How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Updated: Mar. 29, 2024

Can you use soap on cast iron? We break down just how to clean a cast iron skillet and address everything you should and shouldn't do while taking care of your precious pan.

For some people, prized possessions come in the form of cars or fancy electronics. For me, it’s a fire-engine red 12″ Le Creuset cast-iron skillet. Since I acquired this powerhouse pan, it’s helped me whip up veggie-packed frittatas, pan-seared scallops, homemade rolls and countless chicken dinners. I’m working my way to master cast iron cooking with our guide.

The all-in-one pan has been my go-to kitchen tool, so I’m sure to treat it with extra care. This includes learning how to properly clean my cast-iron.

What Makes Cleaning Cast Iron Special?

Part of what makes cast iron so great for cooking is that layer of seasoning it gets after regular use. Seasoning is basically a layer of oil baked onto the pan’s surface. Each time you cook with oil or fat, the seasoning will build. Eventually, it makes the pan nearly nonstick.

Unfortunately, that hard-earned seasoning can come off in the wash, so it’s important to be gentle when cleaning up. Here’s how to clean a cast iron skillet—plus a few do’s and don’ts as you go.

How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

Step 1. Rinse your skillet after use

washing cast iron pan in the sinkMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

After your cast iron has cooled down a little bit (you don’t want to burn your hands!), rinse your cast iron in the sink with warm—never cold—water to dislodge clingy food scraps like eggs, and prevent them from hardening and sticking to the pan. If you don’t want to wait, you can pour a glass of hot water into the pan while it sits on the stove.

Yes—it’s OK to get your pan wet! But do not soak the cast iron skillet. It is not rust-proof! Minimize the amount of times it comes in contact with water. (This means no dishwasher, either!)

Step 2. If you need, use soap, water and a scrubber

cast iron pan filled with soapy waterMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

Contrary to popular belief, if plain water isn’t doing the trick, you can use a little bit of dish soap to help loosen the stubborn scraps. A little soapy water now and then will help banish stuck-on food and reduce the elbow grease. Use warm water and gentle dish soap and scrub your pan where it needs it.

However, don’t use abrasive scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool, because it will take off your hard-earned seasoning. Instead, use a brush like a pan scraper or a nylon scrubbing brush. If you’ve got tough residue, using kosher salt as a natural buffer or one of our editor-tested products for cleaning cast iron pans will get those difficult bits right off.

Step 3. Dry your cast iron skillet

drying cast iron panMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

Instead of leaving your pan in the rack to dry, wipe it down with a clean rag or paper towel right away. (Don’t use a light towel—the cast iron can stain it.) This will prevent rusting. You can even let your pan dry in the oven.

Editor’s Tip: Reinforce your seasoning after a wash. While the pan is still warm, apply a light coat of vegetable oil with a paper towel. However, don’t let the oil pool! Use another paper towel to soak up the extra liquid.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

cast iron pan in the ovenMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

Whether you just bought a brand-new cast iron skillet or had to scrub off the rust on your pan, you need to season or re-season your pan before you use it. (Watch this video on how to restore a rusted cast-iron skillet.)

Start with your clean, rust-free pan, and apply a thin coat of vegetable oil to the whole pan—outside and handle included. Bake your cast iron skillet upside down in the oven at 350°F for 1 hour (lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a lower rack to catch potential drips). Once your timer goes off, leave it in the oven to cool. Now you’ve got a seasoned pan! Get more tips on how to season a cast-iron skillet.

When to Replace Your Cast Iron Skillet

The only reason you should consider replacing your cast iron is if it cracks or has chips or holes in the surface due to corrosion or improper cleaning techniques.

But once it is time to replace your cast iron skillet, go for one of our picks for the best cast-iron pans under $50. Or, check out these other pieces of cast-iron cookware, such as Dutch ovens, grill pans and woks.

By following our tips, you’ll take perfect care of your cast-iron skillet pan. These pans are extremely durable. With a little care, they’ll last you a lifetime!

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