As a person who eats a LOT of salad, I know that actually putting one together can be a pain. Of course, you can always buy pre-packaged greens, but I've found that not only are they more expensive, they don't stay nearly as fresh as greens you cut up yourself, and then wash, dry, and store. Also, some serious food poisoning outbreaks have been traced to precut greens -- I know because I was once a victim myself. That experience made me look at that particular "convenience" food with skepticism.
That's why a salad spinner is on my short list of "absolutely must-haves" for my kitchen. I make a big salad once or twice a week, wash it, spin it dry and store it right in the salad spinner (topping it with a dry paper towel before I put the lid on). The greens stay beautifully fresh and it makes for a quick side dish, or an entrée when topped -- or paired -- with a protein. Most veggie lovers and kitchen experts seem to agree with me; Wirecutter, Cook's Illustrated, Serious Eats and Good Housekeeping all test salad spinners.
A salad spinner is a pretty basic piece of equipment. It consists of a colander that fits onto a pivot in a larger, solid bowl (which can also be used as a serving dish). The lid, which should fit tightly, includes an integrated spinning mechanism. Centrifugal force created by the spinning action removes the water from the greens. Most salad spinners also have a "brake" so you can stop the cycle in mid-spin (not sure why you need to, I never have, but that's a thing).
While there are various sizes of spinners, the most popular are fairly large, although some have more compact lids or fold down handles to help a bit with storage. Salad spinners aren't really easy to clean, either, but then colanders rarely are. Some can be put in the dishwasher (generally the top rack only). The issue with that is that salad spinners are primarily plastic, which tends to degrade more quickly if exposed to heated dry cycles -- and, again, they're big -- it could take up most of your top rack, if it even fits.
Beyond that, all you need to know about salad spinners is that there are three different types of spin styles:
1. Pump-style spinners have a round post or lever that you push or pump. A bonus with these is that they can be used one-handed. On the downside, I read a number of reports that they're loud and you have to put the pause on your conversation while you're using it.
2. Crank-style spinners literally have a crank that fits on the top of the lid. Some are set into the lid with knobs that you turn, others are cranks that fold out and fold back in. Many say the latter type feels flimsy and wobbly.
3. Pull-style spinners use a cord or handle that you pull out and then they retract to create the spinning motion. Retracting handles are not as common as pull cords, and experts tend to dislike cord-style spinners for various reasons that we'll get to later.
A few salad spinners absolutely rise to the top both in expert and users reviews. And I've included the one I own as well, because it's stood the test of time.
OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner (Est. $30). It was no contest here, the OXO salad spinner is the top pick after testing at Wirecutter, Good Housekeeping and Cook's Illustrated. This is a pump-style spinner that is very effective at drying tough greens to delicate herbs -- the latter without crushing them. It's also very easy to use, with good nonslip properties, which means you can operate the pump with one hand without it skidding around on the counter. The lid comes apart for easy cleaning and the entire unit is dishwasher safe, but, again, you have to have a lot of space on that top rack. The colander has a generous, 4.95-quart capacity, but it also comes in a smaller, 3-quart size as the OXO Good Grips Little Salad and Herb Spinner (Est. $25) and with an attractive, stainless-steel bowl as the OXO Steel Salad Spinner (Est. $50). These are the three highest-rated salad spinners at Amazon as well, with solid 4.4- to 4.5-star ratings after thousands of reviews for the larger plastic version, hundreds of reviews for the 3-quart and stainless steel versions.
Paderno World Manual Salad Spinner (Est. $27). This 5-quart salad spinner is the runner up pick at Wirecutter, where it rates almost as well as the OXO in performance, stability and ease of use. The Paderno is a pull-style spinner, with a handle you pull out to get things turning. You do have to use two hands, though. It has many fewer reviews than the OXO, we spotted just a few dozen at Amazon, where it earns a 4.2-star rating. However, for some reason, it's priced at more than $10 over retail there, so unless you can find it for $27 or less, look elsewhere.
Progressive 4-quart Salad Spinner (Est. $27). This is the salad spinner that I currently own. It's one that I picked up at Walmart after my husband was transferred across the country and I was setting up an apartment for us. It was supposed to be a "temporary" purchase until I officially moved my kitchen. Nearly four years later it's still going strong. The Progressive is a pull-style spinner with a string. These are panned by experts who say the strings can break and that they get soggy. Good Housekeeping testers gave this salad spinner a 3-star rating back in June 2013 (about a year before I bought mine) and says it's fine if you only eat salads occasionally.
While that may be true, that has not been my experience at all. The Progressive performs very well for me and I use it once or twice a week. Even when I overload it with chopped up lettuces and veggies, it gets them very dry. Yes, it's a bit wobbly and you need two hands, but I've never felt inconvenienced.
At Amazon, owners are pretty satisfied with the Progressive and it earns a 4.2-star rating in nearly 150 reviews. It's ratings are lower at Walmart, with 3.5 stars out of 5. To be fair, a couple of people dinged it because they say, "It seems the string would break." Wait until it does, folks, then downgrade it.
As happy as I am with my string-operated salad spinner, when (if) that cord ever does break, I'm going to upgrade to the OXO plastic salad spinner. I don't need the stainless steel version -- although I would definitely buy that one if I served a lot of salad buffet-style or at table. I also love that you can take the lid of the OXO apart for more thorough cleaning, the lid on mine is a bit of a hassle to clean. I doubt I'd ever put it in the dishwasher (because I'm pretty sure it wouldn't fit), but I also have a feeling that I'd really like having a sturdier, more stable, salad spinner -- just not enough to toss the perfectly good one that I own now.