One of the best ways to protect yourself from foodborne diseases and exposure to pesticides is by washing your fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
There are a lot of store-bought produce washes available on the market that claim to be able to do just that.
But before you go and buy these pricey washes, though, be warned that nearly all research finds that they aren’t more effective than washing fruits and vegetables with cool water.
The FDA has advised against using a commercial vegetable wash and recommends washing fruits and veggies in cold tap water instead.
Let’s face the fact, however, that all of us need protection against illnesses like E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, all of which can be acquired from improperly washed fruits and vegetables.
And, if you’re wondering, even organic produce is exposed to pesticides, dirt, and other contaminants that can be harmful.
There IS a better alternative to a store-bought commercial wash: an all-natural wash that you can make in your own kitchen. It will give you the peace of mind that you have done everything you can to ensure food safety.
Let’s now talk about how to wash fruit and veggies in the best way possible, using ingredients that you probably already have in your cabinets.
Do You Need to Wash Organic or Locally Bought Vegetables?
Many people buy organic vegetables because they believe that organic farming is done with little or no pesticide use. That simply is not the case.
Organic farming, just like any method of agriculture, relies on pesticides and fungicides to prevent insects from destroying produce.
There are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops. Many of these organic pesticides utilized by farmers are used more intensively than synthetic ones, due to them having lower levels of effectiveness.
It is imperative, therefore, to wash organic or locally bought vegetables to get rid of the pesticides that may still be clinging to them. At the same time, you will also be washing away soil and other microbes they may be contaminated with.
This pesticide residue can do some damage to your body and can make you sick.
Should I Wash Vegetables if I Know They’re Pesticide-Free?
People should thoroughly wash their fruits and vegetables, even if they are known to be pesticide-free.
You are risking bacterial contamination if you don’t. Listeria, E. coli, and salmonella can be present in the vegetables that can cause health problems.
It is also highly possible that unwashed organic fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with pesticides. After all, regulations for organic farming only covers how the produce is grown. Cross-contamination of pesticides can occur through wind drift from nearby conventional farms, harvesting, during transport, storage, and at the markets.
Vegetables can be contaminated even in our homes. This may be a result of improper storage and not-so-clean food preparation.
Should I Wash Leafy Greens Differently Than Other Vegetables?
Fresh leafy greens from farmers’ markets and grocery stores may host bacteria-causing diseases, insects, and loose soil. That is why it is necessary to thoroughly wash them before eating, especially in salads.
Some examples of leafy greens are kale, lettuce, cabbage, Swiss chard, rapini, and pre-bagged greens, such as baby spinach.
Whole lettuce, in particular, should have its leaves separated and the individual leaves rinsed.
The outer leaves, which are the most likely to come into contact with bacteria, should either be thrown away or used as an ingredient in a cooked dish, such as soup.
Insects and other bugs like caterpillars often like to hang out in leafy greens. Washing the larger leaves of lettuce in running water one at a time gives you the chance to inspect for insects. While at it, you can also trim off wilted portions.
Particularly grubby leaves may be immersed in water for a few minutes to loosen the dirt. Leafy greens labeled as “pre-washed” should also be thoroughly cleaned before using. Then, use a salad spinner or simply blot the leaves with clean paper towels to dry.
Besides getting rid of bacteria and other contaminants, washing your green leafy vegetables as soon as you get them home will make them easier to handle in salads, stir-fries, and other dishes in which they are used as ingredients.
What About Drying the Vegetables after Using a DIY Veggie Wash?
No matter how much spinning in a salad spinner or shaking in a colander you do after washing vegetables with a produce wash DIY, there will still be a bit of water on them.
You can just throw the still somewhat wet greens in your salad, but who likes eating a soggy salad?
You will be sabotaging your efforts of washing the vegetables if you don’t take the extra step of drying them. It is easy and takes very little time.
Place either a clean dish towel or paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet. If you don’t have one on hand, you can place the towels right on your countertop. Spread the leaves over the towel and let them dry for at least half an hour. You’re done!
If the leaves are extra wet, blot them with another clean towel before letting them air dry. If you’re using the veggies for later, wrap them with a damp towel, put them into a plastic bag, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them.
How to Wash Vegetables Using White Vinegar
Sometimes, rinsing with water is simply not enough and you need something stronger to completely remove bacteria and chemicals from your fresh fruits and vegetables.
White vinegar has the acidity that is needed to kill harmful bacteria. For this to happen, the vinegar wash needs to be strong enough for the acid to do its job.
Washing with white vinegar also helps fruits and vegetables last longer. The vinegar can kill spores on the fruit, preventing mold from forming sooner.
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar*
- 3 cups water
*Always use 1:3 vinegar to water ratio
- In a bowl, combine the white vinegar and water.
- Place the vegetables in the solution. Gently stir and remove any dirt you see with your fingers. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Drain the vegetables in a colander and rinse them with water to remove the vinegar taste in them.
- Place the veggies on a clean towel and let to air dry.
- Store the veggies in a clean container that will allow them to breathe so the veggies won’t build up moisture.
How to Wash Vegetables Using Apple Cider Vinegar
All you need is a big bowl of water and some apple cider vinegar for an all-natural fruit and veggie wash.
Like white vinegar, apple cider vinegar can kill off all the nasty germs in a chemical-free way.
At first, you might find adding an extra step in washing your produce to be inconvenient. But once you work it into your routine, it will be second nature. The peace of mind you will earn about the safety of your family’s food will make it all worth it.
- 6 cups of water (depending on how much produce you will be washing)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Place the fruits or vegetables at the bottom of a big bowl. Fill it with water until the produce is fully covered.
- Add the apple cider into the water. Leave the produce immersed in the solution for 15 minutes. Every few minutes, turn the fruits or vegetables to make sure that all the sides get cleaned.
- After 15 minutes, drain the produce and rinse thoroughly with clean water. Don’t worry, your fruits and vegetables won’t taste like apple cider vinegar.
How to Wash Vegetables Using Lemon Juice
If you find soaking and rinsing vegetables time-consuming, you can prepare a simple DIY spray with a natural ingredient like lemon juice to remove pesticides and bacteria.
Lemon juice is one of the best natural cleaners due to its low pH, high citric acid, and antibacterial properties.
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup water
- Mix lemon juice and baking soda. Pour water into the lemon and baking soda mixture.
- Whisk the mixture until the baking soda is completely dissolved and incorporated into the liquid.
- Fill a clean spray bottle with the mixture.
- Put your fresh fruits and vegetables in a colander and place them in your sink.
- Spray on the produce. See to it that the outside of each piece of produce is completely coated.
- Let the fruits and vegetables sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse well with clean water.
How to Wash Vegetables Using Bleach
Before you go and skip this part wondering why I would recommend bleach as a vegetable wash, let me just say that I tried this method with caution.
I used no more than the recommended amount of 1 teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water. Afterward, I rinsed my produce thoroughly in clean water.
There are many benefits of a simple chlorine treatment. Fruits and vegetables will keep longer, and wilted ones will become crisp again. Your produce will also have a more vibrant color.
Chlorine does not leave a detectable residue that is harmful to the body. More importantly, when used to soak fruits and vegetables, all the dangerous bacteria and pesticides will be removed.
For root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and turnips, the recommended soaking time is 10-15 minutes. This also goes for thicker-skinned fruits like apples, bananas, and citrus fruits.
A 5-10 minute soaking time is sufficient for thin-skinned produce like leafy vegetables, peaches, plums, and berries.
- 1 teaspoon bleach
- 1 gallon water
- Add the bleach into the water. Soak according to the recommended time of your produce. Swish your produce around to dislodge more dirt if any.
- Rinse thoroughly under running water. Lay produce on a clean towel to air-dry.
How to Wash Vegetables Using Castile Soap and Citrus Essential Oil
Citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruits, etc.) essential oils have enzymes that can dissolve petroleum-based residue on fruits and vegetables.
Many pesticides used in produce are petroleum-based and can therefore be removed by castile soap in a fruit and veggie wash.
However, oil and water don’t mix. To use essential oils and get their maximum benefits in washing fruits and vegetables, you need to combine them with a bit of castile soap.
- ¼ teaspoon liquid castile soap
- 7 drops lemon essential oil
- 1 gallon water
- Combine castile soap, lemon essential oil, and water in a bowl of water and stir.
- Soak your produce in the mixture and swish to loosen any dirt or debris.
- Rinse well with cold water.
How to Wash Vegetables Using Baking Soda
While rinsing fruits and vegetables may remove dirt, adding baking soda into the water is the best way to remove pesticide residue.
To make this washing method more effective, use a gentle vegetable brush when washing produce that has a thick skin.
All produce can be soaked in this veggie DIY wash EXCEPT for berries and other soft fruits. Vegetables that may get too soggy should also not be soaked. Just use this baking soda solution as a quick rinse for them instead.
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 4 cups water
- Combine baking soda and water. Stir well.
- Soak fresh produce in the solution for 5 minutes. Lightly scrub with a vegetable scrub if you prefer.
- Rinse off with cold water and pat dry.
How to Make a Veggie Wash Using Lemon Juice, Baking Soda, and Water
This is another natural DIY fruit and veggie wash that will retain the nutritional value of your produce while not compromising your health.
We all know how lemon juice is a good antimicrobial, meaning that it can destroy bacteria and germs. Then, you have baking soda that works best in removing pesticide residue.
Together as ingredients, you could possibly have the best fruits and veggies wash ever. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive than commercial fruit and veggie wash.
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ cup baking soda
- Combine the lemon juice and baking soda into the water. Whisk until the baking soda is completely dissolved and incorporated into the liquid.
- Pour the liquid mixture into a spray bottle. Use to spray on fruits and vegetables. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Rinse your produce under cold, running water preferably using a scrub brush.
How to Make a Veggie Wash Using Vinegar and Salt
This fruit and veggie wash recipe calls for vinegar, a popular ingredient for a homemade wash.
Although people use vinegar as a disinfectant, it cannot kill the dangerous bacteria that can endanger your health.
Some people prefer salt over baking soda to remove pesticides. This is because salt is a natural disinfectant. Mixed with vinegar, these ingredients make a potent combination for a produce wash.
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 cups water
- Place your produce in a clean bowl.
- Make a solution of water, vinegar, and salt. Fill the bowl with vegetables with the solution.
- Let the produce soak in the solution for 2-5 minutes. Remove.
- Rinse the solution off thoroughly with cold water using a colander.
- Dry with paper towels.
Additional Tips to Make Your Own DIY Veggie Wash
- When using vinegar and/or lemon juice with baking soda in a recipe, mix the ingredients in a bowl or pitcher first before pouring them into a spray bottle. Baking soda will react with vinegar or lemon and will overflow from the top of the spray bottle.
- Use a funnel to pour mixed vegetable wash into a clean spray bottle.
- Mixing vinegar with lemon juice will make your veggie wash more effective due to increased acidity. The mixture can kill more bacteria, including E. coli
- Use cold water in washing produce. It keeps them fresh and crisp.
- To wash a large amount or big-sized produce, such as an entire head of lettuce or a bag of apples, use your kitchen sink. For smaller amounts or sizes like fresh fruit, herbs, and the like, use a large, clean mixing bowl.
Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a good practice, now more than ever. It can lessen the danger of ingesting germs and other potentially harmful residue.
Using a produce wash isn’t a new phenomenon, but there are a lot of store-bought ones now. They all promise to prime your fruits and vegetables for consumption. The thing is, you don’t know what they are made of. They also are a bit pricey.
There are good alternative homemade produce washes. Not only are they cheap but it’s crazy how easy it is to make them. The best part? You can take your pick of what ingredients to use in them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does vinegar kill bacteria on fruits and vegetables?
Vinegar is a popular disinfectant, but the extent of its effectiveness to kill bacteria depends on the nature of the disease-causing bacteria on fresh fruits and vegetables.
In other words, vinegar cannot kill all germs. It can only kill or reduce certain types of pathogens, such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. These germs are known to cause foodborne illnesses.
Other factors will also affect the vinegar’s effectiveness, such as its concentration, temperature of the water it is mixed with, and how long your produce is exposed to the vinegar.
What is the best way to wash your fruits and vegetables?
Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking them, unless the package says they have already been prewashed.
Wash or scrub the produce under running cold water, even if you won’t be eating the peel. Dirt and bacteria on the skin may get inside the produce when you cut it. Air-dry the fruits and vegetables using a clean towel or paper towels.
To wash spinach, leeks, or other leafy greens, first put them in a large bowl of cold water. Then, swish them around to remove the grit, lift the produce out, and drain them in a colander. Repeat the process if there is still grit left on your produce.
Washing fruits and vegetables with water will be enough in taking care of the dirt. However, bacteria, pesticides, and other chemicals are a bit harder to get rid of.
You can include various homemade fruit and veggie wash preparations in your food prep routine. You will feel safer and feel more confident when preparing your fruits and vegetables.
What is the best vegetable wash?
Many people believe that the best vegetable wash is cold water and that using other substances is largely unnecessary. Most fruits and vegetables can indeed be sufficiently washed with water and gentle friction.
This may be the case if dirt is the only thing you have to deal with. We now know that produce, even organic or local, is often contaminated with bacteria and pesticides.
Washing with store-bought veggie wash may be an answer. However, we don’t know how safe they are, since the safety of their residue has not been fully evaluated by the FDA.
A homemade natural fruit and vegetable wash is, honestly, your best bet. It can cover all the bases where food safety is concerned. Plus, you can be confident about the safety of the ingredients that you choose for your DIY vegetable wash.
How do you disinfect vegetables naturally?
You need to rinse vegetables under cool running water for about a minute. Make sure to thoroughly scrub thick-skinned produce, since friction from scrubbing is an important factor in removing germs and residue.
Soaking produce in diluted white vinegar is a great way to reduce bacterial contamination. Thin-skinned and leafy produce must be soaked for 5 minutes. Thick-skinned ones need to be soaked for 10 minutes. After soaking, rinse them under running water.
Adding lemon juice can make the vinegar solution more effective as a disinfectant, as well, due to lemon juice’s natural acidic properties.
Do bagged leafy greens need to be washed before eating?
Bagged leafy greens that are labeled as “washed,” “triple-washed,” or “ready-to-eat” do not need additional washing at the time of use.
Washing them will not increase their safety for consumption. In fact, the risk of contamination from your handling and contact with your kitchen surfaces may outweigh any benefit that additional washing may give.
This is because people often forget to wash their hands, cutting boards, sinks, and strainers they will be using to wash and prep the vegetables. When you come to think about it, however, this should be a habit you have with all fresh fruits and vegetables.
Is baking soda good for washing fruits and vegetables?
Many people worry about ingesting pesticides on fresh fruits and vegetables. Peeling fruits is the best way to get rid of them. However, this means you’re losing out on getting important nutrients found in the skins of many fruits.
It may surprise many to find out that soaking fruits and vegetables in a baking soda wash is the most effective way to remove pesticides without having to peel them.
Baking soda when paired with lemon juice makes a good disinfectant. Together, they can eliminate both pesticides and bacteria that can be found on your produce.
- Center for Ecogenics and Environmental Health: Health Risks of Pesticides in Food
- OCF.Berkley.edu: Pesticides in Organic Farming
- Time.com: 12 Fruits and Vegetables with the Most Pesticides