How to Make a Warm Compress for When You Need Soothing Comfort

Judy Schumer
by Judy Schumer

By Judy Schumer

In the winter especially, there’s nothing like the comfort of a warm compress. Whether you’re using one to alleviate muscle pain, reduce congestion, calm monthly cramps, soothe inflamed eyes, or just warm up after feeling the icy winds of winter seeping into your bones, a warm compress brings plenty of relief.

It’s always good to have a warm compress handy, and while there are all types of heating pads out there, you can make an economical and effective one of your own with everyday items you probably have at home. Just be sure to always use any type of treatment for injuries or pain while under the care of a physician; they will advise the right course of action to get you feeling your best.

Learn how to make a warm compress, either moist or dry, by gathering a few supplies and following the simple steps below.

woman pressing warm compress to her neck

Photo via Shutterstock

How to Make a Moist Warm Compress

A moist warm compress uses the benefit of steam to soothe aching muscles and reduce inflammation. Making a moist compress at home is simple and a frugal first-aid must-have! It all starts with flannel, which can be repurposed from a clean, old shirt or pajamas.


Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Hot water (100-110 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Large bowl
  • 2 large squares of flannel, about 12x12 inches
  • Tongs
  • Half-gallon- to gallon-size microwave-safe Ziploc bag
  • Oven mitts (if needed)

Step 1: Wet Both Cloths

Place the hot water in a large bowl. Use tongs to wet both pieces of flannel so they are soaking wet.

Step 2: Warm the Flannel

Fold one piece of flannel in half and in half again and place it into the plastic bag, but do not seal it. Place the bag on a paper or microwave-safe plate.


Place the bag with the flannel square into the microwave. Microwave on high for about 60 seconds. If it doesn’t feel warm enough to the touch, microwave for an additional 30 seconds.

Are Plastic Bags Microwave-Safe?

According to Ziploc, their products meet the safety requirements of the FDA when it comes to defrosting and reheating food in microwave ovens.

Step 3: Remove the Steaming Bag

Carefully remove the plate from the microwave. The steam coming from the bag will be very hot, so avoid direct contact with the steam. Use oven mitts if needed.

Step 4: Seal the Bag

Let air out of the bag and then seal it, using the oven mitts or a kitchen towel to cover your hands to avoid steam burning your hands. 

Step 5: Wrap the Steamed Bag

Lay the second piece of flannel flat and place the steam-filled bag containing the first piece of flannel on top, close to the edge of the fabric. Roll the flannel around the bag, like a jelly roll, encasing the hot bag inside the warm, moist flannel piece. Fold any open ends over so the outer flannel fully covers the bag.

Step 6: Place the Moist Warm Compress

You now have a warm, moist compress to place where you need it.

tied-sock warm compress

Photo via The Homesteadinghippy

How to Make a Dry Warm Compress

A dry, warm compress delivers dry heat to sore muscles or much-needed warmth when you’re chasing off the chill bestowed on you by Old Man Winter or sitting on the metal bleachers at a football game. A dry compress made from ordinary household rice is portable and reusable with zero mess involved.


Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Dry uncooked rice (enough to fill the sock)
  • Clean tube sock
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • Needle and thread (optional)
  • Long strip of clean, dry flannel (twice the width and length of the sock) 
  • 2 elastic bands or hair ties

Step 1: Fill the Sock

Pour enough rice into the sock to fill it about ¾ of the way full. If you want a warmly-spiced scent in your compress, pour the rice into the sock, sprinkling cinnamon into it when the sock is about ¼ and ½ full, with a small amount sprinkled on the top of the rice when finished filling the sock.

Step 2: Seal the Sock

Tie a knot at the top of the sock to seal it or sew a simple seam across the top for an even more secure compress. Leave about an inch or two of space between the seam and the top of the rice so the rice can move freely mold to your body when the compress is applied.

Step 3: Warm the Rice

Place the rice-filled sock into the microwave. Warm on high for 45 seconds. Feel the rice bag to check that it’s at your desired level of heat; microwave for an additional 20 seconds if needed. You want the rice to be warm enough to provide soothing relief, but not hot enough to cause burns.

Step 4: Cover the Warmed Rice Bag

Lay the flannel piece flat. Place the rice bag at one end of the long side. Roll the bag into the flannel as if you were making a cinnamon roll. Twist each end of the flannel and tie an elastic band around to secure the bag inside the flannel. If you’d like a prettier cover for your compress, use an old sweater to create a reusable outer bag.

Step 5: Place the Dry Warm Compress

Place the dry, warm compress where needed for soothing warmth. When cool, store in a dry place away from moisture or humidity. Reheat and reuse as needed.

More Ways to Use Warm Compresses

  • If you want to get creative with your dry, warm compress, try using mittens or gloves as the casing instead of a sock. You’ll have smaller compresses but they’ll also be perfect to use as hand warmers. 
  • Do your tired, puffy eyes need a spa-worthy refresh? Make a small rice bag eye compress as part of your beauty routine.
  • If you’re a traveler, you often find that your neck gets stiff from sitting in a car or on a plane for long periods. A DIY neck warmer is a perfect way to keep your neck muscles loose on long car rides. Follow the same directions for making a dry warm compress above, but instead of a tube sock, use an old sweater arm. Simply sew up or knot the open ends of the fabric to keep the rice in. Place the neck warmer in an insulated lunch bag to keep it warm for longer.


Do you use warm compresses in the winter? How do you beat the chill when the temperature drops? Let us know in the comments!

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