Dehydrating foods is a great way to preserve and store fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even meats for long periods of time. It removes moisture content which prevents spoilage and bacterial growth. To dehydrate foods, a dehydrator with stackable trays is typically used. The food is spread thinly on the trays and dried with circulating warm air. However, dehydrator trays can be expensive to buy initially or replace if broken. Luckily, there are some clever household items that can be repurposed as DIY dehydrator trays. Keep reading to learn about various inexpensive, reusable tray substitutes for dehydrating without buying more equipment.
Wire Cooling Racks
Wire cooling racks are a handy kitchen item that can pull double duty for dehydrating. Cooling racks are grids made of wired metal that allow air flow all around. They are commonly used when baking cookies or other goods to allow rising heat to escape and prevent sogginess on the bottom side. The open wire grid design serves the same benefit for dehydrating. It allows warm circulating air to reach all sides of the food for even drying. Cooling racks come in various sizes and can be layered on top of each other to maximize space in the dehydrator. They are easy to clean and store for repeated use.
Mesh Drain Covers
Plastic mesh drain covers used for kitchen sinks provide another grid-like surface perfect for dehydrator trays. The mesh design prevents small food items from falling through but allows ample warm air flow. Drain covers come in handy multipacks for cheap prices at any grocery or hardware store. They can simply be thoroughly cleaned and stacked in layers to effectively hold foods during dehydrating. An added bonus is that the flexible plastic mesh helps the trays conform nicely to the interior shape of any dehydrator brand or model.
Perforated Parchment Paper
Lined parchment paper makes a disposable and customizable tray option. Perforated parchment paper has rows of small holes punched throughout for ventilation. Food can be laid directly on top of the parchment sheets placed inside the dehydrator. Multiple sheets can be overlapped to expand the usable surface area. The paper helps prevent very small pieces from falling through the dehydrator trays. However, since parchment paper is not reusable, this may be a more costly long-term option. But it can be ideal for quick small batch dehydrating.
Mesh Reusable Bags
Reusable mesh produce bags are commonly used to store fruits and vegetables bought in bulk. However, their mesh material and sewn liner design also works great for dehydrating. Food can be loaded directly into the breathable mesh bags and laid flat on existing dehydrator trays. The mesh allows warm air to reach all surfaces while containing the food inside. Mesh bags come in a wide range of sizes for maximized efficiency. They prevent any food bits from falling through solid tray cracks. When finished dehydrating, remove the durable mesh bags and toss them in the laundry for reuse next time.
Standard metal baking sheets found in most kitchens can also substitute for dehydrator trays. Choose baking sheets with slightly raised or perforated edges to hold food items. A baking sheet’s solid, flat surface distributes warm air flow evenly across its surface. Multiple baking sheets can be stacked to increase capacity. For best results, regularly rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back to ensure even drying throughout the dehydrator. Nonstick aluminum baking sheets clean up easily after each use.
Wooden Drying Trays
Specially made wooden herb drying trays have an open slatted design perfect for dehydrating various foods. Wooden trays allow good airflow while retaining a stable surface for flat or loose ingredients. Their natural material absorbs and evenly distributes ambient heat. Wooden trays come in stackable sets at many online retailers and craft stores. Try lining them with reusable mesh sheets or parchment paper for easier cleanup. Although they require a bit more maintenance, these wooden trays can be used for many years.
Silicone Drying Mats
Flexible silicone mats made for drying herbs can also work for dehydrating sliced fruits, vegetables, and meats. Silicone has a nonstick surface that allows fast heat transmission. Mats in large sheet form or with honeycomb patterns maximize drying surface area and air circulation. Avoid overloading silicone mats to prevent food from sticking. Silicone material is durable for repeated use. Mats should be washed thoroughly by hand or in the dishwasher between uses.
3D Printed Trays
Those with access to a 3D printer can create customized dehydrator trays. Online sites offer free 3D modeling template files to print trays to perfectly fit your make and model of dehydrator. Edit design files to include desired features like raised edges, hole patterns, or mesh screens. Print trays with durable plastic filament cleaned and rated for food safety. As an eco-friendly option, choose plant-based filaments like wood, bamboo, or wheat materials. Custom trays can be printed quickly in just the right sizes needed.
Metal Window Screens
Old metal window screens provide a readymade mesh surface for dehydrating. Window screens are designed in rectangles ideal for layering horizontally across dehydrator trays. Their mesh is ideal for maximum airflow and preventing small food bits from escaping. Try repurposing used screens from old windows or remnants leftover from screen repair kits. Just scrub clean and cut to desired sizes before using. The metal mesh is easily sanitized between uses by submerging in boiling water or diluted bleach solution.
Basic embroidery hoops made of thin wood or plastic can double as small dehydrating trays. Wrap reusable fine mesh fabric around the inner and outer rings of the hoop. Then simply place or hang hoops in the dehydrator as miniature trays. The mesh fabric creates a breathable surface for holding foods during drying but contains them within the hoop rings. Embroidery hoops collapse for compact storage. They provide a great option for dehydrating small batches of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and jerky strips.
Ventilated Baking Mats
For those who bake frequently, silicone mats with hole or mesh patterns make convertible dehydrator trays. They are designed to allow maximum airflow during baking, which also aids in dehydrating. Ventilated baking mats provide nonstick drying surfaces that are easy to clean. They roll or fold up for compact storage and come in a variety of sizes. Use mats in place of solid dehydrator trays to increase ventilation for quicker, more even drying. Their flexible material helps remove food easily after drying.
Mesh Laundry Bags
Plastic mesh laundry bags can serve as simple disposable drying surfaces. They have tiny holes throughout the bag for ventilation just like a dehydrator tray. Load foods inside, cinch the drawstring top, and place mesh bags directly on dehydrator racks. Mesh laundry bags contain loose ingredients and prevent anything from falling through. However, since laundry bags are designed for single use, this isn’t as eco-friendly long term compared with reusable options.
Plastic Canvas Mesh
Plastic canvas material used in crafting makes an easily customizable dehydrating surface. The woven plastic grid is stiff but flexible to form fit inside any dehydrator. Use scissors to cut sheets to the perfect size and shape needed. Try lining trays with parchment paper for easier loading and unloading. The tight grid prevents small foods from falling through while allowing airflow. Plastic canvas is inexpensive and available at most craft stores. It’s reusable after washing thoroughly by hand.
Dehydrating food at home is a smart way to reduce food waste, save money, and stock up your pantry. But specialty dehydrator trays can be expensive and breakable over time. Luckily, there are many reusable household items that can substitute as DIY dehydrator trays. Cooling racks, sink drain covers, silicone mats, metal screens, and other ventilated items allow warm circulating air to evenly dry foods. With a little creativity, you can fashion trays to customize drying space in any dehydrator brand. Next time your old trays need replacing, try one of these budget-friendly tricks to keep dehydrating without buying expensive equipment.
Comparative Table of DIY Dehydrator Tray Options
|Tray Material||Reusable?||Drying Efficiency||Ease of Use||Affordability|
|Wire cooling rack||Yes||High||High||Medium|
|Mesh drain cover||Yes||High||High||High|
|Perforated parchment paper||No||Medium||High||Low|
|Mesh produce bag||Yes||High||Medium||Medium|
|Metal baking sheet||Yes||Medium||High||Medium|
|Wooden drying tray||Yes||Medium||Medium||Low|
|Silicone drying mat||Yes||High||Medium||Medium|
|3D printed tray||Yes||High||Medium||Medium|
|Metal window screen||Yes||High||Low||High|
|Ventilated baking mat||Yes||High||High||Medium|
|Mesh laundry bag||No||Medium||High||Low|