They're bulky and take up precious cabinet space, but we'll never get rid of our slow cookers. They can be such a lifesaver on those days when time is scarce and we just want to make a big batch of something delicious and comforting to get us through it.
A slow cooker is one awesome household appliance for hands-off cooking. If you have one (a recent study says at least 80 percent of us do) you know what a great time-saver and money-saver it is. Surprisingly, your slow cooker is good for other tasks that have nothing to do with food. Everybody needs one!
HOMEMADE SOAP. Looking for a great homemade gift idea? This could be it! Homemade soap is wonderful because you can customize soap bars with your preferred scents and ingredients. While there are many recipes online, you can skip the tedium with a clear, melt-and-pour soap base. It's detergent-free. An hour in the slow cooker, plus some drops of essential oil (20 drops of lavender essential oil would be an awesome choice), a colorant and any variety of botanicals you desire, and you've made your own beautiful soap products.
FRESHEN THE AIR. Whether you need to get rid of cooking smells or want to scent the house for the holidays, your slow cooker can pull double duty as an air freshener. Fill it three-quarters with water and add a couple tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Turn it on high, and leave it uncovered. The steam will waft fragrance throughout your house. No essential oils on hand? Toss in apple and orange peels, a few cloves and some cinnamon sticks, instead.
MAKE CANDLES. We all have those old, lopsided candles, with holes burned through one side. Rather than toss them in the trash, toss them in the slow cooker. Once melted, fish out the old wicks and gather heatproof containers. Lay a pencil across the rim of a container. Tie a weighted candlewick (you can find these at any craft store or online) to the pencil, and let the end dangle into the container. Carefully ladle the melted wax into the container without disturbing the wick, and let it cool. There you go — new candles!
STRIP PAINT. If you want to strip paint from metal hinges, knobs, handles, doorknobs, etc., without the nasty fumes and mess involved with chemical strippers, just fill a slow cooker with water, cover it and set the dial to high. The heat and moisture will soften the paint, and often it will fall off as a single piece.
This method works on oil, latex and spray paint, but it may not remove some clear finishes like lacquer. It won't harm hardware made of nonrusting metals like copper, brass or aluminum. You'll end up with a little rust on steel — not enough to ruin hidden parts like hinge pins or screws, but possibly enough to roughen shiny surfaces. Beware: If the steel has a plating and the plating is already flaking off, this method will cause more flaking. Note that this process may stain or contaminate the pot, so use an old cooker you won't be using again for food.
MAKE YOUR OWN PLAY-DOH. You'll need 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup corn starch, 1 cup table salt, 1/4 cup cream of tartar, 2 cups hot water and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Dump dry ingredients into cooker. Add the water and oil. Stir to mix well. Put the lid on, and switch to high heat. Set a timer for 2 hours. Stir the dough well every 30 minutes. You will know it's about done when it begins to form a ball as you stir. At that point, turn the cooker off and continue stirring for a few minutes. Dump the Play-Doh out onto a smooth surface and begin to knead carefully. It will be hot! If your dough is overly sticky, add a bit of cornstarch; if it's overly dry, add a touch more hot water. Separate the dough into manageable portions, and make an indent in the center of each portion to put a few drops of food coloring. Knead and squish the dough until the color is well-distributed. Kids' hands may be slightly colored for a few hours after playing with the Play-Doh. But no worries — it's harmless.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.