Why doesn't rinsing mussels with tap water kill them like soaking does? I know running water over mussels takes very little time, compared to soaking them, but the water is still entering the mussels.

For example, see this quote from Knorr UK: How to Clean Mussels:

Keep the cleaned mussels under the running water. It’s really important that the water stays moving over the mussels, but that they’re not soaking in it. If you leave them soaking in tap water, they’ll die and that’s not what you want.

This other quote from Serious Eats: How to Clean and Debeard Mussels implies that some mussels should be soaked--does soaking kill them or not?

[F]arm-raised mussels are held in tanks prior to packaging and shipping, which means that the purging step—soaking the mussels in clean water until they spit out impurities—has already been done for you

  • 2
    If left to sit in still water (fresh or salty) shellfish will use up the oxygen and suffocate - at some point. Whether that is long enough for an effective purge is another question.
    – renesis
    Jul 11, 2020 at 14:31

2 Answers 2


Rinsing them doesn't kill them because a small amount of fresh water isn't toxic to them and, even if it were, the mussels aren't going to absorb much from a quick rinse. I've not seen this instruction about keeping them under running water other than to clean them. It makes sense during the scrubbing process but not as much as a holding method since mussels are just fine out of water for a few days, let alone the time between cleaning and cooking.

The line in the Serious Eats quote doesn't mean that the mussels are soaked in fresh water. It's clean water - meaning water free of silt. But it's still saltwater and it's done professionally, knowing how to preserve the mussels - which someone in a home may not.

A company that sells mussels offers the following:

Don't soak in water

Don't immerse them in water - fresh or salt. Freshwater will kill them; if left for too long in static salt water the mussels will use up the oxygen and suffocate. This practice used to be done to purge the mussel of any grit, these days all commercial mussel have been purged and purified in a UV deputation system.

You'll note the emphasis here is static salt water. Moving, oxygenated salt water is fine but people don't generally have the ability to do this in their home (I suppose unless they have a saltwater fish tank).

The end result is - lots of people have different methodologies for cleaning mussels. What it sounds like from both Serious Eats and The Cornish Mussel Shack (and many other places on the web) is that soaking (whether in fresh- or salt-water) is an outdated practice unless you're using wild-caught mussels (presumably including ones you've collected yourself).


Mussels are a saltwater creature and immersion in freshwater for an extended time will kill them. For example, from Dieplicious (under 'CLEANING THE MUSSELS'):

It is a common misconception that you should soak the mussels in freshwater for an hour to purge them from any grit, but this will actually kill them, as they can’t handle the freshwater. If you buy farmed mussels (such as from Prince Edward Island, or PEI), then grit should not be a significant issue. However, if you purchase wild mussels, you should soak them in cold water (in the refrigerator is fine) with a generous amount of salt added for not much longer than 20 minutes, to allow the grit to purge out of the mussels.


Mussels are normally intertidal. When the tide goes out (i.e., they're not surrounded by water), they close up, sealing themselves off from the external environment. While rinsing them off, they are not interacting with the water (except for their shells). If they are open during this process, they are usually dead; hence the common direction to discard them.

  • sorry. how does this answer my question? i already know soaking in FRESH water kills them. and you suppose to soak in SALT water.
    – user24882
    Jul 12, 2020 at 2:11
  • You asked why soaking in freshwater kills them - this answer explains that it is because mussels live in saltwater, and thus cannot handle freshwater.
    – mbjb
    Jul 12, 2020 at 11:19
  • @P L If you're interested in the biochemistry of saltwater vs. freshwater organisms and why each kind does not do well in the other environment, I suggest that you ask at Biology stx. Jul 12, 2020 at 11:38
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    @mbjb Actually, no. The question asks why running them under cold water doesn't kill them. :)
    – Catija
    Jul 13, 2020 at 14:15
  • @Catija Fair enough; I added material to the answer. Jul 13, 2020 at 15:34

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