Whether you’re starting to feel the chill during the winter months, or whether you have sore muscles need some TLC, there are plenty of occasions when a heating pad is a perfect remedy to help you feel better.
Between measuring the temperature changes on each heating pad, to giving our officemates the chance to try the products at home, we spent about two weeks assessing each product on its heat output, comfort, features, and usability.
Of the 10 heating pads we tested, both electric and microwavable, our favorite was the BodyMed Digital Moist Heating Pad(available at Amazon).
These are the best heating pads we tested ranked, in order:
BodyMed Digital Moist
Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL King Size Heating Pad
Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat
Doneco King Size XpressHeat Heating Pad
Chattanooga Theratherm Digital Moist Heat Pack
Caylee's Creations Microwavable Corn Filled Heating Pad and Cold Pack
Thermalon Moist Heat Heating Pad
HealthSmart TheraBeads Microwavable
UTK Far Infrared Natural Jade & Tourmaline Heating Pad
Note: All of the electric and infrared heating pads described below had a significant number of online reviews describing some or all of the following problems: malfunctioning controls within weeks or months of purchase; very hot or melted plastic controls; and difficulty returning the products. We can tell you about our experiences with these products, but in general, caveat emptor.
BodyMed Digital Moist Heating Pad (14" x 27")
The BodyMed is our top pick because of its fast heating, ability to maintain high temperatures and overall ease of use.
According to our data collected during testing in the open air, the BodyMed took an average time of about 12 minutes to heat up to its peak temperature, which is one of the faster ramp-up times among the products we tested. Additionally, after reaching its peak temperature, this heating pad kept those high temperatures; its temperature decreased by less than a degree during the remainder of the hour of testing. When we actually placed this model on the tester’s body, its maximum temperature was about 122°F.
While it did use a little bit more energy than most of the other electric heating pads, this one really impressed us with its easy-to-use controls, option for moist heat, and customizable automatic shut-off. Cleaning this product is a breeze; all you have to do is remove the sleeve and hand wash it in the sink. The BodyMed is large enough and flat enough that it can be folded to a variety of sizes, so it fits just as well on your back as it does on your leg. However, because of its large size, it may be a bit ungainly when folded up and applied to smaller areas, such as your neck.
Last but not least is the included strap that will help you to secure the heating pad to your body. While it seems like such a minor addition, the ability to use the product while moving around a little bit, or keeping your hands free, is a real bonus.
If you want a heating pad that can give you all of the heat you need, and is also convenient and easy to use, consider investing in the BodyMed Digital Moist Pad.
Caylee's Creations Microwavable Corn Filled Heating Pad and Cold Pack
From the beginning of our testing, the Caylee’s Creations stood out for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is filled with corn kernels, which, when heated, smell deliciously of popcorn. So not only are you getting some serious heat relief, but this heating pad also makes you crave popcorn. This heating pad is about the size of a laptop, and has a removable sleeve that is hand-stitched, has a nice pattern, is machine-washable, and feels soft to the touch.
As for its heating ability, when it was tried out on a tester’s body, it reached a toasty 122°F. During testing in the open air, the Caylee’s Creation reached its maximum temperature after about 13 minutes and then experienced an average decrease of only about 3°F over the rest of the hour-long testing period.
Additionally, this heating pad doubles as a cold compress; all you have to do is put it in a freezer bag and let it freeze overnight. Our tester’s only complaint was that the pad was a bit too small and bulky to sit comfortably on the back of his neck. If you need short bursts of really hot heat, this corn-filled pad is the one for you.
Julia was the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversaw (and continually updated) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, etc. She also determined the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
We decided to test three different types of heating pads: microwavable, electric, and infrared. Because electric and infrared models come in a variety of sizes, we picked the ones that were appropriately sized for a larger surface area, such as a person’s back. This way, we could test not only a heating pad’s heating ability but also its versatility in being applied to other body parts.
During testing, we first measured the temperature of each heating pad out in the open air. Temperature data was recorded at five points on the surface of the pad, on both the medium and the high setting for one hour. The temperature data was recorded with data loggers that are about the size of watch batteries.
Further temperature data was gathered when we taped those same data loggers to each product and then strapped those heating pads to our backs. When the heating pads were exposed to the air, the recorded temperatures are 20 to 30 degrees lower than they were when they were placed on a human body, where the enclosed environment and human body heat make the heating process more efficient.
With our scientific data, we determined the three objective measures by which each heating pad was assessed: how long it took for each heating pad to heat up, how much the temperature fell off after reaching the maximum temperature, and the energy usage.
Raw temperature data wasn’t the only data we collected. We also used the heating pads casually so that we could determine how useful the various features were, as well as how easy it was to actually use each product.
Based on our testing, we think that the best pads should heat up quickly, maintain high temperatures throughout the entire time you use it, and not use a lot of electricity to do so. Additionally, they should be easy to use, easy to store, easy to clean, and easily foldable so that it can be adjusted to different sizes to more easily fit on different parts of your body.
What You Should Know About Heating Pads
We tested three types of pads: electric, microwavable, and infrared.
Electric pads typically have one- or two-hour automatic shut-offs (a great safety feature), and allow you to dial in your preferred heating level, whether that’s a specific temperature (up to 167°F for the Theratherm heating pad, or heat settings from 1 (warm) to 6 (hot) for the Pure Relief, Sunbeam, and Doneco heating pads. While there are multiple heat settings for electric heating pads, our data showed that electric pads rarely get hotter than 120°F-130°F, despite having temperature settings higher than those values.
Electric heating pads come in a variety of sizes, from those that can cover your whole body to those that are made specifically for smaller areas, like your neck.
Microwavable Heating Pads
Microwavable heating pads are made of materials that can absorb and emit radiant heat (and cold), such as flaxseed, wheat, water beads, corn, etc. Those materials are then wrapped or sealed into a fabric or insulated pouch that forms the outside of the heating pad.
Because microwavable pads go in the microwave, they are more prone to user error in that they can be heated for too long, and may cause burns. Please follow the included microwave instructions that come with these heating pads, and be sure that the microwave you’re using is not an inverter microwave, which can make the heating pad unsafe to be placed on your skin (as we found out personally). For more information about safety issues surrounding heating pads, check out the safety section of this article.
Microwavable pads are usually smaller than their electric counterparts; they need to be able to fit in any microwave.
Infrared Heating Pads
While infrared pads are powered by electricity, and could therefore qualify as electric heating pads, the method of emanating heat is different. While electric and microwavable heating pads rely on the diffusion of heat from a radiant heat source into your skin through the heating pad, infrared (IR) heating pads emit infrared rays that are absorbed by the water molecules in human skin. Once they’ve absorbed those waves, the water molecules convert that infrared energy into vibrational energy; the vibration of these water molecules generates heat that you feel in your skin.
In the case of the UTK pad, the electricity is used to heat up jade and tourmaline stones embedded in the heating pad, and those stones emit the IR radiation.
Infrared heating pads come in a variety of sizes but are generally more expensive than microwavable and electric pads because of their inclusion of semi-precious stones such as jade and tourmaline.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Heating Pad
There are a few things you should keep in mind when deciding which heating pad to buy.
Price—How much money do you have to spend? There are great pads at every price point. In general, though, microwavable heating pads are the least expensive, electric pads are somewhat more expensive, and infrared heating pads are larger financial investments. The cost tends to go up as the number of parts or the complexity of the heating method increases.
Size—Once you have your pad, what will be the most common use case? If it’s going to be providing relief to a small area of your body, such as your neck, it may make more sense to purchase a heating pad that is specifically sized or designed to fit comfortably on your neck. For example, the Theratherm heating pad comes in Small (7” x 15”), Medium (14” x 14”), and Large/Standard (14” x 27”) sizes, which are appropriately sized for your neck, limbs, and back respectively. If you are going to need heat relief on multiple areas of your body, consider getting a larger pad; they can often be rolled up or adjusted to sit comfortably on most body parts.
Heating time—How long do you need heat relief in a given session? It’s not recommended that you use these heating pads for extended periods of time, which generally exceed one to two hours. Within that time, though, the different types of heating pads provide different amounts and durations of heat relief. Microwavable heating pads generally provide hotter heat (depending on the length of time it’s in the microwave) over a shorter time duration (usually 10 to 20 minutes). Electric and infrared heating pads tend to provide heat at lower temperatures but maintain that same level of heat for a longer period of time (45 to 60 minutes).
Mobility—How mobile do you need to be while receiving heat relief? If it’s difficult to carve out 20 to 30 minutes a day to just sit in one place near a power outlet, it may be better to purchase a microwavable heating pad. These heating pads are small enough that you can strap them or hold them on your body while still moving around. Electric and infrared heating pads, however, require you to be within a certain distance (typically 5 to 10 feet) of an electrical outlet. Also, while some electric heating pads can be strapped to your body, you still won't be able to move outside of the radius of the power cord. If you do have a comfy seat near an outlet, though, and need more than 20-30 minutes to sit and absorb the heat, an electric or infrared heating pad may make more sense; you can receive the same level of heat relief, but without having to get up and reheat the heating pad multiple times.
Durability—There's a noticeable difference in the usable lifetime of electric/infrared heating pads and microwavable heating pads. Because the electric/infrared heating pads involve electronic components, heat, and flammable surfaces, there are many more things that can go wrong with an electric/infrared heating pad than with a microwavable pad. Many users report in online reviews that the heating pads didn’t last beyond a few months after the original purchase date.
Safety—There are a number of ways that heating pads can be used incorrectly, or can malfunction with or without user error. For more information, please read our section on safety below.
Other Heating Pads We Tested
Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL King Size Heating Pad
The Pure Enrichment PureRelief is a great, no-frills heating pad that will provide you with plenty of sweet, sweet heat relief.
During testing in the open air, the Pure Enrichment had an average heat-up time of 13 to 14 minutes, and after heating up, its temperature decreased by about 5°F over the rest of the testing time. When a tester was actually wearing the heating pad, it reached a maximum temperature of about 123°F, which is comparable to the maximum temperatures, when worn on the body, of most of the other heating pads we tested.
The heating pad is made of microplush fabric and feels nice to touch. The controls are easy to use, and our testers really noticed the difference in the heat when flipping between the various heat settings. The electric cord detaches entirely from the heating pad, making it easier to store and easy to clean; you can just toss the whole pad into the washing machine. With an option to spray water on the heating pad for moist heat and a two-hour auto shut-off, this heating pad ticks all of the boxes for a heating pad that is both good at providing heat relief and easy to use.
The Sunbeam XpressHeat is nearly identical to the Pure Enrichment in both performance and features. It took about the same time (13 to 14 minutes) to heat up to its maximum temperature in the open air, but the average temperature decrease over the rest of the testing hour was a little bit larger than that of the Pure Enrichment (6°F decrease vs. 5°F decrease). Another small difference is that the maximum temperature of the heating pad on the tester’s body was slightly lower (about 120°F) than that of the Pure Enrichment. Otherwise, the Sunbeam has the same micro plush cover, detachable cord, and controls.
Its price is typically less expensive than the Pure Enrichment, though, so if you’re strapped for cash and you still want a pad that performs well, consider your money well-spent if you use it to buy the Sunbeam XpressHeat.
Doneco King Size XpressHeat Heating Pad (12" x 24")
The Doneco XpressHeat is also nearly identical to the Sunbeam and Pure Enrichment heating pads. All three heating pads look similar, are covered in the same microplush material, and have the same controls, detachable electric cord, and machine washable pad.
Surprisingly, though, there are subtle differences in Doneco's performance. For instance, on the tester’s body, it reached a cozy maximum temperature of about 129°F, which was hotter than both the Sunbeam and the Pure Enrichment. The Doneco also takes longer to achieve its maximum temperature (about 15 minutes) but has a similar temperature falloff to the Pure Enrichment heating pad, of about 5°F over the rest of the hour during which it was tested. It also uses slightly less electricity than both the Sunbeam and the Pure Enrichment heating pads. If you are choosing between the Doneco, Sunbeam, and Pure Enrichment pads, the Doneco will provide you with the hottest heat.
Chattanooga Theratherm Digital Moist Heat Pack (14" x 27")
What the Chattanooga Theratherm Digital Moist lacks in looks, it makes up for with its ability to maintain high temperatures for an hour or more.
Its yellow flannel cover is not as soft or nice to touch as the Sunbeam and Pure Enrichment pads and has more of a blanket aesthetic.
While the Theratherm took a bit longer than some of the other electric heating pads to heat up to its maximum temperature (on the order of 16 to 17 minutes to reach about 122°F), once it hit that temperature, it stayed very close to that value for the remaining 30-40 minutes of the testing period, and only decreased by an average of about 1°F. The tradeoff here is that the Theratherm used nearly twice as much energy as the other electric heating pads to maintain that heat.
The Theratherm’s flannel cover is machine washable, and the controls, while not as intuitive as others we saw, allowed for a high level of precision in both temperature (range of 88°F-166°F in 1°F increments) and a timer (one to 60 minutes in one-minute increments). You can also set a lock on the controls; this is a great feature, especially because the control unit is bright and colorful, and may attract the eyes and fingers of kids who like to press buttons.
One other thing—both our testers and some online reviews reported smelling a chemical-y odor emanating from this heating pad. Your mileage may vary, but if you need consistently high levels of heat for an hour, the Theratherm pad is a great option.
The Heating Pad by Vive is a reasonably-priced heating pad option for those who prefer a gradual increase in their heat relief.
This heating pad was probably the most basic of the electric heating pads that we tested. While the cord was not detachable from the pad itself, the pad is covered in a removable microplush cover that is hand washable. Users can dampen the included sponge-like sheet that lives inside the heating pad’s cover if they want moist heat relief.
The streamlined controls only have four options: “Warm”, “Low”, “Medium”, and “High”. There’s no timer or auto shut-off on the controls, but an auto shut-off function does exist; the heating unit just turns off periodically when it reaches certain temperatures. At first, we thought that this was a bug, but it’s actually a safety feature to prevent users from getting burned.
The Vive was the only electric heating pad that performed very differently between having the heating pad exposed to the open air, and being used on a tester’s body. In the open air, on the high setting, the Vive heating pad took about 15-16 minutes to heat up to achieve its maximum temperature of about 100°F. During that testing, the Vive heating pad did a solid job of maintaining that heat and only decreased by just over 1°F over the rest of the testing period.
When the tester actually wore the pad, though, the Vive reached temperatures of about 122°F, which puts it more on par with the other electric heating pads we tested. However, when it achieved those high temperatures, the auto shut-off caused the resulting temperature decrease to be drastic and noticeable (on the order of 1°F per minute).
While this feature probably makes this one of the safer heating pads on the market, the fact that the heat would turn off unexpectedly caused many online reviewers to say that the unit didn’t feel hotter than “warm”, despite using the higher heat settings.
If safety is your number one concern in an electric pad, the Heating Pad by Vive is your best choice.
The microwavable Thermalon is perfectly sized for soothing away aches in your joints and in your lower back.
This heating pad features beads that absorb water from the air, and gradually release that air as moist heat after the pad is warmed up in the microwave; no additional water is needed to provide moist heat. Despite feeling stiff, the heating pad feels like a large bean bag, and can easily conform to most of your body’s curves. Our testers had trouble getting it to stay on their necks, but Thermalon has a similar heating pad that is shaped especially for your neck.
The Thermalon heating pad can also provide you with cold relief after being tossed in the freezer, and the entire pad is hand washable.
Microwavable heating pads are fundamentally different from electric heating pads in that they heat up faster, but also lose heat more quickly. The Thermalon conforms to this pattern and reaches temperatures of about 117°F in only 8 minutes. Afterward, the temperature fell off by more than 6°F over the remainder of the hour of testing.
For a versatile, easy-to-use microwavable heating pad that can help you manage your joint pain, consider the Thermalon heating pad.
HealthSmart TheraBeads Microwavable Heating Pad (9" x 12")
The HealthSmart microwavable heating pad is basically a smaller, stiffer version of the Thermalon. The moist heat technology is the same, in that the beads in the heating pad passively absorb water from the air when it’s not in use, and then use that water to create moist heat after being heated in the microwave. Unlike the Thermalon, the HealthSmart heating pad cannot also be used as a cold pad.
The cover feels like cotton and can be washed by hand with a damp cloth. While being used on the tester’s body, the HealthSmart reached the highest temperature out of all of the products we tested and clocked in at 138°F. During testing in the open air, this heating pad performed similarly to the other microwavable heating pads, and took about 7 minutes to reach its hottest temperature, and then lost about 6°F of heat over the rest of the hour of testing.
Like the Thermalon heating pad, our testers had trouble keeping this pad on the backs of their necks, but it did stay in place when applied to shoulders or either side of the testers’ necks. Because the HealthSmart is less flexible, though, you may have trouble keeping it on curvier body parts.
If all you need is a bare-bones, no-frills microwavable heating pad that heats up quickly, the HealthSmart heating pad is a great pick.
UTK Far Infrared Natural Jade & Tourmaline Heating Pad, Small Pro
While infrared pads are powered by electricity, they deliver heat differently than other electric heating pads, as mentioned above.
This UTK heating pad has tourmaline and jade stones mounted on a pad and wrapped in leather. While the leather is nice, it’s a slippery surface, which makes it difficult to keep the heating pad on any part of your body that isn’t flat. It comes with a nice carrying case, as well controls with precision adjustments on both the temperature (103°F-159°F in 1°F increments) and time (0-240 minutes in 15-minute increments). A four-hour auto shut-off and a memory function, where you can save your favorite heating options, complete the package.
As for the pad’s performance, it took about 26 minutes for it to reach its maximum temperature of ~130°F. However, despite its long warm-up time, the UTK had one of the best long-term heat outputs; the temperature decreased by less than 1°F over the rest of the hour-long test.
While this UTK heating pad has been registered with the FDA as a medical device, at least one reviewer had concerns about the electromagnetic field emissions from this brand of far infrared heating pads. While there were a number of customers who raved about this heating pad, the same electronic failures that plague other electric heating pads were also mentioned in online reviews for the UTK pad. If you can, try out this heating pad before purchasing one for yourself.
The primary consideration with heating pads is safety. There are a few potential safety issues of which anyone purchasing a heating pad should be aware.
—It is possible for microwavable heating pads to be heated above recommended safe temperatures by leaving it in the microwave for too long (or by using an inverter microwave), which can cause heating pads to far surpass safe recommended temperatures (as we can attest personally). One study reports patients experiencing burns from wheat bags that reached temperatures up to 157°F. Please follow the heating directions for microwavable heating pads, and touch the bag with your hand before applying it to your body to ensure that it’s not too hot.
—Heating pads can also cause burns when left on your body for too long. One study summarizes incidents of patient burns due to heating pads left on for more than two hours. All of the heating pads we tested had automatic shut-offs or other safety mechanisms that kick in; please follow the heating pad instructions, and do not use them for more than the recommended time duration. In general, do not apply a heating pad directly to your skin—either use it on top of clothing or wrap the heating pad in a towel before using it.
—Electric heating pads should not be sat or laid upon unless stated explicitly otherwise in the heating pad directions. The reasons for this are two-fold: First, putting weight onto a heating pad with electric heating coils may cause damage to the heating coils. Second, lying down on the heating pad may trap the heated air, which can cause elevated temperatures and subsequent skin burns.
—It is not recommended that heating pads be used in bed or in other enclosed spaces for reasons mentioned above. Additionally, if you’re asleep, and something goes wrong with the heating pad, you may not know until it’s too late. It is possible for faulty heating pads to start fires, among other possible negative outcomes. To safely increase the amount of heat you feel from a heating pad, wrap the side not touching your body with a towel; trapping the heat from the heating pad (without lying on it) will help to direct the heat back onto your body.
Long story short, please follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for heating pad usage.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.