The Right Way to Wash Every Type of Vegetable, According to Food Safety Experts

It's one of the most important steps in food prep.

Learning how to properly wash vegetables might very well be one of the most important parts of meal prep. After all, if produce is washed incorrectly—or not washed at all—it can present a food safety hazard. This can put a damper on your homemade dish, no matter how delicious it may be.

Washing vegetables properly isn't difficult, but vegetables are a varied bunch and every type has slightly different requirements. This is due to factors such as water content, growing environment, and peel thickness. So how do you know the appropriate technique? The following guide breaks down the best washing practices by type of vegetable, according to experts.

vegetables laying on white surface, broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, lettuce, etc.
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Why You Should Always Wash Vegetables

Washing vegetables is an essential step of any recipe, whether you're eating them raw or cutting them for cooking. According to Kimberly Baker, Ph.D., RD, LD, director of the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Program Team, this is crucial for food safety, as washing removes dirt and pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, including E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Washing is particularly important for vegetables that will be consumed raw, as these items won't be exposed to heat, which would otherwise destroy harmful germs.

woman washing lettuce in sink
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How to Wash Vegetables

In general, all produce should be washed under cool (45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) running water, says Baker. The cool temperature prevents pathogens from entering the pores of vegetables during washing, while the movement of running water removes dirt and pathogens from the vegetable's surface. Additionally, vegetables should not be soaked in the water they've been washed in, as this will continuously expose them to said germs.

There's also no need to use cleaners such as soap, vinegar, or produce washes. According to Baker, soap is not a food-grade item, making it a source of chemical contamination, and for vinegar to effectively kill pathogens, it would have to soak with the vegetables for a duration and concentration that would change the vegetable's quality. (In other words, it might end up pickling the produce.) As for those produce washes you see at the grocery store? "Produce washes have not been proven to be any more effective in washing vegetables than cool running water," says Baker. All that said, save your money and stick to plain water when washing your vegetables.

Here are tips for washing every type of vegetable.

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Leafy Greens

Before washing leafy greens, cut them with a sharp knife, which will help prevent bruising, says Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor of plant-based culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. Next, gently submerge the leaves into a salad spinner filled with cold water, working in batches if necessary. As you move them around in the water, the dirt should fall to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat this process if the greens are extra gritty, then spin dry and serve or cook as needed. These steps can also be applied to chopped cabbage and bagged salads.

Cruciferous Vegetables

According to Roszkowski, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables don't carry much grit, so it's acceptable to wash them before or after cutting. "It's generally much easier to cut produce when it's dry, so I recommend cutting, placing florets in a strainer, [then] rinsing them with cold water," says Roszkowski. Scrubbing isn't necessary, and you can remove blemishes with vegetable peeler.

Celery and Fennel

According to Roszkowski, celery and fennel should be quickly rinsed before being cut. "If you encounter any grit while cutting into the interior of either vegetable, place pieces in a strainer and [run them under] cold water," says Roszkowski. "These vegetables are more sturdy and can handle more water pressure during the washing process." Additionally, any blemishes can be removed with a vegetable peeler, so there's no need for scrubbing, says Roszkowski.

Zucchini and Other Summer Squash

Summer squash and zucchini should be washed under running water and scrubbed using a soft-bristled or silicone brush, says Baker. The brush should only be used for produce to avoid cross-contamination. The scrubbing action will help loosen dirt on the surface of vegetables, making it easier for the water to wash away the dirt.

Pumpkins and Winter Squash

Although we don't eat the rind of winter squash like pumpkin and butternut squash, washing the exterior surface is still necessary. As Baker explains, if pathogens are present on the rind and you cut into the squash, the pathogens can spread to the edible portion via the knife, cutting board, or your hands. To wash winter squash, rinse it under running water and gently scrub the skin with a tough bristled brush. Again, make sure this brush is only used for cleaning produce.

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Root Vegetables

Root vegetables—such as carrots, potatoes, and radishes—should be washed under cool running water while being scrubbed, shares Baker. You can do this with a produce brush, which will help remove pathogens and dirt. Continue washing the vegetables until all visible soil is removed, then prepare as needed.


The trick to washing mushrooms is to do it just before you need them. If you were to rinse the fungi and return them to the fridge, they'll quickly turn into a slimy mess. To properly wash mushrooms, cut off the stems, dunk the caps in a bowl of water, and move them around to dislodge grit and dirt. Drain the water and pat them dry with a clean towel, then use as needed.

Beans and Peas

"Beans, peas, and other small vegetables can be washed in a colander," says Baker. "Using a colander allows the cool running water to wash over [the vegetables] without soaking them in the wash water." To ensure all surfaces are thoroughly washed, gently stir the beans or peas while the water is passing through, adds Baker.

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic may have protective skins, but they should still be washed before cutting, says Baker. Again, this is a preventative measure against any illness-causing pathogens that may be on the outer surface. "If they're not washed off, the pathogens can be transferred to the inner portions of the garlic or onion while being cut [or handled]," explains Baker. You can also use a produce-only brush soft bristle brush to remove any dirt, if needed.

garden tomatoes and greens on wooden table

Fruits Eaten as Vegetables

When washing tomatoes, eggplants, and other fruits that are treated as vegetables, start by removing the stickers. Otherwise, once wet, the stickers will strongly adhere to the vegetables' delicate flesh, says Roszkowski. Always wash them under cool running water before cutting, she adds. If you wash these items after cutting, they will absorb water, which will negatively affect the flavor and texture. "A [clean] damp cloth can also be used to remove any grit or dust," adds Roszkowski.

Store-Bought vs. Homegrown Produce

Store-Bought Produce

Compared to store-bought produce, items from the farmers' market and home gardens have traveled less distance, so they typically carry more grit, says Roszkowski. Thus, it's especially important to give local produce a good rinse before cutting into it, plus another rinse right after, depending on the vegetable. Items such as tubers may also require extra scrubbing to remove any caked dirt, while local lettuce tends to be more delicate, so it's best to avoid submerging in cold water for too long, says Roszkowski.

Supermarket Produce

As for produce from supermarkets? These items are usually commercially washed for aesthetic reasons, says Roszkowski. This means it's less likely to contain dirt and debris, though they may still have pathogens on the surface. With that in mind, it's a good idea to wash store-bought vegetables before using.

Triple-Washed Greens

Some packaged produce, particularly leafy greens, might be prewashed. This is typically indicated by labels such as "ready-to-eat" or "triple-washed." According to the Centers for Disease Control, in general, prewashed greens don't need to be washed at home, though there's no harm in rinsing again using the instructions above.

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