can’t afford organic? how to reduce the pesticide load of your fruit and vegies

simply washing fruit and vegetables under running water will reduce surface pesticide levels by up to 80% | Frugal and ThrivingI’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that pesticides aren’t totally bad.

After all, pesticides have helped farmers increase yields and reliably deliver to consumers an abundance of quality produce all year long.

Being able to step inside a store and choose whatever takes our fancy from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, no matter what the season and with little effort on our part is a luxury our ancestors never experienced.

We no longer fear famine that is caused by pests and disease like the Irish potato famine.

However, just as pesticides aren’t all bad, they’re not all good either.

They’re not good for the environment, degrading the soil and poisoning water supply.

And they’re not so good for our health either.

“Laboratory studies show that pesticides can cause health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time.  However, these effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed. Some pesticides also pose unique health risks to children.” 1

We can avoid consuming pesticides in our food by eating organic produce.

The problem is that going organic can be expensive and impractical for many people.

One alternative is to only buy organic produce from the Environmental Working Group’s  Dirty Dozen list. 

The Dirty Dozen list includes the 12 most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables, so if your budget allows it, buy these 12 items organic and ‘conventional’ produce for everything else.

The EWG also includes a Clean Fifteen list, which are the least sprayed fruits and vegetables.

If all organic produce is well out of your price range (it usually is for us), the alternative is to wash conventional produce well to remove as much of the pesticide residue off as you can.

(You should also wash organic produce as well to remove bacteria and dirt – the method is exactly the same as outlined below).

There’s no way to remove all pesticide residue. While most of the pesticides are on the surface of the produce, some of it is also absorbed into the produce.

But you can remove a lot of it and the remaining amounts will be small compared to the health giving benefits of eating lots of fruit and vegetables.

do you need a commercial cleaner?

There are plenty of produce washes on the market and you can spend good money on them, but the easiest and cheapest way to wash produce is under running tap water.

“There is little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a [commercial] fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied.” 2

It’s important to note that it’s not the water so much as the friction, the actual rubbing, that’s gets the produce clean, so when washing produce, give them a rub under running water. For hard skinned vegetables like carrots, you can use a scrubbing brush.

Some produce, like apples, are covered in wax to extend their shelf life. Pesticide residue can get trapped under the wax and water alone does not remove the wax and therefore does not remove the surface residue.

vinegar to the rescue again

A study conducted by Cook’s Illustrated found plain old kitchen vinegar to be the most effective way to break down the wax coating on produce. 3 4

Vinegar is also very effective for getting produce clean. Vinegar reduces surface bacteria by up to 90% and viruses up to 95%, outperforming commercial produce washes. 5

To clean produce using vinegar, combine 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water in a basin or clean sink and soak produce for up to 20 minutes. Then rinse and rub under tap water as described above.


1. Wait to wash your produce until just prior to use. Washing and then storing fruit and vegetables will reduce their shelf life.

2. Soak vegetables in a vinegar solution (1:3 ratio) in a basin or clean sink for up to 20 minutes. For delicate fruit like berries, you can make up the vinegar solution in a spray bottle and give them a spray instead.

3. Wash under the running tap giving them a good rub or scrub, unless they are delicate.

4. Trim outer leaves. If you like, you can peel and discard the skin, which holds the most residue, although the skin is also where the most nutrients are too.

If you can’t afford organic (or grow your own), the next best thing is to wash conventional produce well.

While washing wont get rid of all pesticide residue on fruit and vegetables, it will reduce the pesticide load, reducing your exposure.

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  1. says

    While I strongly disagree with you on the usefulness of pesticides (I believe they have contributed to global warming because farmers no longer add carbon to the soil), this is a great article. We don’t have access to organic produce through our supermarkets in our rural area. They just don’t sell organics. Therefore when we don’t have fruit from friends or our own trees, we buy conventional sprayed fruit. We’ve been amazed when we soak our apples in vinegar and water. The wax coating becomes visible and the water sometimes gets really discoloured. I hadn’t seen the list for the ‘clean fruits’ so thank you for the information!

    • says

      Hi Linda,

      I agree with you that pesticides are bad for the environment.

      But we do enjoy such a luxury of abundant, readily available food (for better or for worse).

      Thanks for your comment.