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Natural Health

How to Make a Homemade Rice Heating Pad (or Cold Pack) in 6 Easy Steps

Do you have sore muscles, kinks, and cramps? I know I often do, especially after a long day in the garden! Or, are you feeling too hot, or too cold? In the mood to be crafty? Perhaps you need an idea for a thoughtful and useful homemade gift for someone special in your life? Well, I have just the remedy. A homemade rice heating pad (or cold pack) is perfect for all of those things, and more. Infused with stress-reducing lavender oil, it will reduce your tension with aromatherapy too!

Back in my college days, I was on a tight budget but wanted to make something special for my mom for the holidays. So I came up with this simple design to create a heating pad, using nothing but an old clean pillowcase, organic rice, and essential oils. They were so fun, easy, and inexpensive to make, that I got on a roll and created one for every special woman in my life! I think I gifted about a dozen of these rice packs that winter. All the ladies (and their families) still love and use them regularly to this day – over 10 years later!

The rice packs can be heated in either the microwave or oven, and seem to stay warm for much longer than the average heating pad. I also like to keep one in the freezer, and use it to cool down my skin or the bed on hot days. The fact that they’re toxin and plastic-free, made from up-cycled fabric, durable, and so customizable makes them even more awesome!


So grab your favorite furry assistant, and come follow these simple step-by-step instructions to learn how to make a rice heating pad yourself!


A pillow case is laid out on a light wood/bamboo table with the end of the case hanging just off of the edge of the table. A grey/brown tabby cat is in the immediate foreground staring directly at the camera. There is a hand holding a fabric tape measure on the pillow case while there is a pair of scissors sitting on the fabric case. On the back of the table there is the lower half of a sewing machine shown as well as part of a sewing basket.
Where the sewing machine goes, Dalai isn’t far behind!


Before we get started:

This tutorial uses a sewing machine, but I am not going to get into detail about how to use one. If you’re new to sewing, check out this tutorial to get a basic beginner’s run down. I got my sewing machine so long ago, it is no longer available. However, this similar basic machine is an award-winning best seller!

Keep in mind that this is a very easy “pattern” and project – and I am so not a seamstress! I did take sewing classes in junior high school and have tinkered around with it occasionally ever since, but I am definitely not well-versed on all the sewing lingo and methods. Nor have I ever walked anyone through one of my projects, but I will try my best here! 

I should also note that throughout all of these instructions, it is okay if your dimensions vary slightly from the example.


SUPPLIES REQUIRED


  • An old clean pillowcase. You could use what you already have around the house, or even go pick something out second-hand! When I made these in college, I had so much fun treasure hunting for the perfect patterns and fabric at thrift stores. Wash it of course! You don’t have to use a pillowcase though. Any sturdy 100% cotton fabric will do. However, a pillowcase is already sewn on three sides for you, and has the perfect dimensions for this project. 
  • Durable, thick cotton or polyester thread. Keep in mind that the thread will be fairly visible, so choose something neutral or one that you’ll like with your fabric. Do not use anything metallic.
  • A sewing machine is ideal. You could also follow these same instructions and sew by hand if needed. 
  • About 8 to 10 cups of dry, uncooked rice grains. We get bulk organic jasmine rice, which has a very pleasant sweet smell. I find brown rice a little too earthy for this project. The exact amount of rice used may vary, depending on the final size of your rice pack. (Edit: Substitute some of the rice with flax seeds for an even longer-lasting heat)
  • Optional: Essential oils. Relaxing, therapeutic lavender essential oil is our go-to! Instead of lavender essential oil, you could try adding dried lavender buds inside the pack.


Project time: About 30-60 minutes, depending on your comfort level and experience with sewing projects.


INSTRUCTIONS


Step 1: Create an Envelope

If you are using a standard pillowcase, it should be around 20 to 21 inches wide. This will be the total length of the rice pack, but obviously we aren’t going to be using the entire pillowcase! We need to get rid of about half of it. The open end where the pillow enters will be removed – which can be used to create another rice heating pad. Or, you could even use the leftover fabric to create a removable, washable cover for the heating pad.

Turn the pillowcase inside out, and then measure and mark a line 12 inches from the bottom closed-end of the pillowcase. See the photos below. Now cut along that line. The final result should be a rectangle that is 12” wide and 20” long, and is open on top but still sewn shut across the long bottom and two sides – thus creating an “envelope” shape. 

If you are using fabric other than a pillowcase, cut two pieces of fabric to 12-13 inches wide and 21-22 inches long, giving yourself that little extra buffer to finish the edges. Keeping the fabric inside out, sew the two shorter edges and one long edge together, creating the same envelope the pillowcase accomplished for us. Or, you could cut one piece at 24” by 21-22”, fold it in half “hamburger style” and sew it up the two short sides. That way, the bottom of the envelope is one contiguous piece instead of an additional seam. 


A three way image collage, the first is the same table described in the first image, the pillow case has been turned inside out and a persons hand has the fabric measuring tape out, measuring a section of the pillow case, a ball point pen is sitting on the pillow case next to the area being measured. You can still see the sewing machine to the upper right of the image and the sewing kit in the upper left of the image. The second image is almost identical to the first, however, it is slightly zoomed in and a graphic of dots that run in a horizontal line along the 12 inch mark that was photoshopped onto the pillow case, showing the importance of that measurement. The third image shows a person cutting the fabric along the 12 inch mark with a pair of scissors.
Cutting off the “bottom end” of the pillow case at 12″.


Step 2: Finish the Edges of the Envelope

Next, we need to finish the freshly cut top edges of fabric. Keeping the envelope inside out, roll the top perimeter of fabric down and out by 1 inch. Use straight pins to hold the folded edge in place. Using a straight stitch on the sewing machine, sew around the top border. I typically stitch one seam close to the raw edge of fabric, and sometimes go back around with another closer to the top (see the note in Step 6 to decide if you want to do just one or two lines here). Go back and forth a few stitches at the start and end of each seam to reinforce it. And be careful not to sow the opening of your sack shut! 


A four way image collage, the first image is a hand holding the pillow case open in the middle as it has been folded to create a pocket type of opening along the length of one edge. The main edge being shown has sewing pins placed along the edge of the pillow case which has been folded over itself by about half an inch. The second image shows the sewing machine sewing along the edge of the sewing pins that have been placed to hold the fabric down. The third image shows a close up of the two seems that were sewn along the line of sewing pins. The fourth image is similar to the third, it is just zoomed out more so you can see the pillow case and seem in its entirety.


Step 3: Create Rice Pockets

Turn your fabric envelope right-side-out, and measure the total length of your sack. The one I made here was about 20.5 inches. Across the center of the long side, we want to find the halfway point. So for this example, that was at 10.25 inches. Use straight pins to mark a line evenly up the middle of the sack. Next, measure and divide the right and left portion in the same manner, also marking it with pins. The goal is to mark 3 evenly-spaced lines, which will in turn create 4 individual pockets to hold rice. 


An image of the pillow case laid out on the table vertically, there is the fabric tape measurer laid along its middle spanning twenty inches. There are four sewing pins placed horizontally across the pillow case in three places, one at five inches, one at ten inches, and one at fifteen inches.



Now use your sewing machine to add a straight stitch down each of the three lines you have created. Again, add a backstitch at the start and finish of each. I then follow over each straight stitch with a zigzag stitch, for a little extra support and flair.


A three way image collage, the first image shows the pillow case being partially lifted of the table, showing that there is now a small pocket opening for each of those five inch separations. The second image shows a close up of a zig zag seem made to reinforce the original seems that were made. The third image shows a hand inserted into the top pocket of the pillow case, letting the rest of the case hang down. The remaining zig zag stitches and seems are now shown for the entire pillow case.

Note: I mentioned at the start of this article that your measurements can vary a bit from ours. Meaning, it is totally okay to create a larger or smaller rice heating pad! However, you’re going to want to keep your individual rice pockets a somewhat similar size to this example – about 5 inches wide. Pockets that are 3 to 4 inches would also work well!

However, if you go too much larger, the rice will move around too freely and create an uneven, lumpy heating pad to use. I wouldn’t go any bigger than 5 inches wide. Furthermore, if the pockets are too small, such as less than 3 inches, I find the resulting rice pack becomes overly stiff and less comfortable to use – and also more difficult to fill with rice!


Step 4: Mix Essential Oils & Rice

Add the rice to a large mixing bowl. For this size heating pad, I found myself using just under 10 cups of rice. If you are unsure of the amount you’ll need, I suggest going on the lighter side to start. You can always add more, but won’t want to use the rice for much else once you add essential oils!

Sprinkle the rice with your essential oils of choice. Because we most often use our hot or cold pack during times of relaxation, I stick to using organic lavender oil in ours. Also, lavender essential oils are one of the few safe oils to use around cats, and we have three kitties in this household. I am not great about measuring… but estimate that I add about 15 to 20 drops of lavender essential oil to the rice at first. Then I stir the rice to distribute the oils and coat it well, give it a sniff, and may add another 10 to 15 drops more. 

Feel free to scale up or down to your liking. In my opinion, you can never have too much lavender! Especially when it is a nice high quality oil. Keep in mind that the scent will likely be a bit strong at first, but will fade with time. You can always mist the heat pack with lavender spray to reinvigorate it in the future as needed.    

Ensure that the oils and rice are thoroughly mixed. Let them sit together to soak in for a couple of minutes. If the oils aren’t mixed well, it may lead to obvious oil spots soaking into the fabric. 


A close up image of a hand holding a bottle on lavender essential oil, below is a large white bowl filled about a quarter of the way with rice. The pillow  case is next to the bowl as well.


Step 5: Add Rice to the Heating Pad

It is time to fill those rice pockets! Honestly, I never used a measuring cup or knew the amount of rice I added before making this tutorial. I went by feel. But to make it easier on you all, I measured this time and found that about 2 ¼ cup of rice per 5” by 11” pocket was the sweet spot. The goal is for each pocket to have plenty of rice to retain warm and cold temperatures, but not so much that it is too bulbous or stiff. Our packs are usually about ½ – ¾” thick once completed and laying flat on a table. 

Carefully add the rice to each pocket. I find it easiest to place the sack inside the bowl to catch any spills, because there are sure to be some! Start by filling one pocket. To assess how full it will be once it is sewn shut, pinch the top of the compartment closed, lay the pack flat on the table, and spread the rice out evenly inside. Once you have one filled to your liking, pin the top closed and continue the same process for the following pockets. One way to check if they are all evenly full is to stand the heat pack on its bottom, pocket openings facing up, and compare the levels of rice in each one. 


A three way image collage, the first image shows two hands over the bowl of rice, one hand is holding a measuring cup full of rice while the other hand is holding open a pocket of the pillow case, ready to fill the pocket with rice to make a rice heating pad. The second image shows the rice heat pad laid out on the table at eye level. A hand has been placed on top of the pad, showing how full the pad has been filled with rice. The third image shows the pad standing on its end with a hand placed over the top, showing how full each pocket is while standing up.
The image shows the rice heat pad standing upright on its bottom end. A hand is holding up the top of the fabric to show how much space is left between the packed rice and the top of the pad. A sewing machine in in the background along with the sewing kit.


Step 6: Close it Up

Finally, it is time to stitch the heating pad closed! You should be able to keep the end full of rice to the left, sitting alongside your sewing machine on the table, with enough empty fabric space to reach over to your needle – as shown below. I ran one straight stitch between the two existing seams we previously created in Step 2. Then, I add an additional zigzag stitch, tracing over the straight stitch closest to the top edge. 

Note: If you want a cleaner finish with one less visible line, you could only sew one seam in Step 2, and then continue with the two closing seams at this stage. I think I have done that in the past, but forgot while I was making this example. It has been awhile since I have made one on of these bad boys!


A four way image collage, the first image shows the heat pad standing on its bottom end, its top end has been folded over and is in position under the sewing machine needle to be sewn shut. The second image shows the finishing seam work that has been done, there are three seems visible along the long side of the pad and they all have a slight zig zag pattern to them. The third image shows the heat pad further away, showing ever more of the stitch work, the three seems along the long side are showing as well as the seems for two of the pockets on the rice heat pad. The fourth image shows the heat pad even further away so you can see the entire pad. A hand is lifting one side of the heat pad so it is slightly bent upward.


Step 7: Relax & Find Comfort


It is time to enjoy the fruits of you labor! Or, maybe give them away – which is equally as rewarding, if not more! However, I do suggest that you do one microwave test with each heating pad that you intend to give away before doing so, just to be sure the materials you selected do okay. I also like to give them away with instructions, including tips about time, as described below.


To warm up this rice heating pad:

Simply heat it in the microwave for 3 to 3 ½ minutes. Every microwave varies a little in intensity. For ours, I have found 3 ½ minutes to be the sweet spot that gets it really warm and also stays warm for a long time. I suggest trying 3 minutes maximum first, and to never heat it more than four minutes at a time. Extended periods of time in the microwave can slightly burn the rice, leading to a less desirable odor. 

On the other hand, if microwaves aren’t your thing, no worries! You can also heat this rick pack in the oven. Simply place the rice heating pad in inside a glass baking dish inside a 200°F oven for approximately 15 minutes. 

WARNING: Due to the freshness of the rice and essential oils, you may find your pack to be a bit steamy at first! Moist heat can be great, but steam can cause more serious burns than heat alone. Therefore, use caution when you are getting accustomed to using your pack. I find that I can lay mine over my clothes almost straight out of the microwave, but not directly on my skin. Let it cool down as needed. 


To use as a cold pack:

Store the rice pack inside the freezer to create a soothing cold pack! My favorite use for these rice packs in the summertime is to cool down hot skin when I feel a sunburn coming on, or to place inside our bed a few minutes before we tuck in on hot nights. Unlike most other cold packs, I find these rice cold packs have a cooling effect for several hours in bed! Even though they’re relatively heavy, I bring them with me when we travel to hot locations like Hawaii. They’re just that good.


A man is standing with his back to the camera, the rice heat pad which was made from a grey pillowcase with floral patterns in white has be laid over his shoulders as one would a cape. There is a brick fireplace in the background with a large alocasia or "elephant ear" in the corner with a hanging plant above it. There are miscellaneous tillandsias on the mantle.


Wasn’t that simple?


I hope you found this tutorial useful and easy to follow! Try it out and let me know how it goes! I think you’ll love it. Perhaps you’ll even follow in my footsteps and become a little heating-pad-making-machine, and bless the people in your life with one of their own!


If you’re into fun DIY projects, you may also like these fruit & veggie stamped tea towels. They’re another favorite handmade gift to give!


Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and spread the love by sharing this article.



DeannaCat signature, keep on growing.

12 Comments

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Cherri – The oils are optional, so I would just go with plain rice! I am not sure if vanilla extract would eventually get funky? Interesting idea though! Happy sewing!

        • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

          Hello Shirley, you can absolutely add rosemary or even lavender to the rice pack. Just be sure the herb is fully dried so there isn’t a chance of mold. Thanks for reading and good luck!

  • Courtney

    Super simple project! The part that took me the longest was going to the store to get the rice. I used scrap fabric instead of an old pillow case so my dimensions were more like 11″x17″ and 6 cups of rice was perfect. Nothing more fun than a practical and useful project that allows me to use up my fabric scraps. If you’re not using an old pillow case and making your own dimensions, simply fold it in half and iron it to provide sewing lines for even pockets.

  • Lacey Daniels

    Oh how I wish I had some of these right now! I tweaked my shoulder a few days ago and a nice hot rice pack would feel SO good. I’m going to do a double-check on the supplies list and see if I can whip one of these up tonight!

    Thanks for putting together an easy tutorial!

    • DeannaCat

      Oh you poor thing! I hope you have everything you need! Wish I could overnight a pack to you! Feel better, and let me know how it all goes!

      • Lacey

        I made the pack last night and have used it a few times since. Works great!! We just recently moved, so a lot of my sewing supplies are still packed away… so it was a pretty rough job – I eyeballed most of the measurements and just made it work with what I had access to. I also ran out of lavender oil, so I used sweet marjoram instead. Smells wonderful and is so relaxing! Thanks again for the wonderful tutorial!

    • Tracey

      I love this and I’m inspired to make some! I already have everything needed. Your instructions, tips, photos, and spirit are all so helpful. ✨🙌🏼

    • DeannaCat

      Thank you for that feedback! I am a visual learner myself, so I know how important they are for people to feel like they “get it!”

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