You're Probably Not Washing Your Greens Well Enough

Lettuce leaves being washed in bowl

The Spruce Eat / Margot Cavin 

How many times have you grabbed some greens out of the fridge and given them a cursory quick wash? Is that enough, or should you be scrubbing them more?

Whether it’s kale or collard greens, spinach or romaine, greens deserve a thorough cleaning, experts say. “Produce can be contaminated in many ways. For example, it may be contaminated by animals during the growing phase or by workers with poor hygiene during the harvesting phase and beyond since it may pass through many hands before arriving to you,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN.

Washing produce helps remove any lingering dirt, as well as bacteria that can lead to illness. It can also remove residue from pesticides and insecticides that can harm health.

Butter lettuce

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

How to Wash Greens: The Basic Method

  1. When it’s time to wash greens, make sure your hands are thoroughly clean so you don’t transfer any bacteria or dirt to the produce. Sift through the greens, and remove anything that’s slimy, discolored, or bruised.
  2. Rinse greens under cold, running water for about 15 to 20 seconds, suggests Consumer Reports. You can also soak leaves in a bowl of cold water for several minutes to remove dirt.Clean water truly is all you need. There’s no reason to use soap or a commercial produce wash, according to the FDA. Because produce is porous, it can absorb the detergent and that can make you sick. 
  3. After washing, dry greens with a clean paper towel to help get rid of any lingering bacteria or use a salad spinner. If not serving the greens right away, make sure the greens are are fully dry before storing them. Dry greens stay fresh longer and make it easier for dressings to stick to them.


It’s a good idea to wait to clean your greens until right before eating, cooking, or chopping them, suggests the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Cutting greens before they are clean can allow bacteria on the surface to penetrate throughout the greens. This isn’t so easy with some greens like heads of lettuce or romaine. In those cases, separate the leaves and rinse them individually. Be sure to toss any leaves that are bruised or torn.

If you wash greens well in advance of consuming them and need to store them in the refrigerator, be sure they are completely dry. Lingering moisture in the greens can encourage the growth of bacteria and make the greens spoil more quickly. “The recommendations can get a little murky,” admits Dandrea-Russert. “I think the trick to avoiding bacteria is that, if you feel you'd like to wash them before storing, just make sure the leafy greens are completely dry before storing them in the refrigerator. Adding a paper towel in storage can help to collect excess moisture.” 

Rinse collard greens and kale in a colander

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Baking Soda Wash

If you want to ramp up your cleaning routine, you can also remove pesticides with baking soda, a kitchen MVP. Fill a large bowl with water and a teaspoon of baking soda and then soak well before rinsing. Pat leaves dry when you’re done.

Research shows that baking soda definitely works well, but requires more of a time commitment. Though focused on apples and not greens, a study published in the journal Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that soaking in a baking soda solution for 2 minutes removed more pesticides than rinsing in cool, running water or soaking in a bleach solution. However, it took 12 to 15 minutes soaking in the baking soda mix in order to fully get rid of all the pesticides.

Should You Wash Pre-Washed Greens?

If greens are labeled as pre-washed or ready-to-eat, there’s no need to clean them again, says the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Washing them again may actually risk contamination with bacteria from surfaces or utensils in your kitchen that aren’t completely clean.

But take a close look and make sure the greens still look fresh. Discard greens that are slimy or discolored or that smell a little “off,” says Dandrea-Russert.

types of chicories

The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Yes, You Still Need to Wash Organic and Home-Grown Greens

It’s important to thoroughly wash greens even if they’re organic or you grew them in your own backyard. 

“Organic farmers still face the same threats as conventional farmers—weeds, insects, and diseases,'' says Dandrea-Russert. Many pesticides are banned in organic farming, but those farmers can still use natural pesticides to protect their crops. Cleaning organic leafy greens can wash away those natural pesticides, as well as any dirt and microorganisms.