14 creative ways to use ice cube trays

Photo by Sam Schipani

As more and more refrigerators have built-in icemakers, ice cube trays may seem like an unnecessary novelty. Standard, rectangular ice cube trays always seem to pop up at thrift stores, relegated to forgotten plastic goods sections that seem to languish indefinitely.

But ice cube trays are not obsolete. Though they may have been designed with a particular purpose in mind, there are many uses for this cute, compartmentalized plastic trays beyond freezing cubes of ice.

Photo by Sam Schipani

Ice cube trays can be made of plastic or silicone and can come in a variety of novelty shapes. Regardless of what the trays look like, it is useful to first figure out how much liquid each cell holds. Even similar looking trays can vary greatly.

No matter how much liquid they hold, ice cube trays are useful for various tasks in the kitchen and beyond. Here are 14 unconventional ways to use ice cube trays.

Photo by Sam Schipani

Make garbage disposal cleaners

Freeze vinegar with a slice of lemon in an ice cube tray. When your garbage disposal starts smelling sour, pop one or two cubes down chute and run the grinder to release the cool, fresh scent.

Freeze homemade pasta sauce

Make sure your big batch of homemade pesto or marinara sauce does not go to waste. You can freeze all sorts of pasta sauces in an ice cube tray for easy thawing and reuse — just pop them in a saucepan for a few minutes before combining with your freshly cooked noodles.

Start seeds

The regimented rows and compartments of an ice cube tray make it ideal for starting small seeds. Drill small holes in the bottom of your ice cube trays for a little bit of drainage, fill with a seed starting soil mix and grow your seedlings until they are large enough to transplant.

Freeze milk or buttermilk

Milk (and buttermilk) is one of the many foods you may not have known you could freeze. You can freeze milk in the container that it is sold in (that is why it has those circular indentations in the side), but once you defrost it, you have to use the whole container, which you may not be prepared to do. Freeze smaller portions in ice cubes instead, and microwave the amount you need for a few seconds in a microwave-safe dish before cooking with them.

Make homemade laundry detergent

Shake up your laundry routine by making your own eco-friendly detergent. Follow these DIY instructions from A Cultivated Nest to make your own personal, planet-friendly laundry pods in an ice cube tray.

Freeze herbs

Finely chop herbs, fill the trays and add a little olive oil  (you can also use water or melted butter) before putting them in the freezer. The frozen herbs are much better to use in cooking than they are to use as toppings, but the ice cube trays help to partition the herbs into easy portions to toss into stocks, soups and other recipes.

Make decorative ice cubes

Punch up your next cocktail party with edible, decorative ice cubes. If you grow edible flowers, you can freeze them in water in your ice cube trays. Some trays are even made with fun and creative shapes for added panache.

Upcycle as a paint palette

Feeling crafty and inspired to paint one of the unique and colorful heritage breeds of livestock on your homestead? Save money (and resources) on plastic palettes by upcycling an old ice cube tray to hold your watercolors and acrylics.

Make coffee ice cubes

You may be in the habit of reusing your coffee grounds, but you should not let that stagnant brew from your morning pot go to waste, either. Pour some cool coffee into ice cube trays and pop them into the freezer. You can use a few frozen coffee cubes for your next iced coffee to keep your chill morning joe from getting watered down.

Freeze leftover wine for cooking

Did you know that open wine only stays drinkable if kept in your refrigerator for about a week? If you have a few fingers of wine left at the bottom of your bottle after a dinner party, you are better off freezing it in an ice cube tray to use for future recipes. Your risotto, chicken marsala, paella and other warm, brothy dishes will thank you for the added flavor.

Make infused butter

Infused butters, or compound butters, are a delicious to make even a weeknight meal seem gourmet. Melt a stick of unsalted butter in a saucepan on low with the ingredients, add to your ice cube tray, let cool slightly and put the trays in the freezer to store up to two months. Let your fancy frozen butter cubes thaw for a little bit before cooking with them or dolloping them on warm bread, steak or roasted vegetables. Silicone trays work better than plastic trays for this particular technique because it is easier to pop out the butter from the flexible compartments. This recipe from Wishful Chef shows you how to make garlic and parsley infused butter cubes, but you can also make butter infused with paprika and rosemary, honey and cinnamon, jalapeno and lime or experiment with your own flavor combinations.

Freeze vegetable or chicken stock

If you make your own vegetable or chicken stock, it will stay good in the refrigerator for about a week, but it will stay good in the freezer for about two months. Freeze leftover broth or stock (which, for the record: the former is unseasoned, the latter is seasoned) in ice cube trays for portioned additions to cooking.

Store tiny objects

Organize your tool shed or craft room using ice cube trays — the compartments are the perfect size for tiny screws and buttons. Ice cube trays are also the perfect size for storing small jewelry like earrings, rings and thin necklaces and bracelets.

Save bacon drippings

As a general rule, you should never dump bacon drippings down the drain unless you want to create a fatberg that clogs up your municipal sewer system. Save bacon drippings in an ice cube tray to add flavor to stocks or when sauteing meat and tomatoes.

Even if you have an icemaker in your top-of-the-line refrigerator, now you can thaw out those old ice cube trays or shake them out of storage to give them new life with these creative upcycling hacks.

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