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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet in 3 Easy Steps

A clean cast iron skillet on a wooden cutting board.

Don’t let a fear of damaging a cast iron skillet prevent you from using this timeless cookware. These expert tips for how to clean a cast iron skillet will help you cook confidently and treat your skillet like a pro.

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

When I was young, asking my grandparents how to clean a cast iron skillet would spark a debate about whether or not you should use soap. My grandfather was clearly in the “never” camp, while my grandmother took more of an “everything in moderation” approach. 

My grandfather was a traditionalist who argued that soap strips away the skillet’s layers of seasoning, leaving it vulnerable to rust and stickiness. My grandmother, ahead of her time in many ways, argued that well-seasoned cast iron cookware could withstand a bit of mild soap and encouraged my grandfather to stop clinging to an ancient myth.  

In this article, I’ll cut through the noise and provide clear, expert-backed advice on how to care for your cast iron skillet. Not only will the soap vs. no soap debate be settled once and for all, but you’ll also have all the information you need to ensure that your cast iron skillet remains a beloved, durable kitchen tool for generations.

Learn how to clean a cast iron skillet with this close-up view of a pan.

    

In This Article

Cast iron pans hanging on a rack in a kitchen.
Photo Credit: Ernest_Roy from Pixabay

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet in 3 Easy Steps

Cleaning cast iron is an easy three-step process, but you need the proper technique and tools to prevent damage to your beautiful pans. Treat it right, and your skillet will last a lifetime and likely be in good enough condition to pass on to the next generation. That’s how tough this kitchen equipment is. Cast iron’s durability, longevity, and plastic-free nature make it a sustainable choice. Additionally, cooking in cast iron cookware is a convenient and alpha-gal friendly way to add iron to your diet.

“Cleaning a cast-iron skillet is not as scary as it seems. If the skillet is properly seasoned, there’s not much you can do in normal cleaning that will ruin the protective layer since the seasoning oil bonds with the metal to form a seal. Even mild dish soap can’t break through that bond.”

However, cast iron isn’t indestructible. For example, it’s not dishwasher-safe or scratch-proof, and it will rust if not cared for correctly.

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To properly clean a cast iron skillet, first wash it.
Photo Credit: Canva.

Step 1: Wash the Skillet

When cleaning cast iron skillets, hot water is your best friend. Start by cleaning the pan as best as you can with a wooden or silicone spatula. Next, place the pan under hot water and rinse off as much remaining food residue as possible.

You can also pre-wipe the pan, as Lara from LaraClevenger.com describes, After using a cast iron skillet, I like to let it cool down a bit and then wipe out the bits of food and grease with a paper towel or damp cloth.” Then, hold a scouring pad or cleaning brush specifically for cast iron and gently scrub the surface as needed. Typically, you only need to scrub for a minute or two before the pan returns to a spotless state.

To keep your cast iron skillet in tip-top shape, avoid harsh detergents, don’t soak the pan in water, and avoid metal scrubbers. These acts can strip the seasoning off your skillet, leaving it prone to rust and stickiness. Instead, opt for gentle cleaning methods that preserve the integrity of your skillet’s seasoned cooking surface.

A green bottle of cleaning liquid next to a sponge and scrubber.
Photo Credit: Canva.

Can You Use Soap on Cast Iron?

The debate about whether it’s okay to use soap on cast iron pans can get as heated as a skillet ready to fry eggs. In fact, when I look at the cast iron skillet handed down to me by my grandparents, I can still hear them debating this topic from decades ago!

The culinary experts at America’s Test Kitchen and cast iron manufacturer Lodge both side with my grandmother and say that using soap on your cast iron is okay. But, their statement comes with caveats. They’re talking specifically about pans seasoned to perfection and cleaning them with gentle dish soap. So, as long as your cast iron cookware is well seasoned, a little soap won’t hurt. In fact, a bit of warm water, a dab of mild soap, and a soft sponge are usually all you need to keep it clean.

A dry cast iron skillet on a black surface.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Step 2: Dry the Skillet

Thoroughly drying the skillet is essential for keeping cast iron cookware rust-free and preserving it long-term. Once towel-dried, warm the pan over medium-high heat until any remaining water evaporates from the surface.

Avocado oil and a wooden spoon on the table.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Step 3: Season the Skillet

Finally, rub oil all over the skillet, inside and out, until there is no more oil residue on the surface. Sara Nelson of Real Balanced confirms that the process is as simple as it sounds. “After I wipe the skillet dry with a dish towel, I put it on the stove over medium heat. Once the pan is dry, I add a little vegetable oil and wipe it around the skillet with paper towels. I can have cast iron cleaned and put away in less than five minutes!”

This seasoning method creates a bond with the iron, forming a natural nonstick coating for which cast iron cookware is famous. The chemical-free, nonstick coating provided by cast iron cooking is great for a wide range of dishes, from cauliflower mac and cheese to quick and easy pancakes.

The pan will be exceptionally hot after drying it out. Choose any alpha-gal friendly cooking fat, from duck fat to olive or flaxseed oil and wipe it around with a paper towel.

Sage Advice: Now that you can confidently clean your cast iron skillet, here are 37 cast iron skillet chicken recipes to try!

A cast iron skillet with food residue waiting to be cleaned.
Photo Credit: Canva.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet with Burnt-On Food

You might be tempted to soak the pan in water to soften crusted and stuck-on bits of food. Even though this procedure works with regular dishes, please don’t make it a practice with your cast iron.

Instead, add water to the pan and heat it on the stovetop. Scrape the bottom and sides with a wooden spatula and continue heating until the water boils. Don’t risk scratching the coating with metal utensils.

Gina Matsoukas from Running To The Kitchen recommends making a paste with kosher salt and water if the problem persists. “Apply the salt scrub to the pan’s surface and spot clean with a dry cloth. Spread one cup of salt on a still-warm pan for seriously crusted skillets, then scour the trouble zones. Finish with a final rinse, and dry and season the skillet like normal.”

A rusty cast iron skillet waiting to be cleaned.
Photo Credit: Canva.

How to Remove Rust from Cast Iron

If your cast iron skillet starts showing signs of rust, don’t panic. It’s easy to restore a rusty cast iron skillet. Start by scrubbing the rusted areas with steel wool, rinse thoroughly, and dry the skillet completely. Afterward, reseason the skillet to restore its classic black patina. This process removes rust and reinforces the skillet’s durability and cooking performance.

A fried egg in a cast iron frying pan on a wooden table.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

How to Care for a Cast Iron Skillet Long-Term

To ensure that your cast iron skillet remains in prime condition, reseason it regularly, ideally after each use. This step prevents the buildup of a sticky, gummy surface from too much oil. If your skillet does become sticky, a thorough wash with hot water, followed by drying and a light reseasoning, will bring it back to its best.

Additionally, storing your skillet with a clean paper towel inside helps absorb any excess moisture and scratching, preventing rust and keeping it ready for its next use.

By consistently following the three simple steps of washing, drying, and seasoning a cast iron skillet, you’ll have a reliable kitchen companion for all your favorite one-pan meals and culinary needs.

What Tips Do You Have for Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet?

What cast iron skillet cleaning methods work best for you? Have you ever had a cast iron cleaning disaster? Do you have any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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