On a cold day up in the mountains, commuting to work, shoveling the driveway, or sledding, there’s one accessory you should never be without: hand warmers. These nifty little life savers are a must, and are small and discreet enough that they can be slipped inside gloves, socks, and sleeves without adding too much bulk. Just take them out of the packaging and in a few minutes you’ve got a pocket sized roaring fire! But how do they actually work?
The short answer is that the chemicals inside the hand warmer heat up when exposed to the air. Simple enough, but the long answer requires a little more explanation. You see, the packets aren’t magic and it takes a more than just air and “chemicals” to make it warm up. It requires a special mixture of iron, activated carbon, cellulose, vermiculite, water and salt. This chemical mixture stays neutral in the packaging until it’s opened and exposed to air then slowly warms up to a cozy temperature of about 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, the main source of heat is from the vermiculite, a mineral that conducts and holds heat in. When the hand warmer heats up, the vermiculite helps keep it warm as well as generating more heat in the process. It’s an interestingly simple process that employs the use of basic minerals and natural products.
So, if the process is so cost effective and environmentally friendly, why don’t we just use it to heat everything? True, that would seem like a good alternative, however the effects of the hand warmers don’t last forever, only about two hours. And to use this chemical compound to heat homes would be highly ineffective in that we’d have to pack our walls with activated iron and carbon and change it out every couple hours. For now, let’s just keep the central heating for the homes and the hand warmers for the sledding trips.