The Best Way to Wash Leafy Greens (and make them last longer!)

close up photograph of head of lettuce with dew drops

Dear Ruthy, I was recently invited to a potluck and while I’m typically tasked with bringing my killer brownies, I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to bake so instead brought a salad. I rinsed the leaves like I typically do, holding each one under the tap for a few seconds, but when we ate it, it felt sandy. Luckily no one chipped a tooth, but I wanted to bury my head in the ground it came from. Have I got my rinsing technique all wrong?

I’ve had my share of kitchen bloopers. Not fun, I know, but glad to hear that no one had to get rushed to the dentist! I’ll try to help make sure that doesn’t ever happen to you again. This is actually a fool-proof technique I learned in culinary school (thank you Chef Richard!) that we were taught in the context of washing enough lettuce for lunch and dinner daily at the school’s restaurant, but the same technique works perfectly for smaller amounts of greens at home.

healthy bowls with shredded vegetables

(Photo from Simply Quinoa)

Prepare the Bath

By far the easiest way to wash leafy greens (and herbs) is to give them a cold bath. If you’re washing a head of greens, a very large bowl placed in the sink and filled with water will do. But anything more, I suggest you give your sink a good scrub and fill it with cold water. If you’re washing greens that are intact, separate the leaves and put them in the bath.

The Shake

This next step is where we get all the debris out of every last fold and crevasse. Get your hands in the bath and agitate the leaves, using some muscle power to make sure there are no chunks of dirt stuck in any nooks. Inspecting a bunch of leaves is a good idea. (Learn why it’s so important to wash leafy greens and herbs before you store them here!)

Pro Tip: After you've stirred the bath, sand will be floating around in the water so give it a good five minutes or so to settle. This is a good time to pull out your phone and get a lettuce bath pic to post on Instagram! Priorities. And then get your salad spinner ready.

The Spin

Time for the spin cycle. You might need to do this in a few batches as the leaves won’t dry properly if they’re overcrowded. Kind of like when you line dry clothes, you don’t lay them on top of each other.

Gently lift the greens out of the bath, making sure not to agitate the debris that’s settled to the bottom. Give them a little shaky-shake and place in the salad spinner. If the leaves are very big, tear or cut into smaller pieces. If I’m going to be using the leaves in a salad immediately, I typically already tear them into bite sized pieces now (unless I plan on slicing them into thin ribbons). Most important here: don’t overload the spinner or the leaves won’t dry. Fill it no higher than halfway up the side of the spinner. Once you’ve spun out most of the water, spread the leaves in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel or a couple layers of paper towel and blot any residual moisture with another towel or paper towel.

square plate with cut up vegetables avocado eggs peppers nuts

(Photo from The Joya Life)

The Chill

Proper storage is a crucial step in ensuring that those gorgeous greens you bought are still green and droop-free when you’re ready to enjoy them, since maintaining minimal oxygen exposure and the perfect level of moisture are key. Line either the bottom of a sealable container or one side of a resealable bag with a sheet of paper towel. Add your greens and place another sheet of paper towel on top of the greens. (The paper towel will absorb any residual moisture, and then, being ever so slightly damp, will prevent the greens from drying out.)

Now that you’ve got perfectly clean and crisp greens, why don’t you give them a test run using one of my tips for incorporating greens into delicious snacks and meals!

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