How to Clean Vegetables and Fruits Naturally

By Erica Loop in Natural Products

You scored a bounty of fresh produce on your last grocery store excursion. Now that your pantry and fridge are overflowing with apples, carrots, parsnips, pears, and more, you may want to know how to clean vegetables and fruits naturally. Whether your grapes are grimy, you bought messy mangoes, the watermelon seems waxy, or you just want the cleanest produce possible, check out these tips for handling, washing, and drying fruits and veggies.

How to Handle Produce

The spinach at your local farmers' market looks wilted and slimy. Should you buy it, clean it, and eat it? Before you handle your produce, make sure it's safe to take home. According to the Ohio State University Extension, shoppers should avoid moldy, slimy, or shriveled produce.

After you choose your produce, handle it with care. While you don't have to treat apples like fragile eggs, you also shouldn't toss them into a shopping cart under heavy boxes and bags. Place easily bruised produce on top of your cart, basket, or bag to keep it safe.

When you do get home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands before you handle and prep your fresh fruits and veggies. Wash your hands for at least twenty seconds with soap and running water. Dry your hands completely with a clean towel before you handle your produce. You'll also want to keep your produce away from raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or anything else that could cause microbial contamination.

produce shopping

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Naturally

Now that your hands are freshly washed, it's time to start cleaning your groceries. This is when knowing how to clean vegetables and fruits naturally comes in handy. You have a few different options to choose from. Note that while it's tempting to peel your apples or remove orange rinds before washing your produce, the CDC recommends against this. According to the CDC, germs from the exterior can enter the fruit or vegetable's interior during this process.

Water Soak

Wash the produce under running water. Some items may require you to presoak them or scrub the surface first—especially if the fruit or vegetable has visible dirt, debris, or muck on it. A study on surface microbial contamination published in the Journal of Food Protection found that presoaking apples, lettuce, and tomatoes in tap water for two minutes significantly reduced Listeria innocua contamination. If you want to scrub your produce clean, the Food and Drug Administration suggests using a vegetable brush—but only on firm items.

While it's tempting to clean your fruits and veggies in the same way you wash your hands, stay away from soap. Porous produce could absorb the soap or any other cleaning products. Instead, you can clean some fresh fruits and vegetables in a solution of a quarter cup of distilled white vinegar mixed with one cup of water.

wash produce

Essential Oil Spray

Along with plain tap water or a vinegar solution, some types of essential oils can reduce bacteria on produce. Research published in the Journal of Food Safety found that thyme, tea tree oil, cinnamon oil, and oregano oil all had antibacterial effects on leaf lettuce and radishes.

Never use full-strength essential oils to wash your produce. You should always dilute these oils before using them on your produce. The specific number of drops you need to use depends on the oil. After you choose an oil, research how many drops will get the job done. Mix the oil with water in a spray bottle. You can also add half a cup of white vinegar to the solution.

Rinse the oils and vinegar residue from the fruit or veggies with running tap water and dry the produce completely with a fresh, clean towel.

Are you looking for creative ways to use your freshly washed veggies? Check out the @tomsofmaine Meatless Monday Pinterest board for delicious veggie-friendly recipes!

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Why It's Good

Even the freshest fruits and veggies can carry residue, dirt, or germs. A natural wash can get your produce clean and ready to eat!