How To Properly Work Your Ceiling Fan. Yeah, You Read That Right

Ceiling fans aren’t just on/off affairs, and it’s possible you could be using yours incorrectly. According to Consumer Reports, people get tripped up by the ability to reverse the direction of the blades…

All of the ceiling fans we recently tested run clockwise to blow air downward and have a switch that you flip to reverse the motion of the blade. During warm weather, you run the fan clockwise to create a breeze that cools you—that’s the wind-chill effect, the same cool breeze you feel when you roll down the window in a moving car.

Many ceiling-fan manufacturers—and various Web sites out there—suggest that you run the ceiling fan counterclockwise when the weather is cold and the heat is on in your home. The idea is that the fan mixes the warm air collecting at the ceiling and moves it back down into the perimeter of room, creating a higher average room temperature and less need for heat.

If the blades are spinning counterclockwise, then you’re doing it wrong, and the fan is circulating warmer air. You want the blades to rotate clockwise, generating a relaxing breeze to help ward off this miserable !@#$% heat.

Q&A: Which direction should the blades on my ceiling fan rotate?
(Photo: ewen and donabel)

Comments

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  1. chrylis says:

    While in general, fan blades should spin clockwise for cooling, I’ve seen a few fans that have the blades installed in the opposite direction. There are two ways to check which direction the fan should rotate:

    - Look at the blades. They are angled and push the air as the leading edge moves, and so if the leading edge is the high side, it will push the air down (and vice versa).

    - Or just turn the fan on high and stand right under it. Turn it off, flip the switch, and turn it back on. You should be able to easily tell the difference.

  2. mgy says:

    My initial reaction to this story was “Really? people don’t know this?”, but then I thought about the fact that I just figured out how to roll up those ugly canvas pull-down drapes last night. I guess the trick was to pull down slightly, and let go. No one ever told me this.

  3. castlecraver says:

    @chrylis: Just checked mine, and it goes counterclockwise to push air down.

  4. DrCrippen says:

    Just checked my fans… Hunters… Both of them spin counterclock to blow down as well.

  5. Oh no. This is exactly like skid advice. You turn into the skid if you have front wheel drive or out if you have rear wheel, or……

    What I’m saying is clockwise or counter direction/blade angle aside, do we want the air blowing down in the summer and up in the winter?

  6. simplegreen says:

    kinda surprised this wasnt just common sense. I’ve always run my fans this way. Hot air rises. Third grade here people.

  7. Sham03 says:

    I checked both of my fans, and they spin counterclockwise to blow air down.

    My guess is that when it’s hot, the warm air rises, and spinning them counterclockwise would blow that hot air down at you, something you don’t want on a hot summer day.

    Is this correct?

  8. Doug Nelson says:

    If I set my fan to blow down, it blows my papers all over the place and keeps blowing my hair into my face. So having it blow upwards all year round is doing it right, for me.

  9. AD8BC says:

    @castlecraver: Look down on the fan from above it. You’ll see that it actually does run clockwise……

    sorry, had to say it.

  10. This story sounds like a lot of hot air!

  11. AmbroseP says:

    What’s all this gibberish about counterclockwise and clockwise? Not all fans have their blades angled the same way.

    Moreover, not all rooms are built the same and people have different types of A/C (or none at all). That being said, I’d suggest choosing whatever setting makes you feel most comfortable.

    In general, if you’re sweating/hot, you want the air blowing towards you (think about perspiration in humans or transpiration in plants).

  12. Nunya B says:

    @Doug Nelson: Then aren’t you blowing hot air on yourself in the summertime? Wouldn’t you be better off not using the fan in the summertime?

  13. balthisar says:

    I’ve heard this for years and years. Blow the air down, you get the wind chill effect, and you feel cooler. Blow the air up so that the cold air mixes with the hot air, and you reduce your heating use. But, uh, it’s a (mostly) closed system. If you suck the hot air down, it still mixes with the cold air. Oh, you don’t want to feel the wind chill in winter? There are also speed controls on fans. You don’t have to feel the fan to get the air circulation effect. In effect, you don’t have to worry about blade installation direction, rotation direction, and all that. Just run your fan, and use your rheostat or scr-controlled speed control (or X10, or even cheap fans have remote controls these days).

  14. andystep12 says:

    Does air being blown upward during the winter actually help?
    I have extraordinarily low power bills and have never done it. Seems like the slight increase in wind chill simply from moving air along with the cost of running the electric motor in the fan would offset any benefit during the winter.

  15. Unless you have really tall ceilings, there is little temperature differential from top to bottom. I would agree that running the fan to blow air down on you in the summer helps you feel cooler. In the winter, I suspect it does nothing.

  16. stopNgoBeau says:

    @kisskisskiss: @Sham03: The blowing of the air changes the pressure, which makes it feel cooler, much like standing the in the doorway of a large building, the air fells cooler rushing in during the hot hot summer.

  17. fencepost says:

    I’ve intentionally left our bedroom ceiling fan blowing “up” even for the summer, because that gets us a breeze on our faces. Blowing down in the center of the room is less important to us.

    So, YMMV.

  18. number9 says:

    “If the blades are spinning counterclockwise, then you’re doing it wrong, and the fan is circulating warmer air. “

    Don’t think so. Counterclockwise to cool on my fans, too.

  19. haoshufu says:

    Why is this so suprising for people. You see these dual action fan a lot in houses with high ceiling. The reverse makes your house heater very efficient during winter. Since the air comes down on the side by the walls, you don’t get wind chill effect unless you standing right up against the wall.

  20. T-Bone (KoKo the Monkey) says:

    My fan also spins counterclockwise to blow air downwards. You’re doing it wrong.

  21. dangermike says:

    I have a hard time believe this. If you have a fan blowing air down, it’ll be the warm ceiling air. If you have a fan blowing up, it’ll still be moving air and there will still be the “wind chill” effect as mentioned (what actually happens is the high velocity air speeds up evaporation from your skin, which feels cool).

    Anyway, it would seem to me what you would want is high speed in the summer for a cooling breeze and low speed in the winter for a gentle mixing action.

  22. dangermike says:

    oh, and I meant to mention that the wind chill effect as mentioned is not the same as as what happens in nature, which is more complicated that simply moving air faster. Anyone who has felt a hot wind like california’s Santa Ana conditions should realize this. But real wind chill comes from air that is colder and drier than ambient and is far stronger than any fan can deliver.

  23. lihtox says:

    I’m not surprised that there are people who don’t know this: there are so many little facts like this that people just pick up as they grow up. It’s not hard to miss one or two of those facts. It took me a little while to realize there was a reverse switch on ceiling fans.

    Another thing I’ve noticed about my ceiling fans: the blades are attached by screws to the main base, and those screws can become loose. I don’t know if there’s a risk of blades flying off, or if loose screws mean lower efficiency, or if it doesn’t matter at all, but I like to go around with my electric screwdriver, tighten the screws on the fan, and feel like I’ve accomplished something, as sad as that may sound. :)

  24. elislider says:

    picture should say VENTILATION. UR DOIN IT WRONG

  25. jpleonard says:

    My wife calls me the ceiling fan whisperer. When I walk into a room, ceiling fans are the first thing I notice. I cannot stand a fan moving the wrong way. Of course here in Louisiana, they should almost always be set in “cool” mode. I find myself changing the direction when nobody is around.

    I did save my friend a bunch of $ because all of his were going the wrong way and even with their fans on high, it never cooled off. Of course the amount of dust that came off when the direction was changed was amazing. Looked like dust snakes.

  26. theblackdog says:

    Wrong, my fans spin counterclockwise as well to produce that wind tunnel effect.

  27. privatejoker75 says:

    if you need an article to point this out to you, then you deserve to be roasting in your own house

  28. INHUMANITY says:

    My blades are angled upwards at an angle, so I have to go counter-clockwise to get air.

    For S&G, I flipped the switch to go clockwise. Almost no air.

    I guess it depends on how folks have the blades mounted.

  29. Islandkiwi says:

    I live in Dallas, where it is HOT already. We have two ceiling fans and AC. So my question is, is it better to keep the house slightly warmer and run the two ceiling fans, or should I just lower the AC by a few degrees and keep the fans off? Which is more energy efficient?

  30. failurate says:

    Feeling nothing. I think my blades need more tilt.

  31. forgottenpassword says:

    Since my cieling fan is in the middle of the room & my chair is next to the wall….. I set my fan to whereit brings air up & blows it outwards along the cieling & then down the walls. Otherwise I wouldnt get a breeze at all unless I stood directly nder the fan.

  32. @balthisar:
    Agreed. Generally a room would be a mostly closed system, and the fan is just acting as a big mixer to combine/circulate the different temp air. Just set it to what works.

  33. Ragman says:

    @Islandkiwi: I live in the DFW area as well. Run the fans. I run mine year round, and I can tell on my electric bill when I’ve got the ac running – it looks like a Bell curve centered on July. I’ve found that running the fans allows me to bump the thermostat up a couple of degrees and still be comfortable.

    You can also go watch your meter spin. Watch how fast it spins with the fans on, then turn them off and crank up the ac and watch it spin.

  34. Ragman says:

    The only reason I can see to reverse the blades in winter (and set speed to low) is to reduce the wind chill by not blowing directly on you. Either direction will mix the air.

  35. theczardictates says:

    To the “not that complicated” crowd: in that case, why do so many people even on a site like this have a hard time believing/understanding this? Air blowing on you will make you feel cooler (yes, even if is the warm air that collected at the ceiling), allowing you to be comfortable with a higher thermostat setting, so set your fan to blow it on wherever you happen to be — for most people, that’s the middle of the room.

    And yes, running the fan in reverse to mix the hot air that’s collecting at the ceiling (or worse, escaping through your attic) will reduce your heating bill in winter, especially if you have a high cathedral ceiling. You don’t to merely “mix” the air: to be most effective you want to push air up to the highest part of the ceiling where it will force hot air down the sides of the room, which is why you normally run it in reverse, assuming you have one fan in the middle of the room.

    When I worked in HVAC we lived by the mantra “fans cool people, not rooms”.

  36. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @simplegreen: They never discussed the fact that ceiling fans can pull air up and push it down in any of my science classes. This is only common sense if you grew up in a house with ceiling fans in it.

  37. Teapotfox says:

    @privatejoker75: There were several comments before yours that berated people for not already knowing this information, but I didn’t see anyone say the uninformed -deserved- to be hot and uncomfortable until yours. Bravo! I thought/hoped one article was actually going to go by without anyone directly blaming the “victim,” but your comment basically boils (pun intended) down to “you deserve to be hot because you didn’t know better.”

    Not everyone grew up with ceiling fans, not everyone knows they can be reversed. I marvel at how many people who READ Consumerist don’t want them to provide helpful and economical hints to their readers… what do people who already know everything there is to know about everything even COME here for, anyway?

  38. WTRickman says:

    Counterclockwise pushes air down here as well. Is there no standard on ceiling fan blade angles? or /

    Thats what makes the difference, which way the blades are angled.

    The fan in the picture looks the same way… looking straight on the end of the blade, the right side is lower than the left. So it would have to move CCW to push air down.

  39. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @lihtox:
    Loose blades certainly do go flying off!
    Someone hired me to replace their fan when she was scared shitless in the middle of the night as one of the blades flew off while she was sleeping.
    She didn’t want the old fan fixed, bought a new one.
    The blade left quite a nice dent in the plaster on the wall.

  40. Slack says:

    To take it a step further…

    I use a 4 pole relay to select between two thermostats. During the day, I select the thermostat in the living room & block off all the vents in the bedroom.

    At night, flip toggle switch and run a/c from thermostat in bedroom, and close vents in living room.

  41. Televiper says:

    @dangermike: When you’re blowing the air up against the ceiling, the fan isn’t strong enough to create a wind chill effect in the room.

  42. WTRickman says:

    @Slack

    That’s a good idea.

  43. CyGuy says:

    “The idea is that the fan mixes the warm air collecting at the ceiling and moves it back down into the perimeter of room, creating a higher average room temperature”

    Fans can’t change the “average room temperature” they can only change the amount of deviation from the average room temperature. Say the air in the lower half of the room is 60 and in the upper half it’s 80. Turning on the fan will mix the air, and hopefully make the all of the room 70 degrees. Throughout the whole time, the average (the mean) is 70 degrees.

  44. b612markt says:

    This was a very valuable tip for me. I forgot all about reversing the direction! If only the post included the tip” “Clean your blades first,” as mine rained tiny bits of lint everywhere when I spun them back up in the opposite direction.

    (I know, tsk tsk, bad housekeeper)

  45. kbarrett says:

    Sharpen the blades.

    Whirling blades vs. enemies FTW.

  46. bctampa says:

    chrylis at 10:17 AM on 06/08/08
    has the clearest explanation: the side [of the blade] that is tilted up is the same direction you want the spin in order to have a downward airflow.

    I’ve checked several sites and have read both clock and counter-clock directions as correct.

    Most also instruct on to stand directly below the fan to determine the direction of spin.

    For some reason it can be disorienting and an optical illusion with the same unit seemingly to be clockwise in one instance and reversed in another.

    I will go with the upward tilt of the blade method.

  47. Benguin says:

    I’ve known about the switch for years so when I read this I thought to myself, “Haha, silly people don’t even know how to use their fans correctly…”

    Then I looked up and noticed mine was spinning the wrong way.

    “Well shit.”

  48. FLConsumer says:

    It doesn’t take having a terribly tall ceiling to make ceiling fans impractical in the summertime. I have 12′ ceilings here and the AC supply vents are at the 8′ level. This was done to avoid having to cool the upper 4′ of the rooms. When I get up there to change light bulbs, there’s a definite difference in temperature.

    Also, turn off ceiling fans when you’re not in the room — they only waste electricity when there’s no one under them.

  49. FLConsumer says:

    @Slack: If your AC wasn’t designed to handle this (and it definitely sounds like it wasn’t, otherwise it’d have proper dampers & zone controls), you’re putting extra strain on your AC’s compressor. You may be saving some electricity now, but one premature compressor replacement will nix any savings you had by doing it this way.

  50. FLConsumer says:

    Ack, helps to proofread before posting. It’s the restricted airflow that will give you problems. The dual thermostat idea is a good one otherwise.

  51. amw5g says:

    Now if only CR could tell me how to get my two remote-controlled ceiling fans onto different frequencies, THEN I’d be happy.

  52. jchabotte says:

    whoa,

    I own that exact model of fan in the picture.. But my cat HATES when i toss him up near that thing.

  53. rensmooth says:

    This post is just not right, I just completed my experiment on my fan in the living room. Breeze is much better when turning counter clockwise, as the manufacturer recomends.

  54. mike says:

    @jchabotte: Now wait a minute…why exactly are you tossing your cat near that thing? You should be tossing it out the window.

    You’re doing it wrong.

  55. Ragman says:

    @amw5g: Read your fan’s manual. If you don’t have it, try the manu’s website. I had to do that to our remote controlled fan. Kept scaring the crap outta me when the light would turn on at 6 am when we were in bed.

  56. @Islandkiwi: Fans, by a buttload. We have a whole-house fan, which costs quite a bit more, electricity-wise, to run than ceiling fans, and it still only costs 5 cents for the same amount of cooling that $1 of A/C brings us.

    If it’s less than 95 degrees, we can almost always get adequate cooling with the whole-house fan and ceiling fans, EXCEPT when it’s stinky humid (not unusual here at 95*), since fans don’t remove any humidity. What we usually do in that case is turn on the A/C just a little to suck out the humidity, and then keep the fans running to provide more cooling.

  57. zlionsfan says:

    @kbarrett: Wouldn’t help. You’ve seen that episode of MythBusters, haven’t you? Ceiling fans won’t actually decapitate enemies: the flip side is that you’re not going to lose a finger when you turn off the fan and reach up to slow the blades so that you can see which way they’re moving …

  58. krom says:

    But doesn’t pushing the air downward during warm weather just push the naturally-rising hot air back down at you?

    My stepmother routinely pointed window fans *outward* during warm weather — pushing the hot air out.

  59. banmojo says:

    good goggles blind

    Having the fans blow directly on you in the hot weather may give ‘wind chill’ cooling, but is also pushing the hot air which is collecting above the cool air right back down onto you. Methinks Mythbusters needs to run a series of tests on this theory with thermometers to see the truth of this myth.

    And in the winter time, if the hot air is above you, then again, running the fans to blow right down on you would better move that hot air towards your legs, warming up the whole room better.

    That’s what I think, and without evidence from a trial with multiple thermometers etc ktfsup :^)

  60. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Clockwise to cool only works in the southern hemisphere…in the northern hemisphere, it’s counterclockwise. It’s a simple application of the Corny-Alias effect.

    (Hey Consumer Reports…different manufacturers angle their blades in different directions. Mine are all made by Emerson Electric, and they’re all angled so that clockwise = pushing air down.)

  61. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Oh crap, I meant counterclockwise = down.

  62. jonworld says:

    OK LET ME MAKE THIS SIMPLE AND CLEAR for some of you who don’t understand this:

    Even though the fan is blowing the hot air down at you in the summer, the wind-chill effect created by this far outweighs the temperature of the hot air.

  63. geoffhazel says:

    ward off this miserable !@#$% heat

    umm….what you talking about, Willis?

    Seattle Weather:

    This Afternoon: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 56. Southwest wind around 7 mph.

    Tonight: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 47. South southwest wind between 7 and 13 mph.

  64. geoffhazel says:

    What heat?? We’re in Seattle:

    This Afternoon: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 56. Southwest wind around 7 mph.

    Tonight: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 47. South southwest wind between 7 and 13 mph.

  65. geoffhazel says:

    Seattle ain’t hot today.

    Don’t need no stinking fans.

    This Afternoon: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 56. Southwest wind around 7 mph.

    Tonight: A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 47. South southwest wind between 7 and 13 mph.

  66. geoffhazel says:

    sorry sorry sorry.. previous posts weren’t showing up!

  67. Mr. Gunn says:

    theczardictates: That’s why the picture for this story is a bad one. The counterclockwise action only makes a difference if you have cathedral-like ceilings, and your fan is on a pole, not flat against the ceiling like most people’s.