Warning: If you haven’t seen strawberries yet this season (or made a batch of easy no-cook strawberry jam), they’re coming!
And this post is the early sign we all need to get our ducks in a row when it comes to washing our fruits and vegetables.
Pesticides are sprayed on all commercially produce – yes, even organic – and since it’s not that great idea to ingest pesticides if we can help it, let’s talk about how we can clean our produce naturally with nine different homemade fruit and veggie wash recipes, each using ingredients you already have at home!
Wait, organic produce is sprayed with pesticides?
Now, in case you think I just dropped a bomb on you, stating that organic produce has pesticides, let me clarify.
First, commercially grown organic foods are sprayed with pesticides.
Yes, the pesticide must be on a approved list by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but it’s still a pesticide.
Plus, the amount of approved pesticide is not always controlled. This means that some organic farmers have to spray more of the approved pesticide, than they would of the non-approved pesticide, because it doesn’t necessarily work as well.
What does this mean for you? It means that you should be washing ALL of your produce, both conventional and organic.
Second, small farmers and home gardeners may follow different practices.
Most people who grow food out of the desire to provide healthy and nutritious options for their family likely use very little, if any, pesticides. They don’t care (as much) if the fruits and vegetables are misshapen. It’s okay to lose a couple zucchini to bugs if it means harvesting many others without having to spray.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t use pesticides at all. We support local farmers whenever we can, but I also ask if they use pesticides because I want to know what’s in and on the food I feed my kids.
Third, bugs and dirt are normal.
Food grows IN THE GROUND. Where do you find bugs and dirt? IN THE GROUND!
This might be a personal soap box of mine, but there’s no need to freak out or swear off brands if you find dirt or bugs in your food. In fact, it should confirm the fact that your food wasn’t grown in a factory!
And really, it just means you need to be diligent when you wash all the produce you bring in your home.
Why not use a store-bought veggie wash?
Store-bought produce washes are super convenient, I know, but they can also be super pricey.
Plus, according to the Center for Food Safety:
It turns out that they [fruit and vegetables washes] aren’t any better than water. Multiple studies have found that produce washes such as Fit and Earth Friendly are no more effective in cleaning produce than regular tap water. In a study of three commercial washes, University of Maine researchers found that distilled water was equally if not more effective in removing microbes such as bacteria and mold. Since produce washes are costly, they advise consumers to simply wash fresh fruits and vegetables with water instead of wasting their money on unnecessary washes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also advises against using commercial produce washes because the safety of their residues has not been evaluated and their effectiveness has not been tested or standardized. The FDA also recommends washing produce in cold tap water.
So with all that said, let’s talk about we can wash our produce as best as we can, using ingredients we already have!
What you should know about homemade fruit and veggie wash
Before I share the myriad of ways you can make a homemade veggie wash, I have some “general” thoughts to share with you:
No single veggie wash will remove all pesticides, wax, residues, bugs and bacteria.
The only way to consume produce that doesn’t have any of these things is to grow it ourselves. Since most of us aren’t able to grow 100% of the produce we consume, we’re looking for the next best option. That’s a homemade fruit and veggie wash.
All fruits and vegetables should air dry, thoroughly.
Many of these methods below will get you few extra days out of your produce, letting it last longer in the fridge before you get to “uh-oh we have to use this TODAY otherwise it goes into the trash.” But you’ll sabotage your own efforts if you put up the produce while it’s wet. Let it sit on a towel on the counter until it’s entirely dry, and then you can put it away.
Whatever you wash your produce in, should be clean.
If you’re using a bowl, make sure it’s a clean bowl. If you’re washing produce in the sink, wash and scrub the sink first. Washing dirty produce in a dirty bowl or sink won’t do you any good!
Consider making a smaller batch.
Most produce washes talk about washing everything at the same time in the sink… but what if you don’t want to do that? What if you just want to wash one apple, right before you eat it?
I suggest and recommend putting a dispenser at your kitchen sink and filling it with a smaller batch of whatever natural produce wash you choose to use. A foaming dispenser like this one would work great with soap-based washes, and a spray bottle like this one would be great for liquid-based washes.
9 Homemade Fruit and Veggie Wash Recipes
To re-state what the University of Maine and the FDA advise, just use water. A soak and a good scrub, using a scrub brush like this one, will do the job.
2. White Vinegar
Using white vinegar to clean produce is one of the most popular methods, and for good reason. It’s so easy!
Almost every home has white vinegar, and it can be used for all sorts of cleaning purposes. (My husband isn’t a fan of the smell, so I make citrus vinegar first, and then clean!)
To use white vinegar in a homemade produce wash, combine 1 part vinegar to 3 parts room temperature water. Let the produce soak for 5-10 minutes, scrub, rinse well and set aside to dry.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
According to Dr. Oz, apple cider vinegar removes pesticides and bacteria more effectively. He recommends 1 part ACV to 10 parts water. Again, let the produce sit for about 5 minutes, scrub if necessary, rinse and set aside to dry.
Tip: ACV typically costs more than white vinegar, so shop around for the best deal. The best price I’ve found online is at Vitacost (just 15¢ per ounce, for organic ACV with the mother) BUT you can make your own ACV for even less if you aren’t in a rush and have apple peels and cores on hand. Here’s the easy tutorial.
I would never have thought to use salt in a DIY produce wash, but this article claims that salt is a natural disinfectant that helps to eliminate pesticide residue!
To make a salt-based fruit and veggie wash, measure 1 tsp salt for every 1 cup of water. Let the produce sit for about 2 minutes. Scrub, rinse and air dry.
5. Peel and Trim
Now this isn’t exactly a veggie wash, but if your concern is the pesticide residue on the outside of the produce, then peeling and trimming the produce can take care of that!
6. Hydrogen Peroxide
This method was recommended to me by a reader, but upon further searching, it seems to be fairly popular!
Combine 1 Tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water. Like the other methods, soak, scrub, rinse and dry.
This isn’t my top recommended method, for obvious reasons, but also because we use homemade bleach alternative instead of traditional bleach in the laundry – so I don’t even have bleach in the house!
However, using bleach to sanitize produce (not just washing produce) is a common method in commercial produce production, and this guide from Oklahoma State University shares the FDA-approved guidelines for sanitizing produce with bleach.
Actually, using bleach to sanitize produce is especially common in countries where standards for food handling aren’t necessarily the best and your chances of getting sick are high.
To sanitize produce using bleach, mix 2 teaspoons with 1 gallon of water. Rinse and dry.
8. Citrus Essential Oils
Enzymes in citrus essential oils (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.) contain monoterpenes, which have the ability to dissolve petroleum-based substances. Since many pesticides are petroleum-based, citrus essential oils can remove them!
The catch though, is that oil and water doesn’t mix. In order to use essential oils to wash produce, you have to combine them with castile soap.
9. Castile Soap
To wash produce using castile soap and essential oils, combine 1 teaspoon castile soap + 7 drops citrus essential oil + 1 gallon of water. Soak, scrub if necessary, rinse and dry.
You can also use castile soap without essential oils as an effective produce wash as well. Use the same ratio as above, just omit the essential oils!
The best deal I’ve found on castile soap is also through Vitacost, for just 22¢ per ounce.