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Don’t Ruin Your Cast Iron Skillet: Here’s How to Clean it Properly

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

How to clean a cast iron skillet without ruining it.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet in 3 Easy Steps

Cleaning cast iron is an easy three-step process, but, as with quartz countertops and certainly with outdoor grills, you do need the proper technique and tools lest your beautiful pans incur any damage.

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 worth considering.

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, nor is it scratch-proof, and it will rust if not attended to correctly.

A cast iron skillet with soapy water.
Photo credit: Envato Elements.

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.

Begin by cleaning the pan out as best you can with a wooden or silicon spatula, and save leftovers in food-safe containers

Next, place the pan under hot water and rinse off as much remaining food as possible.

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,

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 so before the pan returns to a spotless state.

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.

More often than not, using hot water and a small amount of dish soap combined with a soft sponge is sufficient.

Step 2: Dry the Skillet

Drying the skillet is the primary way we preserve long-term quality and keep it free from rust.

Set the pan over medium-high heat until the water evaporates off the surface.

Gas stove with a blue flame, demonstrating the process of cleaning a cast iron skillet.
Photo credit: Envato Elements.

Step 3: Season the Skillet

Finally, rub oil over all surfaces, inside and out. 

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. 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

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 around with a paper towel.

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.

For seriously crusted skillets, 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.

A clean cast iron skillet with wooden handle.
Photo credit: Envato Elements.

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.

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

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.


Sunday 2nd of July 2023

This post was great inspiration to pull out my cast iron pan again! My pan kept rusting in our humid climate because I never thought to dry it on the stove each time after washing.

Jessica Haggard

Monday 3rd of July 2023

Seasoning it in the oven is a must! Don't worry about the rust, with a little TLC, your pan can be as good as new.


Monday 19th of June 2023

I have been struggling to properly clean my pan for years. It always seems to strip off my seasoning. Love this method and will be giving it a try. Thanks!

Jessica Haggard

Monday 19th of June 2023

So happy to hear you found the post informational, and yes, it should help with the seasoning issues :)


Sunday 18th of June 2023

I have 4 cast iron pans, and I love to cook in all of them. After reading your post, I must say I'm happy I know how to take care of them. Reading this was so reaffirming. Thanks for sharing.

Jessica Haggard

Monday 19th of June 2023

Pat on the back, right?! ;)


Sunday 18th of June 2023

This is such an informative article! Cast iron pans definitely have a learning curve and I wish I'd had all these great tips before buying (and subsequently ruining) one. Bookmarking this to come back to later.

Jessica Haggard

Monday 19th of June 2023

Hi Claire - thanks for the bookmark! And yes, there is a learning curve, but it's totally manageable once you get the hang if it.

Lori | The Kitchen Whisperer

Sunday 18th of June 2023

Mama always said, “if you take care of your stuff, it’ll last.”. This tutorial is exactly what she was talking about! Great bit of info; thank you!

Jessica Haggard

Monday 19th of June 2023

Yes mom! Glad the info was helpful :)