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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet: 3 Common Myths

how to clean cast iron skillet

This post was written by top TIDY Homekeeper: Marc G.  He is a cleaning expert with over 10 years of experience.

Cast iron requires special care.  It can be a lot more work than stainless steel or nonstick pans. That said, there are some myths about cast iron that I think I can address.  Let me walk through these myths one by one, and let you know how my experience as a TIDY Homekeeper has taught me otherwise.  These, along with other myths, can cause good people to stop using good pans. Take a look at these un-truths about cast iron — as well as tips on how to clean and season your cast iron skillets properly.

Myth #1: You Can't Wash Cast Iron With Soap

When a cast iron skillet is perfectly seasoned, many foods (though not all) will wipe or rinse out of the pan easily. If you are cooking eggs, there's a great chance that some particles will be left behind. This means you'll need to scrub out the skillet with soap.

Contrary to popular belief, soap will not remove the seasoning from the skillet. Why not? It's because the oil actually breaks down and bonds to the pan, creating a nonstick surface. Washing with soap doesn't pull the Teflon off a nonstick pan.  It also won't pull the seasoning off a cast iron skillet. Scrub away. Just be sure to dry the pan well immediately after washing.

Myth #2: You Can Soak a Cast Iron Pan to Remove Burnt-On Food

Don't do this! Soaking a cast iron pan has a much better chance of removing some of the seasoning than using soap does. Also, iron rusts when wet!  So leaving a pan of water on the stove while you eat is likely to result in a rusty mess when you return to do the dishes. (This does not mean that your pan is ruined! Just scrub it out with a steel wool pad and re-season it.)

Rather than soaking your pan while you eat, just scrape the food out.  Then, let it sit on the stove or counter until you're ready to wash it. Use hot water and a bit of soap on a sponge to scrub out the pan just like you would any other, then dry it completely. If you can't get all the food out, try using salt as an abrasive cleaner to help strip the gunk out of the pan. You can also use a spatula to loosen food debris.  If you use metal, scrape gently — you can put more oomph into it if you use a nylon utensil.

Myth #3: You Have to Re-Season Your Pan After Each Use

This one is actually partially true. You do need to rub your pan down with oil after each use, but you do not need to go through the whole seasoning process. Just put a bit of vegetable oil on a paper towel, and rub it around the inside and outer edge of the pan once it's been dried. Don't leave any excess; just a dab will do. Then go ahead and store your pan in the cabinet until you're ready to use it again. Easy peasy! Cast iron is great to cook with, and it can be passed down through the generations. Cleaning your pan well and oiling it after each use will give you decades of stress-free cooking.

Want more tips?  Here is a great video on caring for cast iron.

Are there any other myths you have heard about cleaning your home?