, too.)

  23. LauraMar 22, 20116:27 am

    Agree with Isabelle they are so much cheaper in Europe everybody has them but they are room heaters too. Just found your blog form ikea kitchen search I can’t believe the cost of appliances generally so expensive in the US.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    How funny, pricing comments from people in Europe are usually about how cheap everything is in the US, hahaha.

  24. tigressMar 22, 20118:31 am

    I love the runtal heating system! I used it for all of my heating in my renovated 1850′s house. I wanted to keep all of the cast iron radiators but just after we purchased it and before moving in, the furnace and pipes froze and they all cracked. the walls were ice. :(. I was so glad to find the runtal system. I went for white also – of course. I ended up not getting the towel radiator in either of my two bathrooms because they are both so small I didn’t want to take up the space. now though, I wish I would have went for it in one of them.

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  25. MarkMar 22, 201110:23 am

    Ok I’ve never seen anything like this, I live in the South, but this is AWESOME!! Your bathroom looks so cool too!

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  26. Rosa, CopenhagenMar 22, 201112:25 pm

    I have a small towel radiator in my tiny bathroom (1,8 sqm!) and it is the only luxury in my tiny flat. It cost me nothing – I found it at the curb outside a house being renovated, dragged it home and a friend installed it for me.
    I love free luxury! …and a heated bathroom :-)

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  27. MinnieMar 22, 20113:14 pm

    That is a really nice example of a towel radiator, it can be cheaper, by the way, to have it one a very low setting for a little longer to keep the room just slightly warm rather than heating it up and letting it cool right down. But what ever works lovey :)

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    Anna @ D16 /

    That would work if we could figure the timer out, but as it is, we really only turn it on for about an hour a day—we shower as soon as we get up.

  28. jessica defineMar 23, 20119:24 am

    haha… my dumb American self thought that was “just” a towel warmer in France; no wonder the damn thing got so hot. I’m jealous of your like-pony-owning luxury.

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  29. NinaMar 24, 20117:33 am

    Toasty towels after a shower…heaven! If we ever redo our 2nd bathroom I want one in there…

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  30. ShannonMar 24, 201111:37 am

    So great! We have radiators all through our house from the 1930s and the one in the bathroom seems to take up too much space. I might consider one of these when we renovate!

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  31. EmilyMar 24, 20111:38 pm

    Living in Italy taught me that the warm towels are just as fringe benefit of these radiators. Most Italian homes don’t have a clothes dryer so the radiator severs as a great accelerated drying rack. No one likes to wait a week for their jeans to dry!

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  32. Blogg by Maliin StoorMar 28, 20118:44 am

    Lovely!

    Nice is not enough!

    Maliin

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  33. MeaganApr 5, 20112:24 pm

    Towel radiators are so much more common in Ireland out of necessity than anything else – I don’t remember seeing them in Canada or the US much – but that is likely do to the climate and better insulated houses!
    meagan, row house nest

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    Anna @ D16 /

    Due to the climate? How do you mean? (There is so much variation in climate throughout the US and Canada…)

  34. ChelseaApr 5, 20116:39 pm

    Ahhhh, this is such a beautiful thing! We have been discussing the need for one of those ever since moving into our current digs last year. It may seem ridiculous for Californians to feel like one of these is necessary but we suffer from the “stinky towel” smell issue since our bathroom seems constantly moist. If we owned our house, we’d be all over this in a hot(steamy) minute! And I love the fact that this one is actually nice to look at and not “hey- I’m trying to make your bathroom look like a fancy spa”.

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    Anna @ D16 /

    We use it in the summer, too! We just turn it on post-shower to dry the towels, and it works great.

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