Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware – To Use Soap or Not

Have you heard cleaning cast iron is too much work? Has it kept you from even wanting to give cast iron a try? Well today, I want to tell you that cleaning cast iron cookware is not hard at all. Yes, there are a couple of extra steps compared to using a dishwasher, but it will be routine in no time at all. But if you are the type that can’t stand the thought of cleaning your pan until later, then you might still think cleaning cast iron is too much work even after reading about it. But I hope you will keep reading and give it a chance.

When I first started using cast iron, I had one 10-inch square cast iron skillet that I bought in the camping section. I first had to learn how to season it, but then I needed to know how to clean it properly because cast iron isn’t like every other piece of cookware. It lasts forever with proper care, and even if you have an old pan that wasn’t taken care of, you can restore it, and it will be good as new. But that is a different post.

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The Importance of Cleaning

Everyone knows it’s necessary to wash your dishes, so I won’t have to convince you of that. But cleaning cast iron cookware is important in that you do it the right way. Doing it the wrong way won’t ruin your skillet, but it will make it more difficult to cook with. And the clean-up will also be harder. Your pan could also get rusty and require even more work to restore.

So it is better to clean your cast iron by using three simple steps:

Step 1 is Washing

To use soap or not…that is the ongoing debate. Many people still do not use soap to wash their cast iron cookware. They will give you several reasons you shouldn’t. But others will say it’s fine to use soap. It hasn’t hurt their cast iron at all.

I haven’t been using cast iron for decades as some people have, but I have done my research. According to Lodge Cast Iron, a huge name brand in cast iron cookware, using a little soap is okay.

Every morning my husband and I make bacon and eggs in our cast iron skillet. We think the food tastes better than when using another type of pan. So every morning, we have a cast iron pan to wash.

When I first started using cast iron, I didn’t know how to clean my skillet correctly. We put it in the dishwater and washed it like we did every other dish. Our dishwasher has been broken for several years now, but since it’s just the two of us, I don’t see the point of getting it fixed. It makes a great place to dry the dishes, though.

I have since learned how to wash my cast iron cookware. I’m going to tell you how I do it after making our breakfast. While we eat, the pan is cooling down a bit. Then I follow these steps:

  1. I use a plastic scraper to scrape out any particle of food in the pan
  2. I run a small amount of water in the pan and swish it around. I dump that out and put in a little more water
  3. I put a dab of soap in the pan and with a brush, I scrub the inside until it is clean. It doesn’t usually take much.
  4. I rinse it a few times until it looks clean and is ready to be dried

You will notice that I use a plastic scraper, water, soap, and a brush. Lodge Cast Iron also sells a cleaning set at Amazon that you may find useful. It comes with seasoning spray, pan scraper, scrub brush, silicone handle holder, and a use and care booklet.

Having a scraper makes it so much easier I think, but if you don’t have a plastic scraper, you can still clean your pan without one. You can use your spatula or just rinse the food off into the sink if it’s not stuck. I’ve read some people use a metal spatula but others say it will flake off the seasoning.

If the food is stuck, you may have to put some water in the pan and heat it to loosen the food first, but that way isn’t ideal in my opinion. You can also use chain mail. Chain mail is specially made for getting off food stuck in your cast iron pan. Find what works best for you.

Using water is not bad at all. In fact, not using water would make it pretty hard to get your pan clean. It’s letting your pan sit in water that can be bad.

Using soap is fine as I stated above. Maybe you have heard that using soap ruins the seasoning in the pan, but I haven’t found that to be true. Well, perhaps it would be true if you soaked your pan in soapy water, but that is never recommended, so don’t do it.

And the brush is important because it keeps the oil or seasoning from being washed off, whereas a dishcloth is more likely to take off the seasoning. So using a brush with soap is better than using a cloth or sponge to get it clean.

One more thing, I follow the same steps of washing regardless of what I have made in my cast iron. Not all cooking will require the scraper, so I only use that when there is food to scrape out, but otherwise, it’s the same.

Step 2 is Drying

Drying your cast iron pan immediately after washing it is a necessary step. Leaving it to air dry can cause your pan to start to rust over time because iron plus water plus air causes a chemical reaction that results in rust. To keep this from happening, you should always dry your cast iron right away.

You won’t want to scrub it dry because that might take off too much of the oil or seasoning. Use a paper towel or a lint-free towel. Dry it thoroughly but not vigorously. Don’t be surprised if a little of the seasoning comes off on your towel. It will be dark brownish red, and that is normal.

I’ve even heard you can put it over the fire on your stove for a couple of minutes for even more thorough drying but I haven’t tried that.

Step 3 is Oiling

Oiling is a form of seasoning. When you cook your food, the oil bakes into the cast iron making it more and more nonstick over time. Of course, cleaning your cookware may also take off some seasoning, but as I said, that is normal. It does make the oiling step more important, though.

You can oil your pan a couple of different ways; you can use a cooking spray or cooking oil. Vegetable oil works fine. I use a canola cooking spray, and sometimes I use vegetable oil or avocado oil. Really any kind of cooking oil or spray will do. But if you find it smoking, you might want to try a different oil.

If you use a cooking spray, just spray the inside of the pan and wipe any excess oil with a paper towel. I then lightly cover the rest of the pan too.

If you use cooking oil, just pour a little oil into the pan and cover it entirely with a thin coat using a paper towel.


As you can see, cleaning your cast iron cookware is not that difficult. You just follow the three steps of washing, drying, and oiling, and you are good to go.

I wouldn’t say I like to spend a lot of time washing dishes or with clean-up, so if it were too much work, I probably would have stopped using cast iron. But even with the small amount of extra work, it has become routine and I find it very much worth it because of all the benefits of cooking with cast iron.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or recommendations about what I have written, I would love to hear from you. Just leave a comment in the comment section below.

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