Washing Potatoes for Cooking: How & What To Use

It can seem as though when someone says to wash the vegetables. That you should literally wash them with soap. Potatoes along with any vegetable or fruit should be rinsed off before cooking with them, but there is a difference between washing them with soap and cleaning them properly.

Good Reasons To Wash Potatoes

Potatoes are dirty and can have dust and germs on the outside. This can come from sitting in a grocery store or from being shipped on a truck.

Bacteria can also come from the very place the potatoes are grown. Animals such as birds can poop into the soil nearby or the water being used for irrigation can host bacteria. Even organic soil and fertilizer can still contain harmful bacteria.

Anyone who is susceptible and especially vulnerable to infection should take caution when handling raw produce. Washing hands and avoiding cross contamination is equally important for produce as with raw meat.

One good reason is to avoid eating any dirt that is still remaining on the potato skin. There is even a slight chance for small bugs to be on the potato.

Potatoes are among the most heavily sprayed vegetables. The dirt they grow in is treated with fungicides and the potatoes can soak up these chemicals. After harvest potatoes can sometimes be treated with pesticides.

Because there are so many ways to cook and eat potatoes. Some ways to prepare potatoes can lessen the worry about cleaning the skin as much. Such as peeling a potato first.

What If Your Going To Peel The Potatoes?

It seems pointless to clean the outside of the potato if the skin is going to be peeled off anyway. Right? Well that is true in a way. Since you will not be eating the part that might have dirt and bacteria. The risk is reduced, but while peeling you still are touching and handling the potatoes.

Any bacteria or nasty germs that may be on them is going to be in your hand. There is still good reason to wash the potatoes first. Peeling the potato can spread the bacteria onto the good parts. The potato peeler can collect nasty germs and will need to be washed with soap and hot water afterwards.

Every vegetable should be washed before handling and preparing. So it best to wash the potato first before peeling and after (unless you are going to boil them).

Potatoes that are peeled can start to turn black. So it is best to not leave them out for very long.

What If I’m going to bake the potatoes?

Even if you plan on baking the potatoes it still is a good idea to wash them first. Baking them in a oven will kill any germs but it will not remove dirt or any chemicals. Same goes with wrapping them in foil and grilling them. Heating up the potato does disinfect them but does not wash off any chemicals.

Heating up the chemicals could even be worse if it breaks them down or causes them cook onto the potato. I am not sure if this can really happen but it doesn’t sound good if it does.

Do You Have To Wash Potatoes Before Boiling?

Even if you are going to be boiling your potatoes. It’s a good idea to wash them first. Most of the dirt will come off when boiling but there still could be pockets where it will remain trapped. That is why a brush works so well to ensure the potato is free of dirt.

Especially if you are going to be boiling them in a soup. You don’t want any of the left over dirt from the potato in the soup. If you are boiling the potatoes then draining the liquid, its not as big of a deal.

Still it is recommended to wash your potatoes before cooking them in anyway.

Visit the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC)’s website for more potato cooking information.


Scrubbing Potatoes Without a Brush

If you do not have a vegetable brush handy you can use a paper towel to scrub a potato. Wet the towel with warm water and start rubbing the outside. Scrub the potato firmly but not too hard. The paper towel should not act as sandpaper removing the skin.

This will help remove a lot of the dirt off the potato. You will notice the paper towel becomes dirtier. If you going to be cleaning a bunch of potatoes you should use more than one paper towel. Depending on how dirty the towels get are each potato.

The paper towel will be strong enough to remove the “eyes of the potato easily”.

Should You Wash Potatoes With Soap?

Soap should not be used to wash potatoes because the smell of the soap can ruin the taste. Potatoes grow in the dirt and are not washed good enough commercially to be dirt free. Rinsing and scrubbing a potato is good enough to rinse it clean without using soap.

Prepping a potato is always good before you are going to begin cooking. Because of the potatoes bumpy skin dirt can be trapped on the outside. Although Scrubbing the dirt off the potato is one step it is not enough to make sure the potato is cleaned.

Cleaning a Potato with Vinegar

Vinegar and the acetic acid will disinfect and remove dirt from potatoes. Vinegar when diluted with water is safe to drink as opposed to dish soap. So if you want to use some type of cleaning solution for washing potatoes vinegar is the safest choice.

Using vinegar to clean vegetables is good for removing bacteria. It is more effective than water but not much more than scrubbing. Using vinegar involves diluting vinegar with water and either soaking the vegetable or spraying it onto them.

Vinegar is a great way to disinfect vegetables but it will take longer and be slightly more expensive than using a brush that you can reuse. Make sure to rinse the potatoes well with straight water to remove any vinegar odor.

Washing Potatoes In a Dishwasher

Using a dishwasher an effective way if you need to clean a lot of potatoes quickly. This way is also way less labor intensive but it has to be done right. Remember no soap is needed. If you are using a home dishwasher this is easy, just make sure no extra rinse solution is present and do not add any dishwasher soap.

Place each potato individually in the racks, making sure they are not going to roll around. The setting you want to use is rinse only cycle. Do not use warm or hot water. This could cook or steam the potatoes slightly and ruin them.

This way is great for getting a lot of potatoes washed quickly but should not substitute scrubbing in most cases.

After they have gone through the cycle remove them right away and begin to dry them off. Find a good place to let them dry out while you begin to prepare each one however. They still can used for however way you are going to cook them.

What To Scrub Potatoes With?

There are specific scrubs to use for vegetables. Potatoes do not require special brushes. Look for vegetables brushes when shopping around. A brand new toothbrush would work but might be too small. Look for a brush with a wide grip and a big bristle surface.

Common Names for Vegetable Brushes:

  • Vegetable Brush
  • Vegetable Scrubber
  • Vegetable Hand Scrubber
  • Potato Scrubber
  • Potato Brush

I finally ordered a brush after using a paper towel for too long. Now I can wash potatoes quickly and without much effort. It also does a much better job.

You can find this vegetable brush on Amazon here.

Always make sure the brush is clean before using.

Tip: Don’t use a dry brush on a dry potato, Instead scrub the potato under cold running water in a sink.

Do All Potatoes Need to be Washed?

The answer is yes, all potatoes are grown in the dirt and are susceptible to the same contaminants. Red potatoes, gold potatoes, russet potatoes and even Idaho potatoes should all be scrubbed and washed before cooking with them.

Organic potatoes can still carry fertilizers or herbicides on them but they are safer than non-organic potatoes. Even so organic potatoes should be scrubbed and rinsed properly just as much.


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