Ditch the Produce Wash and Use Baking Soda and Water Instead

Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” — Dr. Jane Goodall

I buy organic produce at the farmers’ market from small local producers who: grow a variety of crops which they rotate, use beneficial plants and insects to keep pests at bay, build good soil and so on. My daughter MK, a poor student, cannot afford to eat food grown this way. She usually opts for less expensive, factory farmed fruit and vegetables she buys at the discount grocery store—the non-organic produce grown in monocultures and sprayed with synthetic pesticides.

But she told me about a simple trick that removes some of the pesticides from the surface of her produce:

In a bowl, mix together about one tablespoon of baking soda with six cups of water. Add the produce. Wait about 15 minutes. Drain. Rinse.

A recent farmers’ market haul

Not a woowoo trick

A 2017 study out of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, showed that a solution of baking soda and water removed two types of pesticides from the surface of apples more effectively than did plain water or a solution of bleach and water. You can read the study here.

The researchers treated organic Gala apples with two common pesticides, the fungicide thiabendazole, and phosmet, which kills various pests, after which they soaked the apples in the three different solutions and finally, tested the apples for residues. They found that the baking soda solution “took 12 and 15 min to completely remove thiabendazole or phosmet surface residues, respectively, following a 24 [hour] exposure to these pesticides.”

Although the study looked at apples only, one of the researchers, Dr. He, said the baking soda solution is a “general method” that can be used on other kinds of fruit and vegetables because it helps to break up pesticide molecules, which can then be washed away.

Action shot

The Dirty Dozen

So which fruits and vegetables might you want to wash in baking soda and water? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit that advocates for policies that protect human health, maintains a list of the types of conventional produce that contain the most pesticide residues—The Dirty Dozen. These 12 are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet bell peppers

With strawberries ranking first on the list, you may want to buy organic if you can, because:

One strawberry sample contained an astounding 22 pesticide residues. One-third of all conventional strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides.”

(And yes, I realize organic may be treated with a limited number of pesticides. That is another post. Click here for the definition of “USDA certified organic.”)

The Clean Fifteen

EWG also lists the Clean Fifteen—the fruit and vegetables with the smallest amounts of pesticide residues. Additionally, EWG found that only 5 percent of the following contained two or more pesticides: 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydew melons
  12. Kiwi fruit
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli

What about commercial vegetable wash?

Having never bought produce wash, I did some research (i.e. I googled “produce wash”) and the brand Veggie Wash popped up first. With nearly 500 reviews on Amazon, it seems to be a popular brand—or at least one that Amazon pushes. The product touts itself as “All Natural” and “Made with Organic Citrus!”

Consumer products (i.e., products that manufacture need) overpackaged in plastic and plastered with health benefits just about send me over the edge. We pollute the environment and then to supposedly clean up that pollution, buy products that create more pollution.

I had trouble finding the ingredients in this stuff on Amazon but spied a customer picture of the back label on the product page for the gallon jug. That image listed the ingredients as:

  • Water
  • Potassium Oleate
  • Glycerine
  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Limonene (Natural Citrus Oil)
  • Organic Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil
  • Heliunthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
  • Rosmarinus Officiallis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract
  • Potassium Sorbate

First off, why pay money for water, the main ingredient?

EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database lists the function, potential hazards and health concerns of over 73,000 cosmetics and personal care products. I searched the database for the more questionable ingredients in this produce wash.

These ingredients all had low overall hazard scores—Potassium Sorbate scored the highest—but not as low as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), an “Abrasive; Buffering Agent; Deodorant Agent; Oral Care Agent; Oral Health Care Drug; pH Adjuster; Skin Protectant; Skin Protecting.”

So I am no scientist but this stuff sounds like snake oil. Save your money. You likely already have baking soda in your cupboard. Mix it with water to remove visible residue—and even some invisible pesticide.

Good question

8 Replies to “Ditch the Produce Wash and Use Baking Soda and Water Instead”

  1. Laura Routh says: Reply

    Great post! Since I moved to Davis, I’ve been buying all my produce, mostly, at the co-op. I confess, though, that I also buy frozen organic green beans at Trader Joe’s. But I have older kids who are either about to finish college or have already finished college, so I know how tight money can be for them. We use baking soda for so many things at our house (apartment :)). I’ve even used it to unclog drains. It’s great to know about one more use, and I appreciate the study you referenced. We just don’t need all the different products that are out there. And I agree with Jane Goodall’s quote. Dreaming of a different world …

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Laura. I forget what it was like to be a broke student so my daughter is a good reminder. I too love baking soda. I’ve been meaning to write an ode to it 😀 I’ll get to it one of these days. ~ Anne Marie

  2. Hi, Thanks for the wonderful post. My mother has migraine so she avoids baking soda as it’s told to her that it triggers the same. I love cookies and eggless pancakes but make the only like once in a month. What’s your opinion on using baking soda for food ?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Ambily, Thanks for checking out the post 🙂 I use baking soda when I bake, aside from sourdough bread, which doesn’t contain baking soda, only flour, water and salt. My kids used to get migraines but neither one has had one for a long time (knock on wood). We haven’t had a problem with consuming baking soda but I’m no migraine expert. ~ Anne Marie

  3. Laura Routh says: Reply

    One day, because of you, I’m going to buy a bunch of fresh green beans and freeze them in glass jars. But green beans can be tricky. Sometimes, they aren’t very good, so I would want to buy a test bunch. Though I freeze everything else in glass jars, now. Because of you 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      😀

      Blanching them first might help. I have “write post about blanching vegetables” on my long to-blog list… Jars in the freezer work really well!

  4. Going to give this a try, but planning 15 ahead to eat fruit is going to take some patience! I am so used to washing just before eating and not really planning when I might want to eat that peach for a snack, 15 might feel like forever with some juicy fresh fruit staring at me from the bowl. For preparing meals though this should be no problem.
    Thanks for the tip!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Emilie, I’m glad you found the tip useful. That’s true about the fruit! Especially during peach season 😀 You could wash some fruit all at once after you buy it. I wouldn’t wash berries until before eating them though. If they remain damp after washing, they can start to break down faster. ~ Anne Marie

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