Which Way Should Ceiling Fans Rotate in the Winter?

While you may not think much about your ceiling fan in the winter or during the coldest months of the year, using it can help make you feel a bit warmer, but with a catch -- it must be set to the proper direction. A clockwise or reverse setting circulates the air in the room in an ideal way without causing you to feel chilly from the air set in motion by the fan blades.

Ceiling Fan on Knotty Pine
credit: skhoward/iStock/Getty Images
A ceiling fan on a pine ceiling.

Setting the Direction

During the winter -- or on any day when it's cold enough to turn on the heat -- select the "reverse" setting on your ceiling fan, wall control or remote. If the switch on the fan's motor housing doesn't have clear indications of forward and reverse, turn the fan on to a low speed and stand beneath it. The blades should travel clockwise, like the hands on an analog clock, when set to the reverse position. If the blades are moving the other way, turn the fan off, then flip the switch on the fan to select the opposite direction at the "Low" speed setting.

What It Does

Ceiling fan blades move the air around near the ceiling and ultimately, help create airflow for the entire room. When the blades spin clockwise, they draw air up toward the ceiling, which pushes the warm air hovering near the ceiling back down into the room.

Why It Benefits You

Since warm air rises, that air you've paid to heat in the room is most cost-effective if it stays down where you are. With the fan turned off, the warmest air in the room hovers near the ceiling, where you'll never feel it, which means you may crank the heat up even more to get the room temperature set to a comfortable level. With the fan on low and spinning clockwise, some of the warm air comes back down to a level where you can feel it. Besides feeling warmer, you could save a bit on heating costs to achieve the same comfort level.

Exception to the Rule

If your ceiling fan sits near the peak of a vaulted ceiling or two-story ceiling, switching it to a clockwise direction isn't entirely necessary. Counter-clockwise -- the usual operating direction during warm weather -- forces air downward, creating a wind-chill effect on your skin. Since the fan sets much higher than it would on the average ceiling, it's too high to create that same level of chill against your skin. No matter which direction you choose for a high ceiling fan, it will still help recirculate the hottest air at the top of the room.