Cooking Tips

Can Baking Soda Remove Pesticides from Produce?

A University of Massachusetts study found that soaking produce in baking soda solution can remove common pesticides. We conducted our own experiment to see how it compares to other common methods.

Published May 25, 2023.

We all know pesticides can remain on conventionally grown produce. But when you look at the facts around pesticide residue on food, they’re still sobering. 

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), about 70 percent of nonorganic fruits and vegetables tested by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) turn up at least one type of pesticide, and every year the EWG publishes a shopper’s guide to the worst offenders—the Dirty Dozen. Strawberries usually top the list, followed by spinach and other greens; several types of tree fruit including peaches, pears, and apples; grapes; peppers; cherries; blueberries; and green beans.  

So it’s a good idea to spring for organic versions of those crops whenever you can (and especially when you’re cooking down large quantities for things like jam or pie or applesauce). But if you do buy conventional fruits and vegetables, you should clean them to remove as much pesticide residue as possible. 

We ran a few tests to zero in on the most effective method and found that washing produce in a baking soda solution can make a real difference.

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How Does Baking Soda Remove Pesticides?

Because most pesticides aren’t stable at an alkaline pH, soaking them in a baking soda solution can break down their compounds and help to wash them away. 

In fact, a 2017 study conducted at the University of Massachusetts found that a 15-minute soak in a 1 percent baking soda solution removed 20 percent of one common pesticide from apples and 4.4 percent of another. 

This sounded like an easy and promising method for getting rid of at least some pesticide residue from produce, but we wanted to run our own tests, comparing a baking soda wash to other common methods for cleaning produce.

Our Cleaning Tests: Baking Soda Solution vs. Vinegar Solution vs. Plain Water

We purchased pesticide detection cards that, when pressed against produce, can detect two types of commonly used pesticides—carbamates and organophosphates. 

First, we used the cards to confirm that there were indeed pesticides on the surface of some conventionally grown grapes. Then we conducted the following tests:

  • We submerged some of the grapes in the baking soda solution—2 teaspoons baking soda per 1 quart water (roughly the same formula used in the original study)—for 15 minutes
  • We soaked another batch in the same solution for 30 seconds. 
  • We soaked more grapes in a vinegar solution.
  • We rinsed a fourth batch under cold running water. 

After each treatment, we rinsed the grapes in water and dried them before checking for pesticide residue with the detection cards.

The Winner: Baking Soda

Only the test cards applied to grapes treated with baking soda solution turned blue, indicating that it was effective at removing pesticides.

Note: The baking soda solution will remove only certain classes of pesticides. Spray pesticides that are designed to be absorbed cannot be rinsed away; neither can those that are applied to a plant’s roots. But it still removes some common types, and because the method is fast and easy, we’re still inclined to use it. 


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How to Wash Fruit and Vegetables with Baking Soda

Swirl produce in a solution of 2 teaspoons baking soda per 1 quart water for 30 seconds (the produce should be submerged by at least 1 inch of liquid), and then rinse under cold running water.


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