Hot water bottles have been used for centuries as a way of warming up the bed. As early as the 16th century, bed warmers containing hot coals were used for heating purposes. Later, similar containers containing hot water were developed, and these were made of metal, wood, glass or earthenware. In modern times, rubber or a similar material is typically used to make hot water bottles, and is covered in a fabric or cloth cover to avoid uncomfortable contact with the hot rubber material. Such hot water bottles have several medical, physical and psychological applications, in addition to their use as a heat source.
Hot water bottles are a thrifty and efficient means of heating up a bed during cold weather. Particularly in houses with poor or inefficient heating systems, a hot water bottle provides lasting night-time heat for very little energy outlay. The only electricity used is for boiling hot water to fill the bottle. Ho -water bottle use may allow the homeowner to turn down the household heating system while the family members are warm in bed with their "hotties." Although hot water bottle use for heating has generally declined as more modern home heating systems have evolved, bottles remain popular in the U.K., developing nations where central heating is not available, and more recently in Japan where hot water bottles are prized as an economical heat source.
Hot water bottles can be used as a medical treatment for physical pain. Application of the hot water bottle to the pain site can achieve a degree of pain relief, without the use of painkilling drugs. Alternately, hot water bottles may be used as a supplement to an existing regimen of pain-controlling drugs, for additional pain relief. Hot water bottles are a popular non-drug remedy for muscular pain, stomach ache, and menstrual cramps. Heat works to relieve pain by increasing circulation to muscles, thereby decreasing spasms and reducing inflammation.
The psychological effects of a hot water bottle can be very soothing. A hot water bottle can be helpful in signifying bedtime for children or adults who struggle with insomnia, getting to sleep, or staying asleep. Hot water bottles are soothing to sick or tired children in particular, as they act as a comfort item as well as a pain-reducing heat source.
Obviously, hot water carries some inherent dangers. Do not use boiling water in rubber hot water bottles, and do not overfill—both these factors can cause the rubber material to degrade and increase the risk of a hot water bottle leaking water and burning the user. Take care when filling a hot water bottle, so as not to pour or splash hot water onto your hands. Once the water is in the bottle, expel any excess air before firmly tightening the stopper. Old bottles, or those showing any sign of material deterioration or cracking, should be discarded. Hot water bottles for pain relief should not be applied to areas of the skin that are broken, bleeding or otherwise injured.
Alternatives to Hot Water
New versions of hot water bottles, which do not actually use hot water, have similar benefits in terms of heating and pain relief. For example, wheat-filled bed warmers are constructed similarly to traditional rubber hot water bottles, but instead are microwaved in order to heat up the wheat. Similar microwaveable bed warmers are available filled with gel material. Electrically-powered heating pads are also available in similar sizes to the traditional water bottle. These alternatives to the hot water bottle avoid the dangers associated with hot water and potential leakages.