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Microwavable Rice Heating Pads

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We love the simple clean lines of these microwavable neck and lap/back heating pads. After under a minute in the microwave, you'll get up to an hour of safe, warm heat without the dangers inherent in electric heating pads: burns, fires and electrical shock. Electric heating pad cautions actually read: Never use in a situation where you could fall asleep. Hmmm... often falling asleep is my goal. These pads are not difficult to make, and are a useful gift for most any adult. They're good for muscle aches or when you feel a chill and don't want to turn up the thermostat. You can also freeze them for a pleasant cooling effect. Although, just typing that made me shiver. Add a drop of essential oil if you'd like a little aromatherapy.

Before you begin, measure the interior of your microwave oven just to be sure the lap/back pad will fit when folded in half (about 8" x 12"). Most microwaves will easily accommodate something of this size, but there are a few older and space-saver models that may require you to slightly reduce the size of the pad.

We show you dimensions and supplies for both a neck pad (22" x 8" flat) and a slightly larger lap/back pad (16" x 12" flat).

To give your heating pads as a gift, fold them up and tie them with a piece of natural twill tape. Pretty and practical!

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

This project is a great for fabric scraps. You can use flannel, as well as quilting or décor-weight cotton. Just don't use anything with metal threads (unless you want a fireworks display in your microwave). We chose cotton ticking for its clean, fresh look and tight weave. Ticking is an old time fabric that was historically used for covering pillows and mattresses because its tight weave kept feathers, horse hair, and other fillers in place. Today, ticking has once again become trendy for design accessories like throw pillows, as well as for upholstery. There is something classically soothing about those woven stripes.

Ticking is available almost everywhere fabric is sold. We found good selections at both Fabric.com and Fat Quarter Shop. The ticking we used is not the industrial-strength mattress variety, but a décor-weight that has a soft drape after washing. As we always suggest, pre-wash and press your fabric before beginning this and other projects.

Neck Pad

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  • ¼ yard of 44-45" wide cotton ticking or similar; we used a red stripe 
  • ¼ yard of 45"+ soft fleece or similar; we used winter white
  • One package of jumbo rick rack in red: this is optional, as is the size of rick rack you use
  • 7 cups of uncooked rice for filler
    NOTE: Corn is another option for a filler, just don't use the popcorn variety... feed corn is a economical option.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric; we used natural
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Optional: Essential oil (we added a drop of vanilla spice or you can add a few lavender buds). You should be able to easily find a selection of essential oils in the organic section of most grocery stores.

Lap/Back Pad

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  • ½ yard of 44-45" wide cotton ticking or similar; we used a classic navy stripe 
  • ½ yard of 45"+ soft fleece or similar; we used winter white
  • 1 package of jumbo rick rack in navy: this is optional, as is the size of rick rack you use
  • 6 cups of uncooked rice for filler
    NOTE: Corn is another option for a filler, just don't use the popcorn variety... feed corn is a economical option.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric; we used natural
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Optional: Essential oil (we added a drop of vanilla spice or you can add a few lavender buds). You should be able to easily find a selection of essential oils in the organic section of most grocery stores.

Getting Started

Neck Pad

  1. Cut ONE 9" x 23" rectangle from the red ticking.
  2. Cut ONE 9" x 23" rectangle from the fleece.
  3. Cut TWO 25" lengths of the red jumbo rick rack.

Lap/Back Pad

  1. Cut ONE 13" x 17" rectangle from the navy ticking.
  2. Cut ONE 13" x 17" rectangle from the fleece.
  3. Cut TWO 18" lengths of the navy jumbo rick rack.

    At Your Sewing Machine

    From here on, the instructions are the same for both the neck pad and the lap/back pads (except as noted). We use ½" seams throughout.

    1. If you want to add a label as we did, add that first to the center of one of the compartments. It should be about 2" from the bottom at a minimum.
    2. Pin the rick rack to the two long sides, centering it on the ½" seam line (ie. the center of the rick rack should be ½" from the raw edge). Machine baste in place.
      Click to Enlarge
    3. Pin the ticking and fleece rectangles right sides together. Sew all the way around leaving about a 3" opening on one end for turning and adding rice. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at either side of the 3" opening.  
      Click to Enlarge
    4. Trim the three sides without the opening, and clip the corners.
      Click to Enlarge
    5. Turn right-side out and press, folding in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Your rick rack should pop out along each edge.
      Click to Enlarge
    6. Find the center of the neck pad and and mark with a pin. From the center, measure 5½" to either side and mark both of these points with a pin. These are the marks for the four rice compartments. 
      NOTE: For the lap/back pad, measure just 4" to either side of the center pin.
    7. Adding the essential oil is an option, but if you want to add it, now is the time. I used ONE drop for each pad and my whole sewing room smells wonderfully like vanilla spice.  If you're using essential oils, put the rice in a large bowl, add the oil and stir. One drop goes a loooooog way.
      Click to Enlarge
    8. Add rice to fill the first compartment. You want to be able to conform the pad to your neck, so don't overfill. We used about 1¾ cup for each neck pad compartment and 1½ cup for each lap/back compartment. I made a simple paper funnel to make pouring rice easier (a regular plastic funnel tends to clog). Hold the pad up vertically so the rice falls to the back of the first compartment you marked earlier, giving you a clear path to sew the compartment closed without sewing through any grains of rice. 

      Click to Enlarge
    9. Sew a vertical line of stitching at the first compartment line. If you used ticking, you have a line to follow from pin point to pin point. If not, you can use an erasable fabric pen to draw a straight line between the two points. Pin through both layers along the line and sew. Stop from time to time, with the needle in the down position, and shift the rice towards its compartment to keep the presser foot area clear. It's a bit time-consuming, but not difficult.
    10. The first compartment should look about like this:
      Click to Enlarge
    11. Repeat for the next three compartments. 
      Click to Enlarge
    12. When the last compartment is filled with rice, hand sew the the opening closed with a tightly-spaced slip stitch.

    Using Your Pads

    Since microwaves vary in how quickly they heat, start with 1 minute and see how it feels. The microwave we tested required about 2 minutes to achieve the desired toasty warmth. DO NOT overheat, you can scorch the rice. Once you know how long it takes your microwave to heat your pad, you can set that time for future uses. Do not attempt heat the pad in a conventional oven.

    You can also use this tutorial to make a simple cover for a heating pad. To do this, measure the heating pad and cut two rectangles from flannel or quilting cotton. Cut the rectangles two inches wider and five inches longer than the finished outside dimensions of the pad. With right sides together, sew along both long sides and across the bottom. Serge or zig zag the raw edges. On the top end, fold under ½" and press. Fold under an addition 1" to form a hem. Edgestitch the hem in place. You can add a ribbon tie or two if you'd like to hold the cover closed on the end after you slip the heating pad into place.
    Click to Enlarge

    Contributors

    Project Design, Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Alicia Thommas

    Section: 

    Comments (74)

    LisaTQF said:
    LisaTQF's picture

    I've made and used these for years.  I was crushed the day I found out that my rice pack wound up in the wash with the sheets.  I caught it before it went into the dryer, and let it air dry on a sunny windowsill for a few days.  Believe it or not, it still worked!   ****However,****  after a few uses, I noticed that the grains of rice had turned to powder within the pack.  I was curious, so kept using it to see what would happen.  No rice powder has leaked out, it still heats up, but it loses heat much faster than when each grain of rice was intact.  It also has a faint smell now, but it will do until I can make a new one!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Lisa TQF - Thanks for telling us about your situation. Good info to have!!

    Mumof2 said:
    Mumof2's picture

    I have made something similar but filled it with feed corn.   Mine has lasted for a long time.  What is good is it ends up smelling like popcorn.

    Brianna said:
    Brianna's picture

    Can you use warming oil instead of essential oil ?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Brianna - we aren't familiar with use of the warming oil. Our best advice would be to make a small square sample pouch, fill it with the rice enhanced with the warming oil. Then heat it and see if you like the scent, and make sure it doesn't stain the cover - sometimes the other oils are more likely to bleed through, even in small quantities.

    AAA-DOO said:
    AAA-DOO's picture

    Should I use a regular straight stitch to sew this? thx. AAA-DOOO (a family nickname)

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ AAA-DOO - yes, a straight stitch is fine.

    Carol B. said:
    Carol B.'s picture

    Love this tutorial.  I am a little concerned about using rice since there's been so much news lately about arsenic in rice. I think I'll try buckwheat for the filler.

    JenJango said:
    JenJango's picture

    You're not eating it, pretty sure that the mostly-harmless-trace-amounts aren't going to seep through several layers of fabric and then your skin. You get more arsenic than that just walking on soil. 

    BethR7 said:
    BethR7's picture

    I made one yesterday for me as a 'prototype' for Christmas presents. In place of the tag, I embroidered my name (with my moms sewing machine), and sewed that on. So far my mom and her fiancé have tried to steal it from me, so I think it'll work for good presents! Thanks for the easy tutorial!

    Debbie Dee said:
    Debbie Dee's picture

    I noticed the buttons in the visual but not in the directions (unless I missed it). What is their purpose? I was at the throttling yesterday & bought a perfectly good percale striped sheet I can't wait to use it. It feels so good to reclaim our resources, save money & make practical Christmas gifts all at the same time :)) They are beautiful & your tutorial perfect for visual learners ( such as myself). Thanks Do you have a copywriter on this pattern?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Debbie Dee -- those aren't real buttons, they are the decorative heads on the straight pins. And yes, all projects and patterns on Sew4Home are copyrighted. I'm sure these pads will be a big hit as Christmas gifts. 

    KellyDreams2013 said:
    KellyDreams2013's picture

    I am an avid sewer with a closet full of fabric that I need to use up AND I've been looking for inexpensive gifts for Christmas for the neighbors.  This solves both challenges - well, at least it will HELP with the swelling fabric stash!  lol!

    Erin Renninger said:
    Erin Renninger's picture

    If you use a light colored fabric kids can decorate it with fabric markers. Great gift for ggrandparents! 

    remarquez1 said:
    remarquez1's picture

    Hi, good morning. Is there any change in the rice used when the bag is washed?. This absorbs moisture and keeps his feature? 

    Thank you

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ remarquez1 - The bags are not meant for heavy-duty washing. There really shouldn't be an occasion for them to get super dirty, and so you should be able to be simply spot clean with mild soap and water without submerging them. When done with the spot cleaning, leave the pad out to dry thoroughly. 

    pat crawford said:
    pat crawford's picture

    Great instructions and beautiful pictures.Thank you...

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Sarah Zimmer - No, Sew4Home does not sell projects nor do contract sewing. We are all about inspiring others to sew.... like YOU ;-).

    Susy B said:
    Susy B's picture

    Love this.  I've already made a lot of the pouches and am ready to fill them.  I happened to have a bag of dried lavender flowers I'd like to use.  How much rice would I eliminate in each pouch, if any to accommodate the lavender?

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Susy B -- the amount of lavender is really a matter of personal preference as to the intensity of the aroma. We always use essential oils, so I don't have "real-world" test results for you. Others have recommended up to 50% lavendar to rice. However, you don't want to remove TOO much rice or the pad will feel kind of sloppy. Since you are making several, perhaps you can test it out with one, heat it up to see how you like it, and go forward from there.

    lisagd said:
    lisagd's picture

    I received a couple kitchen towels as a gift that are that icky velour-type fabric. I can't stand the feel when I dry my hands on them, so I've been trying to think of something else to do with them. This tutorial fits the bill! They're big enough that I can use them to make bed warmers for winter to keep my feel from getting so cold.

    MarisaDeWolfe said:
    MarisaDeWolfe's picture

    If it's not cotton, don't make it to microwave it. If you must use it, make it as a cover for packets of rice,flax,whatever, made out of cotton. Anything non-cotton will burn, scorch or melt in the microwave.

    Tina Peterson said:
    Tina Peterson's picture

    Your tutorial is beautiful! Very well explained. Thanks! I love the idea of using the ticking too - they look really cute!

    Lorlyn said:
    Lorlyn's picture

    I made some of these using 100% cotton wash clothes and the only thread I had on hand was an all-purpose mercerized thread, which after looking at it closer, I think it has polyester in it and I was under the impression it was to not have any polyester. 

    It could be a coincidence, but I am wondering about the thread I used because after 5 times of heating up the microwave bag in my microwave, it started acting funny and I had to unplug it because it would not shut off or allow me to control it with the buttons.  I never saw sparks or anything that would give me the impression it was going to start a fire while microwaving them, but now I am wondering about the thread used and why it does not work now?  I have never found any other kind of thread in the stores I visit.     

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Lorlyn - It's hard to tell long-distance what is happening. We used all-purpose thread and the fleece is polyester. These are meant to heated for a very short period of time. They are not like the "potato bags" and other high-heat items for which you must be super-duper careful about everything in the construction. We didn't test with washcloths, but if they are 100% cotton, it seems like that would be fine. However, if your microwave only behaves this way when you are trying to heat up the heating pad, then you should no longer try it. If the microwave shuts off when you open the door, chances are there's an issue with the appliance itself unrelated to the heating pad. 

    Carolynscountrycreations said:
    Carolynscountrycreations's picture

    i had heard that flax seed is best when making these.. Do you know if that is true? 

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Carolynscountrycreations -- we haven't yet tested this project with flax, but we too have heard it makes a wonderful filler. Everyone has their favorites, but I certainly haven't heard about any huge drawbacks when using flax seed. The main benefits seem to be that flax gives off a moist heat, that as flower seeds they contain oil and so seem to retain their heating ability longer than grain fillers, and that they can be chilled. Best way to find out? Give it a try. And, let us know what you think. 

    Bev2 said:
    Bev2's picture

    Several years ago I bought one of these filled with flax seed.  It was fine for a few years; after that it started smelling rancid.  I have emptied out the contents, washed the pouch, and am on this website to see what was recommended for a filler.  Rice it will be!

    Sandy mohr said:
    Sandy  mohr's picture

    Can linen fabric be used to make a corn bag?  I have  some fabric I would like to use.

      

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Sandy mohr -- we didn't use corn as our filler - although others have and it seems to be fine. We also didn't try linen so can't give you a 100% guarantee. However, as a natural fiber, it should be fine. If you want to use it in the microwave, you simply need a fabric than can take the heat and has absolutely no metal content.

    Thankful Mother said:
    Thankful Mother's picture

    For the past two days I've been dealing with a tension migraine that has had me debilitated and left feeling extremely terrible. I lost the heating pad my fiance got me and started scrambling around, finally landing on your site. Quickly I got my rice, fabric and sewing supplies to make one. All by hand and I'm reaping the benifits of the warmth right now. Thank you for this information! Truly a blessing.

    Lenski said:
    Lenski's picture

    I used a towel for mine and it is sooo cozy!

    A new one I just made was wet when I took it out of the microwave.  Will that get better?

    alicia.thommas said:
    alicia.thommas's picture

    Rice provides a natural, slightly moist heat. That's something many people like because it increases circulation and speeds recovery. If it's truly wet, you may be overheating it. The natural moisture decreases some over time. I'm sure it depends on how it's stored and how much moisture is in the air. 

    Peggy Haws said:
    Peggy Haws's picture

    This is so crazy, my son a firefighter just had a birthday and asked that I make him a set of heat pads in different sized, but he wants beans not rice.  He says the rice smells weird.  I had been thinking of how as he wants some that will wrap around like a wrist or ankle, with a strap.  I had already figured I would make compartments, but did not really know what size they needed to be.  So this will be very helpful.  What do you think of the beans rather than rice or corn?

    Shanna said:
    Shanna's picture

    I made my own today from flannel filled with rice..after microwaving mine I noticed it does have a slight odor..kinda like baby formula.. I didn't leave it in long enough to burn the rice (I have never been a successful rice maker, and I know what burnt rice smells like). I bet by adding the essential oils it would fix this.

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Shanna - we haven't tried every filler option, but I think they all have a little smell to them. The rice should have more of a slightly toasted rice; not a burned or charred smell. As you mention, we added the essential oil drop which really is the more prominent scent. There is probably no way around a scent if you heat a grain. We've read that corn has a stronger scent than rice. 

    alicia.thommas said:
    alicia.thommas's picture

    @Peggy Haws: Yes, you can use dried beans. Other filler options include dried feed corn, lentils, buckwheat hulls, flax seed, and cherry pits. We have not tried all of these options, but do know that opinions differ based on personal preference. Some of these natural filles have a light aroma that depends on what you use. If it smells bad, it may be burned (over heated). There can be a slight dampness with these pads on heating, especially the first times they are used due to the natural moisture contained in the filler. You never want to put it away until it's totally dry and room temp. For, example, don't store it right after use in a plastic bag.

    Kathy Butts said:
    Kathy Butts's picture

    People have asked me...what happens if the rice bag gets wet? Will the rice "cook" and you have to throw the whole thing out?
    Thanks!

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Kathy Butts - Not everything is designed to get wet and this is one of those things. Kind of like when you tell you doctor, "It hurts when I do this..." And he responds, "Then don't do that!"  If it's just a little wet spot, you could let it dry. If it's soaked through, it would probably be best to open the hand stitched seam, dump out that rice, wash and dry the cover, then replace the rice. But really - there's no reason for it to get wet.

    Grandma B said:
    Grandma B's picture

    My arthritic knees thank you!  I will make this and put a button hole at each corner and after microwaving slip a ribbon through the hole to tie around my knees.

    Rosalie Fernand said:
    Rosalie Fernand's picture

    Has any had any problems with fleece? Fleece is recycled plastic bottles.

    Ducky said:
    Ducky's picture

    I have used fleece & the only problem is that it insulates the rice so it does not let as much heat warm your skin. I made mine with fleece on one side & cotton on the other. Then I got it really hot & put the fleece side against my neck first & when it cooled down, I turned it over & it was still hot on the cotton side.

    windwalker said:
    windwalker's picture

    Make a cover of fleece then you can take it off and wash it.. I make mine out of muslin cotton with is a tight weave and willl not let the rice work through it.. then I make all different covers so when they get dirty or oily from the skin it can be washed.. I have also used flax seed and love  it too but cost more to make where as rice is cheaper.. and putting oil or even real lavender or even bits of sage gives a nice smell.. Oils can be too strong so some tat are senstive to smell elderly people especially.. i have made these for the last 20 yrs with rice and after 10 yrs the rice does start to smell so I change it out and fresh witha little bits of sage or lavender ..in it works.. not both scents just one.. enjoy

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Ducky - thanks for your notes - that is why we went with fleece on one side and ticking on the other. 

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ Rosalie Fernand - As I mentioned above, it's really all about how much time your mircowave will take to heat the pads. 1-2 minutes of heating is all we're talking about - much different than potato bags. Because we haven't tested every option, I can't guarantee exactly what and what won't work, but in general, the fleece we used was 100% polyester and worked well with just the few minutes of heating over multiple tests.

    TK said:
    TK's picture

    I'm new to the sewing game and just love this tutorial and item!  Thank you so much!  I have just printed it and can't wait to give it a whirl!!  Very easy and thorough instructions - just what I need!!  Thanks for answering all the questions also - I have read through all of them and feel confident that I can do this project easily!  I have looked at many projects and yours is one of the clearest I've come across.  I usually end up clicking out half way through something because I've gotten lost or it just gets too complicated for my skill set right now.  I just wanted to share my appreciation!  I'm sure I can do this!!!

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