Taking AskMefi's advice and making heat thearpy bags as holiday gifts..
October 14, 2010 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Making about 15 Microwavable Hot/Cold Therapy bags as Christmas gifts.. need some advice or suggestions on filler material and where to buy it!

Every time someone asks a question about homemade crafted gifts.. at least one person mentions the rice/buckwheat/flax seed/deer corn filled microwavable heating pads and how much they love them/how well received they were.

so I hit Etsy and bought up a ton of fabric scraps. Going to the craft store this weekend to purchase a cutting mat. But I have run into one problem..

Which filler material should I use? Every google search I try suggests Rice or deer corn or other types of grain. Most seem of the consensus that deer/feed corn is the best.. but..

Where do I buy it? I found some on ebay.. but if it's cheap and easy to grab just by walking into a local store.. I would rather do that. What kind of store carries deer/feed corn?

Also, I wanted to make a trial one for myself. I have left over brown rice in the cupboard I'm never going to eat (failed cooking experiment). Can I use that, or must it be the long grain white variety?

Some sites that explain how to make these (like the one i linked) suggest using an essential oil to give the bags a scent.. can this method be used with the corn? I'm assuming it works with rice because it's a small grain.. but corn is larger. Would it just slip through the kernels and stain the bag? And where do I buy Essential oils?
posted by royalsong to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Barley. Pot or pearl - doesn't matter. Don't ask me how I know this...
posted by HarrysDad at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2010

I think you could buy feed corn at a farm supply store or perhaps a bird food store, if you've got any any near you. Personally, I've made several bags with the rice and they've held up fine for a couple years now. I've only used white rice though, not brown; I suppose it's possible that brown rice might go off more easily than white. I would go ahead and use the brown rice though, at least in the test one. After all, you've got it on hand, you're not going to eat it, and if it starts to smell off you're only out a couple scraps of fabric, right?

As for essential oils: I can usually find them in natural foods stores or higher end grocery stores that have a decent natural foods section. When I've used them in the rice bags, I put the rice in a plastic container with a lid that I wasn't going to use for food, then dropped the oils in, closed the container, and shook it until I felt like the oil had been more or less distributed.

I've also purchased oils from Nanda Oils and was pleased with the product, price, and service. It was a couple of years ago though.
posted by Janta at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2010

Try your local feed supply store. It's where the farmers go. (Not that they are feeding deer, but you know what I mean.) What about using dried lavendar instead of oil?
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2010

I also have seen deer corn at hardware-type places like Home Depot and Lowes also.

As for essential oils - I can't imagine that they wouldn't work with corn. They're kind of viscous/stickyish, and if you scent the kernels prior to stuffing the bags, stir them around so they're evenly scented, and perhaps leave them to sit for a bit in the bowl, it's unlikely that you'll stain the bags. Just don't use a TON of oil. As in the tutorial, 10 drops is probably sufficient.

I get most of my essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs. Some are more pricey than others, but the cheaper ones (citrus, mints, etc.) are quite cheap and of good quality. Health food stores will also have these, but selection may be limited and they're usually pricier.

Oooh! And if you go the dried lavender route as suggested above, Mt. Rose Herbs also sells dried lavender blossoms for a very reasonable price.
posted by Knicke at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2010

If your location is correct in your profile, then there's a feed store about six miles away from you - Belleville Milling Company.
posted by candyland at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2010

White grain works better when it comes to retaining the scent of the essential oil, but I've always preferred hot/cold packs with actual sprigs of dried lavender included, they smell delicious and the actual plant does a great job of having the scent stick around a lot longer.

As for deer corn, I've seen it at Home Depot and WalMart type big-box stores*, as well as any farm supplies stores that might be around you, since it's typically sold as stock feed for cows and chickens.

*Note: grew up in rural area, but have seen it at Home Depot in "big cities."
posted by banannafish at 1:43 PM on October 14, 2010

I use wheat, bought from the local pet food shop. Any kind of rice is good, as long as it's dry. make a bag to hold the filler, and then a fancy one as a cover. The bags can get stained by cooking the stuff inside sometimes. Don't buy anything expensive, it's really not worth it. If you want to play a joke on someone, put a little popping corn inside one.

Essential oils can be bought from ebay. Lavender is nice, and comforting. I'd suggest making a separate bag full of cotton wool or something for the essential oils, as they're flammable. Probably not a good idea in the microwave. Stitch a pocket inside your fancy cover to hold it and the heat from the bag will vaporise it.

I make a 2lb bag. It's heavy but it holds its heat for a longer time. Smaller bags lose their heat very quickly. hey can be refreshed by sprinkling with a little water before putting into the microwave. After a lot of uses, they can start to smell "cooked", and adding a bit of water seems to help prevent this. Wheat smells kinda nice when it's like this, but it probably wouldn't go well with essential oils.

Make sure that the cloth you're using is flame retardant. I put a little square in the microwave and blast it for 5 minutes to see what happens.
posted by Solomon at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2010

Response by poster: HarrysDad, now I'm curious about how you know that!

Wow Candyland, thanks! That doesn't come up in a "feed supply near [me]" at google.

I personally hate the scent of lavender.. is there some other kind of dried flower I can use?
posted by royalsong at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2010

Have you seen this thread?
posted by coolsara at 1:54 PM on October 14, 2010

Part of the point of using corn instead of rice is because the larger grains hold heat longer. Rice is nice because the small grains are more comfy, less lumpy. Barley is kind of a compromise. One issue with corn is whether the heated bag will smell "corny", while rice has a milder smell (to my nose, anyway). For pleasant scent and larger heat-retaining pellets, cherry pits are rumored to be great, but you can't get those at the local grocery or feed-grain store.

For scents, lavender is easy because it's common and smelly; rose petals would also work, as would chopped vanilla bean or cinnamon stick. Anything powdered will leak out the weave or seams of the fabric. Any tea that you like the smell of, you can tuck a tea-bag into the center of the fill.
posted by aimedwander at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I made some of these last year. I used a giant bag of white rice that I bought at Costco; if you don't have a Costco membership, try an Asian market, where you should also be able buy huge quantities of rice for very low prices.

My understanding is that brown rice wouldn't work very well in the long term, because it goes rancid in ways that white rice doesn't. Something about the oil contained in the bran. But if you wanted to make a trial one for yourself, I think the brown rice would be fine.

I've heard flax seeds are the best filling, but they're much more expensive than rice. Are you making these as gifts to save money, or are you making them because they're nicer than a storebought gift? Rice works absolutely fine, so if your goal is to save money, I say go for the rice.

I also added dried lavender buds to the pillows for scent. I wonder if you could use some other kind of dried flower buds. Or maybe a dried herb? Dried basil has a nice scent that isn't obviously savory.
posted by pluckemin at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2010

Non-lavender additions: dried rose petals are awesome, as are dried jasmine flowers. Lemon verbena retains its scent for a long time. Coarsely ground dried orange or lemon peel, maybe? Cinnamon sticks? Sweet woodruff (not a flower, but has a sweet, hay-like smell)? Myrtle leaves? Cedar leaves?
posted by Knicke at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2010

I urge caution using these bags. I had a friend who heated a bag filled with buckwheat in her microwave, used it on her back, then left it on the sofa when she went out. Her house caught on fire, the smoke killed her two dogs and destroyed the room and left the entire house smelling of fire. Just sayin'.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 2:09 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, so no buckwheat then.. and perhaps a friendly cautionary warning on the gift tags.

Thanks, NorthCoastCafe.
posted by royalsong at 3:11 PM on October 14, 2010

I think the key to making them safe is to understuff the pillows (so they're relatively limp) and instruct the user to shake the pillow halfway through microwaving. This will ensure that the heat is evenly distributed and there are no dangerous hot spots. (The pillows are also more useful when they're understuffed, because they conform better to whatever body part you're applying them to.)
posted by pluckemin at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2010

Nthing feed corn. A friend made me one several years ago, and I still use it constantly - works great for cramps, sore back, stiff neck, you name it.
posted by spinturtle at 6:19 PM on October 14, 2010

Add a warning to the bags: microwave with a cup of water at the same time. This should prevent the grains drying out to 'burn all your stuff' dry. Is the fabric you have purchased also fire retardant? (eg, cotton, wool)
posted by Trivia Newton John at 12:29 AM on October 15, 2010

I made one for myself with a mixture of rice and flax seeds, and the flax makes it smell very nice while also being small enough that the bag is flexible and not very bumpy.

Also I am totally stealing this idea and making these for Christmas!
posted by heatherann at 7:04 PM on October 15, 2010

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