Can't find hand warmers? Make them yourself

Morgan Hamilton from Woodstown, New Jersey, covers her face from the cold wind during a blistery cold morning in Philadelphia, Pa. Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017.

A perfect storm – brutal cold, an Eagles home game Sunday afternoon, and a Mummers Parade on Monday – has made hand warmers a tough find in and around Philly.

My colleague Mari Schaefer, assigned to cover the Mummers Parade, went to four stores in the city, Devon and Wayne in search of  hand warmers Friday and Saturday, only to find them sold out. Her search was to continue Sunday.

I figured that if there are recipes for making your own slime, there must be a how-to for hand warmers. Indeed, there is. Online offers a few recipes, of course.

But this is a city rich with academic minds. So I consulted one – Robert J. Levis, a chemistry professor at Temple University, who turned his Rose Valley living room into a mini-lab Sunday morning to test out a couple DIY methods for making hand warmers.

Camera icon ROBERT LEVIS
Monica Levis, 11-year-old daughter of Robert J. Levis, a chemistry professor at Temple University, demonstrates how to make a hand warmer with calcium chloride and water at their home Sunday in Rose Valley.

Here’s the one he suggests. He ensures you don’t need a Ph.D. in chemistry to do it:

In a sealable plastic bag, put equal parts ice-melt salt (table salt will not do) and water. “And, boom, you have warm water,” Levis said. “You should get a half an hour or hour of warm water out of that.”

Why does it work?

“When you have a salt like calcium chloride, which is in the ice melt, when that dissolves in water, it gives off energy,” Levis said.

Why it gives off energy has to do with two words: hydrogen bonding. Which is why table salt won’t prove as effective. It doesn’t form as many hydrogen bonds as calcium chloride.

Now, obviously, because of the fast-acting nature of this concoction, there will be no mixing it at home and taking it to the parade. This will be an on-site job. If you don’t want to deal with water in a bag and the possibility of the bag breaking, Levis advises adding equal parts of dehydrated polymers   from a clean diaper (they resemble crystals), which will soak up the water and work just as effectively when mixed with the calcium chloride.

“Mix it at the parade and try not to make a mess,” Levis said. “But don’t stay home. Go down to the Mummers.”

And don’t worry about our parade reporter, Schaefer. She finally found some hand warmers Sunday afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods in King of Prussia where, Schaefer reports: “They didn’t have a lot left.”

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments