How to Wash Produce the Right Way (Nope, Not with Soap)

how to wash produce

You can’t have a balanced diet without plenty of fruits and veggies, and who doesn’t love biting into a crisp apple or a big stalk of celery? But did you wash it first? Or did you just rub it on your shirt? Be honest.

At the risk of sounding like a nagging parent, you really should be washing your fresh fruits and veggies before digging in, especially if you don’t plan on cooking them. Per the CDC, raw produce can carry nasty germs that cause food poisoning (they do come from the dirt, after all), and you never know who squeezed that tomato before you added it to your cart.

But what’s the best way to wash fruits and vegetables? Is a quick rinse enough, or should you use soap too? We’re glad you asked. Here’s how to wash produce so you can eat your fruits and vegetables without getting sick…and nope, it’s not with soap (but read on).

First things first, should you wash produce with soap?

No! Please, we implore you: Don’t wash your fruits or vegetables with any kind of soap, disinfectant (like Lysol or isopropyl alcohol) or bleach, even if a man wearing scrubs in his kitchen tells you to on YouTube.

We all know soap can kill viruses and bacteria, and it’s tempting to give your groceries a suds to protect you from getting sick, but according to the USDA, detergents and soaps “are not approved or labeled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on foods,” and you could accidentally ingest “residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce.”

Basically, when you wash produce with soap or bleach, there’s a chance that the soap could linger on the surface after rinsing or even get absorbed into the food…and you wouldn’t eat soap or bleach on its own. There’s a reason they put the phone number for the poison control center on the labels—eating soap or disinfectants can cause, well, gastrointestinal disturbances, to put it lightly.

What about those fancy commercial vegetable cleaners?

Ugh, we hate to break it to you, but you probably shouldn’t have shelled out for that expensive produce spray that claims to eliminate “100 billion percent of microorganisms” or whatever. According to the FDA, washing fruits and vegetables with “soap, detergent or commercial produce wash is not recommended.” Again, those washes aren’t regulated by the FDA and the safety of their potential residues haven’t been tested.

So, if you shouldn’t use soap, bleach or a fancy produce wash…how should you wash produce? Friends, it’s easy. Here’s how to do it, according to the FDA.

How to wash fruits and vegetables:

Step 1: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. (You should always wash your hands before handling food…but you knew that, right?)

Step 2: Under cool running water, rub the fruits and veggies briskly with your clean hands to remove dirt and germs. Firm produce (like potatoes) or anything with a tough outer rind (like melons) can hand scrubbing with a vegetable brush. Leafy vegetables and herbs can be submerged in cool water and gently swished around to loosen dirt.

Step 3: Dry the produce with a clean towel and take a moment to admire how responsible you are. Then get cooking (or eating). If you’re storing the clean produce, keep it separate from raw meat or poultry to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

That’s it! If it sounds too easy to be true, we promise it’s not. While no cleaning method will completely remove germs, a rinse in clean water has been shown to be effective at reducing the number of those surface germs, as well as dirt, bugs and pesticides. One University of Maine study proved water to be more effective than commercial veggie washes. The only way to completely kill those germs is to cook your produce.

A few tips for washing produce:

Now you know how to safely wash your produce, but not all fruits and veggies are the same. Here’s how to treat them right:

  • Wash delicate berries and grapes only when you want to eat them to keep them from growing mold
  • Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel right before cooking to remove dirt (as opposed to letting them get soggy)
  • Remove the outermost leaves from heads of cabbage and lettuce before washing
  • Don’t use soap :)

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Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...