How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

At our house, we love cooking in our big cast iron skillet. I thought I would share how to easily clean a cast iron skillet, although this applies to any kind of cast iron pan.

I hear a lot of people are hesitant to use cast iron when cooking because they don’t know how to clean it, or they are afraid or ruining it. Hopefully, I can shed some light on these concerns as it’s actually REALLY easy to clean cast iron.

And it’s pretty indestructible, so it will likely last much longer than any non-stick pan with just a few simple tips.

Do you have to clean cast iron after every use?

No. This is a somewhat personal preference, but we only clean our cast iron skillet a couple times a month at the most. And we cook with it at least a few times every week.

The little bits of cooked food that build up on the pan between, so long as it’s not excessive, actually adds to the flavor and texture of meals we make.

We mostly make stir fry in our pan, things like shrimp, chicken, vegetables, rice, and savory seasoning and sauces that you might expect in a stir fry.

If we cook something with a very different flavor profile, we would likely go ahead and give our skillet a good wash before and/or after.

How to clean cast iron skillet:

  • Scrub off any thick residue
  • Rinse and dry
  • Rub with oil

More Tips:

  • Don’t put cast iron in the dishwasher
  • Don’t use soap ever (it’s not necessary)
  • If you (or your partner/roommate) forget and use soap or put it the dishwasher just rinse well, and then season the cast iron again like you did when you bought it. Some come pre-seasoned, too.
  • If your cast iron rusts, just scrub/rinse the rust off and rub with oil. It’s not ruined!

Scrub away any thick residue. This is likely cooked food bits from previous meals, but it could also be dried sauces, gravies, etc. All you need is hot water and a scrubbing brush (no soap) to do this.

If you find it difficult to remove, you can leave water in the pan overnight to soften the debris. This can slightly rust the pan, but just scrub that away with the residue and it’s fine.

Another thing you can try for super stubborn bits is to add boiling water in the pan to loosen things.

Rinse the skillet well, and then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. You don’t want to leave water droplets as it can rust the pan (which doesn’t ruin it, but you will have to clean it again).

I have one kitchen towel I use for this task as it gets pretty dingy, even after washing the towel. So, don’t use any fancy kitchen towels you like to use for decor or serving. This task is for your can-get-stained-forever kitchen towels only.

Rub the cast iron skillet with oil once it’s dry. I typically use olive oil as it’s what we usually cook with, but any food-safe cooking oil is fine to use. This will keep your cast iron skillet looking like new.

Again, a can-get-messy kitchen towel or paper towel is best here, too.

Can you ruin a cast iron pan?

Yes, but only if you break them or severely scratch them. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of cleaning (and if needed, re-seasoning them) if they have been washed in soap.

So, as long as you don’t break the pan (which is hard to do), it will last you for many years with heavy use. Cast iron skillets are a very safe and economical pan for cooking. We love ours!

  • You can also start by deglazing the pan right after you’ve finished cooking. Heat it up until it’s nearly smoking and pour a cup or two of water in it. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula and most anything really burnt on will come off like a charm. You can then run the pan under hot water while you scrub the rest off with your scrub brush. Alternatively, when there’s not as much stuck to the pan, you can throw in a couple tablespoons of kosher salt and a glug or two of your high-heat oil and scrub the pan clean. Just wipe out the salt with your towel or paper when you’re done!

    • Don’t sand blast one too get the heavy crust off as that may cause it to leak. To remove the heavy crust I put it in the fire pit and get it sort of cherry red and then use steel wool to lean it and reseason it.

  • I’ve also found that salt can be really helpful for scrubbing off stubborn bits. I keep a thing of regular table salt under the kitchen sink, and shake out about half a cup onto the pan, then scrub with a kitchen brush like you said. Works like a charm!

    • I’ve heard that, thanks for sharing. I’ve never used salt but I could see it being helpful for rubbing off stuck on bits.

  • I also love cooking with cast iron!
    I have had great luck in maintaining my pans with a stainless steel chainmail scrubber. Very affordable, effective, and safe for the cast iron!
    Highly recommend!

    • YES, love the stainless steel chainmail scrubber, too! So durable, effective and affordable for cast iron.

    • I second this. The chainmail scrubber has been the best thing I’ve come across for stuck on food. Doesn’t scratch the pan and I like throwing the scrubber in the dishwasher every so often.

    • Yes! I cook almost entirely with cast iron and can’t recommend the chain mail scrubber enough. It works great to scrub off any stubborn areas quickly without damaging the pan.

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