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Thrifty Uses for Leftover Coffee Grounds

A.J. Andrews

Whether you’re devoted to composting or new to the craft, you’re probably familiar with the more common compost components, such as grass clippings, fruit peels and leaves. However, you might not realize that you can reuse one of your favorite beverages: coffee.

You can get the most out of your coffee by repurposing coffee grounds in your everyday life.

Make a Dry Marinade for Beef and Pork

More than 1,500 compounds, known as flavonoids and esters, comprise coffee’s unique flavor and aroma. As a result, the beverage complements hearty meats, like beef and pork.

The balance of acidity and sweetness in coffee grounds make them ideal for spice rubs. Brewing strips freshly ground coffee of its bitter overtones, leaving behind the subdued essence of the bean — a fitting match for piquant spices like ancho chile, cumin and smoked paprika.

Making your own coffee-enhanced spice rub not only saves money but also results in a superior taste. And unlike commercially prepared rubs, which often contain maltodextrin, MSG and other additives to increase volume and taste, homemade rubs grant you control of ingredients and flavor.

Use dried, finely ground coffee as you would other spices in the mix. For example, to make a Southwestern-style rub, combine about 2 tablespoons each of finely ground dried coffee, ground cumin, onion powder, chili powder, brown sugar and kosher salt to taste to get a steak that’s worth your money.

Braise and Tenderize Meat

Braising renders tough, chewy cuts of meat tender using low temperatures, moist heat and acidic ingredients. Tomatoes, which have a pH of 4, commonly fill the acidic role, but coffee grounds, with a pH of 5, prove just as effective at tenderizing — with a bonus.

Coffee grounds add a complex, rich flavor to a variety of dishes. And because spent coffee grounds work in just about any braised meat dish, you can save money at the grocery store, assuming you already drink the beverage.

Simply add 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds to the braising liquid at the start of cooking. Try adding coffee grounds to pot roast, short ribs and Boston butt. If you use the braising liquid as a sauce, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve before serving.

Deodorize Your Fridge, Cooler and Bathroom

Coffee grounds do more than mask smells; they absorb them like activated charcoal does — but cost much less.

Odorous molecules cling to fats and other substances. That’s why butter, when stored in a non-airtight container, takes on the smells of other foods in the refrigerator. However, coffee grounds, like charcoal, have the large surface area needed to trap airborne odorous molecules.

Additionally, caffeine contains nitrogen, which absorbs hydrogen sulfide gas, the compound that causes sewage to smell bad. If coffee grounds — combined with zinc and heat treated in commercial applications — can deodorize a sewage treatment plant, they’ll make short work of your curry-scented refrigerator.

To deodorize a refrigerator or bathroom, fill a bowl with dried coffee grounds and set it on a shelf. Stir the grounds every week or two and replace them each month. To deodorize an enclosed space, such as a cooler or laundry closet, pour dry coffee grounds on breathable fabric, such as a stocking, tie it off and hang it.

Make Caffeinated Candles

Coffee-ground candles are affordable, effective ways to improve the fragrance of small spaces like breakfast nooks. When unlit, the coffee aroma acts like an air freshener, scenting the immediate area around the candle. When lit, the heat aromatizes the coffee grounds, releasing their essential oils.

When making coffee-ground candles, use a dark-roasted variety ground to a fine, espresso-like consistency. You can use purchased candle wax or recycle used candles.

Start by roughly chopping about a 1/2 pound of unscented candle wax; take out the wicks if using spent candles. Next, set a stainless steel mixing bowl over a saucepan of water and bring it to a boil. Add the candle chips to the bowl and allow them to melt, stirring occasionally. While the wax melts, tie a candle wick to a pencil and set it on top of a quarter-pint mason jar.

Stir about 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds into the wax and spoon into the mason jar around the wick. Allow the wax to cool and remove the pencil from the wick.

Clean Your Flattop or Grated Grill

The acidity and coarse texture of coffee grounds can help scour oil and minor charring from both flattops and grill grates. A little dish soap, a scouring pad and an extended soak are enough to relieve most stains.

Coffee grounds won’t have much effect on a summer’s worth of char on a backyard grill. However, if you use a grill brush after each cooking session and follow up with a thorough coffee scrubbing, you can reset the grill every time.

To clean a flattop grill, mix together 2 parts coarse coffee grounds and 1 part soapy water. Wet the grill with the water and scrub using the coffee grounds and a firm nylon scrubbing pad or steel wool. To clean grill grates, first soak them in soapy water for at least an hour. Make a mixture of 3 parts coffee grounds and 1 part soapy water and scrub. For hard-to-clean stains, soak the grill grates in strongly brewed coffee for at least an hour before cleaning — Clean Every Nook and Cranny With These DIY Home Cleaners.

Annihilate Allium Aromas

Alliums — like garlic, shallots, leeks and onions — contain sulfuric enzymes, which are responsible for their intense flavor and aroma.

Garlic’s allicin and onion’s sulfenic acid are useful in that they produce mouth-watering aromas. However, you probably don’t want your hands — or your entire kitchen — to smell like these substances after dinner is over. Coffee grounds remove garlic and onion smells by getting into hand creases and finger ridges, where they abrade the odor-causing sulfurics and bring them to the skin’s surface for rinsing.

To clean your hands with coffee grounds, wash your hands with soap but don’t dry them. Scoop out a palmful of grounds and scrub your hands vigorously, adding a little water if needed to facilitate scrubbing. Scoop out more grounds and scrub again, this time focusing on the deep recesses of your palms and fingertips. You can also add kosher salt to the grounds to increase their effectiveness.

Clean Crusted Pots and Pans

The acidity and coarseness of coffee grounds can rid your pots and pans of greasy buildup, without the cost or odor of chemical cleaners. As a caveat, you should only use coffee grounds to clean nonreactive cookware, such as items made from stainless steel, earthenware, stoneware and glass. Pots and pans made from reactive metals, such as copper and aluminum, discolor readily when they come into contact with acids. You can use coffee grounds to clean cast-iron pans, but you might have to re-season them if they lose their coatings of polymerized fat.

To clean cookware, mix equal parts soapy water and coarse coffee grounds. Using a dishcloth or nylon pad, scrub the cookware and rinse. Soak cookware with baked-in stains in soapy water for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing.

Add Richness and Color to Baked Goods

With its subtle undertones of dark chocolate, toasted nuts and light caramel, coffee goes well with a variety of baked goods. So, it’s no surprise that you’ll find coffee in many recipes, usually in the form of espresso powder, instant coffee or brewed coffee.

Spent coffee grounds don’t impart as much flavor to cookies and cakes as espresso powder and instant coffee, but they do enhance and uplift other flavors. When added to a spice cake, for example, coffee grounds help meld the flavors of the cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with the molasses and brown sugar — totally upping your pie game

Coffee grounds also deepen the color of cakes and breads, endowing them with a light, caramel-like tone. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried, finely ground coffee to each cup of flour for a little extra boldness in cakes, cookies, brownies and dessert breads.

Fill, Glaze and Frost Desserts

Complement those coffee-kissed baked goods with a glaze or filling made with coffee grounds. Coffee cakes, pound cakes, ginger-spiced cupcakes and layer cakes are just a few of the items you can enhance with a little joe.

When making a filling or glaze, grind dried coffee grounds to an espresso-like consistency. For a bold, nutty nuance, toast the grounds in a saute pan until aromatic. To make a rich coffee glaze, combine 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds, 1 stick of room-temperature butter, 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract using a whisk or food processor.

And if you have leftover candy canes from the holidays, try these tricks for more frugal desserts.

Exfoliate and Cleanse With Coffee-Ground Soap

With its coal-like appearance and rough surface, coffee-ground soap looks like it means business — and it does. Boasting deodorizing properties and coarseness, coffee-ground soaps rid your hands and fingernails of foodborne odors.

To make coffee-ground soap, add 8 ounces of roughly chopped glycerin soap to a double boiler and allow it to liquefy. Next, turn off the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of coffee grounds and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. This version of coffee-ground soap uses glycerin as a base. Offering humectant and hydrophilic properties, glycerin attracts and holds water more effectively than regular bar soap, leaving your skin feeling supple and smooth.

Spoon the soap into four silicone muffin molds to cool. For a creamier soap, stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons of powdered milk and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil after the glycerin melts. This is just one of the many ways you can create a DIY beauty product.


Make a Wet Marinade for Meat

Want to cook meat like a pro or celebrity chef? Remember this hack: Like spice rubs, wet marinades tenderize meat by denaturing tightly coiled protein fibers and dissolving the connective tissue binding them. However, wet marinades penetrate deeper into meat, bringing increased flavor and seasoning. When included in an acidic marinade, coffee grounds tenderize while adding an undertone of complexity to meat’s flavor.

You can add coffee grounds to any beef, pork or poultry marinade. For every 1 part acid — such as lemon juice or vinegar — add 1/2 part finely ground coffee grounds.

Coffee-ground marinades work especially well with grilled meats. Next time you’re grilling flank steak, marinate it for 2 to 12 hours in 1/4 cup each balsamic vinegar and coffee grounds, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 minced shallot and kosher salt.

Related: The Cost of a Cup of Coffee Around the World

Remove Product Residue From Your Hair

The coarseness and acidity of coffee grounds make them effective, affordable agents for removing residual product from your scalp and hair. There are, however, a couple factors to consider before giving your hair a coffee cleansing.

First, coffee will darken your hair. Blonde and light red hair, in particular, can take on a dingy sheen when treated with coffee grounds. Hence, coffee washes might be better for those with dark hair. Second, you should line your shower or sink drain with a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter before washing. Coffee grounds contribute to clogged pipes.

To get started, mix about 1/2 cup of coffee grounds with arrowroot until it approximates the color intensity of your hair. Next, brush the mixture onto your scalp using a foundation brush, starting at the hairline. Allow the mixture to stand for several minutes and then rinse. You can also work a couple tablespoons of coffee grounds into your hair while shampooing for a similar effect.

Contribute to Compost

The rich nutrient profile and — in certain households — abundance of coffee grounds make them a valuable addition to the compost bin.

It’s important to note that composting is about more than tossing kitchen trimmings and leftovers in a container — that’s an effective way to produce rotten garbage, not life-giving compost. Compost is made with purpose and, although there’s no single recipe, you can follow certain guidelines to boost your odds of success.

First, reserve only compostable material and store it in a covered, nonreactive container, such as one made from plastic or wood. Compost generates heat when it activates, and you want a container that retains that heat. You can find compost bins at home improvement stores or make your own.

Alternate between adding food and plant-based materials and stir the compost regularly. Expect it to take between two and nine months before the material turns into compost. You’ll know it’s ready when it starts generating heat.

Trap Cockroaches

Known as a “Las Vegas Roach Trap,” perhaps due to the city’s cheap off-strip accommodations and year-round Blattodea bookings, a jar of coffee grounds mixed with water can attract cockroaches in a big way.

Scientists now know that roaches don’t merely skitter around until they find food — they actually have a sense of smell, and they use it when looking for nourishment. While roaches don’t seek out the aroma of coffee like sleep-starved humans, they are attracted to the scent. And because they follow the trails left by other roaches to food sources, one trap can draw numerous pests to their doom.

To create this trap, fill half of a mason jar with equal parts water and coffee grounds. Then set the jar in a dark, enclosed space, such as under the kitchen sink. Check the trap daily and empty and replace the grounds and water as needed. If you don’t see much success initially, use a higher ratio of grounds to water.

Promote Plant Growth

Soil loves nitrogen, magnesium and potassium, and coffee grounds have all three. In fact, they contain around 2 percent nitrogen by volume and measurable amounts of plant-nourishing potassium and magnesium.

You shouldn’t sprinkle pure coffee grounds around your plants, however. You need to temper coffee’s acidity, either by mixing the grounds into the soil or combining them with equal parts leaves and fresh grass clippings.

To fertilize plants with the coffee-ground mixture, add it to an equal amount of soil taken from the planting area. Replace the soil, mounding some around the plant stems.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Thrifty Uses for Leftover Coffee Grounds