Oranges are a near-ideal fruit to keep around, in large part because their peel provides such a perfect example of all-natural packaging. It's durable, protects them from bruising or spoiling, it's easy to open and best of all, it's 100% biodegradable when you're done with it. Don't just drop them straight into your compost, though. Orange peels have dozens of handy, unexpected uses around the house.
Clean Your Microwave
Microwave ovens are versatile, much-loved devices, and they're often the most-used appliance in the kitchen. Unfortunately, that means they're also the fastest to get dirty, and those splatters can quickly turn into a stubborn, stuck-on mess if they're not dealt with. To clean your microwave easily, chop up some orange peels and put them in a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup with water. Microwave on high for 5 to 8 minutes until the inner surfaces of the microwave are thoroughly steamed, then let it sit for another 10 minutes before wiping it out. The volatile oils from the peels, combined with the steam, will loosen stuck-on grease and spatters so they wipe away easily.
Protect Your Plants
Cats are notoriously hard on houseplants, and your orange peels can help. Cats dislike the aromatic volatile oils in the peels, so infuse chopped-up peels in water and then strain it into a spray bottle. Mist your plants with the mixture, and cats will stay away. For broad-leafed plants, you can simply wipe them with a peel for the same effect. In the garden, orange peels placed around your plants will help keep slugs, ants and aphids at bay.
Keep Surfaces Clean
Vinegar makes an excellent non-toxic whole-house cleanser, and orange peels make it even better. Chop your peels and infuse them into a cup of vinegar for a week or so in your fridge. Strain the mixture into a spray bottle, and use it everywhere in the home as a general-purpose cleanser. The oils in the orange peels add to the vinegar's cleaning and disinfecting power, and the pleasant orange scent tones down its relatively harsh odor.
Make Easy Fire Starters
A crackling fire is a comforting thing in your fireplace or backyard fire pit, and when you're camping, it can make the difference between enjoyment and damp, shivering misery. Orange peels, of all things, can help make that fire easier to start. Leave your peels to sit out and dry in the open air, or speed the process by drying them in a dehydrator or a warm oven. The dried-out peels will catch fire easily, thanks to their natural oils, and will burn longer than paper. They'll also give your fire a pleasant fragrance as they burn.
Give Wood a Beautiful Sheen
Wood furniture brings warmth and beauty to any room, but dust, fingerprints and minor abrasions can quickly dull it. Of course there are many commercial polishes you can use to bring back the wood's beauty, but they're not entirely necessary. To refresh your furniture and other wood surfaces quickly and naturally, just rub them with an orange peel. Its gentle acidity will wipe away dust and fingerprints, while the natural citrus oils restore the finish to a beautiful sheen.
As every kid knows, the oblong strip of peel left behind after you've eaten a wedge of orange is exactly the right size and shape to go in your mouth and make an orange smile. Don't be embarrassed to follow that childlike instinct, yourself. Aside from its entertainment value, that orange peel has some oral hygiene superpowers to make even your dentist smile. Rubbing your teeth with an orange peel helps wipe away plaque, and the oils in the citrus freshen your mouth by killing odor-causing bacteria on your teeth, gums and palate. The gentle acidity of the citrus will also help whiten your teeth.
Freshen the Air
Leftover orange peels can be used in many ways to freshen the air and mask odors in your home. To hide unpleasant cooking smells, simmer a few fresh peels and a cinnamon stick on your stove. Infuse the peels into water or vodka, then strain the mixture into a spray bottle and mist it wherever unpleasant odors occur. Make small pouches or sachets of dried peel and leave them in stuffy closets, dresser drawers or funky shoes. Combine dried peels with herbs, flower blossoms, spices or essential oils to make your own potpourri, which can be simmered for high impact or simply left out in a bowl to freshen the room gently.
"Buzz" leftover orange peels in a blender or food processor until they're almost a paste, then put them in a mason jar with enough vodka to cover. Leave them for a few days so the oils can separate out, then strain the mixture into a shallow dish and leave the alcohol to evaporate. Use a few drops of the resulting orange oil in your bath, for a relaxing and refreshing soak. Alternatively, mix the ground-up peels with sugar or salt to make a toning body scrub.
Gently Remove Spots
The skin care aisle at your local pharmacy is filled with products that can help bleach your skin of age spots and minor blemishes. Surprisingly, so is the produce aisle. The natural oils and gentle acid of an orange peel work remarkably well to minimize the appearance of freckles, birthmarks and other forms of discoloration. Simply rub the affected spot with the orange peel before discarding or composting it. The fruit's peel may also help in reducing the visibility of stretch marks and minor scars.
Orange peels also have a number of crafty uses. The hollowed-out rind of a half-orange can be filled with paraffin or beeswax, for example, and used to make decorative candles for a patio party with friends or around your tub in solitude. Alternatively, fill the halves with lamp oil and use the central strip of pith as a wick. Long, neatly trimmed strips of dry peel can be used as a decorative and aromatic element in wreaths and floral arrangements. Dried and pulverized, the peel can be incorporated into molded candles or bars of homemade soap, where it lends a fresh scent and some additional scrubbing power.