Does Soaking Strawberries in Salt Water Really Draw Out Bugs?

Have we been eating tiny bugs this whole time?

Fruits and veggies go on quite the adventure once they’re harvested, and even if they’re washed at the source, there are plenty of opportunities for them to pick up dirt or other undesirable particles along the way. Even certain types of produce, like the “dirty dozen”, are more likely to contain pesticide residue. So it’s safe to say, it’s never a bad idea to wash your produce.

Now we’re seeing a TikTok trend showing people how to get bugs out of strawberries when washing them. Specifically, this produce hack uses soaking strawberries in salt water to get those little critters out. But does it make a difference to between plain water and salt water? Here’s what we discovered!

Why You Should Put Strawberries in Salt Water

According to the #strawberrieswithbugs challenge, submerging strawberries in salt water will cause strawberry bugs to crawl out. The type of bug varies— some TikToks show tiny white worms, while others reveal tiny fruit flies, spiders and mites.

@zenosjake People are finding bugs in their strawberries, do you see any? #strawberrieswithbugs ♬ original sound – Zenos Jake

Does Soaking Strawberries in Salt Water Work?

To get to the bottom of things, I put some strawberries in salt water myself. I tested strawberries from 3 different farms (one major, and two more local) by soaking them in both plain and salt water. First, I filled 3 bowls with tap water, gently added the strawberries and let them sit. Meanwhile, I added water and 2 tablespoons of salt to three more bowls and let the salt dissolve before adding the strawberries. Here are a few more tips for cleaning the strawberries.

Soaking Strawberries in Plain Water

close up of spider on strawberries in salt waterSarra Sedghi for Taste of Home

I didn’t expect much from the strawberries in unsalted water. My initial results revealed no bugs, but about 20 minutes later, I noticed a small spider crawling on one of the strawberries.

Soaking Strawberries in Salt Water

bug on a strawberry in a bowl of salt waterSarra Sedghi for Taste of Home

The salt water revealed bugs much more quickly. I found dead little fruit flies in the water, and any bugs that were still alive were clinging to the fruit for dear life. The most disturbing part of my experiment is when I saw a bug crawling around the moment I put a strawberry in the salt water. Out of the three brands I tested, two revealed strawberry bugs when submerged in salt water.

The Bottom Line

Wash your strawberries! Exactly half of the bowls I tested ended up with bugs in them. While both salt and tap water seem effective, the salt water definitely got the bugs out more quickly.

One interesting thing that I noticed was that the bugs preferred to hide in the leafy part, so you could bypass some bugs by chopping the tops off before washing your strawberries.

For more berry wisdom, read up on how to store strawberries and take a look at these berry mistakes people make when storing, cleaning and even eating strawberries.

Recipes to Make with Fresh, Clean Strawberries
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Sarra Sedghi
Sarra Sedghi is a Birmingham-based writer and editor specializing in food, travel, and history. Her work has appeared in Allrecipes, Atlas Obscura, Eater, MyRecipes, Polygon, and Tasting Table. She excels at narrative writing, and received her MFA in Narrative Nonfiction from the University of Georgia in 2017.