A heating pad is a type of mat that is capable of producing heat. It is most often used to obtain pain relief and generate feelings of relaxation.
Among other things, heating pads alleviate the pain and stiffness of arthritis, help relieve muscle soreness after workouts, and reduce discomfort from menstrual cramps. They are compact, portable, energy-efficient, and reliable. And they can be used virtually anywhere you can find an electrical outlet.
There are countless heating pads on the market today. Some are well-made, effective, and dependable. Others, not so much. Below you’ll find our choices for the best heating pads of 2023.
1. Serene Calm Heat Pad
The Serene Calm heating pad feels great, looks good, doesn’t send your electric bill through the roof. The controls are large and easy to understand, making it ideal for anyone looking to relive pain naturally.
What we like: Serene Calm’s heating pad has been scientifically proven to relieve pain without the use of drugs, thanks to its Far-Infrared technology (FIR). It also includes various healing gemstones and comes in a moderate size to provide complete relief for any area of your body.
Flaws: It’s a bit on the expensive side. That being said, it’s still our #1 overall pick of 2020.
2. Anbber Heating Pad
The Anbber Heating Pad is large and plush and heats up fast. It’s large enough to cover your entire back, or you can wrap it around tired aching leg muscles for fast relief. It has a maximum temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
What we like: We appreciate how warm this puppy is. We like that it has integrated auto-shutoff. (That’s particularly important considering how hot it can get.) This is also a true XL pad. You can lay on it and it will warm your entire back. The 9-foot cord is also a plus.
Flaws: It can get very hot. So you’ll need to be ever-aware of the temperature settings while using it.
3. Sunbeam Heating Pad Back Wrap
If you suffer from back pain but don’t have money to spend on a masseuse, the Sunbeam Heating Pad Back Wrap has you covered. While this is a kind of one-trick-pony that one trick will provide relief to untold numbers of people. Especially older folks.
What we like: We appreciate this type of targeted therapeutic approach. It adjusts to fit just about anyone and is very effective at providing relief from nagging back pain. It heats up fast, feels great, and you can pop in the washing machine.
Flaws: The obvious shortcoming is that it’s designed to relieve back pain, not to be moved around the body to target different areas.
4. Mighty Bliss Large Electric Heating Pad
The Mighty Bliss is one of the most popular heating pads on the market. Its size means you can use it on any part of the body. And the fact that it heats up quickly means there’s no waiting for relief. It’s an attractive alternative to more expensive models.
What we like: It’s not too small for your back. Not too big for arms or legs. The three settings are distinct and useful. It’s very agreeable against the skin as well as being reasonably energy efficient. And it comes with an unprecedented lifetime replacement warranty.
Flaws: Because the controller is so close to the pad, it’s possible to turn it back on while you’re sleeping accidentally.
5. Sunbeam Xpressheat Heating Pad
The Sunbeam Xpressheat pad is exceptionally well-made, conveniently sized, heats up fast and is small enough to fit in your carry on bag when you travel. With six different heat settings, it’s also ready to tackle whatever ache or pain you’re experiencing.
What we like: We like how fast this pad heats up. It’s also a good size. Not too big, not too small. The one-hour auto-shutoff is a nice touch in case you fall asleep. And the controller is effective and easy to understand. It’s also light and machine washable.
Flaws: It can sometimes be difficult to get the controller out of your way. And, as is the case with other heating pads, the lower settings are all pretty much the same.
6. Geniani XL Heating Pad
While not exactly a true ‘XL’ heating pad, the Geniani is nonetheless affordable, effective, and built to last. You get three heat levels to soothe your aching muscles and arthritic joints. And that heat is delivered by way of a very comfortable mid-sized heating mat that’s fully machine washable.
What we like: There’s no doubt this pad feels great against your skin. It’s also flexible enough to be used to treat any part of the body. We like that it heats up fast and is washing machine safe. We appreciate the five-year warranty. And it should be noted that customer service is first-rate.
Flaws: Calling it ‘XL’ is a bit of a stretch. Also, there is no ‘auto-off’ feature, and the controller is pretty close to the pad. Maybe too close for some people.
7. Tech Love XXL Electric Heating Pad
The Tech Love XXL is large and comfortable and really helps you relax after a long day. It features a half dozen heat settings, has a cushy, satiny-soft feel to it, and offers all-important auto-off. If you’re looking for a large, affordable pad to address back pain, this should fit the bill.
What we like: We like the six heat settings, the 9-foot cord and the slight hourglass shape that lets you pull it around your shoulders. It also feels soft and comfy against your skin. While the velcro straps are handy for making sure the pad stays where you put it. The auto-shutoff is another plus.
Flaws: It’s pretty big. But not as large as the marketing images make it out to be. What is large is the controller.
8. Boncare Heating Pad
Extra-large heating pads have their place. But so do smaller pads that you can easily wrap around an arm or a leg for targeted relief. That’s what you get with the Boncare Heating Pad. It’s a small but powerful heating pad that pumps out a maximum of 158 degrees of therapeutic heat.
What we like: We love the soft velvety touch, the 40-minute auto-shutoff, and that all of the four temperature settings are useful. We also appreciate the longer than average cord and the convenient storage bag. The moist heat option comes in handy sometimes too.
Flaws: While we appreciate the compact size it probably won’t be big enough for some folks. Also, it tends to go its own way inside the cover.
9. Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL
The Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL heating pad heats up quickly and provides total body comfort. With its handsome stuff sack, you can take it anywhere. The six heat settings also allow for nuanced application of the heat.
What we like: We like the way this pad feels against the skin. We also appreciate the ability to gradually up the heat to suit your needs. And the five-year warranty is a significant plus.
Flaws: The cord and remote seem unusually large and bulky. Also, the difference between the lower settings is negligible.
10. Sunbeam XL Ultraheat Heating Pad
The XL Ultraheat pad is a mid-sized heating pad with a soft agreeable cover and three heat settings. There’s also a full-length sponge you can moisten to provide an extra level of penetrating heat. Toss in the 5-year warranty and attractive price, and you have a winner.
What we like: It’s very easy to use and heats up quickly. We appreciate the 9-foot cord that allows for worry-free adjustments. And it’s large enough to work your entire back or wrap around a bothersome thigh. The controller is also easy to use and, unlike some, is not the size of a flatbed truck.
Flaws: While it gets plenty warm, it’s not the most comfortable against your skin. It also emits a bit of a plastic smell the first few times you use it.
Who Needs A Heating Pad?
People with arthritis will find a heating pad a good way to alleviate some of the pain and stiffness. People who have a hard time getting to sleep will find that a heating pad helps facilitate drifting off. Athletically inclined individuals will find that heating pads help them loosen up before a workout or a competition. And they also help them deal with sore, achy muscles afterward.
Seniors will find that heating pads allow them to stay flexible and fit. Anyone who suffers from a stiff neck will appreciate how a heating pad can help them. And those who suffer from acute or chronic back pain will discover the difference a heating pad can make to their overall comfort and mobility. Physical therapists, massage therapists, women who suffer from menstrual cramps, jet-lagged travelers, and more can all benefit from the targeted warmth a heating pad can provide.
How We Ranked
Although the ultimate purpose of a heating pad is simple – to deliver heat in a targeted fashion to facilitate pain relief and relaxation – there are actually a surprising number of things to consider when shopping for one. We applied a rigorous set of criteria to every heating pad we considered for our list. Those that passed made the list. Those that didn’t, didn’t.
First off, we wanted to know how fast a pad heated up. If it took more than 30 or 40 seconds to reach a useful temperature, then we weren’t interested. We also looked for heating pads that offered a variety of heat settings. It was also important that the heat pad felt comfortable against the skin and that its cover wasn’t fashioned from something known to generate allergic reactions.
The heating pad also had to be reasonably energy efficient. This isn’t 1995 after all. There’s no excuse for electric-based appliances that scarf electricity. And speaking of electricity, we gave extra points to those heating pads that had integrated auto-off. This feature is not only important in terms of saving energy. It’s also a fundamental safety feature that helps prevent injury and fire.
Every component of the heating pad also had to be well built from durable materials. The controller had to be well-considered, easy to understand, and equally easy to use. If the device was/is UL approved, even better. Any lettering or displays had to be big enough for older folks to read without any difficulty. And finally, while price was a consideration, it wasn’t a major one since all the best heating pads tend to be within shouting distance of one another price-wise.
Q: When should I use a heating pad?
A: You should use a heating pad if you suffer from arthritis or gout. You should use a heating pad if you workout regularly and would like to obtain relief from aches and pains without having to take medication. You should use a heating pad if you want to sleep better, if you want to get more from your workouts or if you want relief from menstrual cramps. You should use a heating pad if you travel often and need a way to get to sleep when you’re jet-lagged. And you should use a heating pad if you are looking for a safe and effective way to relieve stress.
Q: Do all heating pads work the same way?
A: While most heating pads work by delivering penetrating dry heat, an increasing number offer moist heat as an option. The idea behind moist heat is that it is better absorbed by the body and can deliver a more satisfying result. Muscles become more relaxed and pliable right down to their core. Moist heating doesn’t always live up to the marketing hype. But when it does, it can take your heating pad experience to the next level.
Q: Are there different heating pads for different parts of the body?
A: There are. Although most heating pads are for general use, some are designed with specific parts of the body in mind. Some examples would be those that are worn around the neck or draped over the shoulders. Because of their particular shape, these will be of limited use on other parts of the body.
Q: Can you take a heating pad with you when you travel?
A: Yes, you can take a heating pad with you when you travel. In fact, you probably should take one if you want to ensure you feel great during your adventure. Heating pads are small enough to fit into any bag and are allowed on all flights overseen by the TSA (1). If your plane has outlets in the seats, you can use the heating pad to relax and help you get some shut-eye.
Q: Are heating pads good for stiff necks?
A: The heating pad is particularly effective at relieving stiff necks. That is, as long as the stiffness is not the result of an infection or a spinal injury. That said, if being squeezed into a tiny economy seat on a long flight has wreaked havoc with your neck, the heating pad will help. Or if you slept in an awkward position and your neck is now in knots, just reach for the heating pad.
Q: Can heating pads be used to treat menstrual cramps?
A: Yes, a heating pad can be used to treat menstrual cramps. Most women feel at least a bit of discomfort during their period. But for some women, the cramping and associated pain can be intense. In most cases, these severe cramps are the result of the normal blood supply being cut off to the muscles of the uterus (2). That robs the muscles of oxygen and produces the pain. That’s the bad news. The good news is that menstrual pain often responds positively to heat.
Q: Can you wrap a baby in heating pad?
A: Absolutely not. Why? Because babies do not yet have a highly developed sense of feel. Or for that matter an real sense of danger (3). As such, even if the heating pad were hot enough to burn the baby’s skin, the baby would not be able to discern the threat until it was too late and they had already suffered an injury. So next time you want to wrap your baby in a nice warm heating pad, please resist the temptation.
Q: Is it safe to use heating pads in bed?
A: Some manufacturers encourage you to go to sleep with the heating pad draped across your body. Others warn against it. Some safety experts don’t seem to have a problem with the idea. While others specifically warn you off (4). If you want to sleep with your heating pad, check the literature that came with the device. It should tell you whether it’s safe or not.
Q: Will heating pads provide relief from any kind of pain?
A: You should never apply heat to an infected area, no matter how much that area may hurt. If the skin feels hot to the touch, that means there is an active infection in play, and applying heat could make things much worse (5). Also, if you have a fresh injury, like a torn ligament, you need to resist the urge to whip out the heating pad. Essentially, heat is for everyday aches and pains. Not for breaks, infections, and open wounds.
Q: How long should you leave a heating pad on?
A: How long you leave the heating pad on will depend on what type of discomfort you’re trying to address. If you’ve just got a stiff neck, 20 – 30 minutes should do. If, however, you’re trying to alleviate stubborn lower back pain, you may need to leave it on for a couple of hours. Perhaps a couple of hours several times a day. For more serious conditions, discuss it with your doctor.
Q: Are heating pads the same as Tiger Balm?
A: No, a heating pad is not the same as applying Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm and similar ointments don’t actually warm up an area. What they do instead is open up the capillaries on the surface of the skin. That creates the illusion of heat. But what’s actually going on is a mild chemical burn. Products that work in such a way are called rubefacients. They have been shown in clinical trials to produce some short-term benefit (6). But their mechanism remains fairly mysterious, and they are not recommended for long-term treatment.
Q: What is a microwave heating pad?
A: A microwave heating pad is an ultra-simple, non-electric pad that you pop into the microwave for a minute or so and then wrap around your aggrieved body part. As these are little more than hot water bottles without the water and tend to cool down quickly, we omitted them from our list.
Q: How long do heating pads last?
A: That will depend mostly on how you treat it. If you treat it well, it may last several years. If you treat it rough, it might not make it to a year. If you want the pad to last, don’t sit on it. Don’t try to attach it to a piece of furniture using safety pins or other metallic items. Don’t fold it up sharply. And don’t ignore the instructions when it comes to cleaning it. Throwing it in the washing machine if it’s not designed for that could ruin it.
In many respects, the heating pad has replaced the hot water bottle as the go-to device to obtain relief from everyday aches and pains. And this makes sense since they stay warmer longer and cover a wider area than a hot water bottle.
Heating pads are for everyone, including athletes with aching muscles, women seeking relief from menstrual cramps, and older individuals dealing with arthritis pain. Even if all you want is a more effective way to relax at the end of a long day, the heating pad is here to help.
All of the heating pads on the above list have demonstrated their ability to provide dependable, affordable therapeutic benefits.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended heating pad, click here.