Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Washing Lettuce

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

When making a salad, lettuce is usually one of the main ingredients.

What you need to know about lettuce is mostly how to wash it and to make sure that it’s edible and attractive.

If you are unsure what type of lettuce to buy, check out my post “Salad Greens From A to Z”.

The lettuce you buy from the supermarket may or not be packaged in some way, but it came from the ground and you can’t just start eating it, unless you’ve bought the pre-washed kind.

When grocery stores started selling pre-washed lettuce I thought it was brilliant, until I bought a bag. I discovered that if I didn’t use it within a day or two it was history (with a bit of a slimy edge). Granted, when I used it immediately, it was a huge time-saver. But, if you know how, it really only takes about 4 minutes to wash, dry and store lettuce.

Knowing how to wash and store lettuce (and other “salad greens”) is not that big of a mystery, particularly if you have a salad spinner. And I do recommend that you get one. They are relatively cheap and they make washing lettuce a snap.

Salad spinners cost about $25. If you eat a lot of salad it is well worth the investment.

However, let’s begin with the “but I don’t have a salad spinner” approach.

First, cut the head of lettuce away from its root with a knife. (You can also just do this with your hands – the root should break off easily.) Then, separate the leaves.

To wash iceberg lettuce first remove the core with a paring knife.

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Then break it apart with your hands. (Some heads of iceberg are much firmer than others!)

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Fill a large bowl with cool water and gently place the lettuce leaves in the bowl giving them a gentle swish as you drop them in the bowl.

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After about 30 seconds of floating in the water the sand or dirt will sink to the bottom. Gently shake the water off each leaf and place them one at a time on paper towels or a clean dish towel. Blot the lettuce dry with some more paper towels.

OK, that’s the manual way. Now let’s use the salad spinner.

A salad spinner is a great little tool for both washing the lettuce and getting the excess water off. It comes in three parts – the bowl, the colander (the bowl with the holes in it) and the lid.

You begin the same way by cutting off the root and separating the leaves. But now, you place the leaves inside the colander, which is sitting inside the bowl.

Fill the spinner with water. All the sand on the lettuce leaves should sink to the bottom.

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Lift the colander (with the lettuce in it) out of the bowl, pour away the water, and then replace the colander in the bowl. Finally, put the lid on.

Now you can spin the lettuce by turning the handle. The spinning action will force the water off the lettuce, and help it to dry.

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Storing lettuce

If you’re not going to use the whole head of lettuce, then lay out the washed leaves on paper towels…

… and roll them up and put them in a plastic bag.

To save money, you can use the plastic bags from the produce section of the grocery store.

When lettuce is washed and properly stored, it stays fresh in the refrigerator for about 5 to 6 days. However, note that lettuce that you’ve washed yourself and stored properly will last longer then pre-washed lettuce.

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41 Comments

Pam C said:

Loved this one, the photos are terrific! Keep up the good work.xoxo

Kathy (Maister) said:

Thank Pam, and welcome to the world of blogging!
Cheers!

Fiona Torrance said:

Kathy –
Lettuce Tip:

For part of my life I was raised in a Cape Malay household and was taught cooking in that tradition. To keep lettuce fresh, we would submerge whole lettuce leaves in a bowl full of water with about 2 tsp of white sugar. The bowl would be kept in the fridge over night. The sugar water keeps the lettuce crisp.

Kathy (Maister) said:

What a fabulous idea! I can’t wait to give it a try!

Justin Evans said:

I have eaten so MANY sandy salads. Thanks so much for this tip.

gabriella said:

thanks so much! The round up will be done in a day or so.

Joy said:

I have another question rather than a comment. How do you wash iceberg lettuce? Is it necessary to wash all the inside leaves or is washing just the outside sufficient?

Kathy (Maister) said:

Hi Joy, sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to you. I’m still working out the bugs in my software. Fortunately, there are no bugs in my lettuce!
Iceberg lettuce should be washed just before you use it, if possible. If you are going to wash it in advance then, yes, same rules apply. I do find iceberg lettuce to be the least sandy of all the lettuces. (Shhh, don’t tell, but sometimes I do skip washing that particular variety!)

Annie D said:

great idea, thanks. Also, if you don’t have a salad spinner. put washed and drained leaves in a clean pillow case, step outside and swing it. Good exercise along with drying your lettuce leaves/

Amy said:

I have a quick question….after you’ve washed your lettuce, do you place the rolled up lettuce leaves in a closed plastic bag or unclosed plastic bag?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Amy, I recycle the left over bags from the grocery store and just gently fold over the top. It’s closed but not air tight like a *zip-lock* type of bag.

Bert said:

Yes! Thank You . I have never had a problem w/storing lettuce and keeping it fresh. My twin Grandsons who are very big salad eaters have gone back to live w/their parents, so I guess I’m not using it as fast as I used to. But now I know there is another way to store it .

tina said:

I have a question. Can you cut up the lettuce and then wash it? I find it easier to cut / chop up the greens when they are in tact.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Tina, good question! I’ve tried both ways and I think if you are going to use it immediately after washing it, then it’s fine to chop it first and then wash it. Cut, washed lettuce does not keep as long as uncut, washed lettuce. Cheers!

Ricardo Paitz said:

All the comments posted here are probably some good ways of keeping lettuce fresh. HOWEVER. None of these cover the most important part. BACTERIA. A lot of lettuce sold in the US comes from Middle or South america where grey water is used to water fields. That means that ur lettuce may contain E.coli ( bacteria found in stool). To kill these bacteria submerge lettuce in water and add approx two table spoons of salt. Leave for five minutes. Drain and rinse. This will alter the osmolality of the surrounding of the bacteria and will dry them out and kill them. Now you should see a sharp decrease in diarrhea after eating Salads.

Carolyn said:

Some of my friends are putting a little soap in the water or a drop of bleack. Do you recommend this?

Kathy Maister said:

No I do not recommend using soap/bleach for washing vegetables. (Neither does the USDA)

cassidy said:

this is like the best food ever my mom wil love it alot i siericly think you should do more cooking on here though thanks alot pam

jane burk said:

I wash my lettuce leaves in cold water, put them in a pillowcase and spin them on the gentle cycle of the wasing machine. Keep it gentle so you don’t bruise the lettuce. I then wrap the leaves in damp tea towels (the kind with no nap) and put towels and leaves in a plastic bag and store in crisper drawer of refrigerator.

Kathy Maister said:

Ha! That’s amazing!
Although I do believe a salad spinner may be a be a bit more economical to operate!

Teri said:

Why is it that restaurant salad is always so much better than homemade salads? What do they do differently?

Kathy Maister said:

Teri, I wish I knew the secret! I think is has something to do with not having to make it yourself! :)

Sophie said:

My mom taught me a little trick: cutting lettuce with a plastic utensil keeps the lettuce from looking orange and rusty along the cut edges.

Also, some people asked about washing Iceberg lettuce: what we did, was cut out the root part on an angle (so that you dig kind of a cone-shaped hole in the bottom of the lettuce head), fill it up with water, shake it, empty it as much as possible. You can let it drip dry a little bit while you repare other stuff, or dry it with towels… it’s up to you! I personally haven’t eaten Iceberg in years, I just don’t like it that much!

Enjoy your salads!

Kathy Maister said:

Great tip Sophie – Thanks! Iceberg does not have a lot of taste but chopped up the texture is great on many Tex-Mex dish – particularly on tacos!
I have often seen those plastic lettuce knives for sale in the kitchen shops. Ripping lettuce apart with just your fingers works also works really well.

Lauren said:

I just found you website. It’s really great for a new cook like me.
I read your post on cleaning lettuce and have two questions. Do you clean mesclun lettuce leaves the same way as romaine? I read that mesclun type lettuce leaves, etc have more dirt than romaine and iceberg and need to be cleaned differently.

Also, how do you wash your salad spinner? Since it’s plastic, I don’t want to put it in the dish washer, but I still want to be sure that all the nooks and crannies of the colander get cleaned.

Lastly, how do you buy mesclun lettuces? I hate the taste of bagged lettuce, but have no idea how and what to look for in regards to purchase lettuce besides romaine and ice berg?

Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Kathy Maister said:

Great questions Lauren!

For those who have never heard of mesclun, it is a mixture of small, tender, baby lettuces and wild greens.

Some can be a bit “sandier” than others so you may have to wash is a couple of time to get rid of any grit left on the leaves. Follow the same procedure described in my post above for washing mesclun.

Here are some really great buying tips from an article on mesclun:

“A Buyer’s Guide to Mesclun

BEFORE buying mesclun, look for discolored leaves. When they start to yellow, they are getting old.

Smell the mix. If it has a sweet sickly smell, choose something else. The smell is a sign of rot.

The cut part of the stem of each leaf should look clean and clear; otherwise the product is old.

Ripped leaves and broken stems indicate leaves from mature plants.

Buy flowers separately if you are not using the mix the same day.

Mesclun from a supermarket should be used within 36 hours. Mesclun from a farm market should last a little longer.”

For the entire article, click here.

Washing A Salad Spinner

The basket and the bowl can be washed with soap and water, by hand, not in the dishwasher. As for the cover, I generally just wipe it with a damp cloth and then let it air dry completely before putting the entire spinner away.

Mike said:

I purchased a lettuce keeper from tupperware years ago and remember the salesperson telling me to wash my lettuce with hot water. She said it actually makes the lettuce crisper.

Fast forward years later and I washed lettuce at a family meal and was almost attacked for wilting the lettuce.

When asked to defend my action, I was defenseless without any facts.

The lettuce was not ice berg.

Maybe ‘Hot water’ only works with ice berg lettuce or maybe ‘Hot water; only works if you plan to refrigerate the lettuce after washing it or maybe the reccommendation was related to Bacteria reduction?

Do you have any insight to washing lettuce with ‘Hot water’ intending to make it crisper?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mike,

I have never even heard of using HOT water when cleaning lettuce. I have no doubt that the hot water must have wilted the lettuce!

Stick with cold water when washing all different types of lettuce.

If you are nervous about not getting the lettuce clean enough, there is a “salad washing solution” that they sell at whole foods stores which supposedly does a better job than just plain water.

Some people also think that adding a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the water while washing the lettuce will help kill bacteria.

Good Luck!
Kathy

Joni said:

I just wanted to say this is one of the most helpful websites I have ever found on cooking (even though in this case i was just looking for the best way to store lettuce) Thanks!

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Joni!
I really appreciate the two thumbs up! Startcooking.com is a dream come true for me and I am delighted at how well it is being received!
Cheers,
Kathy

linda said:

I think the produce in the supermarkets are

sprayed with chemicals to look fresh,,,in reality

they are not. Could this be why those in the bag

are crispier? I wash mine in cold water and salt.

chris said:

If you hold iceberg lettuce in your palm and slam the stem down HARD onto a hard surface you can pull out the core with your fingers then just run cold water into it.

startcooking said:

Linda, yes many supermarket vegetables are treated to prolong their shelf life. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.)
Chris you are absolutely correct. This is indeed a great way to remove the core and wash a head of iceberg lettuce.

Alyse said:

I learn something new every day; so that is how I’m suppose to use my salad spinner! I hand washed the lettuce and then put it in the spinner. I realize I was to fill it up with water.

I found this site through Vicky & Jen’s “What Really Matter’s”, and I’m learning so much since I was never taught to cook. If the dog eats it, my husband will try it!

Love the site. Thanks so much Kathy!

vangie decena said:

Hi Kathy

For an apprentice cook like me – I enjoy so much yout tips and recipes especially!

startcooking said:

Alyse & Vangie – Thanks!
Startcooking.com is all about learning the basics. Good luck developing your cooking skills.
Cheers,
Kathy

Uly said:

Crescent Dragonwagon suggests that to dry your washed lettuce you put it in a pillowcase, step outside, and swing it over your head. It’s great exercise :)

Amanda said:

Thank you so much for posting this! I always bought bagged lettuce because I wasn’t sure how to properly wash a head of lettuce. Do you know if I can use this same process to clean leeks?

startcooking said:

Uly, my neighbors here in downtown Boston would find that very odd indeed! ;0

Amanda that’s great to hear! Washing leeks is very similar to washing lettuce.

Cheers,
Kathy

HOME said:

Thank you

mamajean said:

I learned to break lettuce apart and soak immersed in warm water with salt for 10 minutes. Then to drain and dry. The warm salt water was to clean but also to kill amoeba that are common on lettuce.

If you do this, you will often see tiny debris floating at the top of the water. That’s enough to convince me to continue washing this way.

Lettuce will crisp up after being properly dried and refrigerated.