How Long Does Lettuce Last and How to Keep It Fresh?

So you bought a lettuce head or two, and want to know how long do you have until it goes all slimy and disgusting. How long does lettuce last?

Loose-leaf lettuce typically keeps between 7 to 10 days, while head lettuce (e.g., iceberg) keeps for between a week and three weeks. In other words, crisphead lettuce keeps for much longer than its loose-leaf counterpart.

That said, there are a couple of storage practices that help keep your lettuce fresh for longer. If yours tends to go slimy quickly, you’ll find them helpful.

Interested in learning more about storage, shelf life, and spoilage of lettuce? Read on.

Butterhead lettuce
(credit: Mae Mu)

How Long Does Lettuce Last?

Fridge
Leaf lettuce (butterhead, romaine, and the like)7 – 10 days
Head lettuce (iceberg and similar)7 – 21 days
Lettuce leavesup to 7 days

Head lettuce lasts for 1 to 3 weeks, while loose leaf lettuce keeps for only 7 to 10 days. If you store individual leaves, they keep for up to a week.

Crisphead lettuce (like iceberg) lasts longer than leaf lettuce (such as butterhead or romaine) because the former has the leaves packed tightly, and the outermost ones protect the rest.

(In fact, head lettuce is a bit like onions, where you usually discard the outer layer, but the rest stays fine.)

A couple of times, I had an iceberg lettuce sitting in the fridge for more than a month, and every time it was still quite okay after all that time. Only the outer leaves were wilted and had some brown and rusty red spots, while the rest was fine.

That doesn’t necessarily mean iceberg lettuce always lasts a whole month in the fridge, but the mentioned 3 weeks is a realistic period if you store the lettuce properly.

In loose-leaf lettuce, nothing protects the inner leaves. Sure, the outer leaves still take most of the beating, but the inner ones also have access to the environment and start degrading soon after harvest.

That’s why the storage time is much shorter.

Again, yours might stay okay for up to two weeks if you’re lucky, but that’s about the most you can hope for. Unless, of course, you engage in some of the more hands-on storage practices that require some time but help prolong the storage of loose-leaf lettuce.

Let’s talk about storage, then.

Heads of loose leaf lettuce
Green leaf plant close-up photography

How to Keep Lettuce Fresh in the Fridge?

Keeping your lettuce fresh for as long as possible is all about managing humidity. Lettuce requires some humidity to stay crisp, but not too much so that it doesn’t wilt and go slimy. It’s a fine balance.

The easiest and hands-off way to control the humidity is to allow for some airflow so that the plant can get rid of excess water, but not too much so that it dries out.

The easiest way to give the plant access to fresh air is to keep it in a half-open plastic bag.

Now, how much the bag should be open depends on the humidity in your crisper drawer or fridge, depending on where you store it. You want to see some condensation in the bag, but not too much. Large drops of water here and there is way more than you need.

If there’s too much water in the bag and on the leaves, you remove the excess with kitchen towels and open up the bag a bit more. Or maybe poke a couple of holes in it.

If there’s no condensation and the leaves look dry, seal the bag a bit more so that the moisture stays inside.

Next, remember to store lettuce away from ethylene-producing fruits and veggies like apples, pears, peaches, or tomatoes. Excess ethylene is responsible for those rusty red and brown spots on the leaves.

Last, no matter how well you store your lettuce, the leaves will wilt a bit over time. So if you want them in tip-top shape, you need a fresh head.

Now, let’s talk about a few more “advanced” ideas like washing the lettuce before storing it or using paper towels to control humidity better.

Grabbing a butterhead lettuce
(credit: PHÚC LONG)

Should You Wash Lettuce Before Storage?

Most people asked this question would probably answer no, you shouldn’t wash any produce before storage. Instead, you wash it right before eating.

That’s one way to go about washing lettuce.

But there are also many people who wash lettuce (especially loose-leaf) when they get home from the grocery store.

The whole process is simple: you remove any bad (damaged, slimy, or wilted) leaves, rinse the head under running water, and finally remove the excess moisture using a salad spinner or paper towels.

The idea here is that washing and removing damaged leaves helps the rest of the greens last longer.

If you want to try to extend the storage time for your lettuce as much as possible (without freezing it), feel free to give it a try.

The jury is still out there on whether it’s a good way to prolong storage time for lettuce, but one thing is certain: it requires a couple of extra minutes before you can put the plant in the fridge. And I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t have the time (or motivation) to wash the lettuce before refrigerating it.

Iceberg lettuce
(credit: Jef Wright)

Paper Towels

If you want to control the moisture in the bag a bit better, you can use paper towels.

For loose-leaf lettuce, you place one or two towels on the bottom of the bag, and another one to three between the leaves. Those towels catch that extra moisture but still keep it near the surface of the leaves so that they stay nice and crisp.

When it comes to crisphead lettuce, you wrap the head with the towels before placing it in the bag.

Every day or two, you check the towels and replace wet ones. The rest of them that is only slightly damp is okay to stay where they are.

Tip

You can leave wet paper towels to dry and reuse them if you want.

If your lettuce tends to wilt immediately, you can try using slightly damp paper towels instead of dry ones. They will provide some much-needed moisture to the leaves.

(The damp paper towel trick works for other veggies like carrots or asparagus too.)

Once again, using paper towels help manage leaf humidity, but it adds yet another thing to your already crowded to-do list. It’s a nice-to-know trick, but I don’t expect most of you have the time to apply it.

If you want simplicity and hands-off solutions, stick to half-open plastic bags and figure out how open yours should be so that the lettuce stays nice and crisp for as long as possible.

Storing Lettuce Leaves

The easiest way to store lettuce leaves is to place them in a freezer bag and add a paper towel below and above them to help control the moisture. You can leave the top of the bag half-open to allow some airflow.

That setup should get you the seven days of storage that I mentioned earlier.

If you want to make using the leaves easier for your future self, wash and dry them before putting them in that bag. This way, you can grab them and place them straight on your sandwich or shred and add them into a salad.

How to Tell If Lettuce Is Bad?

Discard lettuce that’s super slimy (the whole thing is soft and wet), smells off, or grows mold. The first one will be the reason you throw out a whole lettuce head in 99 out of 100 cases.

But more often than not, you don’t discard the whole head, even if it already sits in the fridge for quite some time.

Instead, you remove all the damaged outer leaves and use the rest.

For crisphead lettuce, that means you remove the two or three outer leaves and often find that the rest is okay.

For loose-leaf lettuce, it’s not as pretty. Sometimes you only need to remove a couple of outer leaves, but there are times that the leaves are still brownish or slimy after peeling back 3 or 4 layers. That’s when you end up with a few small leaves while the rest goes in the trash. Sad, but true.

Of course, you don’t have to discard the whole leaf if only a part of it is damaged. It’s fine to cut out any black edges, discolored spots, and anything else that bothers you and use the rest.

Tip

Browning edges, pink and dark spots, and the like aren’t necessarily unsafe to eat, but they taste pretty bad. Remove them.

Last, let’s talk about wilting.

Wilting lettuce leaves are okay to eat, but better hurry because they will turn slimy soon. The good news is you can revive them by soaking them in ice water for half an hour. That will bring back some of the lost crispness, and it’s definitely worth trying if you want crispy lettuce for a salad.