Yes, You Should Be Washing Your Cast-Iron With Soap and Water

cast iron skillet cleaning
Why You Should Wash Cast Iron With Soap and WaterGetty Images

If you, like us, have to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare yourself to cook with your beloved cast-iron skillet, a man named Chris Wing, who’s better known on social media as @Cast_Iron_Chris, is about to change your life. He believes that the best and most efficient way to clean cast-iron cookware is with—wait for it—soap and water. “Contrary to what you may have heard from your grandmother, it’s absolutely safe to clean your cast iron with soap. In fact, I highly encourage it,” he says.

Now, to anyone who isn’t familiar with cast iron, that may not seem like a mind-blowing revelation—especially since we use soap and water to clean pretty much all of our other pots and pans. Cast iron is different, though. Until we watched this video of Wing calmly cleaning his cast-iron collection with soapy water, we were strictly following the cast-iron “rules,” if you will. They are as follows:

  1. Remove food particles that may be stuck to the cooking surface with coarse salt and water. You can also simply boil water in the pan and wait for the food particles to loosen.

  2. Thoroughly dry the skillet with paper towels or a microfiber cloth or over low heat on the stovetop.

  3. Oil the skillet using vegetable oil or melted shortening. (This is key and usually the most annoying part of the cleaning process.) Dip the corner of a paper towel into the oil and move it around every inch of the skillet, including the handle and outside surface.

  4. Let the oil absorb before you put the skillet away.

That process isn’t wrong, but it does take a long time—time we’d rather spend on our own nighttime routines. If you want to clean your cast-iron cookware the traditional way, go right ahead. But if you want to cut down on time and materials, soap and water work just fine, according to Wing. The soap won't actually affect or ruin the seasoning.

“There are many reasons people believe that soap will ruin their cast iron, but the biggest driver of this myth is that people misunderstand what seasoning actually is on their cast iron,” Wing says. “In cast iron’s case, seasoning has nothing to do with flavor; it’s just a protective barrier. Cast iron is often admired for its dark patina, but casted iron is naturally grey. It’s the seasoning that gives it that dark appearance.”

As for the seasoning itself, here's how Wing suggests getting it just right: “Rub oil all over the cast iron, wipe off the excess oil, and put it in your oven for an hour. In the oven, the liquid oil goes through a process called polymerization and turns that liquid oil into a protective barrier on the cast iron.” Well, there you have it.

Another myth Wing wants to debunk is the one that suggests cleaning must be done using salt. In one of the videos he posted to Instagram, he says that cleaning cast iron with salt is “stupid!” Not for the reason you think, though. It’s not that salt doesn’t work; it just makes cast-iron skillets seem much more high-maintenance than they are.

Here’s how Wing cleans his cast-iron pieces:

  1. Use warm water, dish soap, and a sponge. (“Yes, even the abrasive side of the sponge,” Wing explains.) Clean it like you would any other piece of cookware.

  2. If something is a bit tough to get off the pan, Wing may switch from a sponge to either a plastic or chain mail scrubber.

  3. “Once the pan is clean, I dry it well with a microfiber towel (a paper towel is also fine), and then I heat-dry it by putting it on my stovetop burner for three or so minutes, making sure all the moisture has evaporated.”

  4. Once the pan has cooled down enough that it can be handled safely, he spreads a very thin layer of oil on the cooking surface and wipes off the excess with a clean rag. “Done,” he says.

In another Instagram video, Chris compares a, dare we say, disgustingly crusty cast-iron skillet that was cleaned the traditional way and another using, you guessed it, soap and water, and the results are pretty astounding to say the least. As you can imagine, the one cleaned with soap and water is pristine looking and the other is, well, still pretty gross.

So if you’ve been putting off buying a cast-iron skillet—a piece of heavy-duty cookware that scientifically makes food taste better—because you thought they’re too much to deal with when you’re finished cooking, consider the myths debunked. Now is as good a time as any to invest in a long-lasting cast-iron skillet, griddle, or grill pan. “Your cast iron slowly builds additional layers of seasoning as you use it and cook with it, so the best advice I can give is: Use your skillet often, and keep it clean.”

Follow House Beautiful on Instagram.

You Might Also Like