The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Plastic-Free Salad Spinners

Did you see the one that looks like a wire mesh basket but spins like a top?  Suddenly, I knew I had to find THAT one.  Ebay, maybe.   Or Etsy.  But try as I might, the only one I found for sale was one from Storenvy that was missing the base that keeps it stable.

We’ve had a Copco plastic salad spinner (aka lettuce dryer) for years.  Actually, Michael has had it since the 90’s before I was even a thought in his head.

Salad Spinner plastic

I use it because we already have it, but I’ve never liked it.  It’s plastic, so it gets slimy and hard to clean out.  And it’s big.  It takes up a lot of valuable real estate in the kitchen.  From time to time, I’ve gone online and searched Google for “plastic-free salad spinner” or “stainless steel salad spinner.”  But I just keep getting tricked by this Oxo stainless steel salad spinner, which is only stainless steel on the outside.  The inside basket–the part that actually touches your salad — is still plastic.  Plus, I don’t make salads that often anyway, so I couldn’t really justify buying a brand new one even if I did find a plastic-free model.

How the French Spun Their Salad in the Old Days

Well, a few weeks ago, I was at it again… obsessively looking for a plastic-free salad spinner when I stumbled upon this discussion on Chow Hound.  One person replied:

You could seek out an old French style collapsible stainless mesh basket. You need to go outside to use it because you need to swing it vigorously.

Really?  Never heard of it.  So I Googled “French metal salad spinner” and came up with lots of results.  Apparently, in the old days before plastic salad spinners, French people would put salad in a wire basket with handles and go outside and whirl it in the air like a windmill.  And just when I was thinking THAT was a brilliant idea (spin salad AND get some exercise!), I stumbled across an ancient Julia Child video:  How to Make Salad Nicoise.  Check out her demonstration of salad spinners! 

Julia Child demonstrates various old fashioned salad spinners.

So, finally giving up on the idea of getting a spinning wire basket for my salad, I decided to go ahead and order the kind of basket that you take outside and spin through the air.  I found lots of vintage, secondhand wire salad baskets on Etsy and bought one from the shop anythinggoeshere.  I felt fine about this choice because the basket is secondhand, so I’m giving it a new life.

There Might Be A Simpler Way

Well, all proud of myself but still wanting to find the spinning-like-a-top kind I saw on Julia Child’s video, I posted the video and query on my Facebook wall and asked if anyone else had seen one like it.  But the responses surprised me.  Many people didn’t understand why I needed a spinner in the first place when a cloth towel or even a pillow case would do.

Really?  I was skeptical.  But since I had decided to make a nice big salad to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck, I thought I would try both methods and see which worked best.

(Note: Some people recommend using paper towels.  That is not an option I chose to consider because although it may be plastic-free, it is certainly not waste-free.)

Comparing Plastic-Free “Salad Spinners”

I showed up at Nancy and David’s with my salad ingredients, as well as my new-to-me vintage salad basket and a organic cotton bulk/produce bag that I’ve had for years.  I asked David, an amazing photographer, to document the experiment.

First, I washed the lettuce in a big metal bowl.

Salad Spinner - washing lettuce

Then, put half in the cloth produce bag and half in the wire basket.


I took both outside and spun them in the air.  (Yes, November is warm enough in the Bay Area for bare feet.)

First the cloth bag… I could spin it really fast over my head.  It sprayed like a wet dog all over the deck.  It was so much fun I didn’t want to stop.


But I had to stop and switch to the wire basket.  You can’t spin the basket over your head in the same way.  It’s more of a sideways windmill motion.


And then, after all the fun was over (fun not just for me but for the crowd that had gathered on the top deck to watch), we went inside to assess the results.

First the lettuce in the basket… hmm… still kinda wet, actually.


Then the lettuce in the cloth bag.   And… we have a winner!


In addition to wicking water all over the deck, the bag had also absorbed a lot of the water from the lettuce… something the basket couldn’t do.

Wow.  I didn’t need to buy something new after all.  That’s okay.  I will hang the cloth bag inside out and let it dry out for the next time.   And I’ll use the wire basket to hold produce but not spin it.

Why Dry Lettuce?

Those of you who don’t make salad very often may be wondering why it’s necessary to dry lettuce before making a salad in the first place.  One reason is that your salad dressing will stick better!

Salad - Persimmon orange spring mix

This salad was delicious.  We had a very happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you all (those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving) did too.

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Etsy handmade and vintage

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11 months ago

I realize that this an OLD post, but the wire basket-type French lettuce crisper you describe is TOTALLY inaccurate. The only types of hand-swung lettuce crisper I EVER saw during the 20 years I worked in France (I’m a chef, retired, trained by Julia Child) was an aluminum sphere with about 100 holes in it, hinged so that you put the lettuce in/take it out. It was on a short chain, about 25cm long, that had a roughly 10cm ring in the tag end. You opened the sphere/ball, placed the lettuce inside, locked the ball’s clasp shut, and swung it exactly as Julia demonstrated in the attached video. Those baskets sold on Etsy and elsewhere have NOTHING to do with France; they’re made in China and weren’t designed for crisping/spin-drying salad greens or anything else at all. The squared handles were designed that way so the basket would have ‘feet”. Baskets are for storage, not drying/crisping lettuce.

4 years ago

Another option, if you’re still interested…
Williams Sonoma Stainless-Steel Salad Spinner… has a stainless steel basket and a BPA outer bowl.

4 years ago

Wow! Thanks for this. I have just been looking for a plastic-free salad spinner and found this post. Now, this I will do. And it saves me on storage. :) Happy days!

Susan Swain
4 years ago

The expressions on your face made me smile ear to ear! I’ve been sad today, but that cheered me up tremendously. Thanks. Also, I can’t wait to flail my arms about and concise my neighbors.

4 years ago your video link has expired

5 years ago

My mum used to put her salad into a clean tea towel, hold it at all four corners and swing her arm back and forth until her lettuce was try. Tea towel gets popped into the laundry and there was a plentiful supply of more towels for the next salad she made.

5 years ago

Thank you!!! I was googling the EXACT same thing and feeling disappointed until your post showed up. I can now feel confident in using one of my cotton bulk bags and my kids will have a blast slinging the water out on our deck :)

Clare B
6 years ago

So glad this article came up high up in my search for a plastic free salad spinner. I can now look no further and put one of the “free” cotton bags that I’ve been given to good use. I of course use them for lots of things but seem to have accumulated rather a lot! Thank you so much.

6 years ago

Look up Orb Centrifuge

4 years ago
Reply to  Bruce

Did you invent the Orb Centrifuge?

Renate, NZ
8 years ago

Thanks so much! Glad I found your article before buying a salad spinner – now I’ll dedicate a cloth bag.

8 years ago

If anyone is interested, I found this in Asia, it’s pretty cool, but on the pricier side, around $130

Peggy Henderson
8 years ago

Love the cloth bag salad spinner idea!! Great visuals and conclusion that it works better than the wire mesh basket! Simple is super!!! Thanks for all involved in creating and presenting this excellent idea!

9 years ago

This is so good. I love the pictures! When I moved to France, I wondered why I couldn’t find salad spinners in stores. My friends were so puzzled and said they just use cloth (in Paris, salad baskets are less popular, I’m guessing because of the space it takes up in a tiny apartment). Every so often in magazines here I’ll see a bit about a French chef complaining that spinners bruise and crush lettuce by spinning too fast and too hard…

Beth Terry
9 years ago

I think I’m going to have to try this:

9 years ago

I spread the leaves out onto a clean teatowel then press another on top & dry them that way, I don’t even bother to spin them!

9 years ago

I visit your site more as I try to limit my use of plastic each day (it’s hard, but I’ve gotten much better) and try to find new ways. I ended up buying a cheap one about 3 years ago from Ikea and I eat a lot of salad, but I must admit it is hard to clean. I will have to try this method and give the job to my son to do, he may enjoy! Thank you for all your hard work and research, it has been a tremendous help with my family.

9 years ago

Am I the only one that was super stoked when the merchants were packing everything, even WET ingredients in (wax?) PAPER?! If its sturdy enough for Julia Child whom surely buys in bulk, why don’t we see it more often in markets today? Bulk olives only come in plastic tubs, unless you buy jars and no, they are not the same.

9 years ago

I was always too frugal to purchase a salad spinner. I devised my own way which is similar to your produce bag. Rinse each leaf, shake it a little, and lay it in the long middle of a large dish towel. After rinsing, I have a big pile of leaves in the middle of the towel and I simply fold the long sides over the lettuce, grab the ends, one in each hand. Then I shake it out in a jump rope motion, if that makes sense. Takes a lot longer to describe than it takes to do it.
Now I have a salad spinner, but it’s such a pain compared to my simpler method.

9 years ago

Forgot to ad:
Beth, thank you for your inspiring blog. I like your humor and honesty. In looking at products like for ex. a salad spinner in a different way, it becomes clear that “just because everybody does” we use things we don’t really need. The invasion of those Household-Appliances hasn’t stopped since Julia Child and CO.
Spin-on! S.

9 years ago

I did sew my own Fabric-Salad-Spinner based on the one i saw here:
On the inside a cotton mesh-bag and on the outside a slightly bigger waxed-Cotton bag, so the water is kept inside. After removing the salad i simply turn it inside out over the sink then hang it to dry for the next use.

9 years ago

very resourceful. Thanks!

9 years ago

AutumnDann I also don’t wash my greens. I buy them at the farmer’s market, so the lettuce is purchased directly from the farmer, who I know doesn’t use any pesticides or chemicals. Sometimes there is a little dirt, but I just brush it off.

J. Wrighten
3 years ago

Always, always wash your produce. Not washing it is how things like e. coli give vegetables a bad name. Seriously. Eat your peck of dirt, sure, but wash your produce and fruits. This is really pretty annoying. You decide that because you purchase from the farmer’s market and the farmer doesn’t use any pesticides or chemicals, that it’s ok to risk getting ill, the farmer getting into hot water, etc., (and the farmer would tell you to wash them), because you don’t consider that various birds, insects, and just life, that you don’t want to consume, won’t be there because of how you purchased your food? AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHHH and then, there’s one of THOSE news stories….

Eco novice
9 years ago

I have a plastic salad spinner I’ve had for 10+ years that I never use. I only buy pre-washed lettuce and never wash it even though every one says you should. I have used the cloth bag method before (usually a pillowcase in my case) for large amounts that I had to wash myself.

9 years ago

OMG, I am one of the people who told you to use a cloth towel. I had seen Ina Garten do it on her show. But the cloth produce bag is even better! No chance of accidentally letting a corner loose and having your salad fly through the air. And, maybe this will entice more people to go buy cloth produce bags to use at the store, further eliminating plastic use.
I’m going to remember this for next time. I know my 7yo will love being allowed to go outside and spin the lettuce. Let’s just hope it’s not snowing that day ;)

Amy Beckerman Zarndt
9 years ago

Beth, if I try it, I’ll let you know how it goes!

Beth Terry
9 years ago

Joyce Bonamassa-Mirro Ricki Burleigh That is the Oxo spinner I mentioned in my blog post that tricks you because it is stainless steel on the outside with a plastic basket on the inside, I’m afraid. As far as I know, there is no all stainless salad spinner on the market except for the vintage ones like I wrote about in the post.

Goffinet McLaren
9 years ago

I am also with Victoria Buchan. I have never possessed a salad spinner.

9 years ago

Hi Terry, I have just begun my on journey to living plastic free. I am finding it strangely exciting. Must be the problem solver in me that likes the challenges. I will have to check up on your website more often as it looks like you have a wealth of knowledge.

Miser Mom
9 years ago

@Amy Beckerman Zarndt I discovered a couple of summers ago that storing lettuce in a damp towel keeps it fresh and crisp incredibly long (sometimes more than a week). So now when I bring home lettuce from our CSA, I often wash it and tear it up right away, then wrap it in a damp towel or cloth. You don’t need a special bag — actually, an old (but clean!) t-shirt works great!
The towel/t-shirt/cloth bag absorbs extra water (but also does double-duty as a salad dryer, I suppose). At any rate, this method allows me to store my lettuce in a way where it’s easy to pull out a bit and eat it easily, with no major prep work. Quick meals!

9 years ago

Made me laugh. I have always wondered why people felt they need a salad spinner, having always used the towel method myself. But people always make fun of my frugal ways. I thought perhaps they were just squeamish about a towel touching their food (although if you use a clean towel, I can’t imagine why, but it takes all kinds.) Anyway, fun post.

9 years ago

Brilliant! Looks like you had so much fun! I have never had a salad spinner, I just shake the leaves in a colander, but now I know what to do next time!

Green Jeanne
9 years ago

Who knew that washing salad was so complicated. Stainless bowl soak- colander & bowl shaky & drain- glass gallon salad jar shaky shaky with cotton clothes. I keep a salad for a week or more with this method. I keep the veggies with a higher water base like cukes, toms, & etc on the side. The salad will lasted for up to a week or more.

Amy Beckerman Zarndt
9 years ago

I’m just thinking of the amount of water that comes out in my salad spinner and that would be a lot. But I suppose if you drain it in a colander first. . . . .

Kathryn Grace
9 years ago

I lived in a wintry mountain state for years and never once went outside to spin my greens in the dishtowel. It’s just a little spray of water, easily wiped up with a towel.

9 years ago

Been using an old linen tea towel for years. Just plonk lettuce in the middle and pull the corners together, before a quick twirl outside the back door. Who needs salad spinners or bags?

9 years ago

I have done the same: banished the salad spinner because of kitchen space (lack there of). I use net [nylon-gak!] produce bags to spin, and have found, like you, that simpler is better. Obviously a big cotton bag would be ideal. Hmmm, pillowcase…?
BTW, rumor has it an old salad spinner makes an acceptable Bokashi container!?

9 years ago

Sorry I missed meeting you; I was invited to Nancy and David’s too, but had to RSVP no since we were in Seattle. Next time! I am a big fan of yours! :)

Cory at AquarianBath
9 years ago

There’s always the spin cycle on clothes washing machine! :)

Ricki Burleigh
9 years ago

It is so beautiful, too! Thank you@

Victoria Buchan
9 years ago

Easy solution. Place leaves in a clean tea towel gather up the corners and shake hard.

Malea Taylor
9 years ago


Mama Loves the Beach
9 years ago

Who knew . . .

Nancy Nathan Baldwin
9 years ago

LOVE this post. It really does point out that sometimes you don’t need fancy gadgets (even if they are vintage). I have a cotton bag and will put it to use next time. Thanks Beth Terry!

9 years ago

Beth Terry EcoCatLady Oooooo La La! :-)

9 years ago

Ha! Very interesting… and I love the photos! I’ve never actually owned a salad spinner. I generally just put it in a colander with a dish towel on top and shake like crazy. But maybe I’ll give the cloth bag a try. Probably wouldn’t work too well when it’s below freezing outside though… Maybe I’ll reserve that experiment for warmer weather! :-)

9 years ago

please let there be a video of that fun.
i may be a lost case ~ i don’t wash greens.

Katherin Edwards
9 years ago

Oh cool. So the cloth won out. Good to know, and when my too big plastic spinner hits the dust, I’ll hit the deck with my lettuce in a bag and have a good workout! Thanks for doing the research Beth, and sharing the results!

Claire Haslam
9 years ago

Saves wasting leaves. Wet leaves don’t last as well as dry leaves. Dry store better and for longer. Think I need to dig out a pillow case. I hate my spinner it fills up much needed cupboard space.

Sheri Puckette
9 years ago

Love this! Those darn “official” spinners take up valuable kitchen real estate.

Amy Beckerman Zarndt
9 years ago

In my shower it would have to be a very compact arm swing, but it might be worth a try!