We understand the feeling you may get when you just want to get a quick lunch made or dinner on the table in a hurry. In moments like that, stopping to wash and dry your lettuce seems like such a hassle. But, when it comes to using fresh lettuce in your cooking, it’s always a good idea to wash it first. Regardless of whether you buy your lettuce from a grocery store, find it at a farmer’s market, or grow it in your own garden, lettuce can carry dirt, bacteria, and bugs between the leaves. There’s no way around it: you’ve got to wash your produce.
The good news is that washing lettuce is uncomplicated and can be done in a number of different ways. It’s even possible to wash all your lettuce at once and store it in a way that keeps the leaves crisp and ready to go. That way, all your lunch salads will be incredibly easy to prepare throughout the week.
In this quick guide, learn how to wash lettuce and get important tips on storing and reviving lettuce, all so you can keep your lettuce recipes clean, delicious, and healthy.
Get more cooking tips and recipes from Mikayla on her blog The Flour Handprint.
Do you really need to wash lettuce?
Yes, you really absolutely need to wash lettuce. Any fresh produce, be it vegetables, fruits, herbs, or leafy greens should be washed before cooking or eating. A simple wash not only removes any potential critters that might be hanging out between the leaves but also gets rid of residual dirt and potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli.
Many cooks opt for bagged, pre-washed lettuces to skip this step. While the packaging indicates that it’s safe, there have been numerous recalls on contaminated bagged lettuce, and washing never hurts. It can also help get rid of that chemical smell you get from bagged lettuce, which is a simple result of the treated water used to wash bagged lettuces before packaging.
Remove only what you need or wash it all
Before you begin washing, it’s helpful to know that a whole head of lettuce is going to stay better for longer than individual leaves or loose lettuces. For the absolute longest shelf life, it’s always best to remove only what you’re going to use and store the rest of the head for a later meal.
This means washing before every use, of course. And the truth is that many home cooks, us included, much prefer to get their washing done and have clean, crisp lettuce ready when they are. If you plan to eat up the lettuce within a week to so, you should be fine to separate the leaves and wash them all, though keep an eye on them as they spend time in the refrigerator. Properly stored loose leaves will still last around a week in the fridge.
A simple strainer does the trick
When you’re ready to wash, you can simply rinse the lettuce leaves under gently running water by hand. Or, you may also set several leaves in a strainer to rinse them all at once.
Whether you’re rinsing entirely by hand or using a strainer, be sure to flip the leaves over to ensure all sides are rinsed. Meanwhile, keep the water pressure gentle and the temperature cool. Too much pressure or overly hot water could cause your lettuce leaves to wilt and make for a sad salad.
Dunk lettuce into a bowl of ice water
If you have lettuce that has gone a little limp or you just want the leaves to be as crisp as possible, a great way to wash and revive it all at once is in a bowl of ice water. And for tough greens like kale, an ice bath can also help cut the bitter flavor contained in the leaves.
Simply fill a bowl with cool water and add a layer of ice across the surface. Dunk individual leaves in, being careful not to crowd them. Let them sit for about 5 minutes, then remove from the water and repeat this process with any remaining leaves. This is a bit time-consuming, to be sure, but this method will restore sad lettuce to crisp, salad-ready perfection.
Wash and dry lettuce all at once with a salad spinner
For true ease and convenience all in one, especially if you eat lettuce on a regular basis, consider investing in a simple and affordable salad spinner. Even the most expensive models serve as a place to wash lettuce, dry it, and even store unused lettuces in the fridge. Salad spinners are also handy for plenty of other uses, too.
To use a salad spinner, add your lettuce to the center basket and wash it under cool, gentle running water. Then pop that center bowl back into the outer bowl and add the lid. Push the button or pull the string — however your model might work — to remove the water. Discard the water and repeat until the lettuce is free of all excess water, but still slightly damp.
Once your salad is dry, go ahead and use it. If you have any leftover leaves, just store the spinner in the fridge until you’re ready for lettuce next time. The airflow created by the two bowls is ideal for lettuce longevity and keeps it crisp and good for a long while.
Lay lettuce flat and pat gently to dry
If you don’t have a salad spinner, manually drying lettuce is still very easy and incredibly accessible even with the most basic kitchen equipment.
To use this method, place an absorbent, clean kitchen towel on a clean counter and lay the rinsed lettuce across it in a single layer. Use another clean, lightweight cloth or paper towel to gently blot away any excess water. Lettuce stores best when a little damp, so don’t worry about getting perfectly dry leaves, especially if you’re not going to use all of the lettuce at once. Simply blot until the drops are gone and the lettuce feels just slightly damp to the touch.
Washed lettuce will keep for a week or more
Once your lettuce is washed and dried, storing the extra leaves correctly will save you plenty of time. If done right, you can have lettuce ready for a whole week.
Lettuce does well in a slightly damp environment with good airflow. A salad spinner is a great storage option here, but a simple zip-top bag or large bowl with a locking lid works as well. To store lettuce in a zip-top bag, first place the leaves in a single layer between paper towels. Even after drying, lettuce usually hangs on to enough water to dampen the paper towels. The damp layers keep the lettuce crispy and perfect as it waits for you in the fridge.
Continue layering until the container is full, but don’t add so much that the leaves begin to compact. The lettuce keeps longer if it has enough room for air to move between the layers. You can store this bag of lettuce in the fridge for up to a week, checking in periodically to make sure the paper towels don’t get too dry or too wet.
- 1 head of lettuce
- Storage bowl or bag
- Paper towels
- Salad spinner
- Remove the leaves of lettuce from the head. Rinse them in a salad spinner or strainer, using cool, low-pressure tap water. You may also rinse by hand.
- Use the salad spinner to dry leaves, or lay them flat on an absorbent towel and gently pat dry.
- Use lettuce as desired.
- Store remaining washed lettuce in single layers between paper towels in a zip-top bag or bowl. You may also store lettuce leaves in a salad spinner in the refrigerator. Be sure to leave room between layers to allow airflow.
- Periodically check to make sure the paper towels are not too wet or dry. Lettuce stored this way will last up to a week in the fridge.