How to (Gently!) Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

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

By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor

Cast-iron skillet  with a wooden spoon resting inside it

Shutterstock / Natalya Danko

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. 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.

Some people get spooked by cast-iron cookware because it seems high maintenance. But really, it's quite easy to care for. You just need to protect the seasoning.

What's seasoning? Basically, it's a layer of grease baked into the pan's surface. Each time you cook with oil or fat, the seasoning will build. Eventually, it makes your pan as nonstick as Teflon. (In fact, plenty of people advocate for cast iron over chemically treated nonstick pans. Here are 10 more easy ways to go green in the kitchen.) Cast-iron pans are not only safe but also add good iron to your food.

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.

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.

Don't: Let it 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 rustproof! 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 a 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 need for elbow grease. Hot water helps dissolve the bits better.

Don't: Use a hard scrubber

Abrasive scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool will take off your hard-earned seasoning. Got tough residue? We recommend using a stiff nylon brush to gently remove it.

Do: Dry well and oil down

Instead of leaving your pan in the rack to dry, wipe it down with a paper towel right away. This will prevent rusting. Beware: Cast iron can turn your pretty tea towels black. You can also set it on a heated burner on the stovetop for a minute or two to dry completely.

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. Learn how to season a cast-iron skillet here.

Remember, these pans are extremely durable. With a little care, they'll last you a lifetime.

Now that you've learned how to care for your cast iron, it's time to get cooking! Dive into our 38 favorite recipes to cook in a cast-iron skillet. You'll find recipes for breakfast, dinner and dessert you can cook on the stovetop or in the oven.