A question I have heard enough to garner it’s own post is why do people want their eggs washed, or can I have my eggs unwashed?

First, in my dream world I would never wash an egg. Not just for the reasons that I’ll mention below, but because it’s time consuming and any one with young children will know, extra time isn’t exactly something a mother has much of, especially if you throw in taking care of animals, seed starting, gardening and so forth. Since having our chickens I have been seeking out ways to keep the eggs as clean as possible. It’s not always so easy, despite what I read on other peoples websites. Of course everyone’s flocks and nest set-up is different too. However, in the end having unwashed, naturally clean eggs is always going to be better.

Why?

EGGS STAY FRESHER. If you get eggs every week or so, this isn’t always such a big deal. Eggs should have no problem lasting for 4 weeks washed or not if kept in the refrigerator, but the freshness will begin to decline much longer than that. For those who want to have their eggs last longer then having an egg unwashed will certainly help. Mother Earth News shared an article on this subject. In it they tested different methods of storing eggs for the best freshness. Read the whole article to see what they all tested, but here is their conclusion:

Unwashed, fertile homestead eggs seem to store much better than washed, unfertile agribiz eggs. Why? Probably for the simple reason that they’re unwashed… and not because they’re fertile. Hen fruit, as it comes from the chicken, is coated with a light layer of a natural sealing agent called “bloom”. And, while a good wash may make a batch of eggs look more attractive, it also removes this natural protective coating… leaving the eggs more subject to aging and attack by the air and bacteria in the air.

In the testing they found that unwashed, fertilized eggs kept at a constant 35-40 degrees were able to stay fresh enough to eat for 7 months. How cool is that! Okay, maybe not cool to everyone, but unless you trick chickens into laying eggs in the winter (you do this by adding additional lighting to create a fake longer day) eggs go out the door come November around here and production doesn’t start to pick-up again until late February. I like my eggs, my kids like their eggs and I have a happy husband when he has his eggs, so any way we can find to keep eggs longer during the winter months, the better.

LESS LIKELY TO BE CONTAMINATED. When a hen lays an egg there is a white “bloom” that covers the egg to protect it. Harvey Ussery shares in my favorite book on raising chickens, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, the following information (note this is part of on ongoing paragraph about a hens reproductive system):

After about twenty hours, the finished egg moves into the last segment of the oviduct, the vagina, a muscular sheath whose contractions force the egg out when it is time to lay. Before expulsion, the vagina coats the egg with the bloom or cuticle, which both eases passages and upon drying helps protects the porous egg shell from invasion by bacteria.

Skipping ahead a couple of sentences Ussery continues with this,

“The contraction of the vagina to expel the egg coincides with a prolapse of the uterus that completely occludes the cloaca — there is no contact with the interior surfaces of the cloaca as the egg is expelled directly to the outside.”

So, even though a hen lays an egg out of the same hole on the backside as she poops out of the egg isn’t contaminated in any way and the protective bloom on the egg not only protects is from unwanted bacteria and seals the pores, but for us egg eaters it also keeps the eggs fresher. The egg is very porous. Once the bloom is washed off the egg it does open up greater possibilities for the egg to become contaminated. In conventional egg production facilities the eggs are washed (often with some type of chemical like bleach mixed with water) and then the eggs are resealed with a coating of mineral oil to help better protect them.

Happy hens in their nest boxes.

Happy hens in their nest boxes.

TWO METHODS FOR CLEANING EGGS. One is “dry washing” them. This involves using a dry scratch/scrub pad/sandpaper and gently scrubbing the dirty area to remove excess dirt. The second method involves using hot water (no soap or anything else) and a cloth to remove dirt. It’s important that the water be hot or at least 20 degrees warmer than the egg. From my understanding cold water actually encourages moisture and unwanted to bacteria to leach into the porous egg. Keep the water hot, helps keep this from happening. Once eggs are washed with water they are allowed to air dry on a towel or rack and then packed in the egg cartons.

We try to keep as many eggs unwashed as possible, BUT we do have eggs that must be washed because dirt gets on them. When the weather is dry and there is no snow on the ground, keeping the eggs clean is far easier. It’s mostly a matter of keeping the nest filled with clean straw and the bedding on the floor dry. However, when the weather is as it is now (rainy, with more rain and a yard full of puddles), keeping the coop dry is pretty much impossible with our free-range flock. The hens track in water and mud, among other things. Before you know it the coup floor is moist and the hens are getting the nest dirty. This leads to dirty eggs. 🙁 For our own home use this isn’t really to big of a deal, but for eggs we sell we want our eggs completely clean.