How to Clean Cauliflower

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Cauliflower is one of the best ways to start cutting down on carbs and calories in your diet. If you have ever had cauliflower rice, cauliflower mashed potatoes, or had some buffalo or Manchurian style you know exactly what I mean. 

Cauliflower is neutral in flavor and has texture very close to that of a potato. It’s easy to fall in love with cauliflower dishes, but one thing you have to be clear on is how to wash cauliflower. 

How to Clean Cauliflower

Do not think you can get away with just running cauliflower under the tap for a few seconds and drying it off. Cauliflower prep is a serious ordeal due to the porous nature of the vegetable and it’s growth proximity to the soil.  

Vegetables being sold in an open market

When it comes to cleaning a cauliflower, I like to think of it in 2 big phases:

  • Phase 1: Break it down and rinse it
  • Phase 2: Balance it in salt and acid to really make sure anything unsavory has died off 

Here’s a quick outline of the steps, which we will talk about in detail below:

  1. Cut cauliflower into florets 
  2. Rinse the florettes 
  3. Boil enough salted water to cover the cauliflower
  4. Get a big bowl of ice, water, and lemon juice
  5. Boil the cauliflower for 2 minutes then immediately move it to the ice water
  6. Soak for 30 minutes
  7. Strain out the cauliflower

Materials Needed

To properly prepare your cauliflower you will need a large bowl big enough to hold the cut pieces and place them in an ice bath. You will also need a large pot for the boiling water. When it comes to straining out the cauliflower, you can use pretty much anything – a slotted spoon, colander, or just your hand is fine. 

Step 1: Cut Up the Cauliflower

This is very important if you want to make sure you get all the dirt and potential bugs out from under the crown. Because there are lots of little crevices underneath the crown you want to make sure you cut the cauliflower down into floret size pieces (you may still cut them smaller later). 

These smaller pieces will be much easier to apply water and scrubbing to and will help you remove all the dirt and chemicals off the cauliflower. 

Cauliflower cut in half

Step 2: Rinse Under Running Water

By rinsing the florets under water, this will remove most surface debris. It will help you spot and remove any larger pests. 

Step 3: Boil Water

Next, boil enough water to cover the cauliflower. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water as it boils.  Do not put the cauliflower in the water yet.

We are going to blanch the cauliflower in a salty acidic solution. This will not only help us remove any dirt, but it will also kill any bacteria and pests that might be residing in it. 

Step 4: Prep a Bowl of Ice Water

While you are heating up a pot of water, you also need to prep a large bowl of ice water. Between the heat, salt, acid, and cold shock we should be able to kill just about everything that could be living in or on the cauliflower. 

In a large bowl, add ice, water, and 1 ounce of lemon juice.

Step 5: Boil Cauliflower for 2 Minutes 

When the water is boiling, add the cauliflower and boil for 2 minutes before immediately moving the cauliflower to the iced lemon water. The World Health Organization recommends 1 minute of boiling to kill 99.99%+ of bacteria in water. That recommendation is with boiling at 212°F (100°C). 

Because we added salt, our water may actually be a tiny bit hotter than 212°F. The other major benefit of salt is that salt also kills bacteria and pests. 

Cauliflowers stacked together

Since there is a slight delay in heat transfer from a room temperature object to the boiling water, we’re going to do 2 minutes to be on the safe side. This should not be enough time to cook your cauliflower (as you didn’t cut them any smaller than normal broccoli florets).    

Step 6: Soak Cauliflower in Water for 30 Minutes

Right after the cauliflower has been boiled for 2 minutes, soak it in icy lemon water for 30 minutes. Let any debris or pests float to the surface for removal. 

The #1 reason you soak in an ice bath after boiling is to stop the cooking process. Remember, we don’t want boiled cauliflower; we just want clean cauliflower. The ice bath will immediately stop the cooking and firm up your florets. 

There is also going to be a major added benefit that the temperature shock will also kill any pests or bacteria still hanging around. Very few living things can go from 212°F to 32°F in a few seconds without dying. Even more so, by letting it sit at that temperature, you’ll end up killing things just by freezing them. 

Finally, we also have the acid from the lemon (while minimal, it can help disinfect to a smaller degree).   

Step 7: Strain Out the Good Cauliflower 

Chances are if you are getting your cauliflower in the States from a mass market producer, all you are straining out is food. But, if you are growing the cauliflower yourself or buying from more natural producers, it is definitely possible you’ll find a few worms or caterpillars in the mix, so keep an eye out for them (they float to the top). 

Once you’ve completed this step, you’re ready to cook your cauliflower and prep it for your meal!

Bowl of a clean cauliflower

Why Should You Clean Cauliflower?

Cleaning cauliflower is important because it is a popular target for many worms and parasites. Growing close to the ground can often be contaminated with dirt, toxins, and animal waste. There is no reason to not clean your cauliflower.  

Do All Cauliflower Have Worms?

No, not all cauliflower has worms, but why would you ever take the chance? Food safety is no joke. Some of the worms are actually tape worm varieties, which in the worst case scenario can get into your bloodstream and disperse through your body, including your brain. 

Most mass market cauliflower is heavily treated with pesticides, so even if there are no worms you are still looking at removing all the nasty chemical residue. 

Best case scenario, you will still need to break down your cauliflower just to remove all the dirt under the crown.   

How to Wash Vegetables Naturally : Healthy Fruit & Vegetable Tips


Cauliflower is one of the best substitutes for those wanting to reduce carbs, calories, or high glycemic index foods from their diet. The trade off is you do need a bit of knowledge and time to prep the vegetable before you can enjoy it worry free. 

Chances are most of the time, you won’t have any problems with pests and parasites in your food. That said, I think we can all agree that one time it does happen, you’ll be glad you thoroughly cleaned everything before eating it. Once you have mastered this preparation technique you will be well on your way to some of the best low carb and vegan dishes out there! 

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.