And when should you really wash strawberries?
strawberries in a bowl of water
Credit: Courtney West/Southern Living

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 strawberry 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 do need to clean the strawberries. Cleaning strawberries isn't an overly complicated process. In fact, everything you need is likely in your kitchen right now. But it is a necessary one for several reasons.

Here, learn how to properly clean strawberries, when you should clean them, and why it's important to clean strawberries before eating them.

4 Important Tips for Washing Strawberries

Before you pour a single cup of water over your berries, you should know a few things about the proper way to clean and wash strawberries. Keep these tips in mind:

1. 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.

2. Discard moldy berries. As you're sorting the berries for cleaning, trash any that are already mushy. Squishy berries may harbor mold, bugs, and bacteria. If you're not planning to eat the strawberries right away (you're instead washing them to store), check berries for signs of bruising or small cuts. The berries will begin to mold faster if they're damaged, and the mold can quickly spread to nearby strawberries.

3. Wash just before you plan to enjoy. Strawberries are absorbent, and water invites mold and decay into the delicate fruits. Whenever possible, don't wash your berries until immediately before you plan to eat or cook with them. If you do wash them early, be sure you dry them thoroughly, berries, stems, and all.

4. Skip the expensive produce washes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you do not use any type of detergent, soap, or 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.

How to Clean Strawberries

Whether you're holding a quart from the supermarket, a handful from your backyard, or two buckets from the local farm, strawberries need to be washed before they're eaten or cooked. Unwashed strawberries—or all produce for that matter—can 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 they're consumed.

That's why it's important to wash and clean strawberries before you eat them or cook with them. 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 a colander
Credit: 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.

rinsing strawberries in water and vinegar
Credit: Courtney West/Southern Living

How to Clean Strawberries With Vinegar

Vinegar is a humble cleaning and cooking agent. It's a master really. 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 that may be on the berries' skins.

To clean strawberries with vinegar, first rinse the berries in a colander under running tap water to remove large pieces of dirt. Then, pour four cups water and one cup white distilled vinegar into a large bowl or bucket. Submerge the berries in the water-vinegar bath, and 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 to be expected. The vinegar bath, like the saltwater bath described below, is a good way to remove any tiny bugs that are calling your strawberries home.

After five to 10 minutes, move the strawberries to a colander, and rinse them with cold water again. 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 completely, and eat or cook immediately.

strawberries in bowl of water with baking soda
Credit: 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 2017 study found that baking soda most effectively removed surface pesticides 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 dirt. Then, stir one teaspoon baking soda into two cups of water. Submerge the berries in the water, and let soak 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.

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

How to Clean Strawberries With Salt

Strawberries can sometimes serve as tiny homes to spiders, flies, and worms. Look, they grow in the soil, and bugs are around. It happens.

Instead of being grossed out by them, just 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 salt and three cups warm water (or use a 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 in the water is diluted enough the berries won't absorb any salinity during the brief soak. The final rinse will remove any saltiness that is on the berries' skins.

When to Clean Strawberries

You shouldn'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 do want to wash berries before storing them in the fridge, be sure to thoroughly dry the berries and green stems before putting them in a container. It's important you remove as much water as possible. The berries will likely not last as long as they would 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 they absorb the pesticides and chemicals that are used to keep them pest-free and radiant during the growing process. As a result, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put strawberries as the top of the annual Dirty Dozen list, a compilation of the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide reside based on testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even organic berry growers are using chemicals to keep pests away from the soft berries. Washing and cleaning strawberries is just a smart move to remove as much of that residue as you can to limit exposure to chemicals you wouldn't want in your food.