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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!

Our pads used rice, but you can also check out our article on other filler options: Organic Fillers for Warming Pads: We Compare Rice, Corn, and Flaxseed.

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 (186)

    patsybybee said:
    patsybybee's picture

    Has anyone made the rice bag from a face or hand towel?  How much rice do you use?

    I've also seen them made from a fuzzy sock.

    Patty W said:
    Patty W's picture

    Do you have a pattern for making the heat pad for the back into a wrap so that I can bring the sides to the front and tie it to keep it in place on my lower back?

    Sis said:
    Sis's picture

    hi everyone...Ive been making rice packs for a few years now and everyone loves them!  Ive only use 100% cotton.   I just made 15 big ones for prize giveaways at my daughters baby shower and they were a huge hit!  I also made small ouch pads that everyone took home as a shower favor along with fabric covered tissue packs.  Ive been sewing most of my adult life and I'm a avid quilter so Ive purchased A LOT of fabric.  Im embrassed to even ask, but...I have a question...you refer to "ticking", what is that?  

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

    @Patty - we have not adapted our pattern in the manner you describe, but I'm sure you could fashion a belt or sash that could help keep the pad more secure. 

    Debbie Russell said:
    Debbie Russell's picture

    Love these!  Is there any reason you can't sew the channels first and then fill them, rather than have to sew with the rice in place?  I made one last year and really like it but I remember it being a bit tricky to sew "around" the rice.  I would like to make another one soon.  Thanks!   Debbie

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

    @Debbie -- Because this item filled with rice, which can much more easily leak through a hand sewn seam, we structured the construction so that all but a small turn/fill gap are fully machine sewn. All the main seams, including those compartment seams are machine sewn, and therefore much stronger and more tightly closed. Your only hand stitching is just along the very end. 

    Debbie Russell said:
    Debbie Russell's picture

    Hi Liz.  Thanks for the response.  I was actually thinking about machine sewing all of the compartments first, leaving the top open, and then filling eachpre-sewn compartment/channel, rather than fill a section and then sew it closed, fill a secion and then sew it closed...  I would still have to machine sew the top hem closed and therefore deal with rice trying to escape, but I'm just wondering if that might be easier?  Also, I was thinking of running my channels lengthwise instead of vertically.  What do you think?  Thanks!

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

    @Debbie - I don't know that your option would be any easier as you'd still have to push the rice out of the way trying to sew that top "hem" -- plus, a topstitched hem along the full side like that might not be as pretty of a finish. Horizontal channels would likely lead to more shifting than would be comfortable. All this said, at the end of the day, you get to do whateve seems best to you!! Let us know what you end up experimenting with 

    Debbie Russell said:
    Debbie Russell's picture

    Thank you Liz.  I think you are right!  I am going to stick with your pattern!

    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous's picture

    My daughter asked for a heat pack for Christmas so I set about looking for ideas on Pinterest. Thank you for this pattern. Mine is slightly larger than your directions so I have made eight compartments instead of four by adding another sewing line down the middle. Worked well. I added a couple of drops of essential oil "tranquil" a blend of sandlewood, bitter orange, lavender and orange. Smells and looks beautiful.

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

    Yay! We're so glad to hear about your success. I'm sure your daughter will love! 

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

    @JennyT - We used just standard cotton/polyester rick rack - as mentioned above, these pads are not meant for super extending heating times, so we've had no issues with the fleece or the rick rack. That said, some people swear by only using all cotton and that is certainly an excellent choice as well. 

    Lilac Lady said:
    Lilac Lady's picture

    I just sewed my  first neck heat bag with white rice. I even used the rick rack, turned out awesome.   My fabric store didn't carry ticking, so I used striped flannel and a maching light blue fleece with blue rick rack.  I am scent sensitive as is my whole family, so it is so nice to have this pattern with the white rice. I am making more for the rest of the family for christmas. I bought a 8 kg bag of rice ( I think that's about 20 Ibs) so I'd better get sewing.  I took sewing back in high school but that was 35 + years ago and was recently given my Mom's sewing machine, so Thank you for a pattern I can follow to give me the courage to try sewing again.

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

    @Lilac Lady - that's great news! This is one of our most popular patterns, but we never tire hearing about each success. 20 pounds!!!! You're right, you better get sewing 

    Christina M said:
    Christina M's picture

    I make these and I have always used polyester thread, but 100% cotton.  Is there a reason to use ONLY cotton thread?

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

    @Christina - We used polyester thread and have never had an issue because the pads are really not meant to be heated for super long periods of time. Some people prefer sticking with cotton as extra assurance against any possibility of melting at high heat. 

    June Karnitz said:
    June Karnitz's picture

    My daughter just linked me this. I think I will make some of these this winter when we go to Florida. I was given a  Singer sewing machine,  from the 30's, from my neighbor and will be using that. It's such a beautiful machine,  and cannot wait.  Everyone will be getting these next Christmas !!

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

    @June - Welcome aboard - we hope your project turn out well, and that we browse through all the other wonderful ideas we offer. It sounds like your gift list is good to go.

    Cathy Hays said:
    Cathy Hays's picture

    I was wondering besides whole cloves, allspice & lavender....any other suggestions for what can be used for a lovely smell...CATHY

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

    @Cathy - many peope like to use essential oils - peppermint is known to be especially soothing. But remember, with oils, a little goes a long way!

    mariam k said:
    mariam k's picture

    i want to ask if i will use rice and i will reheated it, does the rice will get damage, and what about the Rice weevil they will grow inside or no

    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous's picture

    I love these and plan to make some for Christmas gifts.  But I have a question about the fleece.  Does it need to be 100% cotton?  If so,  where did you find yours?  Thanks so muchà

    Lucycurlytail said:
    Lucycurlytail's picture

    I have been making these on and off for fifteen years.  I always use 100% cotton.  For inside, white cotton fabric, always a washable cover using cotton FLANELETTE, even cotton thread.   I typed up a list of instructions to put with each one, such as use by children, elderly etc.  Don't  use a dark colour cover.. a friend did and some colour trasferred to her white bedsheets!  I tried putting cloves etc. inside but smell did not last, so I make plain now.... Enjoy!

    Lorna Barley said:
    Lorna Barley's picture

    I would like the intructions list you put with each hot or cold pads.I will be so happy if you can help me out Thank You my email is sky2@mts.net  

                                      From Lorna

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

    There really isn't a 100% cotton fleece. We used a standard polyester fleece. Because these pads are not meant to be heated for very long, there really isn't a danger of melting or other heat damage. However, many people do prefer to use only natural fibers. In that case, you could certainly use a cotton flannel, corduroy, or lighteight wool rather than the fleece. 

    Kathy N said:
    Kathy N's picture

    I love your website and use it often. Just an FYI for anything going in the microwave---to prevent anything melting or catching fire from accidental overheating, please use 100% cotton thread! This is also a good tip when making pot holders, microwave bowl holders, and baked potato bags...and make sure your fleece batting is also 100% cotton as well. 

    anne.adams said:

    @Alexix: You could use a cotton flannel for both sides. We have not made one from flannel so can't give you any more specifics, but cotton is fine in the microwave and has a pleasing soft surface.

    MM said:
    MM's picture

    I just made this rice hot bag today, and it turned out great, thank you for excellent instructions!  Much appreciated, I am enjoying the hot rice on my back now, feels so good!  I made the neck size bag and find that 2 minutes in my microwave was perfect.  

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

    @MM - That's great news. So glad you loved the pattern. Here's to a relaxing weekend! 

    Nannette said:
    Nannette's picture

    I don't sew.  Therefore, I don't even have a machine.  Can I purchase this somewhere?

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

    @Nannette - Glad you like the project! We don't sell products at this time. Our site is all about inspirting people to sew... even if they've never tried before... is it working on you yet . If not, I'm sure you could find a friend to make them or perhaps a search on a handmade-oriented site, such as Etsy, would yeild something similar. 

    Barbara Spreen said:
    Barbara Spreen's picture

    Try craft shows, that is where my niece say some and then asked me to make her and her mother a few.

    Tammy g said:
    Tammy g's picture

    Some articles say don't use fleece or flannel so are you saying it's OK to use both...

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

    @ Tammy - As shown in this tutorial, we've used lightweight fleece in combination with cotton ticking with great results. We haven't personally tested flannel, but in general, most people who've made this projects (and they have been hundreds!) like 100% cotton fabric for at least one side. Many quality flannels are 100% cotton so it could be an option. Using all fleece reduces the "breathability" of the pads, which means they could retain too much moisture with the constant heating and re-heating. 

    Sis said:
    Sis's picture

    hi Tammy,  Ive been sewing most of my adult life and I'm mostly a quilter.  You keep referring to "ticking".  What is that?  Ive never heard of that type of fabric.

    j827 said:
    j827's picture

    I've been making these for years, with removable washable outer covers.  I used an old sheet to make the inner bags for about 20 of them, then bought cute dish towels and altered them for the outside cover.   I am so spoiled, I cannot go out in my cold car without one across my lap!  And with this in bed with me, who needs a man??? (Just Joking, Honey)

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

    Adding a comment from an email message: I also used pins to hold back the rice and didn't have to worry about them getting in the way at all!  Might be a nice addition to the article!  Step 8 – just a comment that this part is a little confusing on first read, as it sounds like perhaps you mean that there are both neck and back compartments in the same pad: perhaps it should be: For the neck pad version, 1¾ cup for each compartment and for the lap/back version, 1½ cup for each compartment” Also, I am making my heating pads out of muslin, then making cases with fleece on one side and silk (or cotton, ran out of silk) on the other.  Working with the rice can be a little challenging, so it is much easier to not have to worry about messing up the appearance if you know you are going to put a case around it, anyway!

    Dave Armstrong said:
    Dave Armstrong's picture

    Does the rice start to smell after so many times in the microwave?  Can you over heat/cook the rice?

    Barb Spry said:
    Barb Spry 's picture

    I always heat my heat bag together witha cup of water in the microwave to prevent the rice or wheat from burning. 

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

    @Dave - we have not had any issues with smell. As mentioned above, these are designed to be heated in the mircrowave for only about a minute. Staying at this approximate length of time is your best bet, and if you keep the pad dry, there really isn't any danger of "cooking" the rice.

    Hannah831 said:
    Hannah831's picture

    In the fabric dimensions for the back pad, it recommends getting half a yard and then cutting out 1 13"x17" rectangle. Couldn't you just use a fat quarter if that's all you need? Just wanted to make sure I'm not missing something...

    Thanks for the great pattern! 

    MzMillie said:
    MzMillie's picture

    Hi Hannah .. I just found this site yesterday, so plz forgive me for the delayed response. I have made a few of these in the past and have tried using fat quarters. Unless you have a very good quality fat quarter, it will not work well for this project. The thinner fat quarters tend to get really hot or almost too hot for anyone to use. In addition, the rice pokes out of the material after being in the micowave a few times.

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

    @MzMillie - Thanks for the update with your experience!

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

    @Hannan831 - Yes you could!. We use yardages inour supply lists unless specifically doing a project with pre-cuts so don't usually list the pre-cut alternatives to the yardages shown. 

    Ethel Schnorr said:
    Ethel Schnorr's picture

    Not only is the construction and style great, but the bright, happy stripes sure would make your aches lessen, too!  Thank you for a great idea and pattern!

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