Photograph by CARSTEN SNEJBJERG, NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
Photograph by CARSTEN SNEJBJERG, NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
MagazineBreakthroughs

Mushrooms Might Hold the Secret to Clean Laundry

A new company is using fungus enzymes to treat stains.

This story appears in the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

When you hear the words “laundry detergent,” what comes to mind? Probably not mushrooms. But a Danish firm called Novozymes is using the fungi to make laundry cleaners more effective, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient.

Specifically, the company extracts mushroom enzymes that break down the sometimes tough materials that the fungi feed on. Finding the most effective enzyme to remove any stain—chocolate ice cream, say, or grass—could lead to better detergents that work at lower temperatures, using less energy per load. And they’d be biodegradable.

“Enzymes are nature’s own technology,” says Novozymes CEO Peder Holk Nielsen.

Watch: This Furniture Is Made Out of Mushrooms

You won't find this furniture at your local Ikea—it's grown from fungus. Designers from London mixed mycelium, a threadlike part of fungus, with waste wood chips. This mix creates myceliated wood, which is then torn apart, put into a mold, and allowed to regrow into shapes like lamps or stools. Once the fungus reaches the desired size, it's taken out of the mold and allowed to dry. The environment-friendly furniture is strong, lightweight, and compostable. Only lamps and stools have been grown so far, but the designers believe the process could be scaled up.