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

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Can you use soap on cast iron? We break down just how to clean a cast iron skillet and address everything you should and shouldn't do while taking care of your precious pan.

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.

What Makes Cleaning Cast Iron Special?

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 just how to clean a cast iron skillet—plus a few do’s and don’ts as you go.

How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

1. Rinse your skillet after use

cast iron skillet in sink being rinsed with waterMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

After your cast iron has cooled down a little bit (you don’t want to burn your hands!), rinse your cast iron in the sink to dislodge clingy food scraps like eggs, and prevent them from hardening and sticking to the pan. If you don’t want to wait, you can pour a glass of hot water into the pan while it sits on the stove. And yes—it’s OK to get your pan wet!

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

2. If you need, use soap, water and a scrubber

cast iron skillet in sink with soapy water and scrub brushMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

Contrary to popular belief, if plain water isn’t doing the trick, you can use a little bit of dish soap to help loosen the stubborn scraps. A little soapy water now and then will help banish stuck-on food and reduce the elbow grease. Use warm water and gentle dish soap and scrub your pan where it needs it.

However, don’t use abrasive scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool, because it will take off your hard-earned seasoning. If you’ve got tough residue, use one of our editor-tested products for cleaning cast iron pans.

3. Dry your cast iron skillet

cast iron skillet with dish towel on kitchen countertopMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

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

Extra credit: Reinforce your seasoning after a wash. While the pan is still warm, apply a light coat of vegetable oil with a paper towel. However, don’t let the oil pool! Use another paper towel to soak up the extra liquid.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

cast iron skillet in oven for seasoningMackenzie Williams/Taste of Home

Whether you just bought a brand-new cast iron skillet or you had to get scrub off the rust on your pan, you need to season or re-season your pan before you use it. (If you need, watch this video on how to restore a rusted cast-iron skillet.)

Start with your clean, rust-free pan, and apply a thin coat of vegetable oil to the whole pan—outside and handle included. Bake your cast iron skillet upside down in the oven at 350° for 1 hour (lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a lower rack to catch potential drips), and once your timer goes off, leave it in the oven to cool. Now you’ve got a seasoned pan! Get more tips on how to season a cast-iron skillet.

Tips for Cleaning a Cast Iron

  • Avoid abrasive scrubbers like scouring pads or steel wool. They’ll take off your hard-earned seasoning!
  • Make sure to use warm water for a hot cast iron pan, because submerging a hot pan in cold water can cause it to crack.
  • After following these steps for how to clean a cast-iron skillet, reinforce your seasoning after each time by applying a light coat of vegetable oil with a paper towel before you put it away.

When to Replace Your Cast Iron Skillet

The only reason you should consider replacing your cast iron is if it cracks or if it has chips or holes in the surface due to corrosion or improper cleaning techniques.

But once it is time to replace your cast iron skillet, go for one of our picks for the best cast-iron pan under $50 as well as all of the different cast-iron cookware types, whether you want a traditional skillet or you’d prefer a wok or Dutch oven.

By following our tips, you’ll take perfect care of your cast-iron skillet pan. These pans are extremely durable. With a little care, they’ll last you a lifetime!

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Nicole Doster
Nicole is the Content Director of TMB's Strategy and Performance team. She oversees the brand's shopping and trend editorial teams and assists with content planning across Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Reader's Digest, The Healthy and Birds & Blooms. With over seven years of experience writing and editing in the food and home space, she enjoys sharing cooking tips, recipe picks and product recommendations that make life a little easier. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's either practicing latte art or fixating on her latest DIY home renovation.
Lauren Pahmeier
Lauren is an associate editor at Taste of Home, focusing on search engine optimization. When she’s not making sure readers can find TOH’s recipes on Google, she’s practicing her food photography, consistently finding new recipes to try and hunting down the most indulgent treats in the Twin Cities.