A Waterless Hot Water Bottle





Introduction: A Waterless Hot Water Bottle

When I was a kid, winter beds were warmed with a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.

This worked okay, but inevitably the towel slipped off during the night and the water would slowly chill. It wasn't unusual to wake in the early morning hours with a cold rubbery slab at your feet—not exactly comforting.

Microwaveable rice bags stay warm and don't slip around. I thought I would make a rice bag that's a tribute to the old-fashioned hot water bottle. It's a simple project that can be done in an hour.

Bonus: if you applique a heart onto the bottle, you can give it as a Valentine to someone you have "warm" feelings for (ouch!—sorry). 

Step 1: What You Need

  • pattern files (.pdf files are included below, though they print out smaller than my original)
  • red fleece   Red Christmas fleece can often be found in the remainder bin in January. I was able to buy less than half a yard for $2.50—this is enough for 3 bottles. Any remnant over 11" will work.
  • scrap muslin or other cotton fabric for the inner bag
  • paper and cloth scissors—best to keep them separate
  • 2 lbs of dried rice or other grain, such as lentils or beans
  • something to sew with: needle and thread, or threaded sewing machine
  • optional: felt or ribbon for embellishment, lavender or other essence for scent

Step 2: Cutting the Cover

First, download and print the two pattern pieces from the previous step, and cut them out along the solid outer lines. Photo shows cutting the original pattern—unfortunately, I could not get the .pdf file to print to the edges of the paper, so it will print out smaller. If you want a larger bottle, the pattern is easy to draw on a letter-sized sheet.

Please also note that one of the patterns is actually a template for 3 pieces—you'll have to make a couple of simple folds along the way.

Place the larger pattern on your fleece half an inch from any edges. Use your rice to weight it down, and cut around the pattern leaving 1/2" seam allowance.

Step 3: Embellishments

Now is the time to add any decorations you may want. I played around with adding a felt initial, a felt heart and some ribbon but ultimately the heart prevailed (last bad pun, I promise).

Just stitch whatever you choose to the right side of this main front piece. It can also be left plain, of course, for a more authentic-looking hot water bottle.

Step 4: Cut Out the Back

Fold your first pattern back at the long dotted line. (note: be sure to fold, don't cut, as you will need to unfold it later.) This is now the pattern for the bottom half of the back piece.

The second pattern is the top half of the back piece.

Place these two patterns on the wrong side of your red fabric, and lightly mark around them. I found a regular black felt marker did not show through the fleece but if you are concerned, you may want to use something eraseable like tailor's chalk.

Cut around these 2 pieces, again leaving 1/2" seam allowance.

Step 5: Putting the Cover Together

Roll the two straight edges of the back pieces and hem.

Now place your front piece right side up and cover it with the hemmed top back piece, right side down.

Over this place the hemmed bottom back piece, also right side down. Pin as needed, and sew along the lines you marked. Sew all the way around the lines, overlapping at the end to secure the seam.

Finally, trim your seam allowance and clip any curves or corners as shown.

Turn this right side out. This will be your cover.

Step 6: Making the Rice Bag Insert

Take out your front pattern piece once more and unfold the first crease you made. Now you will be folding down the little neck of the bottle at the dotted line to make the pattern for your inner bag.

Lay this down on the muslin or scrap cotton, mark around the pattern, and cut 2 pieces with the 1/2" extra seam allowance.

Sew along your markings, leaving an opening at the top for filling. Clip the seams and turn right side out, then fill with 2 lbs rice and stitch closed.

Optional step: Lavender is known for its relaxing properties. You can either add fresh or dried lavender petals to the rice in the bag, or sprinkle a couple drops of lavender essential oil on the inside or outside.

Step 7: Using the Bottle

Now all you need to do is insert the filled muslin bag into your red covering and you are finished.

To use, heat in a microwave for about 3 minutes (or until comfortably warm) and slip between the sheets just before bedtime.



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    Hi, can I put this on my back? Or does it have to go on the sheets? I would use a hot water bottle on my back, but this sounds safer to me. Can I use it more than once?

    1 reply

    Yes, it can go directly on your back as well--the fleece will insulate you from too much heat. And it can definitely be reused. I've been using mine for 3 years now. :)

    this is great for my mom! i made one for her and she loves it! she is blind and wears two hearing aids . shes vary independent and once slightly burned herself filling one of the old fashioned water bottles so i made one for her and now she just pops it in the microwave for about 1 min (microwave set at 100% power) and shes good to go! you should sell these you could make a fortune!

    1 reply

    Sorry I am so slow about replying--my email got changed and I haven't been receiving notifications. Glad to hear that about your mom--I hope she is still doing well!

    Is it safe to heat rice in the microwave over and over again? I would love to make this for my Dad (in masculine colours obviously) to help with his arthritis pain but I'm just a bit worried. Also is fleece material safe to microwave? or do you take to cotton insert out?
    Please advise me

    4 replies

    Another option is corn. I live in Iowa (Iowa=corn, right?) I go down to the local co op and ask them for a paper sack full of corn. I am willing to pay for it, but for them its like 40 cents, so every year they give it to me for free. My grandchildren love them, and they tend to over heat their corn pillows, which eventually smells like old popcorn. I've never overheated mine and it doesn't smell at all. I use two layers of flannel on each side. I usually just make a square pillow, add the corn, and sew it shut. I used to work in a nursing home, so one year I made about 20 of them. for gifts to people at work. They love theirs too, and its just old fashioned enough to appeal to elderly people. They never fail to tell me all about how they kept warm back then. I made one for my cat. She lay all over it all last winter.

    I haven't had any problems heating the fleece in the microwave so far, but if you are concerned, you can certainly heat only the cotton insert and wrap it in the fleece afterwards.

    The microwave initially brings out a lot of moisture in the rice, so what tends to happen is that it needs less and less time as it dries out. You can extend its life by spritzing it with a little water before microwaving--not much, just enough to lessen the overheating of the rice. I've also heard of people who put a small container of water in the microwave with the rice bag.

    One thing you might consider for your dad is making the bag easier to drape. You can do this by changing the shape to a long, thin size (you can even just put rice into a clean tube sock and tie a knot at one end), or by sewing channels down the center insert portion so that the rice stays more evenly distributed.

    Thank you so much for replying so quickly and putting my mind at ease

    I hope it helps your dad. After your comment, I decided to try microwaving one of our older rice bags with a cup of water in the oven and found it really helped moderate the heat and moisture balance.

    My husband freeze easily (some times almost blue color) I was looking for something to use as a heating filler but never thought of rice… !!

    One question though, we don’t have a microwave oven, do you think it will work with regular oven(without the fleece) if not , is there any other filling options?

    Thank you in advance.

    1 reply

    Hi Milani,

    I don't think the oven will work in the same way. I'd be afraid of roasting the rice and of having the cotton catch fire, but perhaps someone else has another experience?

    We also didn't have a microwave oven until a sick dog needed to be kept warm in her bed, and we used the microwave solely for heating up her rice packs for a long, long time.

    I was cleaning out her and her cage-mate Maui's cage yesterday, and I found her emaciated (VERY HUNGRY/STARVING), cold, with shut eyes, an injured foot,Not walking at all, and a very visible spine. I immediately separated her from Maui and put her in a large plastic box with a towel and lots of food at the bottom. I put a heated blanket under the cage, but that didn't seem to do the trick. I was browsing instructables when I saw this. I made it in smaller version, heated it up, and went to bed.(It was about 11:30 by then.) I woke up at 6:30 this morning and expected the worst. I found Gala curled up next to it, fast asleep. I woke her up gently, and she OPENED HER EYES COMPLETELY, which had been a total improvement since the last 7hrs, GOTTEN FATTER, STARTED WALKING PROPERLY, AND WITH A MOSTLY HEALED FOOT. It was a miracle. I fear, that without this, she would have died. I owe you her life!!!!

    2 replies

    Wow. I'm so glad your gerbil is doing better. May she have a long and happy life. :)

    Thank you for everything. Maui appreciated it.

    This is the fanciest rice warmer I have ever seen, so clever. :D

    1 reply

    Thank you! I really appreciate your comment. :)

    This is so cute! I remember the leaky water bottles, this is a great idea.

    1 reply

    Thanks so much!

    Very nice! I've been using heat for a back injury but hate falling asleep on electrical cords. I made some in a different shape a few years ago and used tangerine oil scent with good feedback since not everyone likes lavender.

    1 reply

    That's a great idea. I think I might prefer tangerine myself.