The Dos and Don’ts of How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

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Can you use soap on cast iron? What about scrubbers? We break down the do's and don'ts of cast iron care.

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 cast-iron.

Cleaning and Keeping the Seasoning

Part of what makes cast iron so great for cooking is that layer of seasoning it gets after regular use (you’ll also want to season your pan before its first-ever 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 a list of do’s and don’ts for how to clean a cast-iron skillet.

The Dos and Don’ts of How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Taste of Home

Do: Clean Immediately After Use

Try to rinse your cast-iron pan right after cooking. This’ll prevent clingy food scraps like eggs or sauces from hardening and sticking to the pan. (You can also pour a glass of hot water into the pan while it sits on the stove.) Wait until the cast-iron has cooled enough to handle, then hand wash in the sink. And, yes it is OK to get your pan wet.

Don’t: Let the Pan Soak Too Long

Although you might be tempted to toss your skillet in a sudsy sink while you eat, avoid letting it soak. Cast-iron is not rust-proof! Make sure to minimize the amount of time it comes into contact with water. (This means no dishwasher, either!)

Just a quick heads up: Submerging an extremely hot pan in cold water can cause it to crack. So don’t do it.

Do: Use Hot Water and Soap

It’s a common misconception that soap will strip the seasoning from your pan. A little soapy water now and then will help banish stuck-on food and reduce the elbow grease. Hot water helps dissolve the bits better.

Don’t: Use an Abrasive Scrubber

Abrasive scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool will take off your hard-earned seasoning. Got tough residue? Our editors tested dozens of products and these were our favorites for cleaning cast iron pans.

Do: Dry Well and Oil

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

Extra credit: Reinforce your seasoning after a wash. While the pan is warm, apply a light coat of vegetable oil with a paper towel.

Don’t: Stress

A little rust or scrubbed-off seasoning isn’t the end of the world. You can always scour off rust and re-season the pan. Remember, these pans are extremely durable. With a little care, they’ll last you a lifetime.

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Nicole Doster
Nicole is a writer, editor and lover of Italian food. In her spare time, you’ll find her thumbing through vintage cookbooks or testing out recipes in her tiny kitchen.