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How Do You Clean Cast Iron?

Whether or not you live in a Southern state, there’s a good chance you may own a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven or griddle pan. This seasoned cookware adds a unique and homey flavor to many dishes. Additionally, it is multifunctional and capable of lasting for generations if it’s cared for properly. The latter is crucial though. 

Learn how to clean cast iron cookware, then check out some tips on maintaining a cast iron skillet and other similar items.

Soap Versus No Soap

How do you clean cast iron? With soap or without? This debate has divided families. It’s even possible that cast iron cleaning preferences have been the basis for county lines being drawn.

You might think this is silly, but aficionados of cast iron cookware take the matter very seriously. The reason behind this is that cast iron is seasoned with the oils or fats you use as you cook. Some people believe applying soap to a skillet will strip the seasoning that they’ve worked so hard to build. 

Because Merry Maids has no desire to start a war between the two groups, we’ll give you instructions on how to wash your skillet both ways.

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware Without Soap

Cleaning sans soap is the most traditional way to take care of cast iron, but there are still different no-soap methods to use depending on how soiled your cookware is. For all three of the following methods, you’ll need to clean your cast iron shortly after cooking, while the cookware is still hot or warm. Take care not to burn yourself!

Note: Enamel-coated cast iron cookware should be cleaned with soap unless you want to make a big mess.

Lightly soiled #1

You’ll need:
  • Paper towels
  • Vegetable oil, canola oil or shortening
  1. Add a little oil or shortening to your warm cast iron cookware.
  2. Wipe the oil or shortening around your cast iron with the paper towels, removing any food bits as you go.
  3. Keep wiping until there’s no food left in the pan.

Lightly soiled #2

You’ll need:
  1. Add hot water to your cookware in the sink.
  2. Gently wipe the cast iron clean with a microfiber sponge.
  3. Completely dry the item before storing it.

Heavily soiled

You’ll need:
  • 1 cup of Kosher salt
  • A clean dish towel
  • A plastic spatula or pan scraper
  1. Pour the salt into your cookware. Remember, you want to make sure the cast iron is still warm.
  2. Fold the dish towel and use it to rub the salt around the pan. The salt will work as a scouring agent, so you’ll need to apply a little pressure here.
  3. Use your spatula or pan scraper to attack any food residue that is really stuck to the cast iron cookware.
  4. Toss the salt into the trash can.
  5. Rinse the cast iron item clean using warm water.
  6. Make sure your cast iron cookware is absolutely dry before putting it away.

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware with Soap

If you’re going to clean cast iron with soap, you’ll want to make sure you’re working with a mild product. Remember, the beauty of cast iron is its seasoning. Abrasive cleaners may strip this.

Disclaimer: Merry Maids is not liable for you being disowned by family members if you use soap on a cast iron skillet or griddle.

You’ll need:

  • Mild dishwashing liquid
  • A scrubbing sponge
  • A plastic spatula or pan scraper
  • A dish towel
  • Vegetable oil, canola oil or shortening
  • Paper towels
  1. Start by placing your still-warm cookware into the sink.
  2. Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid and some warm water. Use the sponge to clean the cast iron, just as you would if you were washing any other dishes.
  3. If there is stuck-on food residue, apply pressure using the scrubbing side of the sponge. For especially stubborn spots, use the plastic spatula or pan scraper.
  4. Rinse the soapy water from your cookware.
  5. Dry the item completely with the dish towel.
  6. Add a little shortening or oil to your cast iron cookware and rub this around with the paper towel until the surface is coated.
  7. Place the item on a burner set to high heat. Let this sit for three to five minutes, until the cast iron is smoking just a little.
  8. Let the cookware cool completely before putting it away.

Maintaining a Cast Iron Skillet

There are a few cardinal rules that apply if you want a cast iron skillet — or any other piece of cookware — to last for years. First of all, it’s important to use your cast iron items regularly; doing so will keep them seasoned and will also prevent rusting.

Additionally, you should avoid soaking as a method of cleaning cast iron cookware, and you should never put these items in the dishwasher. And any time a piece of cast iron gets wet, you need to dry it immediately, making sure that every last droplet of water is gone. Letting cast iron air dry will only lead to rust. 

Is it too late? Has your griddle or skillet already started showing signs of oxidation? Don’t panic! Check out these tips on removing rust from metal kitchen items. Then, do yourself and your taste buds a favor and start using your cast iron on a routine basis.