The first hot/cold pack I had was made by a friend as a gift. It is easy to make a basic microwavable heating pad, also referred to as a hot/cold pack or wrap. As soon as it’s done, you can heat it in just a minute or two in the microwave for soothing heat, and just as easily store it in the freezer to always have an ice pack on hand. They won't do as much for you as the products we sell on this site, some of which have patented designs that contour to your body, designed after years of trial and error. But in a pinch, a homemade pack can offer some real relief.
If you’re me, you always have one in the freezer, and one tucked in a drawer ready to heat at a moment’s notice. Ok, maybe a few tucked in a drawer. Yes, I’ve already admitted I have a problem with these things…but I really need the small one for my sinus pain and the larger for my neck and shoulder pain, and…well…its really not out of hand yet. I only have three, maybe four…ok five, tops…If you can sew a basic square or tube shape, you are more than half-way there!
- Cut a natural fiber-fabric (this is going in the microwave, you don't want anything that will melt or burn) into two matching shapes
- Pin with the right sides of the fabric facing each other
- Sew 3 sides together with 1/4 inch seams, and turn right-side out
- Fill 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full with flax seed or dry rice
- Fold raw edges of remaining side in, and stitch shut
It really is that simple, and something this basic will last for years. You can count on these to provide you with 20 minutes of heat or icing with these fillers. Longer periods of continuous heat or ice require specialized gel packs like some of those in our products.
I know some of you still want to know more, and have questions about how and what. So, for you:
The Master Class:
Fabric: A soft fabric with a tight weave will keep the filling inside where it belongs. Some people use a sock and just sew the end closed after filling it (that’s fine if you don’t mind, you know, wearing a sock around your neck. Note that friends may start to call you Dobby…)
The thickness of the fabric will impact how much heat or cold comes through the fabric as you have it against your skin. Using a thinner cotton on one side, and a heavier fleece on the other will allow you to adjust the amount of heat or cold you feel by just turning the heating pad over.
DO choose a natural fiber fabric that can withstand being in a microwave:
- terry cloth (washcloths and hand towels are an easy option)
- old tee shirts (avoid tees with glitter, metallic inks or attachments, or solid heat-transfer color applications that may burn in the microwave. You should be able to see the tee shirt fiber through the ink.)
Do NOT use synthetics with plastic content or similar materials that will melt, or have metallic content that will damage a microwave:
- recycled plastic content
- metallic decorative thread
Add a slip cover: Finished heating pads are NOT washable because the filling will be ruined if soaked with water. You may want to make a plain cotton heating pad, and a more decorative fabric sleeve cover that can be removed and washed. This is not a must – just an option if you choose.
- Some straight pins
- A sewing machine is helpful to get a closely stitched seam that will not allow the filler to slip through. If you are sewing by hand, choose a larger-scale filler that will not easily slip through your seams.
Filler: There are a number of filler options you can pick up easily at the grocery store. You will need at least a pound of your chosen filler, and more for larger heating pads. There is one clear choice for the BEST hot and cold therapy experience:
- Flax seed – Available at many groceries now (check the organics section for seed, not ground meal). It is a great choice as it is rich in natural oils that generate moist heat when microwaved. Flax is the best at heat/cold retention, and its small scale means your hot/cold pack will easily shape itself around whatever hurts.
Other grocery store options:
- Uncooked rice – probably one of the easiest to find – a drier heat, and a clear second best option that works really well.
- Dried beans
- Dried corn - (um, no, don’t grab that jar of popcorn unless you want to eat your hot pack after its first heating…we’re talking bulk feed corn, NOT at the grocery store!)
- Cherry pits (You’ll have to order these online, or I guess you could EAT two pounds of cherries first to get to the pits…but they must be thoroughly washed)
A great way to make this a little luxury is to add scent. Choose something with soothing properties, or aromatherapy benefits. A few drops of essential oil per pound of filling will add a lot each time you use it! Adjust to your personal preference for strength. Here are some common choices:
- Lavender - soothing, relaxing, aid for insomnia
- Eucalyptus - decongestant
- Cinnamon – anti-spasm
- Ginger – muscle aches
- Jasmine – mood enhancing
- Lemongrass – analgesic, pain relief
- Marjoram – stress, insomnia, muscle spasms
- Peppermint – anti-spasm
- Pine – muscle aches, anxiety
- Rosemary – pain relief, headache support
- Sandalwood – insomnia, respiratory infections
- Vetiver – stress relief
- Ylang ylang – stress relief
To Make It:
- Place two pieces of fabric of matching sizes and shapes, right-sides together, and pin three sides closed with straight pins, measuring ¼ inch in from the outer edge.
- Stitch together along three sides.
- Clip the corners of the seams to reduce the amount of fabric bulk in the corners when you turn it right-side out.
- Turn it inside out, so the right side of the fabric is now out and the seams are hidden.
- Blend any aromatherapy essential oils in with the filler in a bowl.
- Scoop filler into the opening in the sewn pack, filling it ½ to 2/3 of the way full with your selected filling and extras. Don’t over-fill, as you do want the finished pad to mold itself around the part of your body you are using it on. Too much fill and it won’t flex and give…too little and it will all fall down to the ends of the pad instead of staying where you place it.
- Fold the open ends inside the sewn pouch ¼ inch, pin shut, and stitch the bag closed.
- To add a slipcover:
- Choose a fabric that is microwave safe as in the instructions above, and make sure it is washable and will not shrink.
- Size the slipcover 1 1/2 inches larger for each dimension of the hot/cold pack fabric (height and width) to allow for the depth of the filling. Double check before you cut the slip cover, as the amount of filling you added to the hot/cold pack may require more or less extra fabric for the slipcover. So - cut the slipcover fabric after you have filled your hot/cold pack, and allow for filling, at least 1" larger than the finished pack size, plus an additional 1/2 “ to each dimension to provide a seam allowance.
- Follow instructions 1-4 above.
- 5 - Fold edges of the open end under and hem them to make a nice finished opening, like a pillowcase, that will allow your microwave heating pad to slide in and out.
To Use It:
As a heating pad:
- Place in a microwave that has a rotating turntable inside, making sure that the turntable can move properly with the heating pad on it. (If it doesn’t rotate, stop the microwave frequently to shake the filler and reposition the pad in the microwave.)
- Microwave on high for 1 minute (less for smaller packs – be sure to start with less time and test what works best for the size pack you are using.) Remove the heating pad and allow the filling to mix around, distributing the heat. Depending on the size of the pad, you may want to heat it some more. Heat in 15 second increments, removing the wrap and shaking the filling a little between each increment to make sure it does not get too hot or burn. Always stay in the room and watch it while heating to prevent overheating or burning.
- When it feels juuuust right, sit back and relax and enjoy! The heat should last a good 20 minutes.
No microwave? Place the pack in a crockpot on a low setting, and turn to warm both sides and avoid scorching. If it’s winter and you have a radiator, drape it over the top of that for a few minutes, turning to heat both sides.
As an ice pack:
- Place wrap in a plastic bag to keep it dry, and then place it in the freezer.
- 1-2 hours in the freezer should fully chill the contents. (You also store it in the freezer so it is always ready to use.)
- Take out of the freezer, remove the plastic bag, and enjoy 20-30 minutes of icing relief.
A basic hot/cold pack like this can be used in many ways. But if you want an exceptional design targeted to a specific ache and pain, you may just want to look here at the Hot and Cold Co. Many of our products are designed by physical therapists and have patented features that allow you to be completely mobile while you're icing or heating that tender spot, if that's working at your desk, or outside playing catch. Our designers take your hot and cold therapy to a whole new level.
The Neck and Shoulder Wrap...as incredible as it looks...the patented design keeps it in place, and keeps the heat right where you need it.
There is a certain amount of pleasure in knowing you made it yourself. And another kind of satisfaction in knowing that you have the best you can get. Either way, you deserve every degree of comfort and pampering!
Don't try making this one at home: The Sinus and Migraine Cap lets you use heat and cold compresses at the same time, with an eye panel that can be frozen, and a pocket at the neck that can be heated to relieve the tension that can keep a migraine going. The cap secures it all in the right place.
As my Swedish cousin says when she signs her notes to us,
Lev Väl! (Live Well!)