How To Clean Strawberries

When should you wash strawberries?

You've just brought in a bucket of strawberries from the backyard berry patch, farmers' market, or the U-pick farm down the road. Now you're dreaming up all the strawberry recipes and sweet desserts you plan to make—or you're dreaming of snacking on those berries right from the bowl.

Before you begin popping those plump strawberries into your mouth, you need to clean them. You must wash all strawberries—even if you purchased them at the grocery store! Thankfully, cleaning strawberries isn't an overly complicated process. Everything you need is likely in your kitchen right now, but it is necessary for several reasons.

Learn how to clean strawberries properly, when to clean them, and why washing them before eating them is important.

strawberries in a bowl of water
Courtney West / Southern Living

Important Tips For Washing Strawberries

Before you pour a single cup of water over your berries, you should know a few things about cleaning and washing strawberries. Keep these tips in mind.

Wash Your Hands First

Your hands can transfer bacteria from kitchen surfaces, reusable grocery bags, market totes, and the like to your strawberries, so before you touch the fruit, wash your hands.

Discard Moldy Berries

As you're sorting the berries to clean, trash any already mushy. Squishy berries may harbor mold, bugs, and bacteria. If you're not planning to eat the strawberries immediately (washing them to store), check the berries for signs of bruising or minor cuts. The berries will mold faster if damaged, and the mold can quickly spread to nearby strawberries.

Wait To Wash Until Before You Eat

Strawberries are absorbent. Water invites mold and decays delicate fruits. Whenever possible, don't wash your berries until immediately before you plan to eat or cook with them. If you wash them early, dry them thoroughly, berries, stems, and all.

Skip Expensive Produce Washes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not using any detergent, soap, or a commercial produce wash. Also, do not use bleach or disinfecting agents to clean food. These products can leave behind more chemicals than you're removing.

rinsing strawberries in a colander
Courtney West / Southern Living

How To Clean Strawberries

Whether holding a quart from the supermarket, a handful from your backyard, or two buckets from the local farm, you must wash strawberries before eating or cooking. Unwashed strawberries—or all produce, for that matter—carry dirt, bacteria, and tiny insects. The foods can also still have pesticides from the growing process. The pesticides, as well as some of the bacteria, might make you ill if consumed.

That's why washing and cleaning strawberries before eating or cooking with them is essential. Here, find out the four common ways to clean strawberries. They're all effective, so let your personal preferences (and available ingredients) guide you.

rinsing strawberries in water and vinegar
Courtney West / Southern Living

How To Wash Strawberries With Water

Yes. The tried-and-true simple water rinse is an effective way to clean strawberries. It's also the fastest.

Place the strawberries in a colander, and rinse them with cold water under the tap for several minutes. Gently rub each strawberry with your hand to loosen any stuck-on dirt.

Remove the strawberries from the colander, and pat dry. Eat the strawberries immediately, or try a recipe like our Strawberry Vanilla Cake.

strawberries in bowl of water with baking soda
Courtney West / Southern Living

How To Clean Strawberries With Vinegar

Vinegar is a humble cleaning and cooking agent—a master. It can make everything from the dishwasher to the microwave sparkling clean. It can also gently clean delicate fruits like strawberries and remove pesticides and other chemicals on the berries' skins.

To clean strawberries with vinegar, rinse the berries in a colander under running tap water to remove large pieces of dirt. Then, pour four cups of water and one cup of white distilled vinegar into a large bowl or bucket. Submerge the berries in the water-vinegar bath, gently agitate the water with your hand, dunking the berries several times.

Let the berries sit in the vinegar solution for five to 10 minutes. You may notice tiny spiders, black specks (likely fly larvae), or worms in the water. That's normal. Like the saltwater bath described below, the vinegar bath is an excellent way to remove any tiny bugs calling your strawberries home.

After five to 10 minutes, move the strawberries to a colander, and rinse them with cold water. The berries won't have time to absorb the vinegar flavor, and the final rinse will wash off any vinegar on the skins. Pat dry entirely and eat or cook immediately.

a bowl of strawberries in water with salt
Courtney West / Southern Living

How To Clean Strawberries With Baking Soda

If you don't have vinegar, you can use another classic cleaning agent: baking soda. One study found baking soda was more effective in removing surface pesticides when compared to tap water or bleach.

To clean strawberries with baking soda, first, rinse the berries in a colander. Run cold tap water over each berry and gently rub them with your hands to loosen the dirt. Then, stir one teaspoon of baking soda into two cups of water. Submerge the berries in the water, and let soak for five minutes.

After that time has elapsed, move the strawberries to a colander, and rinse with cold tap water for several minutes. Pat the berries dry, and eat or cook them immediately.

How To Clean Strawberries With Salt

Strawberries can sometimes serve as tiny homes for spiders, flies, and worms. They grow in the soil, and bugs are around. It happens. Instead of being grossed out by them, give those tiny creepy crawlers an eviction notice before you plan to eat or cook the berries by soaking the strawberries in a saltwater solution.

Mix up a solution of three teaspoons of salt and three cups of warm water (or use one teaspoon to one cup of water ratio for as much as you need). Let the water cool completely. Then, soak the berries in the cooled water for five minutes.

After that time has elapsed, move the strawberries to a colander. Rinse the berries with cold tap water for several minutes. Pat dry completely. The salt dilutes in the water so that the berries won't absorb any salinity during the brief soak. The final rinse will remove any saltiness on the berries' skins.

When To Clean Strawberries

It would be best if you didn't wash strawberries before you plan to eat them or cook with them. Why? Washing strawberries in advance is a recipe for mushy, moldy fruit. Excess water on the skin of fresh berries will make them break down rapidly.

If you still want to wash berries before storing them in the fridge, thoroughly dry them (as well as the green stems) before putting them in a container. You must remove as much water as possible. The berries will likely not last as long as if you left them unwashed until just before eating them, but you will get several days in the fridge after washing.

Why Clean Strawberries?

Strawberries are porous and absorb the pesticides and chemicals used to keep them pest-free and radiant during the growing process. As a result, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put strawberries at the top of the annual Dirty Dozen list, a compilation of the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides based on testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even organic berry growers use chemicals to keep pests away from soft berries. Washing and cleaning strawberries is a smart move to remove as much residue as possible to limit exposure to chemicals you wouldn't want in your food.

Storage Tip: Refrigerate strawberries as soon as possible in the original clamshell, or layer strawberries in the container lined with a paper towel. Before enjoying and preparing, rinse strawberries under cool, running water. Gently pat dry. Strawberries taste best served at room temperature.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it safe to wash strawberries with soap?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, washing produce products with soap is not beneficial. You can add more chemicals to the product using soaps or detergents.

  • What fruits are considered a part of the "Dirty Dozen"?

    According to the Environmental Working Group, strawberries are number one on the Dirty Dozen list. Other fruits include peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, and blueberries.

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  3. Yang, T., Doherty J., Zhou, B., et al. "Effectiveness of commercial and homemade washing agents in removing pesticide residues on and in Apples," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 65(44), pp. 9744–9752. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b03118.

  4. Environmental Work Group. EWG's 2022 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Summary.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pesticide Data Program | Agricultural Marketing Service.

  6. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Pesticide residue monitoring program questions and answers, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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