Can I Use Steel Wool to Clean Cast Iron?

Have you ever wondered if you can use steel wool to clean cast iron cookware?

Steel wool has many uses, and one of them is metal pans.

However, some metal pans are seasoned, such as cast iron.

So, the question becomes how steel wool affects the seasoning and not just the iron.

And that’s what we will look at right now.

Can I Use Steel Wool to Clean Cast Iron?

The overwhelming consensus is you should not use steel wool to clean cast iron because it damages the seasoning. It won’t hurt the iron, though. So, if you need to strip your pan and reseason, steel wool is an option. However, for cleaning tough messes on cast iron, you are better off using chainmail, a pan scraper with or without a scrub brush, or coarse salt. 

Why It’s Unwise to Use Steel Wool to Clean Cast Iron

It’s best not to use steel wool to clean cast iron because it will damage your seasoning.

The seasoning makes your pan nonstick and protects the iron from rusting. 

And you don’t want to damage the coating you worked so hard to build up. Or constantly have to deal with food sticking or worry your pan will rust because you can’t keep the seasoning on the pan.

I struggled to keep a seasoning on my first cast iron pan. I finally gave up after I bought new Lodge pans and found them so much easier to work with.

But that’s another story.

Right now, we are talking about steel wool and how it is not recommended for cast iron pans.

What Others Say

Here are a few comments from a Reddit forum where a person who thought steel wool worked great for cleaning but was concerned it was doing some unseen damage:

“You need to be very careful and light-handed; otherwise, you can damage and remove the seasoning.”

“Steel wool will hurt your seasoning.”

“I would use steel wool, but only on a pan I was stripping.”

“Unless you have a gentle touch, it’ll wreck your seasoning.”

“If anything, it’ll do seen damage. You’ll be able to see for yourself where the steel wool takes off the crud and any seasoning.”

“Steel wool made in Australia is covered with a fine grade and is very gentle on these types of pots.” 

Additionally, when asking Lodge about using steel wool to clean cast iron, they say, ” No! We recommend using a pan scraper or the Lodge Chainmail Scrubber to remove any stuck-on residue. We only recommend using steel wool or a metal scrubber to remove rust before reseasoning.”

As you can see, the majority said steel wool would damage the seasoning. Some went on to also suggest better ways of cleaning cast iron.

RELATED > > > > > Who is Lodge Cast Iron? – Getting Better With Age

Other Methods Work Better for Cleaning

For everyday cleaning, a soft-bristled scrub brush works well. But for the more challenging messes, there are better methods for cleaning your pan that won’t hurt the seasoning.

Chainmail – tiny stainless steel chains linked together. Some brands make a chainmail square, while others, such as Lodge, have a silicone middle for easier handling. Some people love chainmail, and others don’t. I rarely use mine. However, I did write a review on the Lodge brand if you are interested. 

Pan Scraper – made of rigid polycarbonate, otherwise known as hard plastic. Scrapers are small and often square, but the ones at Lodge have a unique shape that helps you use them at an angle and get to all the hard-to-reach places. I use mine all the time. I also wrote a review on the Lodge 2-Pack

Coarse salt – a natural abrasive but works well on cast iron when mixed with a bit of water to make a type of paste. I sometimes use this method when my brush or scraper isn’t enough to clean the pan. I even wrote about why kosher salt cleans cast iron if you want to know more.

Other methods include rinsing your hot pan under hot water, as demonstrated in the video below. Cowboy Kent Rollins also shows you the coarse salt method.    

Easy Trick to Clean Cast Iron

Steel Wool is Okay for Stripping and Removing Rust

You may still wonder how you can use steel wool on cast iron. You can see that cleaning with it will damage your seasoning, but what if it is already damaged?

In that case, steel wool is a tool to consider for stripping the pan. 

For example, if you first used steel wool to clean your skillet and it damaged the seasoning, you can now use the steel wool to strip the rest of the seasoning from the pan and start over.

Another reason to consider steel wool is to get rid of rust. Keep in mind, though, that anytime you use steel wool, you will probably have to reseason the pan.

So, does a particular type of steel wool work better than another?

RELATED > > > > > Is It Worth Restoring a Rusty Cast Iron Pan? – 3 Methods to Consider 

Grades of Steel Wool

You might remember the above comment from a person in Australia. This person said steel wool made in their country had a fine grade which made it ideal for cleaning cast iron.

Steel wool, just like sandpaper, comes in many grades. And some of the finer grades may work okay on metal pans with seasoning if you have a gentle touch. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s ideal or is gentle on cast iron cookware. 

According to Steelwool Direct, steel wool comes in 8 grades or levels of abrasiveness. They say,

The grade is determined by the thickness of the wire of which the wool is made of. We control the wire thickness when shaving the wool from rod by selecting the right type of serrated tools. The more serrations on a tool will yield a finer wire or shaving, while less serrations will yield a coarser wire or steel wool.

Steelwool Direct also lists the eight grades, their ratings, such as fine or coarse, and the various applications for each grade. Although there is no specific mention of cast iron, it does include metal pans.

And if you are stripping the pan, the metal (iron) is what you need to be concerned with. 

Final Thoughts

Let’s review. Steel wool is not recommended for cleaning cast iron but can be used for stripping the pan.

You don’t use steel wool for cleaning because it will damage the seasoning. Other methods, such as chainmail, a pan scraper, or coarse salt, will work better.

However, steel wool is an option if you are trying to remove the seasoning to restore the pan. Finding the right grade can help the process go more quickly and smoothly.

Have you ever used steel wool to clean or strip your cast iron? What were the results?

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