If the chemicals used in hand warmers are organic, you may release the contents in the soil to be used as compost.
If not, then you simply throw away used hand warmers.
However, there is more to disposing of hand warmers than chucking them in a bin or using their fillings as compost.
As a user, one must know all about the proper usage and disposal methods of hand warmers.
Different Types of Hand Warmers (and How to Dispose of these)
Before you think about disposing of hand warmers, knowing about the different kinds available on the market is essential.
That way, you can ensure that you make an informed decision about how to get rid of a used hand warmer.
Chemical Hand Warmers
As the name gives away, chemical hand warmers contain chemicals that react with one another in the presence of oxygen to release heat.
In other words, when you take the said product out of the package, its contents come into contact with the oxygen in the air and undergo an exothermic reaction.
An exothermic reaction is a kind of chemical reaction in which heat is emanated, unlike an endothermic reaction that uses heat to happen.
There are primarily two types of chemical hand warmers
- Air Activated- in which coming in contact with the air results in heat.
- Supersaturated Solution- in which a user has to heat the product up in hot water to activate the exothermic reaction.
Depending on the elements present inside a hand warmer pouch, it will be categorized as an air-activated or supersaturated product.
Typically, air-activated hand warmers contain iron powder, salt, water, an absorbent material, and activated carbon.
The porous material can either be a polymer like polyacrylate, pulverized wood, or vermiculite (a silicon-based mineral).
Once you remove the outer packaging of a pouch, the air permeates the lining, causing a chemical reaction.
As the iron powder oxidizes as a result of getting exposed to air, it forms iron oxide. In this iron oxide-making process, heat comes out as a by-product.
How to Dispose of Chemical Hand Warmers?
If (and that’s usually the case) the contents of a hand-warming pillow are organic, you can dump them into the ground.
Using an air-activated hand warmer as compost is only a viable and safe option if the filling inside is organic.
If the compounds present inside is synthetic, they will damage the soil quality, possibly sucking away all the vital nutrients.
Therefore, knowing if the product you have contains environmental-friendly components to be used as compost. If not, then you will have to throw it in the bin.
However, doing so may not be the safest if the hand warmer has not been exhausted.
When an unused chemical hand warmer ends up in the trash, it can react with the surrounding components and result in an exothermic reaction.
In some cases, that may start a fire if an inflammable item is present.
In the case of a hand warmer that works with supersaturated solution, throwing it away can ignite a fire if the contents are not completely used.
Supersaturated hand warmers contain sodium acetate that’s been dissolved in cold water to the point where no more of the said solute can be dissolved.
When you put a bag containing the supersaturated solution into hot water, the excess sodium acetate breaks away and crystalizes.
After all, that’s done, the metal disc attached to the product needs to be bent to release tiny metal bits. These particles react with the solution to produce heat.
A supersaturated solution containing a hand warmer can be thrown into the garbage.
However, it’s essential to ensure that all the components have been deactivated.
Lighter Fuel Hand Warmers
Lighter fuel hand warmers burn lighter fluid to produce heat.
The flame that gives off heat is enclosed inside the container that must be wrapped in a piece of fabric before use to protect the user’s skin from burning.
To better understand a lighter fuel hand warmer, think of a lighter used to light up a cigarette. It consists of a tiny container with fluid inside that burns, resulting in a fire that ignites cigarettes.
A lighter fuel hand warmer and lighter are similar in that they both use liquid to get the desired end product.
However, in the case of the former, you need to use a match or burner (i.e., a flame) to get the fuel going, unlike a lighter that produces a spark itself.
How to Dispose of Lighter Fuel Hand Warmers?
These products can also be thrown into the bin.
That said, some may argue that these are not the best choice for hand warmers as they are eventually exhausted and need to be discarded.
And that will create non-reusable waste.
Charcoal Stick Hand Warmers
Like lighter fuel hand warmers, charcoal stick hand warmers use a fuel source to produce heat. And as the name suggests, in this case, charcoal sticks act as fuel.
They come in a protective casing to keep the user’s skin from burning.
How to Dispose of Charcoal Stick Hand Warmers?
To dispose of these charcoal stick hand warmers, you can throw these in the bin.
Also read: How to Dispose of Charcoal
Battery-Operated Hand Warmers
A battery-operated hand warmer runs with a battery and can be recharged.
It’s typically a better product choice as it can be used multiple times; hence is relatively more suitable for the environment than single-use varieties.
How to Dispose of Charcoal Stick Hand Warmers?
Since there is a battery involved in these hand warmers, you shouldn’t throw these in the bin. Check with your recycling facilities if they would be able to take these, or ask them the right way to dispose of these battery-operated hand warmers.
Also read: How to Dispose of Laptop Battery?
Recycling and Reusing Hand Warmers
Hand warmers can be disposable and reusable, and knowing how to recycle or reuse them properly can help you make the most of their warmth.
Disposable hand warmers contain a mixture of ingredients such as iron, water, activated carbon, vermiculite, cellulose, and salt, which generate heat when exposed to air.
Once all the iron in the disposable hand warmers has reacted, they lose their warmth and need to be discarded properly.
Some of the contents may be biodegradable, so check the packaging to see if the hand warmer meets such criteria.
On the other hand, reusable hand warmers have different ways to regain their warmth after use. Some common methods to reuse these warmers include:
- Microwave: Some reusable hand warmers can be heated in the microwave for a short period of time. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent any damage to the hand warmer or microwave.
- Boil: Another common way to revive reusable hand warmers is to boil them in water. Place the hand warmers in a pot, cover them with water, and boil them for the recommended time before removing them from heat. Allow them to cool down before using them again.
Now, let’s discuss ways to extend the life of your hand warmers:
- Store in a freezer: By storing hand warmers in the freezer when not in use, you can slow down the chemical reaction and help extend their life. This is especially helpful for disposable hand warmers if you want to save them for later use.
- Use a plastic bag: You can also place your hand warmers in a sealable plastic bag to slow down the oxidation process. Make sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
Also read: How to Dispose of a Lava Lamp?
Donating Hand Warmers to Those in Need
Did you know that you can donate used hand warmers to help others stay warm? One option is to give them to a friend or family member who always feels cold.
It’s a thoughtful gesture that can make someone’s day a lot brighter.
You can also donate your used hand warmers to a local homeless shelter.
Homeless shelters can often use hot hands hand warmers to provide warmth for those in need during the cold months.
Using Hand Warmers
Generally, people use hand warmers to go outside during bitingly cold weather to enjoy the outdoors.
Some individuals may take a hand warmer on hikes, while others may keep it close when out watching a game.
Either way, the said product is used to keep the palms warm, as the name suggests.
However, that’s not the only way to use hand warmers. They can be used for other purposes as well.
To Regulate Body Temperature
On some unfortunate days, when the weather is freezing, and you get stuck on a highway or in the middle of nowhere, you are bound to start shivering while you wait for help.
In such a scenario, having a hand warmer can help you regulate your body temperature. Wrap it in a cloth and place it underneath your armpits (provided you have two packs).
If you only have one, you will have to switch pits every few minutes.
To Keep Your Drinks Warm
Nothing can be more soothing than a cup of piping hot coffee or hot chocolate on a winter night. But sometimes, the cold gale can be unforgiving and turn our hot beverages cold.
That’s where a hand warmer can help.
Unwrap it and let it warm up. Then place it between the holder (koozie) and cup walls to keep your hot beverage hot.
To Dry Wet Boots, Socks, and Mitts
As surprising as it may, hand warmers are shockingly well at drying wet boots, socks, and mittens. Carrying damp knitwear in the winter can be rather inconvenient.
But if you have a hand warmer on you, you can dry your belonging easily.
Keep it inside the wet item and press it against the damp surface. Continue pressing for a while and repeat if necessary. You will notice a significant difference in your boots, gloves, or mittens’ state.
To Keep Yourself Warm On Camping Trips
Camping trips are an excellent way to enjoy cold winter nights in the wilderness. However, sometimes these nights can turn painfully chilly, keeping campers up.
For those particularly freezing hours, having a hand warmer in your sleeping bag can keep you warm.
Unwrap the package and drape it in a piece of fabric (otherwise, you might burn your skin), and put it inside your sleeping bag.
That said, doing so can be a little risky if you are a disruptive sleeper who tosses and turns a lot while sleeping.
If that’s the case, then you can push the warming pouch out of the cloth and end up burning yourself.
To say it simply, proceed with caution.
To Save Your Phone and Other Electronics
Many times people can be clumsy and drop their phones. When that happens, placing a damp electronic in a used hand warmer pouch can suck away the moisture.
As you already know, hand warmers take in oxygen. That means when you put your phone in one, it will leech the air and take away the moisture from your prized possession.
To Soothe Migraines and Headaches
A severe migraine episode can be really painful, pushing people to their wit’s end. Naturally, when the pain becomes unbearable, you will not know what to do; hence the metaphor!
In that situation, warming up the pain site can soothe a person immensely. You can do so with a heating pad, but not everyone has that. However, getting a hand warmer is much more convenient.
Take one, hold it in a cloth, and put it on your forehead. In simple terms, you can use a hand warmer as a heating pad.
To Soothe Cramped/Pulled Muscles
This usage is related to the previous one because essentially, for this as well, you will use a hand warmer as a heating pad.
Frequently Asked Questions About Disposing of Hand Warmers
Can hand warmers be thrown away?
Yes, hand warmers can be thrown away. For single-use hand warmers, once they’ve used up their heat, simply throw them in the trash.
For reusable hand warmers, when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan, you need to dispose of them correctly.
If they contain any chemicals, make sure to dispose of them as hazardous waste.
Battery-operated hand warmers should have their batteries removed and placed in a resealable plastic bag before disposal.
What can I do with old hand warmers?
Old hand warmers can still be put to good use. You can donate them to a local homeless shelter, give them to a friend or family member who is always cold, use them to heat up your car on a cold morning, place them in your shoes or gloves to keep them warm, or include them in a first aid kit for emergency situations.
What not to do with hand warmers?
When disposing of hand warmers, avoid:
– Dumping the chemicals in the water supply, as it can cause pollution.
– Using hand warmers near sensitive electronics like computers or phones, as they can cause damage.
– Placing them near flammable materials, as this may start a fire or cause an explosion.
Are there any dangers in disposing of hand warmers?
Improper disposal of hand warmers can lead to environmental pollution and damage to sensitive electronics. It’s important to follow proper disposal methods, particularly for chemical-based hand warmers, to ensure safety and minimize risks.
What happens when hand warmers expire?
Expired hand warmers may lose their effectiveness and not generate heat as efficiently as when they were new. However, they do not generally pose any significant safety risks.
It’s best to simply dispose of expired hand warmers as you would with any other waste.
How should I dispose of specific brands of hand warmers?
Different brands of hand warmers might have specific instructions on disposal.
Always check the packaging or the manufacturer’s website for guidance on proper disposal methods.
In most cases, follow general guidelines for disposing of single-use, reusable, or battery-operated hand warmers. When in doubt, dispose of them as hazardous waste to be on the safe side.
Regardless of how you use a hand warmer, you can dispose of it in a trash can. If it contains organic contents, you can use it as compost.
But if you have a pet, you might want to throw away used hand warmers because if your friend from the animal kingdom eats the filling, they can develop health problems.
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