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How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly

Updated: Apr 1

I earn from qualifying purchases a commission on some links in this article. I only recommend products from companies that meet high quality standards that I have thoroughly researched or personally use.

One of the questions on my nutrition assessment form that often generates questions is - “Do you wash your fruits and vegetables prior to eating?” Many clients want to know, “Is it really important?” The answer is an astounding “YES!” The WHY is explained in detail in this article.

People usually follow their initial question with - “ How should I wash my fruits and vegetables and what should I use to wash my produce? You will also find those answers along with some great information on buying produce below.


Pesticide, herbicide and bacteria residues on fruits and residues are the reason that we need to wash our fruits and vegetables. I always shudder at the grocery store when I see a well intentioned parent hand a toddler a grape or strawberry straight from the carton. Pesticide and herbicide chemicals can be endocrine disruptors and bacteria can cause foodborne illness.

An endocrine disruptor is a substance, often a chemical compound, that can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system in humans and animals. The endocrine system regulates various physiological processes through the secretion of hormones. Endocrine disruptors can mimic, block, or interfere with the body's natural hormones, potentially leading to a wide range of health problems.

Endocrine disruption has been associated with a variety of health issues and diseases. Some of the conditions and diseases that may be linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors include:

1. Reproductive problems: Endocrine disruptors can affect fertility in both men and women, leading to issues like infertility, reduced sperm quality, and menstrual irregularities.

2. Developmental abnormalities: Exposure during pregnancy can result in developmental problems in the fetus, such as birth defects, neurological disorders, and impaired cognitive development.

3. Hormone-related cancers: There is some evidence to suggest that certain endocrine disruptors may increase the risk of hormone-related cancers, such as breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer.

4. Metabolic disorders: Endocrine disruptors have been associated with metabolic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance.

5. Thyroid disorders: Chemicals that interfere with thyroid hormone function can lead to thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

6. Neurological and behavioral disorders: Some endocrine disruptors can affect brain development and may be linked to neurodevelopmental disorders and behavioral problems.

There is a lot research ongoing in the field of endocrine disruption. In the meantime, we can all take an active role in doing the simple things that reduce our risk. The benefits of fruits and vegetables and all the antioxidants they provide is overwhelming so we definitely want to include them as much as possible in our diet.

If your budget allows, organic fruits and vegetables may offer some advantages.

However, organic does not mean “pesticide free”.

The term “organic fruits and vegetables” refers to produce that has been grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic farming practices also typically avoid synthetic fertilizers and rely on natural methods for soil enrichment. Please also note that both organic and conventional fruits and vegetables may endure environmental run off and be subject to bacteria in irrigation. Plus, when produce is shipped, processed or transported, even in your own shopping cart, that increases bacteria levels. The bacteria on your produce needs to be washed off to prevent foodborne illness.

For an overview of the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™, you can download your own Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. These lists contain both the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides and the lowest in conventional produce. Having this information can often make the decision on what to try and buy organic from a cost standpoint easier.

Other ways to be vested in the produce you are buying. Join a CSA!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a farming and food distribution model that connects consumers directly with local farmers. In a CSA, individuals or families purchase "shares" or subscriptions from a local farm at the beginning of the growing season. In return, they receive a regular supply of fresh produce and sometimes other farm products throughout the growing season, which typically runs from spring through fall.

CSA members often receive a weekly or bi-weekly box of fruits, vegetables, and sometimes other items like eggs, meat, or dairy products, depending on the farm and the specific CSA program. This arrangement benefits both the consumers and the farmers. Consumers get access to fresh, locally grown produce, often at a lower cost than buying the same items in a grocery store. Farmers receive upfront funding and a guaranteed market for their products.

CSAs promote a sense of community and a closer connection between consumers and the source of their food. Members also share in the risks and rewards of farming, as the quality and quantity of produce can be affected by weather and other factors.

Participating in a CSA is a way to support local agriculture, reduce the environmental impact of food transportation, and enjoy a variety of seasonal, farm-fresh foods.

Check out CSA’s in your area here. Some are organic farms as well.

Also, buy what is in season and definitely utilize your local farmer’s markets. The less transport and storage, the less a need for coatings/waxing on produce. You can also grow your own and feel confident about what chemicals are being used!

The HOW to wash your produce.

Ideally, you are washing your produce with water that is free from contaminants. Read more on this here.

To wash fruits and vegetables effectively and safely, follow these general guidelines:

1. Wash your hands well with soap and water. Start with clean hands to avoid contaminating the produce during handling.

2. Remove any stickers on produce. Always discard damaged or spoiled portions of produce.

3. Use Cold Water: Rinse the produce well under cold, running water. Warm/hot water will damage the fruit or vegetable.

4. Scrub or Brush: For items with thicker skins or surfaces where dirt might be trapped (e.g., potatoes, carrots, melons) use a clean brush or cloth to scrub gently. Please note that if you do not wash the outside of a food like a melon before cutting into it, you will push bacteria into the flesh of the fruit when you cut it. This can put you at greater risk for food borne illness like Salmonella or E.coli.

5. Soak When Appropriate: Some items benefit from soaking in cold water. Leafy greens, for example, can be soaked to remove dirt and pesticides. After soaking, rinse them under running water.

6. Use vinegar or baking soda or food grade peroxide which can increase effectiveness of cleaning.

You can create a solution of vinegar, white or apple cider vinegar, and water (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water) to soak produce for 15-20 minutes.

Baking soda can also be used. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda for every 2 cups cool water and soak. Soak for 15-20 minutes.

Another option is to use Food Grade hydrogen peroxide 3%. Do not use regular hydrogen peroxide from the drugstore which has unfavorable stabilizers in it.

Mix ¼ cup to 1 gallon of filtered water. Soak for 15-20 minutes and rinse.

7. Dry with a Clean Towel or Paper Towel: Use a clean towel or paper towel to dry the produce after washing. This can help remove any remaining dirt or contaminants.

8. Peel When Appropriate: Peeling fruits and vegetables can further reduce pesticide exposure, but you may lose some of the nutrients and fiber in the process.

9. Use a Produce Wash (Optional): Commercial produce washes are available, but always follow the product's instructions and scrutinize ingredients on labels. Many of the washes may be helpful in regard to removing waxes on items like apples and cucumbers.

10. Avoid Using Soap or Detergent: Do not use soap, bleach, or other cleaning agents on fruits and vegetables, as they can leave harmful residues.

Including a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet to ensure you get a broad spectrum of nutrients is one of the most important things you can do for your health! Please do take a few extra minutes to wash your fruits and vegetables carefully to reduce chemicals of concern that can negatively impact health and reduce the chance of food borne illness!

Jana Davis MS,RDN, CDCES is a functional registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice.

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