The frugal heating pad.

th-1Recently our heater went on the blink. The heating company that DF prefers wasn’t able to give us an appointment for almost two weeks – unless, that is, we wanted to pay extra for an after-hours visit.

Nope, we didn’t, even though temperatures dropped into the mid-20s at night and only into the high 40s during the day. We had plenty of split wood so we kept the fireplace insert stoked.

Nothing froze. In fact, the living room got a little too warm from time to time. However, the home office is farthest away from the heat source and it wasn’t exactly toasty. Most days I was plenty comfortable with a bathrobe over my sweats and T-shirt.

And when I wasn’t? I used the perfect frugal chill-chaser.

The rice sock, also known as “the frugal heating pad,” made all the difference in the world. Draped around my neck, the solid heat radiated warmth all the way down my spine. If your neck is warm, the rest of you is warm, too.

Rice, rice baby

It’s a pretty simple to make: Pour raw rice onto a sock or a cloth bag, tie it shut and microwave it until it’s very warm. Most people use this for aches and pains, but it’s also a great way to stay cozy in a chilly house.

Rice isn’t the only possible medium. People use popcorn, wheat, flax, oatmeal and even cherry pits. Anything that’s malleable enough to mold itself around a stiff knee or aching neck should work.

Last year, shortly before I moved back to Alaska, a severe windstorm knocked out the power in Anchorage. Outage lengths varied, but DF’s neighborhood was juiceless for about three days.

The fireplace insert blazed then, too – with a clay baking dish atop its ledge. DF put a rice sock in the dish, and at bedtime would run the sock up and down the bedsheets to warm them before he had to crawl in.

Back in the day people used live coals inside a warming pan to heat their sheets. It was also common to put a hot brick wrapped in flannel at the foot of the bed to radiate heat during the night.

DF and I keep each other warm, but we did recently treat ourselves to flannel sheets. No sense leaping into a pool of icy percale night after night. Besides, we used a coupon.

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  1. My grandmother used to use warm bricks to warm the bed LOL Me, I have a hot water bottle as does the spouse. Plus, we have flannel sheets on the bed and goose down comforter on top of that. And we aren’t even in Alaska!! Hey, it gets cold-ish in the Mojave 😛 Sounds cold outside where you are but nice and cozy inside.

  2. Flannel sheets are the best thing for staying warm. I got them on sale and then with employee discount and a store coupon, they were about $10, almost free. That percale is just icy. I tried rice in a sock, but it made me hungry….all night because I could smell it. The smell kept me awake all night.

    I know it involves a clothes dryer or electric heater, but I put a pillow in front of a space heater in the living room. Lying on a warm pillow or having a throw warmed in the dryer keeps the cold from penetrating my bones. I have slept this way when it was down to 9F and had no heat in my bedroom. I turned off the living room space heater due to fear of fire.

    I have considered a hot water bottle. However, once I am in bed for ten minutes, I usually get too hot. Just a warm head and shoulders seems to help until I can sleep.

    It’s good you have a wood fire. You are inspiring. Having a heater in bed with you helps!

  3. lostAnnfound

    My younger brother made me a rice sock over 18 years ago when I was pregnant for daughter #2. I was having some wicked muscle pain in the abdomen and that sock just wrapped right around my prego belly and was just so soothing! I have had one ever since for neck aches, back aches and, yes, to warm up the cool winter bed before getting into it. Gotta have flannel sheets…they’re the best in the winter!

  4. We’ve used rice bags since my grown kids were little. When I make them I add dried lavender to the sack because it smells so nice. How do people add popcorn to their sock? Wouldn’t it pop in the microwave? Or do you get to be warm and have a snack, too?

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m not sure why it doesn’t pop, but a friend of mine had one of these popcorn socks. Maybe it wasn’t really popcorn, just some kind of feed corn. But she called it a popcorn sock.
      It smelled nice, too.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

      • Not all corn is “popping corn” but fyi the sugar in corn is what makes it retain heat and they can get really really hot! You can actually burn yourself.

        • The rice traps heat in the air between the grains and the starch in the rice (which is form of sugar) retains the heat as well. But the hulls on the corn can get super duper hot, which sounds good until you burn yourself 🙁 So yeah it is a good way to warm the bed before you get into it but be careful not to place on your body as a heating pad.

  5. Well, rice in a sock sounds like a quaint idea of staying warm 🙂 I should actually try that one of these cold nights. But like Practical Parsimony notes, it’d probably also make me very hungry at night or disorient my sleep.
    Flannel sheets on the other hand are by far an awesome option, no warming, no funny smells or fear of fires etc. Just jump into warm and its not as icy as with ordinary sheets!

  6. Thanks for writing about this frugal heating hack. I will use this trick to survive my first Canadian winter!

  7. Donna, just be careful what you wear to bed … flannel pyjamas + flannel sheets = velcroed in place until someone peels you out. Ask me how I know 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Yikes! Sounds dangerous.
      I won’t reveal what I wear to bed because that would be an overshare.

  8. Donna, I have been reusing the same rice (brown rice works better) for years! I have several fabric pouches where I sewed them closed with different dried stuff for there aromatherapy properties. You don’t need very much herbs in them, you don’t want the scent to be too over powering but just a hint. You also should choose tried leaves or pieces and not ones that have been pulverized. Find your own fresh herbs or get at a natural grocery store. Not the crap you get dried thats sat on a shelf for a year at a supermarket.

    Lavender, calming for bedtime
    Mint, place on stomach if you have a tummy ache, or just have it near you, the aroma of mint activates the salivary glands in our mouth as well as glands which secrete digestive enzymes, thereby facilitating digestion. Also good for fatique
    Orange peel, for alertness “revitalization”.
    Sage is said to be good for headaches and muscleaches.

    More indepth reading can be done about the different herbs.

    I make my fabric “pillows” using a double layer of cotton. Wash fabrics to soften, cotton on the inside with flannel on the outside. I made mine out of a cut up pillow case and flannel shirt.

    (keep away from dogs or cats so they don’t become chew toys)

    Also, you can try place a bowl on your that baking dish sometime with a few cinnamon sticks, cloves and apple scrap for that warm fuzzy holiday smell. Or lemon scraps for a fresh scent.

    Also, no matter how cold it gets I am always warm in bed, I have a large dog, so basically there is always at least a wookie in bed with me. Want to stay warm in the winter, get a dog 🙂

  9. DH was picking up some things at Costco and found flannel sheets for half the price they would be elsewhere. When he came home with them it was just another reminder that I picked the right man.

    The house I grew up in had a fireplace and a furnace that both heated the same room! There was a series of vents and exhaust fans that moved the warm air around, but we got good at layering when we were home on cold evenings, and it was just normal to wear a hat to bed. Turns out it was better for our health, and I still prefer a house that’s a bit cool. So does DH. Hence the flannel sheets.

    As I recall, our cats basically didn’t leave the living room from about November to March: they would just stretch out in front of the hearth and bake for hours, turning over now and then. Now that’s the life!

    I hope your heater is functioning before it gets truly cold up there!

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep, the heater is now working just fine. And I prefer a cooler room to sleep in, because when I was a kid the upstairs of our house wasn’t heated at all. There were two radiators in the living room, one in the kitchen and one in a small office space right off the living room. None in our bedroom or in the attic (where my brother slept) so we got used to sleeping cool. DF feels the same way, fortunately.
      I know how the cats feel: When the fireplace is going I like to sit and absorb that solid, solid warmth. It activates the lizard lobe of my brain, I think.

  10. We have a fire downstairs but no central heating, it will be my first Winter experiencing it so I am very grateful for the rice idea. If your feet, head and neck are warm then the rest of you will feel warm, I am hoping!




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