The age-old issue—how to keep lettuce fresh. Do you find you spend a significant amount of money on lettuce greens only for them to wilt and become slimy in just a few days? I’m here to help you waste less greens so you can waste less “green!”

Image of lettuce greens in a salad spinner

Even with the best of intentions, we sometimes fall short on the amount of salads we anticipate eating in a week, or the box of loose greens somehow disappears to the back of the fridge. Or maybe the issue lies in not knowing how to store kale and how to store spinach! Regardless of the situation, there’s a way to combat the short lifespan and pesky slim that greens take on too readily.

I briefly cover storing greens in How to Properly Store Vegetables, but I want to dive a bit deeper on the different types of leafy greens including iceberg, romaine, arugula and more.

Whether you’re picking up a fresh head of lettuce from the grocery store, grabbing a bag from the farmers’ market, or growing it yourself, knowing how to store greens properly is essential for getting more life out of them.

How to Wash Lettuce Greens

Loose salad greens (spinach, arugula), leafy green lettuce, and hearty greens like kale and chard, should be washed and dried before storage. To wash salad greens there are a few things to consider. 

  • heads of leafy green lettuce into individual leaves. 
  • use cold water and wash under moderate pressure. 
  • Pitch any leaves that look like they’re already starting to spoil or wilt. 

To wash greens, place the loose leaves in a colander and rinse under cold water. Toss the leaves around with your hand to ensure every leaf is washed. 

How to Dry Lettuce Greens

Excess moisture exacerbates spoilage, so it’s imperative that greens are well-dried before storage.

Use a salad spinner to dry lettuce: the easiest and most effective method!

  1. Transfer washed greens to a salad spinner and spin dry. Depending on how many greens you have, you may need to do this in batches as it’s best to avoid over-packing the salad spinner.
  2. When you think the greens are dry enough, spin it some more. If you don’t already own a salad spinner, I’d consider investing in one. It’s annoying to store, but does make washing and drying greens a cinch. 

Use clean kitchen towels to dry lettuce: if you don’t have a salad spinner (or don’t want to go grab it from the basement) you can also use clean kitchen towels to dry greens. 

  1. Before removing the greens from the colander, take a clean kitchen towel and place it over the top of the colander, like a lid. Hold the towel tightly to the colander and shake it vigorously.
  2.  Once the leaves are mostly dry, transfer them to a second dry kitchen towel and pull the corners of the towel together, creating a kind of “purse.” Repeatedly pat the round bottom of the gathered towel until the remaining water is absorbed. This will help absorb any excess water.

How to Store Salad Greens

Washing and drying is a large part of extending the life of greens and keeping them fresh longer. How they are stored is equally as important. 

  1. Place a paper towel in the bottom of a large plastic container with a tight fitting lid. (If you bought greens in a box from the supermarket, you could reuse this container to store the greens. Just make sure to rinse and dry the container first.) 
  2. Arrange a portion of the washed lettuce leaves or greens over the paper towel in an even layer and avoid using too many greens—I usually do about a third or a quarter of the total greens.
  3. Arrange a second paper towel over top of the greens then arrange more greens, in an even layer, over top of the second paper towel. Repeat this process until all of the greens are stowed away in layers. 
  4. Store container in the refrigerator and use greens as desired.

Washed, dried and stored this way, lettuce greens will last (and stay fresh and crisp!) for at least a week and up to two weeks. 

The Exceptions

How to Store Butterhead (Bibb) Lettuce

Butterhead lettuce is sold in square plastic clamshell containers with the root ball still intact. Because of the root ball, butterhead lettuce will stay fresh for quite some time when simply stored in the refrigerator as it’s package for sale. Gently rinse or wipe lettuce leaves right before using (I use a moist paper towel).

How to Store Romaine Lettuce

Once cut or torn, romaine is fairly susceptible to spoilage. Avoid washing or separating the leaves prior to storage. Wrap the entire head of lettuce loosely in paper towels, transfer to a produce bag and store in the crisper drawer. Wash lettuce leaves right before using.

How to Store Red Leaf Lettuce

The tender leaves of red leaf lettuce are prone to spoilage. Avoid washing or separating the leaves prior to storage. Wrap the entire head of lettuce loosely in paper towels, transfer to a produce bag and store in the crisper drawer. Wash lettuce leaves right before using.

How to Store Iceberg Lettuce

Iceberg lettuce is another one of the few greens that should not be washed and dried before storing. It’s best to keep iceberg lettuce in the tight-fitting bag it’s sold in until ready to use. Pull leaves or cut wedges/slices from the head as you need it (wash before serving). Rewrap the remaining head of lettuce in paper towels and return to the plastic bag. Stored this way in the crisper drawer, iceberg lettuce should stay fresh for quite a while, at least a week and up to two. 

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About The Author

Loretta McGraw is a senior in journalism and mass communication at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Iowa State University. She is currently working as a Digital Food Publishing Intern here at Zestful Kitchen while attending classes and engaging in extracurricular media organizations on campus. After graduating she hopes to continue mastering her writing skills in the magazine industry.

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