50+ Uses for Citrus Peels

By Carrie Kirby on 21 February 2017 0 comments

After years of drought, it's raining in California, and that means backyard citrus trees are springing to life, delivering green, yellow, and orange packets of deliciousness. But after you make your key lime pie, your lemonade, and your fresh juices, pause before throwing out those peels.

Far from being garbage, citrus rinds or peels may actually be more valuable than the fruit inside. For one thing, the peel is the source of oil that is used as a solvent in many products, such as citrus-based cleaners, and is also a natural pesticide. For another, it's nutritious — an orange peel contains more fiber than the orange itself, plus antioxidants, protein, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

But eating an orange, lemon, grapefruit, or lime peel doesn't sound appetizing to most of us. Here are 52 more appealing ways to get the value out of those citrus peels. Unwaxed fruit works best for these recipes.

Household Uses

Those leftover citrus peels can become the key to a clean and fresh home.

1. Eco-Friendly Cleaner

This has been my go-to use for the peels from our lemon and lime trees for years. It cuts grease, disinfects, and smells great. Simply submerge the peels (or juiced whole fruits) in vinegar, let them steep two weeks or longer, then mix the resulting liquid 50/50 with water for a great counter spray, bathroom cleaner, and all-purpose cleaner.

I buy a gallon of vinegar, pour some out, and then replace the liquid with peels as I use them. Make sure that the peels are completely submerged in vinegar to prevent mold.

An alternative recipe, called an enzyme cleaner, uses brown sugar and water, but no vinegar, with citrus peels. This one takes a long time to make because it's fermented.

2. Essential Oil

Another way to harness the cleaning power and aroma of citrus is to distill it into an essential oil, which you can then add to homemade cleaners or use for deodorizing everything from your trash can to laundry that's been sitting in the washer too long. You can use vodka and a food processor to draw the oil out of citrus peels and create essential oil in your kitchen.

3. Furniture Polish

Infuse any kind of furniture friendly oil with citrus rinds to make a nontoxic treatment for wood furniture.

4. Garbage Disposal Cleaner

This has to be the laziest way to "use" citrus peels — just throw them in the disposal. But if you want to get fancier about it, you can freeze the peels in ice cube trays with water or vinegar, so you have a cube available any time the disposal starts to stink.

5. Frugal Sponge

If you juiced a lemon or orange while cooking, wipe that sucker all over the place before discarding it: cutting board, counter, sink.

6. Dishwasher Booster

After you've squeezed the juice out of the lemon, just throw the remains right into the dishwasher. It may get the dishes cleaner, and it will freshen the machine at the same time.

7. Mineral Deposit Remover

Decalcify the inside of a tea kettle by boiling peels inside it, then letting it sit for an hour. Or soak cloudy glassware in a sinkful of hot water and citrus rinds.

8. Microwave Cleaner

Zap a bowl of rinds and water for five minutes, and any caked-on gunk inside the microwave should wipe away easily.

9. Metal Polish

For a chrome faucet, a once-over with a squeezed-out lemon wedge should do the trick. For copper, brass, or stainless steel pots, you can dip the wedge in baking soda or salt before rubbing.

10. Indoor Pest Deterrent

Rub a lemon peel along a windowsill where ants have been coming in, or spray insects with a lemon/vinegar infusion to kill them.

11. Natural Air Freshener

Boil citrus rinds along with anything else that smells good to you. I like to throw in cinnamon sticks that have already been used to stir cups of apple cider. Not only does it make your house smell great, but it doubles as a humidifier.

12. Potpourri

Dry out strips of orange peel, and combine them with other dehydrated ingredients such as cinnamon sticks or flower petals to make sweet-smelling sachets to keep in a drawer or around the house.

13. Brown Sugar Softener

Put a piece of any citrus rind into a container of brown sugar to keep the sugar from getting hard.

14. Fridge Deodorant

A super-easy use for squeezed out lemons after a lemonade stand: Stick them in the fridge, as is, and let them soak up odors.

15. Fire Starter

Believe it or not, dried-out citrus peels can be used as fire starters for your grill, fireplace, or campfire. Bonus: If you're using them indoors, the room will smell great. You can use the peels alone, or incorporate them into a fire starter made of rolled newspaper or pine cones.

16. Oil Lamp

You can turn a half-orange peel into an oil lamp with a natural wick if you prepare it carefully. I love this idea, especially as a centerpiece, floating in a bowl of water. Does your yard have both a citrus tree and a swimming pool? A pool full of flaming orange or grapefruit halves would look amazing for an evening patio party.

17. Candle

A hollowed-out citrus half can serve both as mold and fragrant holder for a candle. You can use a drop of the essential oil you made to make the smell even stronger.

18. Egg Pan

On your next camping trip, try cooking an egg over the campfire with an empty orange half.

19. Scouring Powder

This recipe calls for dried-out grapefruit rinds ground into powder, borax, and baking soda, to make a wonderful-smelling cleaner for your kitchen sink or toilet. Seems to me other citrus rinds would work just as well. The same ingredients mixed in different proportions make a carpet freshener.

20. Cannabis Keeper

Now that weed is legal in some states, users might like to know that a fresh orange peel or two can add moisture to dried-out weed or keep it moist in a sealed container.

21. Soil Enricher

Stir powdered citrus rinds into your garden to add sulfur, magnesium, and calcium to the soil.

22. Natural Pesticide

Soak orange peels in boiling water, strain, add a few drops of soap, and spray on plants to discourage soft-bodied pests such as slugs. This can also kill ants and roaches if you spray it directly on them. Some folks strengthen the spray with garlic, cayenne, and other smelly stuff.

23. Cat Repellent

Want to keep a neighborhood cat out of your garden? Spread around lots of citrus peels; felines hate the smell.

24. Mosquito Repellent

As weird as it sounds, you can rub an unpeeled orange right on your skin to get some mosquito-repelling orange oil on you — which would be a good emergency measure if you forget bug spray on a picnic. You can even use a strip of peel to replace the insert of a plug-in mosquito repelling device.

25. Bird Feeder

This DIY project involves filling an empty half peel with bird seed and hanging it from a tree.

26. Homemade Goo Gone

Citrus oil's solvent properties are useful for dissolving sticky stuff, like tar on the bottom of a shoe or the sticky residue left behind by tape. You can try rubbing a fruit peel right on the goo, or combine citrus essential oil with baking soda and oil to make a homemade version of the commercial product.

Culinary Uses

Wash peels well before using them for edibles, and scrape or cut the bitter white pith off the peels. Some people use only organic peels for edible concoctions.

27. Infused Liquor

You can use your citrus rinds to create bottles of flavored spirits or liqueur that make excellent gifts. I was surprised to learn how easy this is: You only have to infuse the peels in the alcohol for a few days to make flavored liquor. If you want a sweet liqueur such as limoncello or triple sec, just add sugar syrup.

28. Garnish

When it's time to make cocktails with that infused vodka, cut a strip of citrus peel and simply curl it into a spiral with your fingers or wrap it around a pencil. It will stay curled like magic. You could also garnish food with these whimsical curls, if you have any peels left over after getting through all that infused vodka.

29. Citrus Extract

A lot of recipes call for lemon extract, and a few call for other citrus extracts as well. Making it at home is just like making a vodka infusion, but with more rinds, less vodka, and a longer soaking time. This recipe calls for soaking the rinds of six lemons in one cup of vodka for up to six weeks before decanting into a bottle and adding to your spice cupboard.

30. Lemon Oil

This takes longer than creating infused liquor, but you can make lemon-flavored coconut oil or olive oil in a few weeks, and it's pretty easy. If you're in a hurry, you can use a hot process to speed things up to just a few hours. Use it in salad dressings or any way that you'd use the unflavored oil.

31. Infused Vinegar

To make an easy gift that looks very fancy, soak dried citrus peels in good vinegar, then strain and simmer the vinegar, then reunite it with the peels and put it all in a pretty bottle.

32. Lemon Butter

Combine lemon zest, butter, and herbs to make a concoction to flavor your Thanksgiving turkey or spread on bread.

33. Frozen Zest Stash

Many recipes, both baking and cooking, call for a teaspoon or so of lemon zest. What's more, you can throw it into all kinds of dishes, such as pastas and salads, just to brighten them up.

You don't need to go out and buy a lemon every time you want to make one of these recipes. Simply zest the fruit with a microplane before peeling or juicing, and store the grated bits in a freezer bag or in ice cube trays in your freezer. You can keep it for six months and don't need to defrost it before throwing it into a dish.

34. Dried Zest

I recently bought a small jar of dried lemon zest, causing my husband to laugh at me since we have a tree right outside our front door that's producing more lemons than we know what to do with. I didn't realize that making a jar of this stuff, which is useful for baking and marinades, is as simple as zesting the fruit and leaving that zest out to dry overnight. Now that I know, I think a jar of this would make a great holiday gift.

35. Lemon Sugar

Great for frosting the rim of a cocktail or sprinkling on pancakes, lemon sugar is so easy to make that the compliments I get upon serving it make me feel like a fraud. You can throw some rinds in the food processor with sugar and pulse, or even just seal an intact rind in a bag with sugar for a month or so. Boom. Lemon sugar.

36. Candied Peels

In a fancy restaurant on our anniversary last year, my husband and I pressed the waitress for the secret of the bursts of flavor in a dish. "Candied lemon peel," we were told. Revelation!

Turns out this delicacy, also known as citron, is easy to make: Just boil your peels with sugar syrup and store them in the fridge for up to a month. Candied citrus peels can be dipped in chocolate to make the French treat known as orangettes, used to garnish a lemon pie or a cocktail, sprinkled on ice cream, or simply gobbled up by those of us who love candy but want to feel sophisticated while eating it.

37. Recipe Ingredients

Some recipes call for not just a teaspoon of zest but whole chunks of citrus peels. Store whole rinds in your freezer and you'll be ready to make Sichuan tangerine beef, orange chicken, or orange peel chutney at a moment's notice.

38. Citrus Powder

To make a powder that stores well and is handy for adding to recipes (as well as cleaners or cosmetics), dehydrate citrus peels and then reduce them to dust in a food processor. One easy way to use the powder is adding it to club soda to make a refreshing, sugar-free beverage.

39. Lemon Pepper

Delicious on fish and chicken, lemon pepper is a pantry staple that is just slightly more complicated to make than lemon sugar. This recipe calls for dehydrating the zest with crushed peppercorns in the oven, then grinding it together. If you don't have a spice grinder, you can try crushing it with the back of a spoon or in a food processor.

40. Lemon Pickle

Simmer lemon peel with salt, then mix with lemon juice and olive oil to make preserved lemon peel or lemon pickle, which you can then use as a condiment or seasoning.

41. Citrus Salt

Just as with pepper, this is just a matter of mixing zest with salt, baking it dry, and grinding if a smoother texture is desired. A sprinkling of lemon salt is a nice finishing touch on a dish. If you use fancy salt in a pretty jar, this would make a good gift.

42. Orange Vapor

This could be considered a household use, but one recipe I found from super-fancy Chicago chef Grant Achatz, recommends orange vapor as part of a scallops recipe. According to the chef, you are supposed to put an orange rind in a bowl in front of each guest, and pour boiling water on it, creating a vapor that they can inhale while they eat. I told you he was fancy.

43. Juice or Smoothie Additive

I've never heard of juice made of just the citrus peel, and it doesn't sound good. But you can certainly include the peel when putting citrus fruits in a powerful juicer, to increase the nutritional value of the juice. Throw as much peel as you want into a smoothie as well, and let the other fruits balance out any bitterness.

44. Marmalade or Jam

This is a little more challenging than many of the other recipes here, but avid jam makers should be able to handle making jam from lemon rinds and squeezed-out pulp.

45. Tea

Add dried citrus rinds to your cup of tea, or include them in a homemade herbal tea mix.

Cosmetic Uses

Because it's nontoxic and fragrant, the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to adding powdered, grated, dried, or infused citrus peels to homemade personal care products. A little more care is required if you're using the essential oil derived from citrus peels, because the oil is powerful and could irritate some people's skin.

46. Body Scrub

Mix the lemon-infused oil described above with sea salt or sugar to make a refreshing body scrub.

47. Skin Lightener

Cover an age spot with a lemon peel and attach it with a bandage for an hour.

48. Soap Additive

You can throw just about anything into homemade soap to add fragrance and texture, so why not little strips of citrus peels? This recipe lays out when in the soap-making process to add the citrus rinds.

49. Body Spray

This recipe for orange-vanilla body spray makes for another easy gift.

50. Simple Soak

If you don't have time to make a preparation with citrus peels, just throw some in a tub of hot water for an instant infusion, and soak.

51. Facial Mask

Dry and powder your citrus peels, then combine with ingredients such as oatmeal, milk, or sandalwood, depending on your goals for your skin.

52. Feet Treat

There are lots of recipes using citrus rinds for foot baths, including this one with lime zest, peppermint, and sugar. Citrus brings a great fragrance as well as helping to exfoliate feet.

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