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Hot Water Bottles and Are They Just a British Thing?

The modern hot-water bottle is a soft, flexible bottle made of advanced thermoplastic PVC material (with a screwcap stopper) which is filled with hot water and used to provide warmth to body.

As well as being soft and flexible, the big advantage of a hot water bottle is that it is portable, making it easy to place wherever it is needed.

When it is cold and you need to keep your feet or body warm, place a hot water bottle at the end of your bed near your feet, or under your blankets or duvet near where you will lie so that your bedding warms up. 

Hot water bottles are not a new invention

  • Containers for warmth in bed were in use as early as the 16th century. The earliest versions contained hot coals from the dying embers in the fire place, and were used to warm the bed before getting into it.  Because of the risk of fire, they were removed once the bed had been warmed.  In time, these containers changed to a safer method using hot water which could remain in the bed with the sleeper.
  • Before the invention of rubber (which could withstand sufficient heat) early hot water bottles were made with lots of different materials.  These included zinc, copper, brass, glass, earthenware or wood.  Metal hot water bottles were particularly dangerous being so hot to the touch and were usually wrapped in a soft cloth bag.  This did not stop my own mother back in the 1930s suffering a severe burn to her leg when (through negligence while in hospital recovering from surgery) just such a metal hot water bottle was placed in her bed - in contact with her leg.
  • By the late 20th century, the use of hot-water bottles had become less popular in many parts of the world as homes were better heated while electric blankets and heating pads competed with hot water bottles as a source of bedtime heat. 

However, the hot water bottle is still beloved in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Austalia as well as developing countries and rural areas being an ecologically friendly and reasonably priced way to keep warm.  And yes, hot water bottles are still very much a British thing!

But it is not just about keeping warm

It can be all about providing comfort when you are suffering pain or discomfort. 

  • Having a hot water bottle really helped me get through those times when I had period pains in my younger days.  Heat can help block pain messages sent to the brain, by turning on the heat receptors in the affected area. These receptors prevent chemical messengers that cause pain to be detected in the body.  If you are experiencing painful cramps, fill up a water bottle and place it on your lower abdominal area for thirty minutes or so.  Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for pain with your period ( menstruation) or menstrual cramps.
  • They are very helpful in relieving other types of pain - muscle pain, back pain, earache and more.  If you are experiencing back pain, or other aches in your joints or muscles, a hot water bottle can often help ease those tensions. Similarly to easing your cramps, heat on your affected areas inhibits pain messages from reaching the brain. It also helps stimulate blood flow, which brings healing nutrients to your achy areas.  In addition, often a  combination of cold and hot treatment can ease pain in your muscles as well. The contrast causes stimulation and strong sensations without much movement, which is beneficial in easing pain. You can use just a hot water bottle, or you can alternate between placing an ice pack on your pain for a few minutes and then a hot water bottle.
  • Heat can help relieve pain and muscle tension that may be causing a headache.  Place a hot water bottle on your forehead, temples or neck. Try out a few places to see which relieves the most tension and leave the heat source there for 20 to 30 minutes or until pain begins to subside.
  • Hot water bottles are also great if you are sick and experiencing frequent temperature changes in your body.  When you are cosy and warm, you will sleep better too.

There are alternatives  

I don't think you can improve on a hot water bottle but there are some alternatives such as pads or wheat filled cloth bags both of which can be heated in a microwave oven or a YuYu Bottle which was introduced in 2012 as the world’s first long hot water bottle. Instead of a conventional square shape, the YuYu Bottle is designed long and flexible, and thus wearable hands-free around the body due to its incorporated tightening strap.

Below are my own ceramic vintage hot water bottles - purely for decoration!