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:
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:
- 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.
- 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. 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:
- Shaklee H2 diluted with water, about a Tbs to 9 oz. (what we use for handsoap sometimes)
- Biokleen produce wash, diluted 1 part soap, 2 parts water
- Target brand milk and honey handsoap (Softsoap knockoff), diluted 1 part soap, 2 parts water
- 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!
- Vinegar water and hydrogen peroxide water in separate spray bottles, as described here
- Passionate Homemaking’s homemade produce wash using vinegar/water/baking soda (still bubbly from being mixed up)
- (not pictured) plain water and scrubbing
- The old-fashioned method of rubbing the apple on your pants
- wet the top with a moist napkin
- rub a squirt of each product on apples with my hands
- wait about a minute
- peek underneath and look for brown/dirt
- 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!
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.
- 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.
- Let sit again for a minute.
- Looked underneath and took photos, same order.
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:
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:
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 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:
- Rubbing on your leg!
- Sal Suds
- Shaklee H2
- Plain water and good scrubbing
- Homemade produce washes
- Lacto-Fermented and Canned Garlic Dill Pickles
- Water Kefir – As Good as Soda Pop?
- First Stab at Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
- Huge Review of Natural Mineral Sunscreen
Disclosure: Biokleen provided samples for review, but didn’t compensate me in any way, nor was I obligated to write a positive review.