Should I Start Using Soap on My Cast Iron Pans? – The Pros and Cons

If you have never used soap on your cast iron pans but keep hearing it’s okay, you may be asking yourself, “Should I start using soap on my cast iron pans?”

On the one hand, you’ve done just fine without it; on the other hand, you are open to new ideas and at least hearing the arguments for using soap.

However, you may be a bit skeptical, thinking, “What’s the deal with soap anyway?”

Cast iron lovers have firm opinions on the use of soap, so this should be interesting.

So, let’s get started.

Should I Start Using Soap on My Cast Iron Pans?

If you are sincerely asking if you should start using soap on your cast iron pans, it will require you to accept that soap will not hurt your carefully built-up seasoning. Lodge Cast Iron, the most reputable manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the United States, says using a little soap is okay. In their own words, “Contrary to popular belief, you can use a small amount of soap to clean cast iron cookware! Large amounts of soap can strip the seasoning off your pan, but you can easily re-season your pan as needed.”

Let’s Start By Talking About Soap

I have used soap from the beginning and haven’t seen any negative effects. So from experience, I can’t really relate to anyone who says soap is harmful.

That being said, as I researched and wrote about cast iron, my mind was changed somewhat about its necessity.

I began from the logic that soap was necessary to get the pan clean; sanitized. I didn’t understand why anyone would think differently.

However, I have learned a few things about soap that were eye-opening. Such as: 

  • There’s a difference between soap and detergent.
  • In its true form, soap is made with lye and would be harmful to the seasoning on cast iron.
  • Today we use detergent, and it doesn’t contain lye (so you can replace “soap” with “detergent” for everything I wrote above.
  • Detergent isn’t antibacterial and doesn’t sanitize.
  • Neither soap nor detergent is intended to kill bacteria or germs.
  • Detergent acts as an emulsifier; it makes water and oil mix together, so it’s easier to wash the oil, dirt, and grease away.
  • Hot water alone may not remove all the oil and dirt, and that’s why we use detergent (or soap).

You can read more about this at Google Answers: Why do we wash dishes with soap? (it’s long but informative)

Making a Case For Using Soap (or Detergent)

Now that you know a little more about soap and detergent, I will do my best to make a case for using detergent (not soap).

Detergent is a common way people clean their dishes. It’s effective as a cleaning product.

It’s often referred to as soap, but people who say it’s okay to use soap on cast iron mean it’s okay to use detergent or dishwashing liquid.

Although detergent makes it easier to wash away oil and dirt, it will not damage the seasoning.

That’s because the seasoning is oil that has polymerized or bonded with the iron.

When someone wants to remove the seasoning from their pan, they use lye, sandpaper, or oven cleaner.

No one uses detergent.

In addition, when you have a reputable manufacturer such as Lodge Cast Iron telling you it’s okay, then it must be, right?

And on top of that, many authority sites state that it’s a myth to say you can’t use soap, and by soap, they mean detergent.

When I look at forums, most people say they use “soap” all the time or occasionally, and most will agree it’s not necessary.

And almost everyone points out that you shouldn’t put your pan in the dishwasher or let it soak, and you should always dry your pan completely after washing.

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  • Convenient and effective
  • Cleans but won’t hurt the polymerized seasoning on the pan
  • Something you most likely have on hand
  • Dish detergent is inexpensive
  • Peace of mind

Is It Bad to Wash My Cast Iron Pan With Soap?

Making a Case For Not Using Soap (or Detergent)

There are two main reasons someone might say you shouldn’t wash your cast iron pan with soap.

The first reason is that soap ruins your seasoning.

Again, when someone says “soap,” they usually mean detergent or dishwashing liquid.

And this is a myth.

However,  true soap is a natural product that contains lye and really would affect the seasoning.

But detergent is synthetic, and synthetic detergents are non-soap washing and cleaning products.

So, unless a person is talking about soap, the natural product, it’s hard to make a case for not using detergent by saying it will ruin your seasoning.

The second reason is there are better ways to clean cast iron.

What are they?

Better Ways to Clean a Cast Iron Pan
  1. Kosher salt – either alone, with a little water, or a bit of oil. I agree kosher salt is an excellent way to clean cast iron, and sometimes that how I clean my pan.
  2. Chainmail – metal chain links that look like medieval armor, and are designed for scrubbing. This method usually involves water. And once again, I agree that chainmail does an excellent job at cleaning stuck-on food.
  3. Hot pan, hot water – while your pan is still hot or by reheating it (if it has cooled down), run it under hot water. This, too, is a method I use for cleaning my cast iron.
  4. Boil water and a stiff brush – in this method, you boil about an inch of water in your pan and use a stiff brush to get your pan clean. I have never used this method, but I imagine it will work as long as you don’t let the water boil for too long.
  5. Wipe it out with a paper towel – if all you have is some leftover oil and loose residue, all you need is a paper towel (no water). I’m not sure I feel comfortable with this method and am not recommending it.
  6. A plastic scraper, a sponge or brush, and hot water – scrape out any residue, rinse in hot water and use the sponge or brush to wipe any oil or food that is left. This is my first option always, except when I also use soap.

As you can see, there are several ways to clean your cast iron pans without using soap.

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  • Soap will ruin your seasoning (but only if you’re using the natural product)
  • There are better ways to clean your cast iron pan
  • Why would you use detergent if other methods are better?

Cleaning Your Cast Iron skillet? Don’t Use Soap and Water

Final Thoughts

If you have been thinking, “Should I start using soap on my cast iron pans?” hopefully, reading this has helped you decide.

There are many ways to clean cast iron pans. And sometimes, one way works better than another, depending on the condition your pan is in after cooking.

But, does that mean soap (or detergent) can’t be one of the ways?

I say it can.

On the other hand, as with many things involving cast iron, it is a matter of preference and opinion.

When I started using cast iron, I always used soap because Lodge said it was okay.

However, as I did more research, I concluded that I didn’t always need to use it.

And if you read more from Lodge’s website, you realize they also say soap isn’t necessary all the time.

But they are quick to let you know it’s okay.

How do you clean your cast iron pans?

Do you ever use soap?

Be sure to let me know in the comment section below.

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