You've likely heard contradictory information when it comes to washing everyone's favorite fungi, so here's what you need to know about making sure your mushrooms are clean and safe to eat.
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One of the complicated things about learning to cook, is that there are "rules" that can change from cook to cook, culture to culture, and can shift over the years, making things awfully confusing. Your mom and grandmother might have never prepared a chicken without rinsing it off first. However, current guidelines say to just pat your poultry dry, and not rinse it, given that rinsing can both waterlog the bird, and is also a really efficient way of spraying microparticles of raw chicken juice all over your sink and countertop  — putting you at risk for food poisoning!

Depending on which TV chef you watch, or which magazines you read, or at whose knee you began to learn, you might get some conflicting messages about how to prep certain foods. And for some, those mixed messages can make the act of cooking fraught with trepidation. Cooking should be a pleasure, not an additional source of self-doubt.

One of the ages-old ongoing battles involves mushrooms. Wash with water or just brush off? You can, if you search, find arguments on both sides; and depending on the recipe you are following, specific instructions might imply that doing the reverse is simply sacrilege. But the truth is a bit less black and white, and washing or brushing your mushrooms has a lot to do with how you source them, and how you intend to use them. Which means, technically, the answer to "wash or brush?" is "Um, yes?"

The Basics: Should You Wash Mushrooms?

Mushrooms that you purchase at a store are grown on sterile manure, that is the "dirt" that is clinging to them. And while it isn't unsafe for you to consume, it isn't delicious. If you have ever had a mushroom dish marred by grit, you know that you do really want your shrooms nice and clean before you cook. Brushing can remove this dirt, if it is all loose, but more often than not, some bits may be more firmly attached, or are hiding in the gills. My general rule for grocery store mushrooms is to wash in water. The exception to this rule is any mushroom you purchase pre-sliced or chopped, in which case they are already clean and ready to eat.

Mushrooms you forage for yourself if that is a skill you possess (only safely please and be sure you triple check any foraged items before consumption) or wild mushrooms that you buy from a reputable forager at a farmer's market or other source, will likely have somewhat less grit, and will also be less hardy. Likely, they will also be significantly more expensive, so this is where careful brushing is the way to go, to prevent any damage to the product.

How To Clean Mushrooms in Water

It is important to remember that the reason some cooks are so anti-water in mushroom cleaning is that mushrooms are little sponges, so it is easy for them to absorb water, which will affect them in cooking. So, when using water to wash them, you don't want to let them soak for long. Fill a large bowl with cold water, and have a clean, lint-free towel nearby. Add a few mushrooms to the water at a time, about as many as you can easily handle in your cupped hands, and swirl them around in the water to loosen any dirt — this should take maybe ten seconds, at the most. Then immediately remove them to the towel, patting them as dry as you can and laying them out (caps up) to finish air-drying before washing the next batch. Once they have all been washed in this way, examine the mushrooms to ensure you do not see any visible dirt. If you spot some stubborn bits, use a damp paper towel to wipe them off.

How To Clean Mushrooms With a Brush

While they make all sorts of "mushroom brushes" that you can find at kitchen supply stores, my favorite brushes for mushrooms are in the hygiene aisle. Extra-soft toothbrushes and baby brushes are my favorite way to gently and effectively remove the dirt from mushrooms. Use the baby brush for larger surfaces, and the toothbrush to carefully remove dirt from the gills or any smaller cavities. I will often follow with a damp cloth, just to make sure they are extra clean.

Top down view of dirty mushrooms in a black plastic container a
Credit: Adobe Stock

Finally, regardless of method, only clean your mushrooms right before you intend to use them, as any moisture can create an opportunity for mold.