Removing Garlic Odor
Testing Your Metal

Cleaning Mushrooms

Q: I hear that you aren't supposed to wash mushrooms.  What is the best way to clean them?

-- Angela

It is popular nowadays to advise cooks to gently brush the dirt off of mushrooms using a damp cloth or a soft brush.

I can't remember which author it was, but I recall one chef turned cookbook writer asking readers if they really thought that in every five-star restaurant there was someone spending their time dusting the surface of each mushroom, when they go through pound after pound of them each day.  (If you know who it was, enter a comment below, or send me an e-mail at  In fact, most mushrooms will tolerate a short rinse in cold water. 

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, mushrooms are already 92.5% water by weight, so even if they absorbed 1/3 of their weight more, they would still be less than 95% water.  In his book "The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore", Harold McGee describes an experiment in which he soaked 252 grams of mushrooms for 5 minutes, blotted the moisture of the surface and re-weighed them.  In total, they had soaked up only 6 grams of water.  Their moisture content had increased by only 1/5 of 1%!

So, how best to clean mushrooms? 

For white button mushrooms or Crimini mushrooms, if possible choose ones where the underside has not opened to reveal the gills (those frilly ribs) underneath.  While this isn't critical, it does make cleaning a bit easier.  If you are using Portabello mushrooms in a light colored sauce, remove the stems and then use a teaspoon to scrape away the gills, leaving the mushroom tops.  The gills can turn the sauce brown, although they won't effect the taste.

Now the mushrooms can be quickly rinsed in cold water.  Either submerge them just long enough to rinse the dirt off, or put them in a colander and gently spray them with cold water.  Next, place the mushrooms on a dry towel and blot off all the surface water.  For Oyster mushrooms, or others that have a large area of open gills, pay some special attention to drying that part, as a lot of water can be trapped there.  Take one more look, and remove anything that wasn't rinsed off earlier.

Finally, remove the whole stem if it is woody and you haven't done so already, or trim off the hard end where it has dried out.  Slice, quarter or chop the mushrooms as directed in the recipe.  Because mushrooms will brown readily once they are cut, it is best to prepare them as close to when they will be used as possible.


What if mild insecticides have been sprayed on the mushrooms? Isn't it safer to wash them. And the button mushrooms look so dirty, even the packaged ones. The dirt doesnt come off with mild rinsing. so what do you do?

We picked elkhorm mushrooms on our farm in Missouri today & could someone tell me how you should clean & cook elkhorn mushrooms??

Thank-you in advance!!

Thanks!! I'm so tired of wiping the little buggers!

Is it necessary to remove the gills in mushrooms while cooking?


I live in SW Oregon and pick 100s of lbs of chanterelles each year - Both Harold McGee and your sous chef are correct - there is absolutely no way you could use most chanterelles fresh from the woods w/o washing them clean. And in my experience, they do not soak up additional water from doing so. Chanterelles should undergo a "dry saute" to cook, during which they will release a good deal of water, and then as that water is evaporated, the flavors will concentrate, and the chanterelle dries out and softens. At this point, you can add butter to the pan and finish the cooking, or use them in any way you wish.

My sous chef forced me to wash chantrelles today. I almost cried when my nice saute turned into soup. In complete denial he told me that It was the heat of my pan and not the washing that was to blame. Then quoted a famous celebrity chefs exparament.

When working in a restaurant I dont have an hour to lay out my mushrooms to dry after a rinse and though some mushrooms seem to have no problem with a quick rinse from personal experience dont wash your chantrelles.

I usually find the gills on button mushrooms to be closed, so I'm not surprised by McGee's experiment if those were the mushrooms he used. Try doing that on $25 per pound chanterelles and you'll never wash your mushrooms again! Many mushrooms, especially those considered choice, are like sponges. I'll rinse the button mushrooms but never oyster or chanterelles.----------------For an alternate take on cleaning mushrooms, check out "Cleaning Mushrooms" by William Rubel, Author and Cook at


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