Washing Fruit With Vinegar: Is It Really Necessary? The Answer Surprised Us

washing fruit with vinegar person rinsing berries under water in the sink
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Along with plenty of pickle-flavored potato chips and Reese’s dipped animal crackers, we like to balance our diet with the obligatory fresh produce. No, really, we love to bite into a crisp apple or pop a handful of blueberries into our mouth in rapid succession. But there’s always a nagging voice in the back of our head: Did you wash that? (Thanks, Mom.)

Yes, we know you should wash 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 after seeing folks on #CleanTok bathe their berries in a sink full of vinegar water, we had to wonder, what’s clean enough? Is washing fruit with vinegar really necessary? As it turns out, the answer is no. According to the USDA, washing fruits (and vegetables) in plain tap water for 15 seconds is perfectly sufficient—but if you want to know more, we can explain.

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Why Are People Washing Fruit With Vinegar, and Is It Safe?

True, vinegar’s acidic properties can help kill bacteria, which is one of the reasons we love using the multi-purpose ingredient around our home. And yeah, there’s bacteria on the produce you buy. The logic checks out, at first glance: Vinegar is safe to eat, so why not use it to sanitize your snacks? The prevailing idea is that it removes pesticides, protective waxes and microbes, and will keep your produce fresh for longer.

Unlike washing fresh produce with soap or disinfectants (which can leave residue and cause gastrointestinal disturbances if consumed), washing fruit with vinegar is totally safe. According to Auburn University horticulture professors Dr. Floyd Woods and Dr. Joe Kemble, a solution of three parts water to one part vinegar is effective at reducing bacteria. But that doesn’t come without caveats.

For starters, soaking produce in the kitchen sink isn’t the best way to clean it, considering how much bacteria your sink harbors to begin with. (It’s usually moist, it’s where you wash your hands after touching raw chicken…dare we say more?)

Also, if the produce is visibly dirty to begin with, plunking it straight into a vinegar solution without pre-rinsing it will reduce the efficacy of the vinegar. An extra step? No thanks.

But Why Don’t You Need to Wash Fruit With Vinegar?

If washing fruit with vinegar is safe and effective, why don’t you need to do it? Because it’s just not necessary, and science can back that up.

No washing method will remove or kill microbes completely (the only way to do that is through cooking), but according to a study conducted by the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Research at Tennessee State University, rinsing produce in water can remove 98 percent of bacteria and surface pesticides, which are typically water-soluble. What’s more, the researchers found that the reduction of surface contamination after soaking in a vinegar solution was not significantly different from using plain water.

And what about the claim that vinegar will prolong the life of your produce? According to Woods and Kemble, it’s not really true. Shelf-life is dependent upon the type of produce, how it was treated after harvesting and how long it was stored before you bought it. (Anecdotally, you’ll find folks on the internet saying the vinegar trick works, so run your own experiment if you’re really curious.)

And in our humble opinion, we’re not that keen on eating a strawberry that tastes like it’s been pickled.

What About Commercial Vegetable Cleaners?

We hate to burst your bubble, 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.” 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 produce wash…how should you wash produce? Thankfully, it’s easy. Here’s how to do it, per the FDA.

rinsing strawberries in a colander under running water in the sink
Ana Rocio Garcia Franco/Getty Images

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables:

Step 1: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. (We know you know this, but a reminder never hurts.)

Step 2: Under tepid 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 be scrubbed with a vegetable brush. Leafy vegetables and herbs can be submerged in a bowl of water and gently swished around to loosen dirt.

Step 3: Dry the produce with a clean towel (or in the case of lettuces, a salad spinner) 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.

Now you know how to 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
  • Trim bruised or blemished spots from produce before washing, since these spots can contain more bacteria and pesticides

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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 restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.


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...