We’re going to let you in on a secret: Cleaning your trusty cast iron skillet isn’t nearly as complicated as you’ve been led to believe. Yes, you actually can use dish soap and no, it’s not going to rust the second it comes into contact with water. And even better, there’s more than one way to get your cookware sparkling. From the classic (soap) to the unconventional (a potato), here’s how to clean a cast iron skillet so it’s ready for your next meal.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet 3 Ways (Because It’s Really Less Fussy Than You Think)
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How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
With Mild Dish Soap
The easiest way to clean a cast iron skillet isn’t far off from the way you would clean any other pot or pan: with mild dish soap, a non-scratch sponge, water and a little elbow grease. Naysayers will tell you that dish soap will remove the seasoning on your pan, but we can say from years of using this method that folks love to sensationalize. Soap is great at washing away grease and debris, but it’s not going to strip away the polymerized coating of fat that’s chemically bonded to your cast iron. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: When you’refinished cooking with your cast iron pan, wash it with some warm, soapy water and a non-scratch kitchen sponge. Use the scrubby side of the sponge to work on any tough, burnt-on bits—it’s not abrasive enough to ruin the seasoning layer.
Step 2: Rinse the soapy water off the pan, then dry it thoroughly with towels immediately after washing. While the seasoning should protect the pan from rust forming right away, but any droplets of water left standing on the pan can seep their way in over time.
Step 3: To ensure your pan is really dry, you can set it over high heat on the stove to speed up the evaporation of any remaining moisture.
If you’ve scorched something into your cast iron pan that’s beyond the help of a scrubby sponge, you can use salt to clean it off without removing the seasoning.
Step 1: Pour a layer of kosher or coarse salt into the skillet and set it over medium-high heat.
Step 2: Using a sponge or paper towels, carefully scrub the salt into the burnt bits until they loosen from the surface of the pan. (Use a pair of tongs to hold the paper towels if you’re not comfortable with the heat.)
Step 3: Rinse out the salt, wash the pan with soapy water and immediately dry with towels. Warm it over high heat on the stove to make sure it’s completely dry
With a Potato
If you happen to have a stray potato sneaking around your pantry, you can use it to help you in your pursuit of a sparkling clean cast iron skillet. This method is very similar to the salt method above, but it relies on a spud to help scour the pan.
Step 1: Sprinkle a generous amount of coarse salt into the skillet. Cut the potato in half so it fits in the palm of your hand.
Step 2: Place the spud, flat side down, onto the pan and scrub, pretty vigorously, in a circular motion. Once the pan is clean, rinse with water and pat dry, then warm on the stove to remove any remaining moisture.
Plus, a Few Tips for Cleaning Cast Iron (No Matter the Method)
Regardless of the method you choose to clean your cast iron skillet, there are a few universal tips that will help maintain your pan (and that hard-earned seasoning) for years to come.
- Clean it after every use. You just made a gorgeously golden brown skillet pizza. Do not pass go, do not collect $100 and do not put that pan away until you’ve cleaned it. Letting debris sit on the pan, even just overnight, will only make it harder to remove the next time you want to cook with your cast iron, so make it a habit to clean it after every use.
- Clean it while it’s still warm. Let your cast iron cool slightly to avoid burning yourself, but don’t let it go cold before cleaning it. The residual warmth will help you loosen any stuck bits more easily.
- Don’t let it stay wet. As we’ve already established, water isn’t going to cause your pan to rust in the blink of an eye. However, you should never let it stay wet for too long, so instead of setting it on a drying rack, hand-dry it with towels and finish the job over high heat on the stove.
- Prime the pan after you clean it. With proper cleaning, a cast iron skillet shouldn’t lose its seasoning, but priming it with a little oil before you put it away can act as an insurance policy. While you’re removing moisture over the stove, add a small drop of neutral oil (like canola or vegetable oil) and rub it into the pan with paper towels. Continue heating the pan until it starts to smoke, then remove it from the heat and cool it completely.
And 2 Ways You Should Never Clean a Cast Iron Skillet
You know now that the rules of cleaning cast iron aren’t actually that strict…but there are two things that are cardinal sins when caring for your skillet. Luckily, they’re easily avoidable.
- Never soak your cast iron skillet: Remember when we said you shouldn’t let cast iron stay wet? Yep, that means soaking is off the table. It’s basically a one-way ticket to rust town, and no one wants to go there. (We’d argue that soaking isn’t necessary for cleaning any cookware, period, but that’s for another time.)
- Never put cast iron in the dishwasher: Like soaking, dishwashing a cast iron pan is asking for trouble. There’s really no need for it, either, because now you know how to clean with the potato method!
Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.