While you likely already know that your crock-pot is fabulous for making mouth-watering stews, pot roasts, and soups, you might be surprised to learn just how wide a variety of concoctions you can create in your slow-cooker. Here are some surprising and unconventional uses for your crock-pot:
A good quality, jar-sized candle at a specialty store can cost you close to $30. Fortunately, they’re not that difficult to make at home and they’re much less expensive than the store-bought varieties. By following a few easy steps you’ll enjoy homemade candles at a fraction of the price. Your friends and family will also appreciate your lovely scented gifts!
This is a great opportunity to get creative with glass jars you’ve recycled or found at thrift stores or yard sales. As long as the jars will fit in your crock-pot, you’re free to use your imaginate to create unique candles. In addition to the jars, you’ll need wax (renewable soy wax is slow-burning and soot free), essential oil or candle fragrance, candle coloring dye, and wicks. All of these supplies are available at craft stores or from online sources.
2. Play Dough
Most kids enjoy helping out in the kitchen. Making homemade play dough presents a great opportunity to teach kids about cooking (and math!) while creating something that provides hours of fun and creativity in the days and weeks to come. The recipe includes items you probably already have in your pantry: corn starch, salt, cream of tartar, oil, and flour (rice flour will make it gluten free). Each batch of play dough can be divided so that you can make a variety of colors from one recipe (use gel food coloring for a more intense color). For a little extra flair, try adding glitter or a fragrance to your homemade play dough, or even Kool-Aid to add both color and fragrance.
3. Yarn Dye
If you knit or crochet, perhaps you’d like to try using Kool-Aid to dye yarn in your crock-pot for unique color combinations. One advantage you’ll have with crock-pot dyeing (as opposed to doing it on your stove top) is that the still water lets the color stick to the yarn and stay put wherever it falls. Also, the colors tend to blend together less when the water isn’t moving.
You’ll need yarn (less than 15% man-made material such as nylon or rayon), Kool-Aid, and vinegar to make the dye more colorfast.
4. Paint Remover
Instead of using harsh chemicals to strip paint from small items like door hinges or cabinet hardware, how about soaking them in your crock-pot? Simply cover the items you’d like to strip with water in your crock-pot, set it on high and let it “cook” overnight. The paint — latex, oil, or spray paint — will easily peel away in the morning after being exposed to the heat and moisture all night.
Note: Pick up a used crock-pot at a thrift store or yard sale to use for jobs like this so you don’t contaminate your family’s meals.
5. Infused Herbal Oils
Infused herbal oils offer many time-tested health benefits. Calendula is an anti-inflammatory that helps heal wounds. Comfrey leaf can be used to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy and also as a massage oil for sprains or muscle tears. It can also be used to reduce varicose veins and to heal dry skin and eczema. St. John’s Wort has a wide variety of uses: sunburned skin, sciatica, carpal tunnel pain, sacral pain in labor, back and neck pain, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, wounds and bruises.
If you grow your own herbs, infused oils are a cinch to make in your crock-pot. Simply stuff a jar 1/3 full of your favorite herb, add olive oil (or a good quality sunflower oil) and close the jar with a tight lid. Place the jar on a washcloth in a crock-pot full of water and cook on low for three days. When the time is up, strain the oil and place it in a clean, dry jar. Add the oil to some beeswax if you’d like to make a fragrant, healing salve.
There are a variety of processes for making soap. The easiest is melt and pour which simply melts down pre-made soap to which fragrances and colors are added. Cold process soap is more complicated, melting lye and oils together. Saponification — the chemical reaction that turns the lye and oil into soap — happens over the course of 24-36 hours. Hot process soap is the most complicated, adding an additional heat step that speeds up the saponification process, basically cooking the soap to completion (this is where your crock-pot comes in). In addition to speeding up the soap making, hot processing avoids the lye coming into contact with the fragrance and additives until after the soap has cooked. This can be more gentle on fragile oils and botanicals like flower petals and lavender buds, which can turn brown or black when they come into contact with lye. The hot process soap also has a rougher, more rustic appearance, which many people prefer when making homemade soap.
As much a science as an art, it’s important to follow the instructions precisely. In addition to lye, you’ll need oil, water, fragrance and botanicals, if desired.
If you have children, you likely have a box of sad and broken abandoned crayons lying around the house. A great way to recycle them is to make crock-pot crayons. Simply remove the wrappers (soaking the crayons first can help with this step), place the crayon stubs in a mold (a disposable aluminum muffin tin makes a great mold), and cook on high for 1.5 hours. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and pop out your new crayons! You can make them all one color or experiment with different color combinations, depending on your collection of crayon stubs.
8. Lotion Bars
Is hand lotion too messy or gooey for you? Try solid lotion bars that you can make in your crock-pot. As you rub them in your hands or on your skin, your body heat warms the bar and your skin absorbs the soothing balm.
The ingredients are simple: beeswax, shea or cocoa butter, coconut oil, and vitamin E. After cooking on high for about an hour, the melted mixture is poured into molds (ice cube trays, cupcake pans, etc.) and after 20 minutes in the refrigerator they’re ready to use.
9. Wax Luminaries
Using wax, water balloons, and a mini crock-pot you can create stunning wax luminaries that will add a beautiful glow to your next dinner party or special event. Filled water balloons are dipped into the hot wax several times until there is a layer of wax approximately 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick. Once the wax cools, the water balloon is popped and removed from the molded wax. Setting the luminary on a heated cookie sheet for a few seconds will melt the rim and make it level. When finished, a small votive candle or tea light (regular or battery-operated) is placed inside the luminary to create a festive glow.
10. Laundry Detergent
Tired of paying high prices for laundry detergent? Not happy with the harsh chemicals used in most store-bought detergents? Making your own laundry detergent is not only dirt cheap (no pun intended), but it’s also gentle on sensitive skin and nearly fragrance-free.
The first step is to make the base for your detergent in your crock-pot using Fels Naptha soap, Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, and Borax. You can also include essential oils if you’d like to add fragrance to your detergent. Chop the Fels Naptha soap, add it to the crock-pot with six cups of water and cook on high for about two hours until the soap has completely dissolved. Add the Washing Soda and Borax and cook on high for a few hours until the mixture thickens. Pour the base into a 4-gallon container and fill the rest of the way with warm water.
Usually you can find the ingredients in the laundry aisle of your grocery store. If not, Lehman’s Hardware sells a starter kit that includes everything you’ll need, including a 4-gallon bucket with a lid. The kit includes ingredients to wash more than 800 loads of laundry at 7¢ per load.