Whether you pick them by hand from a local orchard or buy them from a supermarket, apples are an essential part of the fall season. They also happen to contain more residual pesticides than any other fruit or vegetable. If you want to enjoy a wholesome snack without consuming toxic chemicals, your best bet is to wash your apples using a method approved by science.
As TIME reports, researchers from the University of Massachusetts recently put three apple-sanitizing strategies to the test. One of the cleaning agents analyzed in their study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry was Clorox bleach. After coating organic apples in the pesticides thiabendazole and phosmet, they washed them in a solution of water and bleach, which is what commercial farmers do to clean their apples before sending them to distributors. They also bathed apples in straight tap water like many consumers do at home.
But the method that works best falls between using heavy-duty chemicals and giving them a plain rinse: To rid your apples of as many pesticides as possible, try washing them in water and baking soda. A 12- to 15-minute baking soda scrub removes practically all of the pesticides on an apple’s surface, something neither bleach nor water alone can do.
Even after devoting that much time to sterilizing your snack, the researchers warn that your apple won’t be 100 percent pesticide-free. The only way to avoid eating the chemicals that seep beneath the skin is by peeling off the outer layer, which unfortunately also gets rid of healthy fiber and vitamins. If you’re an apple lover, perhaps you should start buying organic, or take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of apples don’t contain enough pesticides to cause real harm.