The Best Way to Wash Fruit and Vegetables

How might we reduce our exposure to pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables? What about staying away from imported produce? Well, it turns out domestic produce may be even worse, dispelling the notion that imported fruits and vegetables pose greater potential health risks to consumers.

Buying organic dramatically reduces dietary exposure to pesticides, but it does not eliminate the potential risk. Pesticide residues are detectable in about one in ten organic crop samples, due to cross-contamination from neighboring fields, the continued presence of very persistent pesticides like DDT in the soil, and accidental or fraudulent use.

By choosing organic, one hopes to shift exposures from a range of uncertain risk to more of a range of negligible risk, but even if all we had to eat were the most pesticide-laden of conventional produce, there is a clear consensus in the scientific community that the health benefits from consuming fruits and vegetables outweigh any potential risks from pesticide residues. And, we can easily reduce whatever risk there is by rinsing our fruits and vegetables under running water.

There is, however, a plethora of products alleged by advertisers to reduce fruit and produce pesticide residues more effectively than water and touted to concerned consumers. For example, Procter & Gamble introduced a fruit and vegetable wash. As part of the introduction, T.G.I. Friday’s jumped on board bragging on their menus that the cheese and bacon puddles they call potato skins were first washed with the new product. After all, it was proclaimed proven to be 98% more effective than water in removing pesticides.

So researchers put it to the test, and it did no better than plain tap water.

Shortly thereafter, Procter & Gamble discontinued the product, but numerous others took its place claiming their vegetable washes are three, four, five, or even ten times more effective than water, to which a researcher replied, “That’s mathematically impossible.” If water removes 50%, you can’t take off ten times more than 50%. They actually found water removed up to 80% of pesticide residues like the fungicide, Captan, for example. So, for veggie washes to brag they are three, four, five, ten times better than water is indeed mathematically questionable.

Other fruit and vegetable washes have since been put to the test. Researchers compared FIT Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean, Vegi-Clean, and dishwashing soap to just rinsing in plain tap water. 196 samples of lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes were tested, and researchers found little or no difference between just rinsing with tap water compared to any of the veggie washes (or the dish soap). They all just seemed like a waste of money. The researchers concluded that just the mechanical action of rubbing the produce under tap water seemed to do it, and that using detergents or fruit and vegetable washes do not enhance the removal of pesticide residues from produce above that of just rinsing with tap water alone.

That may not be saying much, though. Captan appears to be the exception. When plain water was tried against a half dozen other pesticides, less than half the residues were removed.

Fingernail polish works better, but the goal is to end up with a less toxic, not a more toxic tomato.

We need a straightforward, plausible, and safe method for enhanced pesticide removal. Is there anything we can add to the water to boost its pesticide-stripping abilities? Check out my video, How to Make Your Own Fruit & Vegetable Wash.

If you soak potatoes in water, between about 2% to 13% of the pesticides are removed, but a 5% acetic acid solution removes up to 100%. What’s that? Plain white vinegar. But 5% is full strength.

What about diluted vinegar?  Diluted vinegar only seemed marginally better than tap water for removing pesticide residues. Using full strength vinegar would get expensive, though. Thankfully there’s something cheaper that works even better: salt water.

A 10% salt solution appears to work as good or better than full-strength vinegar. To make a 10% salt solution, you just have to mix up about one-part salt to nine-parts water (though make sure to rinse all of the salt off before eating!).

There’s not much you can do for the pesticides in animal products, though. The top sources of some pesticides are fruits and vegetables; but for other pesticides, it’s dairy, eggs, and meat because the chemicals build up in fat. What do you do about pesticides in animal products? Hard boiling eggs appears to destroy more pesticides than scrambling, but for the pesticides that build up in the fat of fishes and chickens, cooking can sometimes increase pesticide levels that obviously can’t just wash off. In fact, washing meat, poultry, or eggs is considered one of the top ten dangerous food safety mistakes.

For more on organic foods, see:

The most important reason to wash produce is to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Ironically, the food poisoning viruses may be found in the pesticides themselves. Check out my video Norovirus Food Poisoning from Pesticides.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


63 responses to “The Best Way to Wash Fruit and Vegetables

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  1. Washing with water is good but I use soap also because it isn’t just the pesticides I am trying to remove. It’s also the bacteria on the surface of the fruit. You really don’t know if your fruit took a tumble down the warehouse floor before you bought it.




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      1. I doubt the pesticides that are inside the DNA of MOST vegetables, fruits, roots, etc etc are removed at all with water nor soap, no nothing! It’s better to buy organic food from a reliable place. Those toxins are kept in our gut, blood and fat. The fatter the person the bigger amount of those cancerigens she/he has. If I were you guys, I’ll go and check my blood , and see which pathogens/toxins could be circulating in my blood!




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        1. Considering that pesticides are not genetic material, do you have any published peer-reviewed evidence suggesting that pesticides are incorporated into DNA or have an affinity for genetic material?




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          1. Hi Dr Ben
            How about those free radicals moving looking for that extra charge hooking up and damaging tissue. Paz may have skipped a step or two but not all that wrong.




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      2. I stopped using the soap water because the produce still tasted salty no matter how much I would rinse it under the water. I now use 1 for 3 parts of vinegar.




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    1. Chris,
      I don’t think using soap will help, it is primarily effective at washing away dirt/bacteria that is mixed with oil, like on your skin. Soap does not kill bacteria, just washes it away but not any better than water unless it is mixed with a fat.




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  2. Question: Yes we can get pesticide exposure from the skin of the produce, but is there risk inside the produce itself in that when the pesticide come off the produce say during a rain storm and ends up in the soil, then taken up by the plant.




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  3. As a retired nurse who used good-old fashioned hand washing before the days of hand sanitizers, I have always recommended using soap (diluted castile or similar in a spray bottle) and FRICTION to remove any bacteria, fungus, virus or pesticide residues. The friction is most important. Simply letting produce sit under a running faucet does very little. Washing takes less than 10 seconds. I imagine all the people who came before me to touch, smell, palpate, or arrange that fruit or veggie and feel better washing it before eating. Appeals to my hygienic sensibilities. :-)




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  4. I don’t understand why Dr. Greger implies there’s a problem using full-strength white vinegar. It’s cheap, $4.42 for 2 gallons at Sam’s. We have a spray bottle of vinegar beside the sink to spray and then rub, and rinse soft-skinned fruits and vegetables. We also use a vegetable brush with the vinegar on things like potatoes and carrots. I have no way to test how effective this is, but it seems like a reasonable solution.




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  5. My fruit/vegetable washing routine includes 1) Buying organic produce as much as possible – referring to EWG “dirty dozen” 2) Scrubbing by hand or veggie brush under tap water, then soak in a solution of filtered water and 1-2 capfuls of raw ACV with a few pinches of salt added. Sometimes I add a squeeze of lemon. 3) Shake/dry off before adding to salad
    This may not work for all depending on your taste, but since I always add some ACV-lemon-lime to my salads anyway, it works out well.




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  6. Two part question here:
    I’m worried about the salt water solution. If I have a lot to wash, won’t the basin of salt water turn into a collection of the pathogens I’ve already washed off of the previous produce? At what point do we need to empty it and start again?

    What negative effects come from not washing? Mainly, what points can I use to convince my loved ones to do this also? I’d think the most poinent might be to have them start the intervention and watch their health ailments be reduced. Or is it just a long term fight against the potential of developing cancer?




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  7. I thought ozone is the best. Someone was making an ozone water bath product. Not practical for most but I also thought a diluted hydrogen peroxide (food grade concentrated) bath/wash was also great. Anyone know more about h2o2 wash?




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    1. We kept chickens for 15 years. I always thought getting shells wet to wash poo off was a bad idea. The shell is a semipermeable membrane and getting it wet risks germs migrating inside egg. We used sandpaper to get the worse off. And just before cracking open I would wipe traces off and try to Crack on the cleanest part of surface.




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  8. As part of an experiment I consumed nothing but raw fruits and vegetables for 14.5 years in a row. I did not wash my dark greens or lettuce but rinsed easy things like red bell peppers. I ate zero packaged or canned or bottled food in that 14 and a half years. I did not get one sold, flu, headache, stomach ache – not even a hint of dietary upset or any other symptom imaginable for all that time. And I never actively washed my produce- unless there was debris on it.
    Anyone who has read The China Study is reminded that when our immune system is low that even the least aggressive of microbes can bother us. But having a normal (hard to find in people who eat our society’s varied diet) strong immune system will protect us from all the usual “things” that most are “afraid” of. Apparently I chose the right path since I did not get even the slightest symptom of ANYTHING from cold to a cough sneeze or headache to even a pimple or foul odor in those 14.5 years. Balanced diet? I ate about five or six foods in that time- all properly chosen.




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    1. Yes, I am dying to know what your five or six foods are? Are they Dr Fuhrman’s GBOMBS: Greens, Beans, Onion(Allium rich food), Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds(and nuts)?




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    2. Agree. As T. Colin Campbell says, the benefits of eating the whole plant food so heavily trump the potential negatives as to make them irrelevant. A healthy liver is a detoxifying machine and can easily handle any pesticide residue on food. A healthy immune system can easily defend against bacteria and viruses. Just look at the abysmal state of health of the average person eating the SAD. Then look at the state of health of people who eat WFPB diets.

      The most important statement in the blog:
      “but even if all we had to eat were the most pesticide-laden of conventional produce, there is a clear consensus in the scientific community that the health benefits from consuming fruits and vegetables outweigh any potential risks from pesticide residues.”




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    3. Chris, interesting personal story. It sounds like you did change your diet after the 14.5 years. So then what happened? Did you remain completely healthy without adverse events with a new diet plan? Would be interesting to hear as well. Did you return to your raw diet later?




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  9. A couple of thoughts:
    I would guess, then, that vegetables canned in a salt solution would have more pesticide residue in the canning water, . . yes? Another reason to rinse canned vegg if you’re using them (which I sometimes do in a pinch).
    Also, . . i’m wondering if the pesticide residue on potatoes would be removed when one boils a pot of potatoes. . . ? I would think so but wonder about that.




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  10. So you clean under running water–what about the chemicals in the drinking water that comes out the sink faucet. Seems like there is that residue to think about. If you dry them with hand towels or paper towels–what about chemical residue from paper towels or lingering detergent on hand towels that aren’t totally rinsed out in chemical water. I think we all try to do the best we can. Within reason. Every effort helps us.




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  11. We’ve been using Grape Seed Extract (GSE) liquid concentrate…a few drops in water… as our fruit & vegetable washing solution. Is there any data out there that addresses the efficacy of this method? Thanks!




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    1. I had no idea that watercress carried liver flukes – thanks for bringing this up. Turns out the cress needs to come from an area where endemic grazing occurs as it needs a cow or sheep host. Here’s some info:
      https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/fasciola/prevent.html
      https://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/fascioliasis/index.html

      But purchasing watercress in the store. .. how would one know where it came from. The CDC says to avoid it if you don’t know where it was raised. If cow or sheep is grazing upstream from watercress I would definitely avoid it. yikes!




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  12. Great blog post! Personally, I don’t worry about this issue too much. I never wash organic strawberries because they lose their flavor (IMHO). But I am surprised to hear that plain water removes as much as 80% of pesticide residue. That’s impressive!

    While I definitely prefer organic produce, I think you can drive yourself crazy with the idea of who touched your food, or if it fell on the ground, or rolled down a supermarket aisle. I figure as long as it’s not getting moldy, or if it doesn’t smell bad (think Hawkeye Pierce on MASH who smelled everything before he ate it), then it’s good enough for me to eat. I eat a WFPB diet to build & maintain a healthy immune system, which should take care of the nasty germs & pesticide residue.

    If you’re really concerned about who touched your food & where it’s been, then I guess it’s a good idea to grow your own.




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  13. Here on Maui we have had 6 recent cases of Rat Lungworm Disease, which is pretty devastating. This disease is transmitted thru veggies and fruits, especially leafy greens. Various washing methods have been recommended. Apparently vinegar has been shown to possibly make it worse. Freezing for 24-48 hours has also been recommended to kill the parasite. I think some people unfortuneatly are eating more produce from the Mainland or buying more canned or frozen produce instead of local varieties. Anyone have any thoughts on this.




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    1. Thanks for bringing up Rat Lung Worm disease. It is a horrible disease and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information available on how to wash vegetables and fruit adequately to avoid it.
      As one article says:

      Take more time with curly leafy vegetables, wash leaves individually. People advise soaking veggies in grapefruit seed extract, hydrogen peroxide, salt water, etc., but there has been no research done to show that any of these will kill the parasite. Avoid bringing slugs into your home with locally grown produce. Check pineapple tops or twist tops off just above the leaf base and leave outside.

      Ozone and Ultrasonic vegetable washing machines for the home are popular in some places, but unclear if they are sufficient for avoiding Rat Lung Worm disease.

      Anyone know of any research on adequate washing methods to avoid getting Rat Lung Worm disease?




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      1. Here is a Center for Disease Control link on rat lungworm disease. While unappealing, even if you contract it there is little that doctors do for it as it resolves on its own. The suggestion is to not eat any raw or uncooked snails, slugs, or shrimp. Sometimes a very small slug or snail can be found on leafy vegg so if you live in an area that has lungworm disease check your vegg for it. Hawaii would be one of those areas. Here’s the link to learn more:
        https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/angiostrongylus/gen_info/faqs.html




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        1. Hi James and thanks for your question on Rat Lung Worm disease. I could not find much research on it. It is mostly through ingestion of a slug or slug contaminated vegetables/fruits. So making sure to wash the fruits and vegetables as described in Dr, Greger blog is very important. Taking more time with curly leafy vegetables, wash leaves individually. I assume being conscious of eating raw F& V out side home. The slim of slug has the parasite. Also avoding bringing in the slug in our homes by wiping our shoes and also check the fresh fruits and vegetable that was grown in the garden when brought inside the house. Check pineapple tops or twist tops off just above the leaf base and leave outside.

          Flatworms prey on the semi-slug and it is suspected that they may carry even higher loads of parasites. They easily hide in leaves or tight heads of produce and their soft bodies fall apart into small pieces when handled or under water pressure.
          here is the link for further informations
          Giant African snail (Achatina fulica)




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          1. Thanks for the reply. There seems to be not much research on what constitutes effective washing to avoid rat lung worm disease. Dr Greger focused on pesticides in his video. For example for vegetables like Lacinato Kale with hightly textured leaves, short of cooking it what can you do to ensure you have removed or killed any parasites? Is there any research or tests showing that salt water, H2O2, vinegar, etc will effectively kill or remove the parasites?




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  14. A comment to the “mathematically impossible” comment: stating something like that is of course wrong, and is based on problems counting %. Of course you can double the efficiency on something that reduce the pesticide left after a 80% reduction, but it’s not a 160% reduction. Instead you should measure how much of the pesticide is left on the fruit, and in this case that’s 20%. And double the efficiency and you’re left with “only” 10%.

    Enough on the mathematics: although getting being able to get rid of much of the pesticides on the fruit by rinsing it under water or with some fancier method is nice for the consumers health, the problem is that the pesticides will still end up in the environment, so best thing is if we could minimize it’s usage in the first place.




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  15. Ive always used a solution of part hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and soap I read somewhere that it suppose to do the job, I’m still here… guess it works.




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  16. I’ve always wondered whether pesticides just SIT ON the produce (and therefore can be washed off), or whether they GET INSIDE the produce as it grows, (and therefore cannot be washed off). There is much conflicting information (natch) on the web about this.

    So it sounds like one COULD get rid of the pesticides using the vinegar or salt method Dr. Greger describes? This is good to know! I do always try to buy organic, but of course sometimes it’s not possible. If there ARE some types of fruits or veggies that pesticides tend to get inside of rather than stay on the surface, it would be great to find out which ones those are.




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  17. From post below veg/fruit wash video:
    “…domestic produce may be even worse, dispelling the notion that imported fruits and vegetables pose greater potential health risks…”

    For some more reading: (1998 but still good points):

    “…no clear evidence that health risk due to pesticide residues or microbial bacterial contamination is greater with imported produce than with domestically grown.”

    https://are.ucdavis.edu/people/faculty/emeriti/roberta-cook/articles-and-presentations/imported-vs-domestically-produced-fruits-and-vegetables-there-di/




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  18. “for the pesticides that build up in the fat in fish or chicken, cooking can sometimes increase pesticide levels” How is that possible? Surely adding heat to gatty meat doesn’t create new pesticides. Did you mean to say that cooking releases the pesticides from the fats and makes it more bioavailable?




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  19. I live in Mexico and we soak all of our veggies in a solution that is either clorox or iodine based. This is also what can be used to purify water. I 12 years we as vegans eat lots of vegetables and don’t have any stomach problems. You didn’t mention these.




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    1. While on an immersion course to learn Spanish, I stayed w/ a family close to school. They soaked everything before using it for a meal. I’m not sure of the process: how long, what food was soaked in, whether things were also ‘scrubbed’. But I ate salads ‘at home’ and fresh fruit, and I was never sick. This was 15 years ago, and other students who ate from street vendors did get typical and sometimes acute gastric distress.., often bad enough to miss classes.




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  20. Your solution to washing fruits and veggies is simpler than mine. My spray formula is 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice,1 tablespoon of baking soda in 1 cup of water. My formula for soaking is 1/4 cup of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of salt in a medium bowl of water. In both cases I thoroughly rinse under cold tap water. I am looking for easy since we have adopted the plant based life and I thank you. Ruth




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  21. I believe there is a typo in the info on “Best Way to Wash Fruit and Vegetables.”

    A sentence in the text relating to the video says:

    “Fingernail polish works better, but the goal is to end up with a less toxic, not a more toxic tomato.”

    It should read:

    “Fingernail polish remover works better, but the goal is to end up with a less toxic, not a more toxic tomato.”

    Hope this helps…




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