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How to Clean Cast Iron Pots and Pans

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Don’t be afraid of damaging a cast iron skillet or let that fear prevent you from using such a timeless kitchen accessory. Use these expert tips about how to clean a cast iron pots and pans, so you can cook confidently and treat your skillet like a pro.

Before you start cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

Before you clean a skillet, Dutch oven or grill pan, or ANY cast iron cookware, be sure you’ve seasoned it! Read about how to season your cast iron and then go ahead and season your cast iron. And anytime you start to notice your pans aren’t as nonstick as you like, re-season it using the same method.

A clean cast iron skillet on a wooden cutting board.
Cast Iron Pan. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

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 any damage to your beautiful pans. And you NEED to have properly seasoned cast iron before using your cast iron.

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.

Unlike any other cookware, cast iron can get better with age. It also holds a nice even heat, making an excellent tool for quick and easy skillet dinner meals.

“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 seasoning since the seasoning oil actually bonds with the metal to form a seal. Even dish soap can’t break through that bond.”
— Robin Donovan, All Ways Delicious

However, cast iron isn’t indestructible. For example, it’s not dishwasher-safe or scratch-proof and will rust if not attended to correctly. It’s also, and this can feel unbelievable, very prone to breaking. If you drop a cast iron skillet, it can break! just an FYI in case you believe they’re totally indestructible.

A popular question

Is it ok to use soap on cast iron?? A controversial atmosphere surrounding using soap on cast iron gets heated on both sides. Some say yes, while others say no. America’s Test Kitchen sets the record straight by announcing: “Yes, you can use soap on cast iron.”

That being said, the statement assumes you’re working on a well-seasoned pan and choosing a mild dish soap. Chances are, if you’re using a new pre-seasoned pan or have built up a good seasoning yourself, then it’s safe to wash gently with a mild dish cleaning agent.

A clean cast iron skillet on a wooden cutting board.
Cast Iron Pan. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

Step 1: Wash the skillet

When it comes to cleaning cast iron skillets, hot water is the go-to resource for getting the job done.

  1. Begin by removing all leftovers to food-safe containers
  2. then clean the pan out as best you can with a wooden or silicon spatula
  3. Next, place the pan under hot water and rinse off as much remaining food as possible.
  4. Then, hold a scouring pad or cleaning brush specifically for cast iron and gently scrub the surface as needed.
  5. Typically, you only need to scrub for a minute or so before the pan returns to a spotless state.

You can also pre-wipe the pan, as Lara 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.” — Lara Clevenger, LaraClevenger.com

Step 2: Dry the skillet

  1. Drying the skillet is the primary way we preserve long-term quality and keep it free from rust.
  2. Set the pan over medium-high heat until the water evaporates off the surface.

Step 3: Season the skillet

  1. Finally, rub oil over all surfaces, inside and out. 
Finished chicken piccata.

The process is as simple as it sounds

This seasoning method effectively creates a bond with the iron, thereby creating a natural nonstick coating that is so closely associated with cast iron cookware. It’s precisely this nonstick coating without chemicals that we’re after because cast iron cooking is great for just about anything from cabbage stir-fry to fish and even eggs.

The pan will be exceptionally hot after drying it out. Choose any cooking fat from lard or tallow to olive or flaxseed oil and wipe it with a paper towel.

“After I wipe the skillet dry with a dish towel, I put it on the stove over medium heat. Then, once it’s totally dry, I pour a little cooking oil in, and wipe that around the skillet with some paper towels. I can have cast iron cleaned and put away in less than 5 minutes!”
— Sara Nelson, Real Balanced

What to do with frightfully grimy pans?

You might be tempted to soak the pan in water as a way of softening up crusted and stuck-on food bits. Even though this 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 water and salt if the problem persists. Apply the salt scrub to the pan’s surface and spot clean with a folded kitchen towel or washcloth.

Gooey melted cheese on top of chicken, peppers, onions in a casserole.

For seriously crusted skillets or dutch ovens, spread 1 cup of salt on a still-warm pan. Then, likewise, fold a towel and scour the trouble zones. Finish off with a final rinse, and dry and season like normal.

Long-term care for cast iron skillets

Best practices indicate high-success rates by reseasoning a skillet often after use. Ideally, after each time you cook with it.

Avoid a gummy pan by maintaining a nice slick seasoning. Too much oil will build up into a sticky surface. If this ever happens, wash it off with hot water, dry thoroughly, and reseason with a thin layer of oil.

Being consistent by following the simple steps of washing, drying, and seasoning a cast iron skillet as needed and you’ll have a piece of clean and reliable cooking equipment for all your one-pan meals and culinary needs.

Jessica Haggard is a lifelong recipe lover, blogger, and author of multiple cookbooks. She helps people find success with gluten-free, low-carb, and keto cooking at Primal Edge Health. While her second blog, Easy Homemade Life, is dedicated to dishing up super simple, family-friendly recipes along with DIY beauty care and natural homemaking tips.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

laura sampson

About Laura

Laura is on a mission to teach modern family oriented women how to make old-fashioned foods new again. A wife and mom of 3 boys, Laura understands the struggles of trying to serve a home-cooked meal each night. She provides recipes and cooking hacks for busy moms to create dishes they may think take more time or skill than they have to make. Read more...

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