If you’re only using your microwave to warm up soup or heat a ready meal, you’re missing out on the huge range of jobs it can do. From time-saving dinner tricks to everyday hacks that’ll make life easier, your microwave can be put to a variety of uses. Here are 10 things you didn’t know a microwave can do.
Related: Best microwaves
1. Soften ice cream
Not even the sturdiest ice cream scoop can make much of a dent in a block of frozen solid gelato. Instead of hacking away, pop the tub in your microwave – the speediest method is quick bursts of high power, but make sure you don’t let the ice cream start to melt. Alternatively, select a low setting for 30 seconds to a minute – it should still be firm but scoopable.
2. Preserve herbs
How many times has a bunch of fresh herbs ended up in the bin or languished forgotten in the freezer? Instead, try drying them in your microwave – not only will this help preserve their flavour and colour, it’s fast and easy to do. Spread them on a plate lined with two sheets of kitchen roll, cover with another sheet and microwave on high for a minute with 20-second bursts until they’re dry enough to crumble. Then store in an airtight container away from daylight. This method tends to be best for thick-leaved herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and oregano, rather than the thin leaves of basil or parsley.
3. Sterilise sponges
The moist environment of a washing up sponge or cloth is a magnet for bacteria and germs, so use your microwave to keep it hygienic. Make sure the sponge or cloth doesn’t contain any metal, wet it, then microwave on high for two minutes. This will kill the majority of spores and E. coli. A further two minutes makes sure nothing survives. It’ll be hot, so let it stand after zapping. Repeat every other day if it’s in regular use.
4. Dry out or heat household items
Need something in a hurry? As long as the item is heat resistant, your microwave can come in handy. Use it to dry out piping bags between uses or quickly washed pairs of tights – great when you’ve run out of clean ones. Microwaving can also sterilise moist compost before planting seeds (about 90 seconds per 900g), and warm up beauty products, such as hot oil, face masks and hair removal wax. Heating a dried-up mascara for 30 seconds with a cup of water beside it will also make it useable again.
5. Bake a snack-sized sponge
Solve your sugar craving by baking a speedy microwave mug cake. There are several recipes online that can be baked in a minute or two on high power. Not only are they great for a solo sweet treat, there’s no preheating or cake tins or bowls to clean afterwards. Need a crunchy topping for your dessert? Toast seeds and nuts in your microwave for 30 seconds or until they’re golden brown.
6. Make your microwave clean itself
If the inside of your microwave is looking a bit grimy or smelling not so sweet, treat it to a deep clean. Pop a cup of water with the juice of one lemon in a bowl, and set on high for 5 minutes. Leave for a few minutes more to let the steam loosen the debris, then wipe the cavity out – you should find the dirt slides off easily. Use a little of the lemon water to shift more stubborn stains. Finish by drying with a soft cloth.
7. Turn it into a steamer or grill with a gadget
While you used to have to buy a combi microwave or one with accessories to be able to do more than heat food up, now there are gadgets galore to help your microwave do more. Try Lékué’s Microwave Grill, which enables you to make toasted sandwiches and grill sausages in the microwave or its Deep Silicone Steam Case that can steam a whole chicken in just 20 minutes.
8. Waste less food
Your microwave is great for bringing foods back to life and getting more from others, so you throw less away. For example, 50 seconds of medium power will make crystalised honey runny again (remember to take off the metal lid beforehand), while a lime or lemon microwaved for 10-20 seconds will soften up so you can squeeze out more juice. Stale bread is another microwave specialty – by wrapping it in a damp tea towel and heating in 10-second bursts you can make it taste almost like fresh again. Alternatively, use your microwave to dry out breadcrumbs to make ultra-crispy coatings for deep-fried food. A 15-second blast of high power will also loosen the skin of a garlic clove, so you can peel it away fuss-free.
9. Warm up plates
Cold plates mean dinner loses its heat faster. Instead, use your microwave to warm them through – 30 seconds on high just before serving will bring plates to the perfect temperature. Make sure they don’t have a metallic trim or decoration and dampen them with a little water before piling up.
10. Froth milk for coffee
No milk frother at home? No problem. You can make warm bubbly milk in your microwave. Using skimmed or semi-skimmed, simply pour the milk into a jam jar, no more than halfway up, screw on the lid, shake vigorously for up to a minute to create foam, remove the lid and microwave it for 30 seconds. This stabilises the foam (without heating it’ll collapse), then you can pour the warm milk into your coffee and top with the froth barista-style. You’ll need to do this straightaway or the foam will begin to disintegrate.