How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly

how to wash fruits and vegetables properly


This blog post is all about How to Wash your Fruits and Vegetables Properly! Learn what types of chemicals we’re dealing with, the different methods and chemicals for cleaning them, whether organic produce needs to be washed, how to avoid pesticides all together, 3 example brands and ingredient breakdowns, and the best method for easily and effectively cleaning your fruits and vegetables properly. 

Most people will agree that there’s nothing healthier for the human species as a primary food source than fruits and vegetables. But today over 95% of our available produce is sprayed in chemical waxes, ripening agents, and pesticides. These chemicals do not get washed off by the manufacturer! They are present on the fruits and vegetables when you purchase them. 

This is a serious problem, because many of these pesticides are powerful toxins, destroy the microbiome of our gut, accumulate, and have been shown to be present in the blood stream of a large percentage of the population. 

Learning how to wash your fruits and vegetables properly is an essential skill for surviving in this world. These toxins do terrible things to the nervous system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, etc. etc. But there are effective solutions! My hope is that with the help of this article, you can nip this one in the bud for good. 

Pesticides in Agriculture

The term “pesticides” includes the terms herbicides, miticides, nematocides, molluscides, fungicides, rodenticides, and insecticides within it. There are internal pesticides (those which are fed to the plant through the roots and are systemic within all parts of it), and external pesticides that are sprayed on top of them. About 50% of the pesticides used in agriculture are herbicides. 

You might be wondering, can I just run water over my produce? Will that clean it? Yes, it’s probably the most effective one thing you can do; but only because the water coming out of your tap acts as a mechanical force that blasts parts of the pesticides and other chemicals off. However it won’t get all of it, because many of these pesticides are oil-based. Oil and water are immiscible fluids, meaning they do not combine into one another. Water just runs right off of oil. So although there is a mechanical force which has some cleaning effect from the force of the water coming out of the tap, it’s not a full-proof method at all. 

Types of Pesticides in Agriculture
(These are the chemicals we are interacting with on a daily basis.) 

Organophosphates: Insecticides which affect the nervous system of insects by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme necessary in their neurotransmission. Acetylcholinesterase is also a vital enzyme in humans, and excessive consumption of these insecticides will cause muscle spasms, paralysis, and respiratory failure, as well as a myriad of lesser and unseen effects in lower amounts. 
Pyrethroids: Another form of insecticide which acts on the nervous system of insects by prolonging the opening of sodium channels in nerve cell membranes, leading to nerve impulses, paralysis, and the eventual death of the insect. Humans are affected similarly but at a much lower dose. 
Glyphosate: A Herbicide which inhibits an enzyme responsible for the synthesis of essential amino acids in plants. Some proponents of glyphosate claim it has no effect on the human body (including a professor of mine), but this is completely untrue. There are mountains of evidence, common sense, lawsuits, etc. proving its detrimental effects to human health. Learn more about glyphosate and the history of herbicides here.
Organochlorines: Herbicides which act as persistent organic pollutants that accumulate in the environment and organism. One example of an organochlorine is DDT. This is a class of herbicide which is now well known to have devastating effects on the environment and our health, because it’s been in use for a long time. The same will be seen for most or all of these other pesticides eventually, as that seems to be the business model of at least some of these companies (fund studies to profess the benefits of your product, wait 20-40 years for the health consequences to become evident, pull the product and make a new one).
Fungicides: Chemicals used to control fungal diseases. Long-term exposure in humans leads to chronic health effects such as skin sensitization, neurological disorders, and certain cancers. 
Rodenticides: Pesticides used to “control” rodents. These are often administered as baits for the rodents, and there’s less chance of them making it onto your produce. These include anticoagulants such as warfarin, and non-anticoagulants such as bromethalin and zinc phosphide. I won’t describe the way in which bromethalin or zinc phosphide work, because it’s very disturbing, and it’s likely not on the food anyways. But it’s interesting to see warfarin is one of the primary methods of killing rodents, I think I’ve heard about that one before… 
Non-pesticides: There are also synthetic waxes and ripening agents to worry about. Ripening agents may include ethylene gas, calcium carbide, auxins, and 1-MCP. The level of toxicity is hard to gauge, as much of their action takes place within the fruit/vegetable, but calcium carbide is restricted in many countries. Waxes come in a variety of alternatives, some of which are natural like beeswax or carnuba wax, and others which are petroleum-derived polyethylene; or a relatively new one which uses the byproduct of vegetable oil production on organic produce. 

Many toxic herbicides from the past are making a comeback (e.g. 2,4-D), as plants build up a resistance to specific herbicides after 20-40 years and older chemicals are put back into use after the newer ones’ efficacy is wearing off. (See here for more info).
These chemical poisons act in a very similar way to pharmaceuticals, disrupting enzymes, inhibiting pathways, etc. Some of the exact same chemicals are marketed and sold to humans (in a much more controlled dose, of course..). We are essentially taking pharmaceuticals every day, we just don’t know about them. 

And I have to say, I’m a little worried about nanotechnology, up-and-coming waxes, and the potential for “vaccine-like” compounds being introduced into the food supply. These are not out of the realm of possibility. We’re dealing with mad scientists, people (if you didn’t already know).  



best way to wash fruit and vegetables properly

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly

None of these methods are full-proof. If the skin of a non-organic fruit can easily be peeled, I would just peel it off and eat the flesh; in the case of apples I would 100% of the time do this due to the high amount of pesticides and wax. You can also try to pick fruits and vegetables which are less exposed to pesticides, ones which grow underground, or which have thick peelable skins, such as: bananas, oranges, kiwis, cantaloupe, honey dew melon, watermelon, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots. Avoid berries, grapes, tomatoes, and any other fruit or vegetable that grows above ground with a thin skin because not only is it difficult to remove the pesticides from the skin, there’s also a higher likelihood that the pesticides have seeped through the pores of the fruits’ skin into the flesh. (Choose organic for the thinner skinned plants, but even then you should still wash the produce with the following methods. The rules to be classified as “organic” fluctuate, and often just mandate a weaker pesticide to be used). 


Baking soda: Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) works in two ways against pesticides: by neutralising the acidic chemicals (most pesticides are acidic, and baking soda is alkaline), and by acting as a mild abrasive which will break up the pesticides off the walls of the produce. 

To clean produce with baking soda: Fill your sink or a large bowl with cold water, add and mix roughly 1 teaspoon of baking soda to every 2 cups of water. Soak your produce in this mixture for 10-15 minutes, swishing them around, use a scrub brush if you’re willing to expend the effort; then empty the sink and rinse the produce with cold water. The cold water rinse will act even better as a solvent now, as well as applying further mechanical force. 

Vinegar: Vinegar is a mild acid, which allows for the removal of some oily pesticides if left on long enough. In my research and basic experiments, vinegar is not as effective as baking soda, but if it’s all you have it’s still worth the effort. 

To clean produce with vinegar: Fill the sink with water and 1/4 cup of vinegar. Allow to soak for 15-25 minutes, then dump the sink and rinse off with water. 

You may be wondering, can I just combine both baking soda and vinegar for a stronger effect? In this case, it’s not a good solution, as they’ll end up neutralising one another and create a salt that isn’t helpful for this purpose. 

Surfactants/Emulsifiers: The only benefit of buying a veggie wash is for the surfactant/emulsifier, otherwise the previous two methods are superior or equal. To properly understand what these do, we have to understand the physics of what surface tension is. 
A surfactant is not necessarily an emulsifier, but when cleaning pesticides it is beneficial if a chemical has both surfactant and emulsification actions, which many do. A surfactant is a substance which reduces the surface tension of a fluid. To quickly explain what that means: surface tension describes the film or skin on the surface of a fluid, like water, that has a higher density than the fluid below. Imagine a single water molecule in the centre of a lake, it is attracted and kept in balance by, let’s say, 10 other water molecules in all directions; but at the surface there are no attracting water molecules above the molecule (because above is O2), and so the molecule pulls more strongly upon the molecules beneath and to the sides of it, in effect creating a higher density at the surface (e.g. surface tension). Check out this incredible video for a visual.  A similar effect will occur on the surface of an apple or other produce submerged in water; the water molecules directly touching the skin of the produce will pull more strongly on the molecules behind and to the sides of them, creating a higher density of water molecules surrounding the produce, making it more difficult to disrupt the surface of the produce. The surface tension acts as a sort of shield. A surfactant disarms this phenomenon, and some surfactants also have the dual function of acting as an emulsifier, which simultaneously allows for the breaking of the surface tension and allows the oily pesticides to mix with water and thus break free from the produce. (Many pesticides are oil-based, and therefore water will not act a solvent to remove them because water and oil are immiscible (they don’t mix) fluids. An emulsifier allows water and oil to mix together, and by doing so allows the oil on the skin of produce to break free from the produce into the water bath you’ve submerged your produce in.) 

Common surfactants include soaps, detergents, and household cleaners, but these are more harmful for this purpose than beneficial. You need a special surfactant suited for cleaning produce. In any decent commercially sold veggie wash you’ll find some type of surfactant/emulsifier, and I believe these can be very useful for the purpose of cleaning pesticide residue from vegetables. 

The problem with surfactants/emulsifiers are that many of them are toxic, and leech into the skin of produce. One natural product which may act as a strong emulsifier for this purpose is the herb, Soapwort, which has a high amount of saponins and may be able to create a strong enough emulsification to have a good effect upon removing pesticides. It is likely that synthetic emulsifiers are much more powerful, though, such as potassium cocoate.

To clean produce with a surfactant/emulsifier: This will likely be one ingredient in a veggie wash, and you should follow the directions on the label. Don’t use dish soap or any common emulsifiers. Make sure your veggie wash actually has an emulsifier in it (the one I had been using didn’t).  


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how to wash your fruits and vegetables

Commercial Veggie Wash Examples & Breakdowns

Example 1: Mantis Organics Fruit & Vegetable Wash


Aloe Vera leaf extract – This may act as a moisturiser for the fruit, as an antimicrobial, or to generally enhance the cleaning process. I think it’s mostly just acting as a facade, adding a pretty name to the top of the ingredient list, and doesn’t actually do much. Aloe does contain saponins, so potentially a mild surfactant.
Potassium cocoate = The surfactant. This is a combination of potassium hydroxide and coconut oil. Potassium hydroxide is very harsh on the skin and not edible, but when combined with coconut oil it becomes less abrasive. Still, better to ensure a very good wash afterwards with water, or find a less abrasive surfactant.
Denatured alcohol = An alcohol which has been combined with denaturants, potentially toxic substances, rendering the alcohol unsuitable for consumption. Acts as a solvent, which could extract oils and other matter from the surface of the fruit/vegetables similarly to vinegar, particularly when combined with the surfactant potassium cocoate.
Organic lemon (citrus limon) peel oil – some solvent ability, some anti-microbial, most likely added for scent.

Overall not a bad option, but you’ll mostly be buying water and some powerful detergent cleaners that aren’t fit for consumption, despite the pretty branding and addition of Aloe Vera. 

Example 2: Sunbee 100% Natural Produce Wash
Hypochlorous Acid: A weak acid which forms when chlorine dissolves in water. Essentially it is a derivative of chlorine, and has little to no effect on removing pesticides. Instead, its main action is to kill microorganisms on the surface of produce. 
Sodium Chloride: Table salt. This isn’t really intended to remove pesticides, though it may have a slight abrasive action, remove surface dirt and other materials, and potentially draw out bugs. 
Natural Filtered Water: Clever addition of the word “Natural” at the bottom of the ingredient list for the 3 second evaluation by a consumer.  
This is the brand I foolishly purchased, and it claims on the bottle to safely remove soil, wax, film, pesticides and chemicals. I guess “safely” means “a tiny bit”, because in my view it’s basically useless. I don’t care about removing microorganisms or dirt, I want the pesticides and wax off, and this one won’t even come close. 
Example 3: State Fruit and Veggie Wash
Lactic Acid: This is produced in a factory, but is also formed in the muscles of your body during anaerobic metabolism. It essentially acts as an acid, similarly to vinegar. 
Sodium Alkylbenzenesulfonate: This is a surfactant/emulsifier, which breaks surface tension and allows the oily pesticides to dislodge from the produce in the presence of water. This is also toxic. 
This brand is essentially the same as the Mantis brand, but with fewer frills. It combines a solvent/acid with a surfactant (emulsifier). 


If you buy a veggie wash, ensure it has a surfactant/emulsifier in its formula (don’t make my mistake). The addition of these surfactants is a potential edge over the baking soda or vinegar method. Although the commonly available surfactants are toxic if consumed, if you use them according to the directions on the bottle, they should remove more toxins than they add. 
I’ll be sticking to the baking soda method for some time, and I feel pretty good about it. However a surfactant would be a good addition, and it would be great to come up with a truly natural formula. Soapwort, licorice, fenugreek, or any herbs which contain high amounts of saponins may potentially increase the effectiveness of the baking soda method without adding additional toxicity. Subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date with a potential herbal solution sometime in the future, and thanks for reading. 

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Justin McArthur

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