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March 11, 2018

The best heating pad

by John_A

By Kevin Purdy

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After sorting through hundreds of reviews for dozens of look-alike models, interviewing a doctor, a safety expert, and a journalist obsessed with back pain, and then testing seven top contenders, we recommend Pure Enrichment’s Pure Relief XL King Size Heating Pad for people who want rapid, reliable heat—dry or moist. It warms up quickly and has twice as many granular heat settings as other pads we researched and tested. Its controller has a backlit display and is easier to grasp and operate, and its power cord is easier to pop out when you need to wash the pad’s cover. Its two-hour auto shut-off function can be disabled too, and testers preferred the overall feel of this pad to all others we assessed.

Who this is for

People use electric heating pads to relieve muscle pain associated with menstrual cramps, arthritis, injuries, and other ailments. Heat increases blood flow where applied, helping to dilate blood vessels, improving circulation. The increased blood flow to a treated area can help soothe muscular cramping, spasms, aches, and soreness. However, frequent use or use on a new injury can cause problems. You should consult a doctor before treating yourself with cold or heat.

How we picked and tested

They’re very similar in looks, size, and price, but small differences between heating pads can add up to a significantly better experience. Photo: Michael Hession

In conducting expert interviews, reading hundreds of reviews, and talking to people who regularly use heating pads, we determined our criteria for picking out electric heating pads worth testing. (For this guide, we did not consider microwavable pads or hot-water-bottle-type devices.) We considered top-rated, UL-certified or ETL-certified heating pads that offered the following features:

  • Three or more heat levels
  • Quick heat-up
  • Dry and moist heat options
  • Easy machine washing of the covering
  • An automatic shut-off timer
  • An intuitive controller (one you could operate in the dark) with a long power cord

These criteria left us with seven models to test. We assessed each heating pad as follows:

  • Applying each pad to gauge its overall feel and ease of use, and any noise it made when adjusted
  • Evaluating the heat-up speed, heat dispersion, and average temperatures of each pad at given heat settings
  • Testing the auto-off functions of each pad
  • Washing and drying each pad cover
  • Folding and storing each pad
  • Monitoring each pad using a thermal-imaging camera as they heated up

Our pick: Pure Enrichment Pure Relief XL King Size Heating Pad

Photo: Michael Hession

The Pure Relief XL King Size Heating Pad was the consensus-favorite pad among our testers and offers features not found in similarly priced heating pads. The smooth and plush sides of the cover made it our testers’ overall favorite cover, and while it made a bit more crinkling noise when bending than some others, it was reasonably quiet. The Pure Relief’s six levels of heating (between 105 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) fell within the same general range as other pads’ minimum and maximum levels, but offered the smallest gaps between temperatures. This addresses a common complaint among our panel of heating pad owners that “medium is too low, but high is too hot,” and makes it easier to find the right temperature and adjust it than pads with a narrower range of options and larger jumps between settings.

The Pure Relief’s controller is simple to use: You turn the heat up or down, turn the auto-off timer on or off, and turn the pad on or off. Other pads require you to cycle through settings (such as off/low/medium/high), a design that makes it more likely you’ll accidentally leave the pad on or have to click multiple times to simply go down one level. The Pure Relief’s LCD screen has big numbers and backlighting, a change from the tiny red lights and lettering on most controllers. Its cord stays firmly plugged into the pad and will not come loose, unlike with some pads we tested. Its cover dried faster than those of most other pads after washing, it comes with a storage bag, and it is warrantied for five years—though we will be watching this model for long-term reliability.

Runner-up: Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat

Photo: Michael Hession

If the Pure Relief pad is unavailable or becomes more expensive than Sunbeam’s King Size XpressHeat heating pad, we recommend the latter model. It is nearly the same pad: The XpressHeat has six heating settings, a very similar texture on both sides, a controller with a backlit LCD screen, and an identical button layout to the Pure Relief, plus the same warranty coverage. (The Pure Relief is likely a less-expensive “clone” of the more-established Sunbeam pad.) We like the clip-in cord plug on the Pure Relief better than the plugs on models that make you apply significant force to separate the pad from its cord, or those that come loose too easily. We also found the rounded controller easier to hold in our hand than the square-edged models of other pads. The Pure Relief’s carrying tote, while nothing special, at least provides a properly sized means of storage. One tester thought the XpressHeat was notably louder when crunched or folded than the Pure Relief. Sunbeam claims this pad heats up “three times faster” than other models, but that isn’t something we noticed in testing.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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