When towel warmers came to the U.S. from Europe several years ago, they actually lost some perceived functionality. “If you go to Italy or England, you’ll find that a towel warmer is something that’s actually used to dry towels or bathrobes, not just to warm them up,” says Fred Salati, director of Amba Towel Warmers. He suggests other uses as well, such as drying bathing suits in the summer. “The name ‘towel warmer’ doesn’t tell the whole story,” he says.

Neither does the general impression of the product as only being something for the high-end home. Manufacturers including Amba, Warmly Yours, and Myson (shown, right) offer models for just a few hundred dollars, use little more wattage than a light bulb, and yet can help reduce laundry loads by drying towels immediately after they’re used.

Salati recommends choosing a towel warmer that has several bars to maximize surface area: “You have to have gaps so you can hang the towels, but you don’t want four bars for a 40-inch-tall unit. That won’t give you the value or functionality you want.” Models with flat bars can help boost surface area, while Amba’s Elory product line uses full sheets of stainless steel to maximize the heated surface. Also look for internal thermostats and programmable timers that will maintain just the right cozy temperature.