How to Choose and Care for Weighted Blankets

How to Choose and Care for Weighted Blankets

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), sensory processing disorder or functional needs (commonly referred to as special needs) interact with the world in unique ways. Sensory tools are designed to engage specific senses in a gentle way, enabling your child to process new information and experiences.

The introduction of sensory toys can redirect their physical and emotional energy for therapeutic benefit to help them remain calm and learn ways to manage their senses. A weighted blanket is just one example of a sensory tool that provides a soothing sense of security and relaxation. Weighted blankets offer sensory input that can help with anxiety reduction during the day and improved sleep quality at night.

What Is a Weighted Blanket and What Does It Do?

A weighted blanket is just like a standard blanket, except it has filler added to provide weight. Equal weight distribution can mimic the effects of deep touch pressure (DTP), also known as deep pressure stimulation. DTP is a type of therapy that uses firm, gentle pressure to calm the nervous system and relax the body. A weighted blanket can provide the benefits of DTP by releasing feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine when applied to the body.

DTP can also provide proprioceptive input to the entire body. Children and adults often receive this input through cuddling, squeezing and holding. Proprioceptive input plays a large role in calming and promoting self-regulation in individuals who are easily overwhelmed by sensory stimulation.

Weighted blankets are intended to provide the comforting sensation of a hug, which can be beneficial for children with ASD and unique sensory needs. They help prepare the body for rest by calming the breathing and slowing the heart rate, letting the body know it’s time to sleep.

What Is a Weighted Blanket and What Does It Do?

One study revealed that children with ASD and functional needs are more likely to have sleep difficulties, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Parasomnia
  • Circadian rhythm disorders
  • Sleep-movement related disorders
  • Prolonged sleep onset latency
  • Extended night awakenings

According to this study, parents reported their children slept better and were calmer after using the weighted blanket.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Weighted Blanket

Every child with special needs is unique, but many can experience a range of common symptoms like sleep difficulties and anxiety. If you’re looking for a suitable weighted blanket for your child, here are some important factors to keep in mind.

1. Size and Age

Weighted blankets are available in various sizes to accommodate children and adults, just like a standard comforter. Choosing the correct size ensures your child will get the full benefits of the weighted blanket. You’ll want to select a size that covers your child’s feet, legs and abdomen to provide even weight distribution.

The blanket should not be so large that it hangs off their bed. Weighted blankets for adults typically come in mattress sizes, including twin, full, queen or king. Some standard weighted blanket sizes for children include:

  • 36 inches by 60 inches
  • 28 inches by 20 inches
  • 56 inches by 42 inches

You may also want to account for growth spurts depending on your child’s height and age. For example, a slightly larger blanket with a lighter weight will allow them to enjoy it longer, whereas they may quickly outgrow a blanket that barely covers their legs and feet.

2. Material

Weighted blankets come in a range of different materials, including:

  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Rayon
  • Wool
  • Flannel
  • Linen

If your child has an aversion to certain fabrics like polyester, for example, a cotton weighted blanket may be more appropriate. The weighted blanket’s material will also contribute to its durability. High-quality materials with box stitching tend to stand up well over time.

3. Filling

Weighted blankets are made with different types of fillers that contribute to most of their weight. The most common options are:

  • Microglass beads: Microglass filling is environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic, non-toxic and generally machine washable.
  • Polymer pellets: Weighted blankets with poly pellets or poly beads are safe and completely non-toxic. Polymer pellets are relatively easy to clean, long-lasting and resistant to moisture. Polymer filling is used in standard toys like stuffed animals.
  • Steel shot beads: These beads tend to be larger and heavier. While very durable, this filling may be too heavy for some children. Steel beads also tend to be noisier, which may not be suitable for children with sensory sensitivities.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Weighted Blanket

4. Weight

The weight of a weighted blanket is perhaps the most important factor to consider for optimal comfort and safety. Weighted blankets can range from 5 pounds to 35 pounds. A weighted blanket that’s too light may not provide the benefits of deep pressure stimulation, while too much weight can cause discomfort and restrict airflow. The appropriate weight should feel like a gentle hug but not constrictive.

As a rule of thumb, children’s weighted blankets should not exceed 10% of their body weight plus one or two pounds. Here are some general guidelines for choosing a weighted blanket based on your child’s body weight:

  • 20 pounds: 3-4 pound blanket
  • 30 pounds: 4-5 pound blanket
  • 40 pounds: 5-6 pound blanket
  • 50 pounds: 6-7 pound blanket
  • 60 pounds: 7-8 pound blanket
  • 70 pounds: 8-9 pound blanket
  • 80 pounds: 9-10 pound blanket
  • 90 pounds: 10-11 pound blanket
  • 100 pounds: 11-12 pound blanket

You may be able to size up or down by a pound for maximum comfort and movement. Generally, weighted blankets above 10 pounds can be too heavy for some young children.

5. Sensory Preferences

Children with ASD or sensory processing disorder often have unique preferences when it comes to textures and fabrics. When selecting a weighted blanket, consider the comforting toys and tools your child gravitates toward. Their general preferences can be a good indication as to what type of weighted blanket material, filling and texture will attract their interest.

6. Temperature Regulation

Every individual has different preferences for temperature control, especially when sleeping. Children with functional needs may be more averse or hypersensitive to very cold or hot temperatures. Weighted blankets feel like a big, warm hug, but they can sometimes be too warm for hot sleepers. You’ll want to find a weighted blanket with breathable material or cooling properties to maintain a consistent body temperature and prevent your child from getting too hot.

Weighted Blanket Care Guidelines

It’s important to always follow the care tag or manufacturer’s instructions before washing your child’s weighted blanket. These blankets have a heavier construction by nature, which means they cannot always be washed and maintained the same way as a typical blanket. Specific care instructions will depend on the type of fabric, size and fill material. Here are some general recommendations for cleaning your weighted blanket.

1. Washing

Some weighted blankets can be machine-washed with gentle, bleach-free detergent. Some have removable covers you can wash on their own. It’s best to avoid fabric softeners because these can cause buildup that can break down fabric fibers over time. Use gentle or delicate wash cycles with cold or warm water. Many weighted blankets should be hand-washed to protect the integrity of the fabric and filling.

The best option is soaking the blanket in a large sink or bathtub with mild, bleach-free detergent. Stir the blanket in the soapy water to evenly distribute the detergent and rinse until there are no soap suds.

2. Drying

Like many large comforters, a weighted blanket may be too heavy to tumble dry. Aggressive spin cycles can cause the filler to clump together and potentially damage the material. The most effective way to dry your weighted blanket and keep it in good condition is to spread it out evenly and allow it to air dry.

3. Spot Cleaning and Dry Cleaning

Weighted blankets should be dry cleaned only if they have a “dry clean only” label, are too heavy or large for your washing machine, or require extensive stain removal.

4. Cleaning Frequency

It’s a smart idea to wash your weighted blanket every few weeks to prevent sweat buildup. Washing frequency will largely depend on how often your child uses it and whether it has stains or spots.

Weighted Blanket Cleaning Frequency

Tips for Caring for a Weighted Blanket

Proper cleaning and maintenance will ensure your child can use their soothing weighted blanket for as long as possible. Here are some additional care tips for weighted blankets:

  • Pre-treat stains: Addressing tough stains before washing can keep your blanket looking new. You can remove most stains on weighted blankets with gentle soap and water, distilled white vinegar solutions, degreasers, hydrogen peroxide, bleach or a stain remover. Use a toothbrush, rag, washcloth or soft-bristled brush to gently dab the stain.
  • Avoid hot water: To extend the life of your weighted blanket, always use cold or lukewarm water. Excessive heat can damage the fabric or potentially melt the inner filler. For the same reason, weighted blankets should not be ironed.
  • Put away after use: Folding or rolling your child’s weighted blanket and storing it when not in use can prevent damage and stains. For instance, instead of using the weighted blanket as your child’s bed cover, only bring it out when you begin their nighttime routine.

How to Introduce Your Child to a Weighted Blanket

As a parent of a child with special needs, you know better than anyone that new experiences can sometimes make them feel overwhelmed or hesitant. Here are some tips for successfully introducing a weighted blanket to your child:

  • Bring it out when they are calm, such as during quiet activities.
  • Allow them to touch and feel the blanket before you place it on top of them.
  • Praise your child for trying something new.
  • Offer rewards or incentives for using the weighted blanket.
  • Present the weighted blanket as an option instead of a requirement.

Using a weighted blanket comes with an adjustment period that varies from person to person. It can take a few days or even a week or two until your child adapts to sleeping under its weight. Some children may feel instantly soothed by the light pressure of the blanket, while others may only feel comfortable using it for 10 minutes at a time.

You can help them ease into it by gradually increasing their use until they feel safe and cozy. Some children may even prefer to sleep with half of the blanket on them at first until they get used to it.

FAQs About Using Weighted Blankets for Children With Functional Needs

Curious about whether a weighted blanket is right for your child? Here are some commonly asked questions.

1. Are Weighted Blankets Safe for Children?

As long as you choose the correct weight and size, a weighted blanket is generally safe for children. However, weighted blankets should not be used with children under the age of four or children who are less than 20 pounds. Ensure your child does not put the weighted blanket over their face during quiet time or when they sleep.

2. Can a Weighted Blanket Be Too Heavy?

Yes, a weighted blanket that’s too heavy can cause discomfort and counteract its intended benefits. At the right weight, the blanket should provide a calm-inducing amount of pressure similar to being hugged or swaddled. Too much weight can result in restlessness, poor sleep, overheating and limited mobility when sleeping.

Your child or family member should not feel confined in one spot and should be able to remove the weighted blanket on their own.

3. Can Anyone Use a Weighted Blanket?

While weighted blankets are generally safe to use and are helpful for those with sensory sensitivities, it’s possible that some children may find the experience overwhelming at first. Weighted blankets also may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing medical conditions, including:

  • Claustrophobia
  • Poor circulation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sensitive skin or allergies

We recommend consulting with your child’s physician before getting a weighted blanket to ensure it’s appropriate for them to use.

4. How Long Do Weighted Blankets Last?

Weighted blankets can generally last up to five years, depending on how often your child uses them and how well they’re maintained. Proper care and cleaning can extend the blanket’s lifespan.

5. Do Weighted Blankets Shrink?

Depending on the material and method of washing, it’s possible for a weighted blanket to shrink. Some can be safely washed on a gentle cycle with cold water and a low-heat setting in the dryer. However, hand-washing your weighted blankets in cold or lukewarm water and air drying them is the most effective way to prevent shrinking. Keep in mind that some weighted blankets can only be hand-washed and air-dried.

6. What Is the Best Sleeping Position for Using a Weighted Blanket?

Your child can comfortably sleep on their side, back or stomach with a weighted blanket. It’s generally recommended that side sleepers use a lighter weighted blanket because more weight will fall on the shoulders, hips and joints. Sleeping on the back or stomach is more ideal to ensure light, even pressure over the entire body.

Find Weighted Blankets, Sensory Toys and More at Enabling Devices

Children with ASD or sensory processing disorder can benefit from weighted blankets to provide comfort, relaxation and calming effects. Enabling Devices carries a range of weighted sensory products that provide deep pressure stimulation. Our weighted blankets are filled with non-toxic pellets and available in two sizes and weight options. We also carry weighted stuffed animals that are smooth to the touch and provide grounding comfort.

At Enabling Devices, we’re here to help you find the right tools and toys to unlock your child’s potential and bring them joy. Browse our sensory toys for more options or contact us to learn about our range of products.

Find Weighted Blankets, Sensory Toys and More at Enabling Devices