20 Uses for Leftover Fruit and Vegetable Peels

lemon, banana, carrots, and oranges peeled on a white marble kitchen counter

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Don't throw your kitchen scraps away; put them to work. The outer skins of fruit and vegetables are filled with flavor and vitamins, and most often have enough matter left in them for another go-round.

Some people are peelers, some people aren't. Some people swear by the nutrients and fiber found in produce skins, others shy away from the taste or texture, or prefer removing the outer layer to reduce pesticide load. Regardless of your peeling preferences, citrus rinds, potato and other root/tuber peels, scooped-out avocados, and even cheese rinds all have more than one life.

Aim to use organic produce in these applications, and make sure to scrub well. And if you don't have time or need for them at the moment, most of them can be frozen for future use.

Uses for food scraps around the house

1. Clean greasy messes

person sprays salt pile on marble countertop to clean greasy mess with lemons

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Before bringing out the big (chemical) cleaning guns in the kitchen, try lemon. Sprinkle affected area with salt or baking soda (to act as an abrasive) and then rub with juiced lemon halves. (Be careful using lemon on sensitive surfaces such as marble.)

2. Shine your coffee pot

woman stirs ice, lemon zest and salt to clean glass french press coffee maker gif

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Follow the old diner trick to make glass coffee pots sparkle: add ice, salt and lemon rinds to an empty coffee pot; swirl around for a minute or two, dump and rinse well.

3. Clean your tea kettle

For mineral deposit build up in tea kettles, fill the vessel with water and a handful of lemon peels and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit for an hour, drain and rinse well.

4. Dye fabric

person picks out seeds with cut pomegranate on white marble kitchen countertop

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Pomegranate peels make for great coloring material. One method calls for a stainless steel pot large enough to cover the fabric, fill with hot water and add peels, let it sit overnight. Simmer the water and peels the next day and then remove peels and add wet fabric. Simmer gently for one hour and allow to cool overnight. Remove the next day, rinse in cool water — from thereon, wash with similar colors. You can also follow one of these other methods for dyeing fabric using food scraps for more options and colors.

To enhance food

5. Make citrus extract powder

hand drops lemon peel into small blender to pulverize into citrus zest

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Make zest or twists (lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit) being sure to remove the pith and allow to dry, about three or four days for twists, less for zest. Put in a blender (or spice grinder) and pulverize into a powder. Store in a clean jar.

6. Make citrus sugar

brown sugar and lemon peels are spread out on wooden cutting board to make citrus sugar

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Make citrus extract powder and add it to sugar, or you can use fresh twists, put them in a jar with sugar, let the oil from the peel infuse the sugar and remove.

7. Make lemon pepper

Mix lemon extract powder with freshly cracked pepper.

8. Make zest

If you've juiced lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit but don't have an immediate need for zest, you can make it anyway and dry or freeze it for future use. Zest is a versatile item to have on hand for a bright boost in any number of dishes. If you don't have a microplane or zester, you can also use the small side of a box grater. Try to scrape just the outer layer, the white layer of pith is bitter. Freeze in an airtight container. To dry, spread the zest on a towel and leave until dried, then store in a clean jar.

9. Make citrus olive oil

hand pounds orange peel with mortar and pestle to make orange oliv eoil

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Pound citrus peel (pith removed) in a mortar and pestle with some oil added. Place in a jar with more oil and let rest for six hours. Strain into a clean jar.

10. Make infusions

Infuse honey or vinegar with citrus peels by placing twists in the liquid and letting the flavors seep. Strain the liquid and store in a clean jar.

11. Make potato crisps

Mix potato peels with enough lemon juice and olive oil to evenly coat. Spread the potato peels in a layer on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees, stirring once, until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Season to taste.

12. Make stock

overhead view boiling carrots potato onion peels in pot for soup stock

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Boil potato peels, onion skins, carrot peels, leek ends, etc. for vegetable stock. (Also save fresh herb stems for this!)

13. Boost soup and stock

Cheese rinds (sans wax) can be placed in soup stocks for an awesome secret boost of flavor and texture.

14. Add 'meat' to greens

Cheese rinds can also be added to braised greens for added depth of flavor.

15. Keep brown sugar soft

If you regularly fall victim to the brick in the pantry known as hardened brown sugar, try adding some lemon peel (with traces of pulp and pith removed) to keep it moist and pliable.

16. Make vanilla sugar

If you use fresh vanilla, after scraping the bean, add the pod to sugar to make vanilla-infused sugar.

How to use food scraps in your beauty routine

17. Make a banana sugar scrub

hand sprinkles sugar onto banana peel as homemade diy sugar scrub for body

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Sprinkle sugar on the flesh side of banana peels and use as a soft, exfoliating loofa. Rub gently all over your body and then rinse in the shower. (And if you like that concept, learn how and why a sugar scrub is such a smart choice.)

18. Refresh your face

For a skin tonic, rub orange or grapefruit peels on your face (avoiding your eyes) and then gently rinse with warm water.

19. Moisturize

Rub the fleshy part of an avocado peel on your face for a rich moisturizer.

20. Relieve your peepers

Potato peels can reduce puffiness around eyes; press the moist side of the fresh peels to the skin for 15 minutes.