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updated: 5/10/2011 12:31 PM

Frugal Living: Zappy ways to use your microwave

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Frugal families tend to buy multipurpose products. But sometimes there's a household item you rarely use. You'll either sell or donate it or dust it off and find new ways to use it. One such item is a microwave. It takes up a considerable amount of space, so it makes sense to use it for more than reheating coffee. Some people couldn't live without it, but for others, it's nothing more than an extra clock or a place to stack mail. One reader, Liz from New York, comments: "For heaven's sake! How would I live without my microwave? Where ever would I store my bread?"

What alternate uses do you have for your microwave?

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Disinfect sponges: According to a study by The Journal of Environmental Health, microwaving kitchen sponges for 1 or 2 minutes at full power could kill more than 99 percent of bacteria, including E. coli. Your sponge should be damp before placing it in your microwave to prevent a fire. Vinegar diluted with water can help with any foul odors.

Dough proffer: If your kitchen is cold when baking bread, you can use your microwave to help. In the microwave, bring 3 cups of water in a microwave-safe glass bowl to a boil on high. According to Snopes.com (snopes.com/science/microwave.asp), to avoid super heating the water, place a wooden spoon in the bowl. Turn off the microwave, place the dough inside a greased bowl, covered with wax paper or a towel and place in microwave along with the steaming water, and close the door. Check on the rise of the dough and warmth of the interior of your microwave after 20 minutes. If the interior is cool, remove dough, boil water again and place dough back in until it doubles in size.

Sanitize soil: Colorado State University Extension (coopext.colostate.edu/4dmg/Soil/sterile.htm) offers the following methods:

• Microwave soil for 90 seconds per kilogram on full power. Don't use metal containers and aluminum foil when using a microwave.

• Place about 2 pounds of moist soil in a polypropylene bag. Leave the top open and place in the center of a microwave oven. Treat for 2 minutes on full power of about 650 watts. After treatment, close the top of the bag and allow the soil to cool before removing.

Dry herbs: Place fresh from the garden herbs in your microwave in small batches at a time between paper towels and microwave for a minute or two. Continue to microwave 30 seconds at a time until they crumble between your fingertips.

More juice: Your microwave can be used to get more juice from citrus. Simply warm the fruit for 20 seconds.

Shorten cooking time: Use your microwave to cook eggs (frugalvillage.com/2011/01/14/make-quick-and-easy-eggs-for-breakfast), cupcakes in a mug (frugalvillage.com/2010/01/28/for-the-love-of-chocolate), squash, potatoes, corn on the cob, bacon, etc.

One reader, Kim from Michigan, shares a squash tip: "I put mine in whole for about 4 minutes to soften it up. It makes it much easier to cut. Then I cut in half, scoop out the seeds, put butter and brown sugar in and microwave it until it is done (check after 10 minutes)."

Heat rice bags: Rice bags are wonderful for aches and pains. Add 1 pounds of rice to a tube sock, tie it off and microwave it for 2 minutes. Or make a nicer rice bag out of fabric. A basic pattern and photo is on my website at frugalvillage.com/forums/general-chat/125640-rice-bag-heating-pads.html.

• Sara Noel owns Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Send tips, comments or questions to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or sara@frugalvillage.com.

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