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Paper Towels vs. Vacuum-Sealing: Which Keeps Lettuce Fresh Longer?

So what is the answer to the question: Which keeps lettuce fresh longer? Is it vacuum-sealing lettuce into a glass jar or can you simply lay a paper towel in the jar?

I decided to run a simple test. Keep reading to find out the results.

2 jars of lettuce--one vacuum-packed compared to jar containing paper towel on top

Can a paper towel replace vacuum-sealing lettuce into a glass jar?

Not long ago, a reader left the following comment:  “The food saver is expensive and a lot of effort. You can get the same result by placing half a paper napkin on top of your lettuce before you seal the jar. It absorbs the liquid, keeping the lettuce good for a solid week.”

The paper towel idea came from one of my first posts about vacuum-sealing cut lettuce. Preserving chopped romaine this way helps me avoid wasting money on lettuce-gone-bad.

I’m used to these kinds of challenges from a select few commenters. I take them seriously.

You can read about two previous experiments. The first was a comparison of various attempts to keep lettuce fresh. The other was an experiment about cutting lettuce with a plastic knife.

How do I know when lettuce is going bad?

You can tell when lettuce is going bad when the edges start to turn brown. The leaves will become limp and thin as the lettuce starts to dry out. The lettuce will take on an acrid odor.

As long as you do not cut the leaves, the lettuce will stay fresh longer. Once you cut or chop the leaves, the edges will go bad quickly if not preserved. My answer to this problem is vacuum-sealing the chopped lettuce.

When no oxygen is present in the Mason jar with the cut lettuce, the deterioration process slows down considerably. With that in mind, let’s set out the rules for our little experiment.

The Ground Rules

  • Cut lettuce into small ready-to-eat pieces. That’s important. I want my lettuce salad to be ready to eat in less than a minute when I walk in the door for lunch. Easy-to-grab junk food is less tempting when I’m famished if I have a jar of chopped lettuce at hand.
  • Store the lettuce-filled jars in the same location in the same refrigerator. The jars are also filled with the same lettuce so freshness is the same.

In each picture, the paper towel jar is on the left and the vacuum-packed jar is on the right. As you can see in the first picture above, the lettuce is equally fresh on Day 1.

comparing cut lettuce after 7 days

Can you see that the “paper towel lettuce” is showing it’s age?

lettuce after 11 days

Which jar would you choose? (See random thought #4 below.)

Random Observations

  1. I can’t resist commenting on my reader’s assessment of the vacuum-packing idea. Yes, vacuum-pack machines can be expensive. But, I have written about two excellent alternatives that are much, much cheaper. See this post and this one, too. Reynolds Handi-Vac; Wide-Mouth Vacuum Attachment
  2. About the work involved: It may take upwards to an hour to prepare 5-6 jars the first time. But after a little practice, you should be able to reduce the time to 30 minutes or less. Promise!!
  3. Consider the healthy eating habits you are promoting by making your salad easy to grab and eat.
  4. Eleven days is pushing it, even for vacuum-packed lettuce. It’s possible you will detect the slightest older-lettuce smell in a jar this old. But within a few seconds, (when the oxygen hits it), the smell is gone. You could always give the lettuce a quick rinse.

Warning: Always store vacuum-sealed lettuce in the refrigerator. Make no mistake! Vacuum-sealing is not a heat-processed canning procedure.

p.s. Thanks to the reader who left this comment. I always welcome new ideas and like to try as many as I can.

If you have a question or problem you need help with, please write it in the comment section below so I can respond back. You can also email me privately: paula at

Thank you for visiting!

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Friday 1st of September 2017

I always used a moist paper towel, but it still would look similar to teh dry. Vacuum sealing is CHEAP if you buy these things...under $20, which we'd spend easily on that ROMAINE (not sure how other lettuces last vacuum sealed) we all throw out because it's gone bad... just put the handi-vac nozzle on top of the foodsaver lid and press button to count of 5 (do not overdo or you will not be able to get the lid off!) Sometimes you can find the Reynolds Handi-Vac at Ollie's Outlets: $10.25+ Reynolds Handi-Vac ( $8.94 - FoodSaver Mason Jar Sealing Lid (make your you purchase wide mouthed or regular mouthed depending on what you use). ($8.94


Saturday 2nd of September 2017

Ido, THANK-YOU SO MUCH for providing the links. I just did not take the time to put them in my post but I'm going to go back and add something to my post to let people know you added them.

I have never not been able to get the lid off of my jar. An old-fashioned opener helps but I can usually get it off with my fingers after years of practice. Thanks so much for writing.

Amanda Rhodes

Friday 1st of September 2017

Very cool experiment! I need to save this idea for future science fairs! My random thought: I like the weird looks I get when I pull out a jar of lettuce from my lunch at work. It always brings about questions. :)


Friday 1st of September 2017

Yes, good idea on the science fair project. Not difficult and easy-to-see results!