DIY Reusable Rice Heat Packs

DIY homemade Reusable Heat Packs with Rice

I’ve mentioned in the past that we don’t use microwaves, but I do make one exception.

We make homemade reusable rice heat packs are easily heated in the microwave. Most of my concerns about microwaves (especially that they make food taste terrible) don’t matter for something we aren’t eating, so I don’t mind using it for this purpose.

Natural Heating Pads

Before I had kids, I used an electric heating blanket. Once I conceived my first child, I noticed that the warning label cautioned against use while pregnant and also carried warnings of the potential for burns, electric shock and fires.

I wanted to find a natural alternative, and in college, I often used this hot/cold pack that could be heated in a microwave or put in the freezer.

That one finally bit the dust after college, but thankfully, my mom figured out a homemade version that we’ve been using ever since.

Her homemade rice heat pack is super-simple to make and works wonderfully. Just a couple minutes in the microwave and they stay warm for almost an hour.

How We Use These

I now have a couple of these and all of my children have one that they made with my mom. We use them all the time, but some of my favorite uses have been:

  • In labor: I had terrible back labor with my last birth because she decided to arrive breech. The only thing that got me through the excruciating positions needed to get her out safely were these heat packs on my back. They were amazing.
  • Cold nights: Once upon a time not that long ago, we lived in a poorly insulated apartment with three kids, including a preemie. It got really cold at night and no amount of running the heater (despite the $400 electric bills) got it warm in that apartment. We would heat these up each night and place them in our children’s beds under the sheets (but below their feet) to keep them warm while they were falling asleep.
  • Cold and Flu: In the unfortunate event of a cold or flu, these are wonderful for keeping warm and easing the achy muscles. (These are the other things we do if illness strikes to speed recovery)
  • Great sleep: Years ago, I started sleeping with an ice pack on my head. I found that it improved my sleep quality. These rice packs are great to put in the freezer and use for that to improve sleep.
  • Reusable Hand Warmers: I’ll be posting a separate tutorial for these, but lately, I’ve made little miniature heat pads with felt and fleece to heat up and use as hand warmers (if we ever get cold enough to need them this year!)

Rice Pack Supplies

  • One 5-pound bag of white rice (might not all be used)
  • A 12-inch square piece of material. I’ve used cotton, old sheets or pillow cases, or flannel (see other variations below)
  • Thread
  • A sewing machine or a needle

Rice Pack Instructions

  1. Fold the material in half with right sides together and sew two of the sides so that three sides are closed and one smaller end is left open. In other words, if it is folded, sew the bottom and the long side so that it becomes a tube that is roughly 12 inches by six inches with one six inch side open.
  2. Turn inside out so that the rough ends are hidden.
  3. Fill the tube with rice until it is about 2/3 full.
  4. Fold the remaining side in so that the rough ends are hidden and sew closed.

To use: Heat in the microwave on high for 60 seconds or until desired temperature.

Simple Variations

There are some great tutorials online for making a really nice looking rice heat pack. This is one of my favorites. I make nicer looking ones like that for gifts, but for regular home use, these are easier:

  • Use an old knee-high sock– just fill with rice and sew or tie the end.
  • Use an old pillow case: Just cut in half. Use the side with the bottom seam and fill with a couple of cups of rice. Sew a line all the way across to create a sealed tube, then repeat with another couple of cups of rice. Repeat until the entire thing is full and seam the end to create a finished rice pack with several tubes full of rice.
  • Create a simple sleeve with a piece of square material: Fold in half and sew up two of the sides, leaving a thinner end open. Fill with rice and sew the remaining side to seal.

Ever made your own heating pad before?

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Reader Comments

  1. My mother in law made me one of those probably 20 years ago. I didn’t like how all the rice would move to one end or the other, depending on how you held it. I helped her improve on the design. She always made hers with kitchen towels. I had her take the towel, fold it in half and sew baffles in the towel. The towel gets sewn on the sides but one end stays open where you can pour the rice in the baffles. Once filled, the remaining end gets sewn. This way the rice stays spread out pretty well and it covers a larger area.

    • I wish I knew this before I made my own one (well.. a gift). Another alternative like beans or seeds might be even more pleasant and affordable.. Anyone has other suggestions? I tried seeds and I find them awesome and we have them at home for our birds 🙂 and don´t forget to add herbs or essential oils for aromatherapy 🙂

      • Has anyone ever used wheat berries?

  2. I’ve made and used these for years, I’m a grandma now, I love them since you can customize them, like if you have a problem area where you like heat all the time neck ect, you can customize one to fit that specific area, I have problems with lower back pain, so I make one with ties so It travels with me as I go about my day. you could use velcro, I can’t stay sitting all day when all I want is that warmth, usually on cold winter days.

  3. This is so simple and helpful. We have one similar to the one you used in college. Will this DIY version work as a cold pack as well?

  4. I love these rice packs and have made several. One time after a move, my rice bags were still packed so I filled my hubby’s sock with rice and popped it in the microwave to heat up. Well, heat up it did and caught fire. Imagine my surprise and disappointment. I think something unusual must have caused this to happen, however now I watch the bag heat up in the microwave (from a distance of course) thank you wellness mama for all of your information.

    • I believe the reason it might have caught fire was the fact that the sock was not 100% cotton. The other materials in the blend are what most likely caught fire.

  5. My wife and I have used the rice-filled “Bed Buddy” from WalMart. It’s so much nicer than a heating pad.

    Thanks to you I now know how to make our own, and I know it can be frozen and will help my wife with her hot flashes. Wonderful!

    Thanks Wellness Mama!

    t

  6. Did you use instant rice or the uncooked? May have missed this answer, how long do you heat it’s? Thanks, love your post!

    • I am assuming it is regular rice, not instant rice since it did not specifically say instant. Also, the directions say to heat up for 60 seconds. I am going to try this when I get some rice and heat 30 seconds and then another 30 seconds just in case. Microwaves vary and I have a big old monster with a lot of power.

      • I’ve always stuck mine in the microwave for a couple of minutes. It gets really hot but it lasts longer. It smells like cooked rice but it still works.

        • I love to make these for people and have made many. I once made one for a friend of mine, but someone in her family had a rice allergy. I did a little googling, got creative, and instead used coffee beans. Not coffee grounds, but it turns out that the beans work the same way as rice! Great alternative, and it smells even better. However, I’ve also used essential oils in mine, and so far only peppermint works in coffee beans. When I use rice, though, I can add lavender, peppermint, orange, lemon, etc- depending on what I need/want. As far as the problem with the rice falling to one side, I sew mine into sections (make the general shape, fill about 1/3 full with rice, sew a line, sew another 1/3, sew a line, and then fill the rest of the bag before sewing it shut). This is helpful in keeping the rice evenly distributed. If you have worn fabric, holes are less of a mess if you sew in sections. Just a few thoughts to add to the bucket!

        • It smells like cooked rice because it is.

  7. Which essential oils (and how much) would you add to the rice for aromatherapy benefits?

    • Peppermint, Lavender, Spearmint, Rosemary, Chamomile, Lemongrass. Any of these would be good for muscle pain and relaxation. Approximately 20 -30 drops total of essential oils for an entire bag of rice. Be sure to mix and spread out and allow the rice to dry for an hour or so before utilizing.

      • Can you keep adding essential oils to the pack? Maybe have an inner bag and then Velcro the outer cover so you could add more oil?

        • This would be a good idea. Trying to figure out how to clean mine. It’s a very large one and needs washed. Wondering if I should just empty it,wash it and load with fresh rice.

  8. Do you know how to heat one in the stove or toaster oven? We don’t own a microwave.

    • I’m not sure how it would work in an oven unless you maybe wrap it in aluminum foil.

      • Put it in a glass baking dish and bake on 300 for 15 minutes.

    • I’ve heated up cotton rice packs in the oven, just make sure to use a pan with a lid. I’ve also used my rice cooker set to low for smaller packs, and I’m guessing that a crock pot might work too. I usually check it about every 5 minutes or so, and shake to make sure it is warming evenly.

      • At what temperature would you say for a palm sized bag and for how long? I’m wanting to make something special for my friends that are homesteading in Arkansas–they don’t have plumbing let alone a microwave. This seems like a perfect present for them and I’d like to add a cute set of instructions in their letter.

  9. I have several smaller ones of these with a rice/lavender mix for headaches. Another rice one of similar size to yours sits in the freezer ready for aches and pains.

    We also have a larger one full of beans to add some weight when laying down with an achy back or upset tummy– my boys love it.

    With all of them, I have oven dried the beans and rice beforehand for mold prevention.

  10. I love these! As a family of five (three children 6 and younger) we mostly use these for stomach aches. Whatever the reason or cause of a belly ache, the kids ask for their ‘belly bags’ to be warmed so they can put them on their belly to feel better. I have another scented one with my favorite spices to be warmed and put around my neck after a long day at work. The kids and I just decided to make some for Christmas gifts…perfect timing on this post. Thank you Wellness Mama! I have never been disappointed with your ideas, remedies and recipes.

    • I love the idea of adding spices for scented bags! What do you use and how much would you recommend?

    • For my 12 kids, I used to fill emptied cotton animals. When hey got bigger I switched to leg warmers lined with a thin sock… My kids, grandkids and even my great grandson are still using them. I like the texture of rice but prefer flax as it can deliver moist heat also and dries out well.

      A little felt pad with essential oil is easy to change out.

  11. Thank you for this great post! My first baby boy is coming next month and this is exactly what i was looking for to help during labor!

  12. I have made the heating pads for the kids that used corn and I really liked them also! You have to heat them slowly at 1st to release the water so they don’t pop like popcorn and when heated they always felt a little moist. I always worried that over time they might grow mildew inside. I just threw them away after a couple of months and made new ones but I should have cut into one and checked I guess :/

  13. I love this! It’ll make a perfect Christmas gift for those hard to shop for family members. I’m definitely making one for myself. The hardest part will be picking a fabric pattern. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  14. This is awesome! I use mine so much I need to make another to replace it, they get a little smelly after being microwaved repeatedly for a long time. 🙂 I love mine in flannel, it just makes me feel warmer. And, these are GREAT gifts! Thanks for posting!

  15. I love these packs! I make several dozen every year! Add flaxseed to the rice as a heat retaining agent. It’ll stay warmer for a longer period of time. Also I add eucalyptus and lavender essential oils for a stress relieving mood setter! <3

  16. Hi Katia
    Thanks for all your emails. I was curious about hands heaters… I’m always quite cold, specially i always have cold hands. Do you have special tips for this problems? I need to warm up my body (i’m very slim) but sometime i need to get very hot shower to do it… Is there any supplement that could help? Thanks katia

    • Yes it could be hormonal, but if not, cayenne capsules can help (always take them with food!!!), because it stimulates circulation to the entire body, and it heats the body up because it’s a chile pepper. It also has powerful anti-microbial properties, so can help keep us well & prevent illness. I mix it into my home-made hot chocolate mix for extra warming, & take a capsule daily as a supplement. It’s also an ingredient in many topical pain remedies (on intact skin only). Not to mention it’s yummy in recipes!

  17. I love these. I have various sizes, but the most popular one is the size of a night mask. I use it for puffy eyes, headaches, back of the neck pain. This one is always kept in the freezer. Great for hot flashes too!!

  18. I love this. Ever since giving birth, I get occasional sciatica and this would be perfect for that. I’m curious about why sleeping with a cold pack on your head helps you sleep better….?

    • Because the body temperature naturally drops a little in sleep; a cold pack helps bring it on faster. Also, in warmer climes or high humidity, it can be hard to cool off for sleep.

  19. You can also use cherry pits. If you can a lot of cherries its FREE..I save mine. You have to boil them off drain and boil again to clean the pits. Then lay them out to dry.

  20. I put my heat pack AKA “Jeffry” in the microwave for 30 sec increments with half a cup of water to stop the rice drying out and catching fire.

  21. Thank you for your idea for the rice hot pack. As you suggested, an old sock, especially a baseball sock , works well. I use millet, rather than the rice, because it is lighter. When one has a sore back, sometimes a lighter weight pack feels more comfortable. Guess it is an individual preference though. Thanks again for the good work you are doing.

  22. Hi, lurker here:)

    i worked for a small company and we did an incredible amount of testing on which works best in bags like this both for use on the body and, don’t laugh, for breaking down the heat seals on the screens of iDevices and found that over time, flax seed works better and it is less likely to burn if you put it in the microwave too long and the best overall spread of heat throughout the whole pack. Trust me, we tried all sorts of crazy ingredients/fillers and took weeks testing in the product development phase.

    Also, if you are making a large amount of them, say for sale or gifts, you can get a huge bag of flax seeds for really cheap from feed supply stores. (Since you aren’t eating it, livestock grade is fine)

    We don’t have a microwave at home, but I still make some to cradle my wrist when using the computer to ward away repetitive strain and calluses.

    Okay, back to lurking and thank you for your blog!

    • can you use instant rice

    • is it possible to use instant rice?

  23. We make mini ones, too, and fill with flax seed instead of rice and use for earaches. The flax provides a moist heat that is perfect for earache.

    • That is a genius idea for earaches! I always use a wash cloth soaked in hot water, but then everything gets wet..the pillow, the night clothes, etc. Thanks for the idea.

    • Someone sugested himalayan sea salt & lavender oil like a rice pack for ear aches.
      Has anybody tried this?

  24. Snow’s coming next week & these will be a blessing!!! Thanks for the pattern!!!

  25. Yes, Martha Stewart had a “how to” make this “good thing” years ago, using the pillowcase method. But she used Buckwheat Hulls.

  26. my mom and mother in law make them with other ingredients:

    1. rock-type salt. First heat dry salt over stove in a large pot to remove all excess moisture 10-15 min. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn. Salt gets REALLY hot, so don’t use a plastic spoon to stir, mine melted 🙁
    Then continue with instructions above and sew into a pouch.

    2. barley – if you like the warming smell of barley this is another option.

  27. I always use my husbands old “khaki” pants. The back pocket or the hem gets ratty, but the legs provide excellent material. It seems to heat up “just right”.

  28. I’ve been making these for a few years now using flaxseed amd herbs. With the flaxseed you can also spray some water on them for a moist heat and it refreshes the herbs some as well.

  29. Here’s the trick question. I am a firm believer in NO microwaves as well. As a midwife I never recommend a client to use or even be in the room with a microwave while pregnant or for babies under 2 years old. Question: How do you manage to own a microwave or have one in the kitchen and not let it be used for anything other than occasional heating pad use such as this? I find that they are sneaky contraptions that beg us to use them if they are around. I would be sincerely interested in your tactic on that!!

    • For a long time, we just had one in the shed or garage. Since we moved, we just haven’t had time to replace it with a regular vent hood yet but it is on the list to do and then we will just keep one in the garage.

    • I have a microwave in my upstairs bathroom specifically for heating ” warming” bags, which I make round, specifically to fit on the microwave plate. I have been making these for years for self, family and friends. They make a great gift! I use GOLDEN flax seed (smells better than brown when heated), lots of dried spearmint from the garden and lavender oil. I also keep two in the freezer for cold packs. I replace them every two years as the oil in the flax seed seems to dissapate and the covering becomes worn and dirty. In addition to using them as bed warmers we use them as hand warmers around the bonfire on crisp fall evenings.

  30. Easiest ever is to use the sock, but leave enough so you can tie the top of it. No sewing required. If it gets funky you can even undo the sock, empty the sock, and wash and refill with the same rice.

  31. I get horrible back cramps with PMS symptoms that vary in intensity and i’ve actually use a tube sock stuffed with rice and ace bandace wrapped it to my lower back and it gave amazing relief… when i find sometime i should probably make a legit rice pack lol.

  32. I make these but cut shapes to fit around neck and over shoulders and the shape of a sinus mask. I suggest a cup shape for elbows and shoulders alone. I have rheumatoid arthritis and these are wonderful, I agree the flax seed works best . I also sew rows and sometimes squares to prevent shifting , just make sure you don’t over fill and make sure your material does not have latex, nylon or polyester this will prevent fire in the microwave . Play around and find out what works best for you. most of all have fun with it.

  33. Do you think brown rice would work ? Also what about dried lavendar instead of essential oil ? Thank you.

    • I just made one using a tube sock and brown rice, heated it for a minute and 30 seconds (30 second increments) and it is doing WONDERS. You also can use probably any dried herbs! 🙂

  34. I have read of people using spices for scent. Can I just use regular spices from my pantry? Cinnamon, nutmeg, etc?

    • You could, but the ground powder could sift out through the fabric. Also, bring ground, heating it would deplete the fragrance (& therefore the benefit) rapidly, like after several uses. You might make small packets filled with the ground spice, stitch it up, & then provide a way to easily remove it from the pack so you can replace it. Or, easiest of all, just apply a few drops of the desired essential oil directly to the fabric; it will soak through & into the rice, & will last longer as well.

  35. Just want to say thanks to the person who mentioned that they dont have a microwwave, but heat theirs in a crockpot or ricecooker! I have been wondering how I could heat mine as I got rid of my microwave a while back.

  36. Thanks so much for this idea. I plan to make several with different scented oils. I was wondering if you thought this could also be used as a way to keep dishes warm for a potluck. I had a heat pack for my Pyrex and it exploded. I’d really like to use something more natural, anyways.

  37. I just made 4 of these. I made muslin bags, filled them with rice and sewed them shut. Then I made a washable,removable cover for each. I figure that way if they get soiled they can be cleaned. These make great gifts!

  38. Hi

    All great ideas. How long to cook the rice in microwave before you put in homemade pouch or do you put rice in pouch and then heat? ? My rice burned after 3 mins before i put in pouch but do you cook it just plan with no additives?

    Then when I put in it homemade pouch it didn’t stay warm very long. What material is best? Flax or rice and what type of rice or buck wheat which I head works well. ? Any ideas be appreciated. I suffer chronic pain from accident so I am desperate and new to this. Any help be much appreciated. Thanks,

    Lee Ann

    • You do not cook the rice at all before putting it into the rice packs.

    • I have only tried plain white rice. they say flax lasts longer. Put uncooked rice into a pouch made from cotton. Nylon, latex, polyester will all burn. Heat in microwave 30 seconds, then check it. It feels cool to the touch but it will be nicely warm on your body. Another 30 seconds will make it pretty hot. Reheat as needed! Can also be put in the freezer as-is. I would not go longer than 90 seconds, it would be very hot!

  39. Great idea. I’ve used one for years for neck strain and headaches. However have never put one in the freezer. Doesn’t the rice react to the moisture from a freezer?…. As in swelling or going moist itself ?

  40. Stuck home in the snow and pulled a muscle in my hip. Sitting here with a sock full of warm rice in my lap – THANK YOU!

  41. Does anyone know if I can create the rice pack out of cotton material and heat them in a hot towel cabi, which usually maintains a constant temp of 160 degrees? Is there a limit to how long I can keep them in the cabi before they burn? Thanks!

  42. I love the idea of this and I’ve seen lots of different tutorials online. Unfortunately, we don’t have a microwave. I can’t figure out how to make one that’s oven safe. Any thoughts?

    • Someone said to put it in the oven in a covered pot, I would look into that! Others mentioned that crock pots and rice cookers work well too.

  43. I make these in all sizes. Small ones in children flannel pattern for when they get a bump or bruise. These kept stored in the freezer. Grandchildren don’t cry they run for the freezer when they get hurt. One child uses the ice packs for migraine head aches.
    Also make them for heat, again in various flannel pattern or sport team pattern. I use inexpensive white rice. For larger bags I separate them in 3 sections so it wraps around the neck etc. Easy to sew a seam every 3rd of the area. For achy neck, then use with heat. Keep some for heat and some for cold.

  44. I’m looking for the ceramic beads or glass beads for filling my hot/ old packs & I’m not finding them yet. Do you have any idea where? I’m not sure how my grand daughters will do wih rice or seeds, etc. If they get wet at all, I’m worried about mold etc. ? Suggestions?

  45. Is there no danger of fire? With all heat pillows, like cherry pitt and flax seed it warns to make them wet before putting in the microwave and not heating them for longer than a certain amount of time, and wait again till room temperature. Which is why I don’t use them. Could someone advice me on this?
    Regards, Inge

  46. A lady at my church makes “comfort kernels” similar to this with dried feed corn and cloves. She sells them at craft shows and to neighbors. They are amazing and can be used hot or cold–they’ve gotten my family through many illnesses and injuries:)

  47. Ive been making wheat bags for many years. Using wheat instead of rice.
    I make them long and sectioned. End up sewing the long side up last. Ive added cloves and dried lavender.
    I usually use a kilo per bag and heat in the microwave for two minutes. A 1/2 cup of water in with it will prevent drying out and or catching fire…
    I also use a long scarf, wrap the wheat bag long ways inside it and tie it on to treat back pain. The long shape also drapes around my neck nicely for aches or just to keep warm on a cold day.
    I will try the rice as an alternative….

  48. Will the rice grow any kind of bugs after a while?

    • It would take a cockroach to survive a microwave!!
      Kidding aside, if your pack gets used regularly, bugs wouldn’t survive the heating nor the freezing, whichever way you use them. Additionally, most spices or essential oils you might add would repel bugs (so much so that I keep a bay leaf, or two, in every package or container of grain-based food I store; it prevents eggs from hatching. I’ve not found a single bug in anything since I started doing this years ago).

  49. I have used dried peppermint and lavender for years in my rice bags. The scent usually last a long time, especially is you store them in a plastic bag between use.

    Also it depends on the size of your bag on how long to heat. You may just try a min. At a time. Usually the normal size which like a full length sock, takes 2 min. To heat.

    As whether bugs get into the rice… Not usually, I’ve had mine for too long… And no bugs. Heating would kill out any eggs if any.

  50. This may be a dumb question but can I use brown rice? I have a bag of it that I’ll never use. Thanks!

    • My boyfriend is in agony with his back. All I had just now was a 1kg bag of brown rice which I’ve tipped in one of his old socks, tied a knot in the end,
      and microwaved for a minute and a half. So less than 5 mins after complaining he’s now using my ad hoc heat pack. So yes, brown rice is fine 🙂

  51. I’m looking for a way to heat a flax bag in an oven to treat earaches. Any ideas??

  52. So you have a microwave for this purpose only or do you use it for other things also?
    We don’t have a microwave and I just can’t justify getting one in my tiny kitchen just to heat heating pads! What else do you use your microwave for?

  53. I believe I have read every comment but haven’t gotten a clear understanding of how to clean my rice bag. It’s fairly small which I use to cover my eyes. I have had it several years and we do not know how to clean it. We do not have a microwave but I will take the advice of the crock pot to warm it up but how about getting it clean ? I am afraid it is loaded with bacteria so can I put it in the freezer and would that help?

    • I would remove what ever filling you have in the bag then wash the bag and refill with new filling. As Polly mentions below, I would create a separate cover that can be removed for regular cleaning.

  54. If you have been using your Rice Bag on a regular basis and have not cleaned it this is what I suggest: I have used this method and has worked for me.

    Place your Rice Bag in a clean glass bowl or baking dish (at least 2″ deep. Bring enough water to a boil and carefully pour it over the Rice Bag. Use a 1/2 tsp of diluted dish detergent to the water and let it stand for 1 hour.

    Pour out the water and place your Rice Bag on a dish drying rack in your sink and rinse with cold water until no suds are present. Remove your Rice Bag and place on a clean unused bath towel. Towel will help wick away the moisture from the Rice Bag. To help with drying place on a mesh bag and continue to air dry. To help air dry the Rice Bag pick it up several times to shake and turn the bag so that it’s drying completely.

    After drying for 24 hours. Place it in dryer on High Heat for 10 mins. with a clean tennis shoe. The shoe manipulates the bag so it keeps it from just laying flat while the dryer is turning.
    Remove it from the dryer and you should be good to go.

    I suggest making a removable cover for your Rice Bag that way you can remove it and wash it as often as you like and no have to bother with the above. That’s what I did.

    Remember be patient it takes time to do it right!

  55. I read this post and I think it is a great idea, my Aunt made one for my mom, but I am in college and I didn’t have one. I get awful period cramps. I intend to make an official one, but I needed a fast remedy and took an old sock filled it with rice and tied it tight with a hair tie, it’s not very pretty but does suffice!

  56. have chook wheat lots so will be using —–that —-socks sound good also pillows . panels sound necessary so spread s the seed. herbs and oils essential also can use 2nd sock / pillow case so totally washable cover

  57. Hi!
    I was having some really bad cramping + back pain and I found this recipe.
    I now have two toasty warm sock-packs full of uncooked rice- I just microwaved them for two minutes and they are amazing!
    10/10 would make again.
    Works really, really well.

  58. Has anyone tried using sand as a filler?