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8 Ways to Wash an Apple: How Well Does Produce Wash Work?

Readers started asking me about washing produce, and could I share the easiest and most effective way to wash an apple. I thought I could do a review of produce wash options, but the more I considered efficacy at getting dirt, pesticides and more off fruits and vegetables, the more my limitations came to mind.

I decided my post would probably go something like this:

How do you test a produce wash? I am certainly not qualified to tell you if a product removes pesticide residue or chemicals or waxes. I don’t have the know-how or the equipment to determine any of that information. I’m just going to have to tell you what the bottle says about its effectiveness and how to use it. This will be a short and easy review.

Well. That all changed when I actually got my hands on some commercial produce wash and this happened:

Dirty apple
Dirty apple

Yep, that’s a picture of my counter with a soapy, dirty spot on it. Fascinating, isn’t it? I’ve got a whole post of photos of my counter with various spots on it. Are you as pumped as I am?

I’ve been waiting to share this info with you for a week! I’m quite excited. About apples. And soap. I washed apples in 8 different ways, and you finally get to learn the most effective way to wash an apple, the not-at-all effective, and the frugal second and third place winners (a la the Kitchen Stewardship® down-and-dirty-not-so-scientific method).

How to Use Biokleen’s Produce Wash

Biokleen’s produce wash claims that it “effectively removes pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, waxes and soil.”  When I started trying to incorporate it into my routine, two things got in my way:

  1. You have to leave it on the produce for a minute before washing. I usually need to wash and cut right away, so this was an interesting hurdle.
  2. The bottle has a large opening, so I always felt like I was using too much soap.

I solved the second problem by mixing 1/3 of the bottle with water in a re-used foaming hand soap pump like I do for regular handsoap (vs. antibacterial soap). This will dilute it a bit, making the somewhat pricey bottle stretch further, and I just hoped I wasn’t diluting its effectiveness too much. Having it in a one-hand-to-use pump bottle allows me to use it a LOT more.

Remembering to wash my produce a minute before I needed to prepare it is trickier. I find that I use the Biokleen some of the time, and I just have to skip it other times.  I try to prioritize with the Dirty Dozen, the list of foods that carry the most pesticides into our bodies. And I scrub them harder!

The Story of the Spot

One day I was washing three apples to take with us in the van, and after I “washed” the first one with water as is my habit, I realized that I could use the time I needed to fill water bottles to suds up the apples and let them sit for their requisite minute. My jaw nearly cracked on the counter when I picked up the apple I had already washed and saw the CLEARLY DIRTY WATER underneath!!

This happened with no scrubbing or rinsing, just a suds with produce wash and a minute to sit. I was floored. I immediately started editing my “can’t review produce wash” post in my head!

Produce Wash Head-to-Head Test

I decided I needed to see if other products, including homemade produce washes, would have similar results.

I tested the following, in order from left to right:

All lined up and ready to go!
All lined up and ready to go!
  1. Shaklee H2 diluted with water, about a Tbs to 9 oz. (what we use for handsoap sometimes)
  2. Biokleen produce wash, diluted 1 part soap, 2 parts water
  3. Target brand milk and honey handsoap (Softsoap knockoff), diluted 1 part soap, 2 parts water
  4. I was told diluted Sal Suds was supposed to be a produce wash, so I just used this old (failed) dishwasher detergent with Sal Suds. Close enough!
  5. Vinegar water and hydrogen peroxide water in separate spray bottles, as described here
  6. Passionate Homemaking’s homemade produce wash using vinegar/water/baking soda (still bubbly from being mixed up)
  7. (not pictured) plain water and scrubbing
  8. The old-fashioned method of rubbing the apple on your pants

Process:

  1. wet the top with a moist napkin
  2. rub a squirt of each product on apples with my hands
  3. wait about a minute
  4. peek underneath and look for brown/dirt
  5. photos taken L to R, two at a time

I apologize about the quality of the pictures – it was a toss-up between a perfectly flat, white counter without natural light and the textured tablecloth with natural light. I would do it differently if I did it again!

Shaklee H2 and Biokleen Produce Wash
Shaklee H2 and Biokleen Produce Wash
Handsoap and Sal Suds plus vinegar, tea tree oil and water
Handsoap and Sal Suds plus vinegar, tea tree oil and water
Vinegar/H2O2 and vinegar/baking soda
Vinegar/H2O2 and vinegar/baking soda

Biokleen is the winner, hands down. So much dirt obviously comes off, and I don’t know for sure about pesticides and chemicals, but I’m encouraged by the dirt! These apples were not organic, and we picked them ourselves at an orchard, so there wasn’t any wax on them to be part of the experiment. I’m betting Biokleen’s product does a good job with the wax, too!

I’m really encouraged by the second place winner:  handsoap. I don’t know if you want to risk eating whatever’s in your handsoap, but then again, we eat with our *washed* hands, right, so what’s the difference? If you have a “natural” handsoap (we use Branch Basics in a foaming pump), what a great, easy, frugal, don’t-take-up-any-more-space-on-my-counter alternative to get cleaner fruits and veggies!

I didn’t see any dirt at all with the homemade washes (nos. 5 & 6). There was just a little dirt with H2 and Sal Suds, both rather expensive but highly concentrated and diluted. I wonder what the results would be if I used one of them diluted to 1/3 strength like the Biokleen?

If the vinegar has any anti-bacterial properties, it might do some good against nasty bugs that could be on your produce because of cross-contamination, but I don’t think it would be enough to actually protect you if there was salmonella on your apple or something. Also, I’ve seen cited in a few places that mixing the vinegar and baking soda for storage is no good, because they’re going to more or less cancel each other out (even though you see lots of homemade cleaner recipes that call for this!). I’m publishing an update to this homemade cleaners soon (apparently the FDA probably doesn’t want me making cleaning claims…whatever).

I did not try just water or the rubbing during this portion of the test.

Step two:

  1. Scrubbed with wet vegetable brush on counter. No rinsing yet, but a little water added from the brush to rinse off anything that might be dislodged.
  2. Let sit again for a minute.
  3. Looked underneath and took photos, same order.
H2 and Biokleen
H2 and Biokleen
Hand soap and Sal Suds
Hand soap and Sal Suds
The 2 homemade versions
The 2 homemade versions

Notice that there’s LOTS more dirt under Biokleen’s produce wash!

What About the Farmers’ Method?

I got to wondering about the ol’ rub-in-on-your-leg apple clean. My dad, an old Polish man from a country town, always cleans apples this way. My father-in-law always scowls when I do it at the orchard and talks about what might be on those apples. I was dying to try it.

Our red delicious apples really have a lot of film on them, and when you shine them with a cloth (yes, it’s usually just my jeans) it makes a serious difference. They go from foggy to truly shiny, “put it on the teacher’s desk” shiny. I conducted two last tests:

1. Just water and scrub brush – a quick rinse and then a scrub on the counter:

Just water...
Just water…

There is some dirt evident! I’m pleased to report that water (and scrubbing) works to clean produce (at least a little)!

2. Rubbed until shiny on a cloth, then put the produce wash on and let sit:

Remember that the produce wash usually made quite an evident brown spot..but looky here!
Remember that the produce wash usually made quite an evident brown spot..but looky here!

There’s nothing underneath! Remember that I washed with water and my hands and then the produce wash and had tons of dirt. I am super pumped about this result. It echoes my research on soaps when I found that really, it’s all about (okay, mostly about) the scrubbing to release the dirt/germs and the water to wash them away.

After the scrub with a brush and a bit of water

after scrubbing with the brush

My only disappointment is that you can’t use this method for all produce. Mushy peaches on my jeans, not so good. I’m convinced that if I scrub my potatoes harder, they have less junk on them, though! And if I use Biokleen’s produce wash as well, I can feel a little better about buying conventional potatoes instead of organic, even though they’re on the Dirty Dozen.

Final Analysis: Best Way to Wash an Apple

Either use a good soap or use good elbow grease (or both!). The winners are:

  1. Biokleen
  2. Rubbing on your leg!
  3. Handsoap
  4. Sal Suds
  5. Shaklee H2
  6. Plain water and good scrubbing
  7. Homemade produce washes

Other Experiments:

Disclosure:  Biokleen provided samples for review, but didn’t compensate me in any way, nor was I obligated to write a positive review. 

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

56 thoughts on “8 Ways to Wash an Apple: How Well Does Produce Wash Work?”

  1. Thanks for the experiment! Your website is so informative,and I reference it often. to add to this conversation, both Sal Suds and Biokleen have SLS in them – something that you don’t want in or on your body.

    Shaklee’s H2 is an excellent veggie/fruit wash with no questionable ingredients. Their are 2 ways to use if effectively on produce – 1) diltue it in a spray bottle (1/4 teaspoon to 16 oz of water), spray on produce & let sit for 3-5 mins then wash with water or 2) place produce in a bowl of water, add 5-6 drops of H2, let produce soak for 5 mins then rinse with water. As you stated, H2 is incredibly concentrated, and it has over 1000 uses. You can see the dirt come off the produce with either method (on the counter or in the bowl). I hope you’ll give H2 another try.

  2. Pingback: Toxins used on non-organic citrus fruits – Scentses

  3. Young Living Fruit and Veggie Soak works great! I buy Organic as much as possible, especially the ones on the Dirty list. I wash all of my fruit and vegetables whether organic or not. I use Young Livings Essential Thieves fruit and veggie soak. I love it! no harmful ingredients and it does a great job! There are certain fruits and veggies that shouldn’t be washed until right before consuming, others I wash immediately when I get home from the store. Depending how much I am washing, I sometimes need to dump the water because it is so dirty and start with a fresh batch of water/cleaner. I highly recommend it, just make sure you don’t over soak, and rinse the veggies/fruit well after soaking or you may taste the essential oils. I don’t use it on raspberries as they are too fragile and shouldn’t be soaked. Strawberries are fine. This product keeps everything fresher for much longer. Especially strawberries! you know how they turn moldy so quick? That is because they have mold spores (that you can’t see) and bacteria on them when you buy them. If you don’t wash it off, it turns into visible mold and they spoil quickly. YL Thieves Veggie and Fruit soak really works. Check it out!

    1. Actually NO, not at all after listening to a Wellness Mama podcast with a soil biologist – he rec’s that with organic produce, it’s better to not wash at all because we need to be exposed to more soil in our world. Go figure! 🙂 Katie

  4. FYI…..I ordered the Biokleen after reading this post. My bad for not investigating the ingredients further before finalizing the purchase. It contains sodium lauryl sulfate, among a few other questionable ingredients. Something no one should be ingesting, even traces of. I’ll stick to vinegar, peroxide or Fit Wash. This was a good reminder to ALWAYS question everything.

  5. I’ve always used 1 tbsp. salt and 1/2 to 1 c vinegar watered down in my giant Tupperware bowl. I let whatever (tomatoes, peaches, berries, apples, lettuce, cabbage etc. ) soak for between 10 and 20 minutes and then rinse with clean water. It amazes me how much dirt is at the bottom of the bowl and how long my fruit and vegetables keep. If y tomatoes sit on the counter to long, they tend to shrivel up before mold starts forming.

  6. Cooks Illustrated (America’s Test Kitchen) tested various washes and found that the one that removed the most bacteria was a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water sprayed on and rinsed with water. It removed 98% of the bacteria using laboratory testing.

  7. Emily P in DC

    I don’t like washing each piece of fruit individually, I prefer to wash everything in one big sink full of water plus a generous glug of vinegar right when we get home from the store. I let the fruit bob in there for anywhere from 10 mins to an hour, let the water run out and let it dry, then move some of the fruit to the fruit bowl on the counter and some to the refrigerator. That way I’m not putting dirty fruit in the fridge for cross-contamination and anyone in the house can take a piece of fruit without worrying about washing it. Sometimes the water from the soaking fruit has gunk floating in it afterwards, so I think it does a decent job. Would be interesting to test it, though!
    Thanks for the interesting post!

  8. Just a quick note about your potatoes comment. I am not a farmer, but my understanding from the non-pesticide-potatoes gal at my farmers’ market is that the pesticides in potatoes are inside, not just on the skin (because they spray the above-ground part of the plant). She isn’t a farmer herself, I don’t think, so I am not certain she’s right, but it makes sense to me–do farmers every apply pesticides to their dirt (and till it in)? I think that’s the only way pesticides would be more concentrated on the outside of a potato.

  9. I’ve used BioKleen produce wash for a while now. I spray my items with a diluted bottle and then let them sit. It works great.

    BUT, I recently was looking on EWGs website and it was given a D or F (sorry, I can’t give you specifics as their website isn’t responding to my search request at the moment). What do you think of that? Is it offset by the benefits?

  10. Alice via Facebook

    I found a stall in my farmers market where I can get a huge crate of organic produce for a very reasonable price. It’s plenty to feed my family of four for a week, when I add some organic grassfed meat out of the freezer that we buy in bulk a couple of times a year. Then all I have to do is add a few specialty items if the budget allows (local olive oil, local honey, local mushrooms, kerrygold butter, etc.) and we’re all set! 🙂

  11. This was a fun test, but it is my understanding that the dirty dozen should always be purchased organic because the pesticides are actually absorbed into the fruit/vegetable and you can’t just wash it off. They test them to check for pesticide absorption, and the ones that routinely fail (containing levels of pesticides that are harmful to humans) end up on the dirty dozen list. Although it is good to see how well products work to wash fruit and veggies, I wouldn’t trust it to “remove pesticides” from the dirty dozen foods.

  12. Lisa via Facebook

    I was under the impression that you can’t wash pesticides off produce. I do think you should wash all produce to be safe. Pesticides are on the plants as they grow & in the soil, I don’t think you can just wash them off.

  13. I’ve heard that plain baking soda is very effective at cleaning off your produce-it definately makes a noticable difference on tomatoes and apples!

  14. I’ve read in a few places that soaking veggies in a soapnuts solution for 10 minutes can remove 95% of surface chemicals. Do you know any more info about this? I know organic is still better, but since we don’t have access to organic, it’d be nice to know we were removing some chemicals! However, I wouldn’t want to waste the solution if it doesn’t really help for that.

  15. Nice post. I have used handsoap and water for a long time, I figure if its good enough for my hands then its good enough for my food, I find that it helps get the waxy coating off from the store, since I am too cheap to buy purely organic. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I think potatoes are on the Dirty Dozen because of the anti sprouting agent that gets sprayed on them after harvesting-is that your understanding? If so, then the washing process should remove a lot of it and we can eat potatoes in non farmer market seasons, right?

    The whole run off thing is so disturbing! I’ll bet there’s a microbe that could be released to “eat” it and render it harmless, kind of like what I heard could be a way to clean the BP oil spill. If only…

    1. Kelly,
      I do think that’s one reason for potatoes, but I imagine they also absorb a lot from the soil when chemicals are used. ??? I like buying them local when I can b/c I assume they don’t have that root inhibitor. *fingers crossed* 🙂 Katie

  17. OOh! I’m glad I found this!!! I”ve been wondering if I was doing any good washing my produce with handsoap!!!! YAY! Good to know it was #3!! I will have to check out Biokleen soon, though! Love that it’s #1!!!!

    His,
    Mrs. U

  18. The Diaper Diaries

    Dude, that is a TEST!! I love that rubbing it on your leg came in second. We can learn so much from the farmers of the olden days can’t we?

    1. DD,
      I do LOVE that I’m not the only adult mama who still uses the word “DUDE” as an expletive! Yes!
      🙂 Katie

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  21. I thought that this was incredibly interesting. I am so glad to see that the good ole pant leg works the best.
    I would actually be interested in this soap though. I think that I will look for it. Is it only availble on line?
    If you’d like to stop by my blog I’m at Cake Crumbs.
    .-= Heidi´s last blog ..Sunday Funnies: The Secret Box =-.

    1. Heidi,
      Amazon is an easy place to order Biokleen, but I’ve also seen them at my local health foods store. They have a store locator at their website: http://biokleenhome.com/products/household/kitchen
      (Or you can win some here starting Monday!)
      Enjoy!
      Katie

  22. What a GREAT!!! experiment. I alway wash my fruit. I pour one cup of clorox to a sink filled with water. Put all my fruits and veggie in a bath. Then a rinse and dry, then off to the frig.
    THANKS!!! for sharing.
    Geri
    .-= [email protected]´s last blog ..LEMON-PECAN COOKIES =-.

    1. Geri,
      I’m not a big fan of bleach…for me, I’d rather use just water. See this post for why: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/09/14/food-for-thought-why-is-bleach-bad-for-me/
      Thanks for the good comment to bring attn to this!
      🙂 Katie

    2. Geri,
      I was thinking about your comment, and I realized I should have added this: if you do choose to use bleach, the CDC only recommends 1/4 cup per gallon to STERILIZE, and Nourishing Traditions says 1 TSP per gallon to wash produce. No need to overdo it… 🙂 Katie

  23. Amy @ Finer Things

    You are such a scientist. 🙂 Jeans it is!
    .-= Amy @ Finer Things´s last blog ..Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes =-.

  24. Really, Amy? Grown in chemicals, too? Gosh, just when I think I can get non-oranic produce and wash it really well and have it be “safe” to eat, someone reminds me that organic is just better.

    1. Tina,
      Unfortunately, yes, it’s the chemical fertilizers that cause another problem that a good wash can’t take care of. The run-off hurts the environment big-time, too, and it bums me out that I can’t afford organic all the time. So you do the best you can and offer up the rest in prayer!
      🙂 Katie

  25. Cascia @ Healthy Moms

    What an interesting experiment. I always just wash my produce with water. Maybe I should try your other methods.
    .-= Cascia @ Healthy Moms´s last blog ..Mojo for the Holidays – CONTEST!! =-.

  26. Great experiment! One note, on non-organic fruits and vegetables, you may get a lot of the chemicals off with washing them, but they still were grown with chemicals. These would have be absorbed and be found in all the cells of that piece of produce unforunatley. I stick with organic because of that reason.

  27. Earth Friendly Goodies

    Yah, I was going to mention the castille soap as well, I wonder how that would measure up… your test was very thorough though and it is good to know the ‘ol rub on the pants method does the trick. Unless of course you have dirty jeans. 🙂
    .-= Earth Friendly Goodies´s last blog ..Warm Winter Night with Ed Begley Jr’s Eco-Friendly Life =-.

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  29. I have been using regular liquid castille soap and it seems to do a good job. I was amazed when I washed grapes in it – I swished them in a bowl. Whoa, could not believe the dirt they left behind! I want to try the Biokleen now to compare.

  30. If I were your father, I’m not sure I’d like your description of him — “an old Polish man from a country town?” Interesting experiment, though.

  31. I’m going to sound nit-picky here: Number 5 – H2?

    Also, you don’t want to store your hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle like that – the whole point about hydrogen peroxide coming in dark bottles is to keep it from turning to plain water. (I tried the spray bottle thing before – you want to put some in the bottle just before you use it to be sure it is still full potency.)

    I’m not trying to be critical – i love your blog! 🙂
    .-= Kathryn´s last blog ..I think i "get it" now =-.

    1. Kathryn,
      I spell my name the same way! 😉
      Did you mean that I didn’t write “Shaklee H2” for the number 5 spot? I changed that if it is.

      My bottle isn’t opaque, and I know it’s supposed to be, but I keep it away from the light most of the time, and it’s at least not transparent completely. I test it every so often to make sure it still bubbles, but I’m not sure if that’s so scientific!

      Thanks for the notes and compliment. 😉
      Katie

  32. Interesting AND informative!

    I’ve always been a rub it on your leg kind of guy, and now I know better.

  33. Oh, great post! Thanks for your thorough testing. I’m a huge fan of Biokleen’s Bac-Out, so to see a positive review of another one of their products is great.

    Bac-Out is my go-to miracle product. It dissolves grease, cleans up animal messes and removes red wine stains from carpet and clothing. I love it so.
    .-= Leigh´s last blog ..A look back, a step ahead =-.

  34. I’ve been using Biokleen produce wash (and other products) for years now – and am only working on the second bottle! It really does last a long time, especially when you fill up the sink like Stephanie describes. Lettuce is another item that has a disgusting amount of junk come off.

  35. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

    I’ve been a Biokleen produce wash user for years and I love it! I either rub it on full strength (but a small amount) and let it sit for about 1-3 minutes while I do other things, or I fill up a sink with a good squirt and put lots of things in at once. I scrub anything that’s “scrubbable” as well.

    Fantastic post and what a super fun experiment! I would have enjoyed trying that out, but I’ll settle for the fact that you’ve already done the work for me, lol!
    .-= Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home´s last blog ..Conserving Water: Why It Matters and Ways to Do It =-.

    1. Stephanie,
      I always forget about the whole sink thing. Most times I don’t have an empty sink to do it with! My broccoli is probably very dirty…

      🙂 Katie

  36. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I have been REALLY looking forward to this post since you first mentioned it . . . and it did not disappoint! Your experiments rock, Katie, and I think of you when I rub the heck out of something to try and get it clean with not quite enough soap. :>)
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Organizing Pot Lids =-.

  37. Thanks! I’ve been using the produce wash, but I don’t feel so bad rubbing it on my jeans now if I forget. (I’ve been doing it for a long time, just feeling bad about it.)

    That Biokleen stuff really gets grapes clean, too… and I’m always disturbed by how much gunk comes off! Even the organic ones.

    1. Erin,
      Oh, I’ve been forgetting to even try it on grapes. Duh. Organic grapes do have natural yeast on them; that’s the filmy stuff. That’s all I know, though, just b/c of experience making sourdough.
      Katie

    1. And are you an old Polish woman from a country town? I’m chuckling as I write this, reflecting on Katie’s description of her father.

      1. Heh heh…someday I’ll be an old Polish woman from a country town! For now I’m still trying to believe that I’m young… 🙂 Katie

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