When it comes to home treatment for any kind of pain or inflammation, a hot compress is very effective.
Warmth from a hot compress is soothing and healing for the body. It helps dilate blood vessels, which makes it easier for the blood to distribute nutrients throughout the body as well as flush out toxins.
A hot compress helps relieve pain, increase circulation, relax muscle spasms, aid wound healing, and treat several skin and eye problems. It is usually applied for 5 to 15 minutes every 2 hours.
Commercial hot packs are available but may not be suitable for all body parts. For instance, your eyes may not be able to bear the weight and bulkiness of a commercial hot pack. Also, commercial hot packs may contain chemicals that can harm your skin if there’s any leakage.
However, it’s easy to make a hot compress yourself at home using some simple, cheap materials you probably already have laying around your house.
Here are some methods to prepare a hot compress at home.
1. Moist Compress
This is the simplest way to make a hot and moist compress. All you need is a towel and some hot water.
- Fill a large bowl with hot, but not boiling, water.
- Submerge a cotton cloth in the water until it’s saturated.
- Wring out the excess water, so that it doesn’t drip.
- Fold the cloth into a rectangle and place it in a ziplock bag. This will help seal in the moisture and the heat.
- Place the compress on the affected body part.
2. Dry Heat Compress
A dry heat compress is very easy and convenient to use. However, one major downside is that it could potentially dehydrate the skin. If you have dry skin, avoid this compress and stick to a moist warm compress.
- Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of cooked rice into a ziplock bag. Heat it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Remove it from the microwave and set it aside. Wrap a washcloth around the bag and use it as needed.
- Alternatively, heat a thick-bottomed pan. When it’s hot, add 1 cup of salt to it and allow the salt to get warm. Transfer the warm salt to a clean cloth and tie it into a bundle (you can also secure it with a rubber band). Your compress is ready to use. Once the compress cools down, reheat the pan and place the bundle on top of it until it warms up again.
3. Hand Towel Method
One of the best and simplest ways to make your own heating pad is by using hand towels. For this, all you need is two hand towels, a ziplock bag and a microwave.
- Wet 2 hand towels with water.
- Squeeze out the excess water until the towels are just damp.
- Put 1 towel in a ziplock bag, but don’t seal the bag.
- Heat the bag in the microwave on high for 1 minute.
- Carefully remove the bag from the microwave.
- Wrap the hot bag with the other wet towel.
- Your homemade heating pad is ready for use.
4. Rice and Socks
You probably have a pair of old socks sitting in your drawer not being used. Now, you can use those socks to make yourself a homemade hot compress. Any type of sock will do, but if you have tube socks, use those.
This type of hot compress works great if you have neck or shoulder pain.
- Fill the sock with some uncooked rice.
- Close the opening of the sock by either sewing it shut or tying a knot.
- Heat the sock in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.
- Carefully remove it from the microwave –it will be very hot.
- Wait for a minute or two, then apply it to your neck or shoulder.
- If needed, microwave it again for 1 minute and reapply.
Along with uncooked rice, you can also use uncooked beans or oats.
5. Glass Bottles
You can use bottles to quickly and easily make your own hot compress. Be sure to use glass bottles, not plastic bottles. Glass bottles are more effective at retaining heat.
- Fill a clean glass bottle with boiling water and close the cap securely.
- Wrap the bottle in a thin towel before applying the hot compress on the affected area.
6. Bundled Washcloths
When you need to make a hot compress for your eyes, the bundle method is very effective. It’s perfect to use on your eyelids and ensures sustained heating at the right temperature for as long as you need it.
- Wet 5 washcloths with water and squeeze out the excess.
- Roll each washcloth into a 1–inch wide longitudinal strips.
- Taking one folded cloth at a time, roll each cloth tightly around the previously rolled cloth to create a bundle.
- Optionally, loosely secure the bundle with a rubber band.
- Microwave the bundle for about 2 minutes.
- Remove it from the microwave and allow the bundle to cool for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove the rubber band and take off the outermost cloth, store the remaining bundle in a covered container.
- Place the cloth on the affected eye for 2 minutes.
- Use the remaining rolled washcloths in the same way, as needed.
7. Moist Tea Bags
If you need to treat a sty, dark circles under the eyes or some kind of eye infection, you can use tea bags to make a simple yet effective hot compress. Black tea bags are very effective healing compresses, due to the rich amount of tannins in the tea that work as an anti-inflammatory agent.
- Brew a cup of black tea using a tea bag.
- Set the tea bag aside and enjoy your tea.
- Once the tea bag has cooled a bit, you can use it as a compress.
Alternatively, you can pour the tea on a washcloth and, once it cools down to a safe temperature, use it as your homemade hot compress.
8. Unused Diapers
If you have some unused disposable diapers at home, you can use them to make a hot compress. Unlike a washcloth, a diaper will retain heat for a longer time. Also, it can be reheated by placing it in a microwave for a few seconds and reused as needed.
- Heat some water in a kettle.
- Place the unused diaper in a tray or any flat surface.
- Pour a little warm water on the clean disposable diaper. As it soaks in, pour a little more warm water on it.
- Gently squeeze the diaper to get rid of any excess water.
- Your hot compress is ready for use.
Due to the unique shape of the diaper, you can use this hot compress on sore muscles in your back or wrap it around your neck. You can even use the adhesive tabs to affix it to a sore knee or elbow.
Benefits of Using a Hot Compress
Now that you know how to make your own hot compress, it’s time to learn more about the multiple ways you can use it for health benefits.
- Sore muscles: When a warm compress is applied on a sore muscle, the heat draws more blood to that area, in turn making your muscles feel less sore.
- Muscle spasms: When suffering from muscle spasms, initially you need to rest and apply a cold compress. After 72 hours, apply heat to help reduce any inflammation in the area and speed up the healing process.
- Joint stiffness or arthritis pain: You can relieve joint stiffness and arthritis pain with a hot compress. It will help reduce pain by relaxing sore muscles and joints.
- Conjunctivitis: You can use a warm compress on the eyes to help relieve conjunctivitis. It can help reduce pain and inflammation in the eyes as well as temporarily clear discharge.
- Menstrual cramps: Applying heat on the lower abdomen can help control menstrual cramps. Heat helps relax the contracting muscles in the uterus.
- Sinus headache: Applying warm, moist compresses on the sinus regions will ease pressure and loosen thick mucus, which in turn will help get rid of a sinus headache.
- Gum swelling: A warm compress can provide quick relief from sore, swollen gums by helping reduce pain and swelling. Apply the compress against your face, not directly on the swollen gums.
- Ear pain: Irrespective of what’s causing the ear pain, a warm compress can help deal with the problem. The heat promotes blood flow to the area and helps ease pain.
- Increase urine output: A hot compress can improve renal function and increase urine output, thereby getting rid of waste products and toxins. Simply place a warm compress on your lower abdomen.
- Do not use a hot compress on skin that is punctured, broken or bleeding.
- Do not use heat immediately for acute injuries. It is better to use cold compresses for the first 72 hours, then use hot compresses.
- Do not use heat therapy if you are pregnant or suffer from health conditions like diabetes, poor circulation or high blood pressure.
- Always test the temperature of the compress to ensure that it is warm, not scalding, before applying it to your skin.
- Immediately remove any compress that feels uncomfortably hot.
- The optimal temperature for a warm eye compress is 104 degrees to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees to 45 degrees Celsius).
- Do not leave a hot compress placed in the same area for too long.
- Do not microwave a compress for more than 1 to 2 minutes.
- If you have sensitive skin, always keep a layer of cloth like a thin towel between the heat source and your skin to prevent burns.
- If your skin starts to look dark red, spotty red and white, blistered, swollen or you develop hives, call your doctor. These can be signs of skin damage from the heat.