Filler up!
October 20, 2008 11:34 PM   Subscribe

What kind of filler should I use in the home-made microwaveable heat packs I'm making for holiday presents this year?

I've been browsing sites like Craftster for hours, but can't get a straight answer on what to put inside my heat/cold packs (which will be microwaved 2-3 mins, within a cotton or flannel covering.)

I want the filler to retain heat for a long time, which flax seed and cherry pits are good for, but those fillers are expensive. Plus, cherry pits are poisonous to animals who might bite into them, and flax seed apparently can explode in the microwave. Not good.

Rice is what a lot of people seem to use, but many people complain that it doesn't stay hot as long as flaxseed/cherry pits, and that the rice starts to smell funky after a while. Same complaint with corn.

Dried lentils, millet or bird seed all sound like good ideas to me (cheap, easy to find, good texture) but does anyone know if these ingredients will hold heat for a long time? Or if they'll smell funky?

Buckwheat hulls are also intriguing, but I'm worried that their sharp texture wouldn't feel good through flannel.

Any advice, personal experiences, on which filler beats all?
posted by np312 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Also, forgot to add wheat and fennel as possible contenders...
posted by np312 at 11:41 PM on October 20, 2008

Someone in my family once had a buckwheat pillow. It was quite comfortable (with pillow material + pillowcase). I do remember it being kind of noisy when you changed positions, but that shouldn't really matter for a heat pack.
posted by phunniemee at 11:42 PM on October 20, 2008

The mother loves her wheat ones. Sure, after a while (months) they smell like baked bread... so she just buys another kilo of wheat and replaces the filler. They seem to hold their heat well.
posted by Kerasia at 1:20 AM on October 21, 2008

They all seem to be wheat bags round these parts.
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:06 AM on October 21, 2008

One vote _against_ rice. I made a few sets with rice - scenting them with a cinnamon/nutmeg/clove combo (to avoid the smell) and I loved them for awhile. And then the rice for some reason (not being sealed and picking up moisture in the air? sat down in a ring of water from a glass and I didn't know it? magic?) got damp and "cooked" and surprisingly quickly clumped and burned. Maybe it was just that I was using it too often because it didn't hold the heat very long - anyway - I burnt it and I'm lucky I didn't end up with a microwave fire - which is frankly the last thing I would have needed when I was trying to fight a sinus headache. So if I do them again, it won't be with rice.
posted by librarianamy at 2:28 AM on October 21, 2008

Wheat. I made some a couple of years ago with a couple of pounds of wheat, and they're still going strong. They do tend to smell, but only when heated to the point of starting to cook. And even then, it's a "warm" smell, which is quite pleasant.

I find that once the packs dry out (which takes ages, but don't forget that you're basically boiling water inside the heads) they don't retain heat as long, but that's cured by putting a small glass of water in the microwave with the pack.

Larger packs hold heat longer than smaller ones.
posted by Solomon at 2:50 AM on October 21, 2008

My husband's got one with rice that he uses a couple of times a week; same bag of rice for about 4 years, with no smell and no burning or clumping.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:04 AM on October 21, 2008

We've used rice for ages without incident. It gets used every night in the fall and winter, and in Minnesota, that's most of the year. It's long grain Jasmine rice for what it's worth.
posted by advicepig at 6:02 AM on October 21, 2008

Oooh. Add lavender. My wife had a heat pack with lavender mixed in, and it always smelled really good when she heated it. Pretty sure hers was wheat filler along with the lavender, too.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2008

I've been making heaps of them with lentils - they're cheap and have a reasonably pleasant scent when heated. You can toss in any number of dried herbs (rosemary, for example, or lavender) for added aroma. I find that the lentils hold their heat very well.

I've made some quite light (for my kids) and heavier (for my husband and myself) and find that they retain their heat just as well either way - so the quantity of stuffing around here just depends on personal taste.
posted by VioletU at 6:52 AM on October 21, 2008

I've made them with rice and they've worked out really well. I think a key factor is to make two bags: one inner one with the rice and then an outer cover. That way if the rice gets funky, etc., you can just make a new inner bag.
posted by weezetr at 7:36 AM on October 21, 2008

Can you post a link to a good pattern to follow? I know you don't really need a pattern for an easy rectangle, but is there an insert bag or just one layer?
posted by barnone at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2008

Do not use corn. My mom bought one of those from a neighbor kid and ended up with semi popped corn kernels and a no good heat pack. Oops!
posted by coolsara at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2008

You have to use the right kind of corn. Here is a really great tutorial with info about the type of corn to use and how to construct the bags.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:20 PM on October 21, 2008

I have a couple of wheat packs that have lasted several years. I also have one that contains lavender, which is great. I refresh it every once in a while with a few drops of lavender oil.
posted by essexjan at 3:52 PM on October 21, 2008

Buy a large bed buddy and cut it open to use whatever they use. I think it's a silica gel bead fililng which will retain moisture and hold heat really well. All these food items will eventually start to cook or rot and harbor nasties.
posted by chairface at 7:55 AM on October 23, 2008

Do not use beans; they work very well (retain heat for a long time!) but smell awful!
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:56 PM on October 25, 2008

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