If you’ve ever shied away from cooking with a cast iron skillet because it seems more complicated than trigonometry to clean, I understand. It wasn’t until I watched my MIL simply rinse and dry her cast iron skillet like any other normal cookware that I realized maybe I had been overthinking it. It’s true. Some of the instructions associated with cleaning a cast iron skillet seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be, so I’m going to break down how I do it every single night since I exclusively cook on my cast iron pan, and hopefully, it helps!
Quick note: the steps below are for raw or traditional cast iron pans only. Different instructions would be for enameled cast iron. (See Raw Vs. Enameled Cast Iron Here.)
Step 1: Cook with a well-seasoned cast iron pan.
The better your seasoning layer, the easier it will be to cook on and clean your cast iron pan. If you notice your pan is more difficult to clean than usual, it may be time to re-season it.
Step 2: Clean Right Away or Reheat Pan
It’s always easier to clean a cast iron when it’s pretty hot. Typically I can run it under hot water and get 90% of the residue off and barely need to scrub it at all (again if it’s well seasoned.) So, if you aren’t able to clean your pan right away (I get it. I’m a mom to almost three kids, four and under), get it really, really hot before your initial attempt at cleaning.
Step 4: Use The Right Tools
No soap in a raw cast iron pan because it breaks down the oil-based seasoning layer you’ve built up. So then, my question was always, how do you sanitize? Remember sanitizing isn’t always the same as cleaning (removing debris.) But you don’t need soap to sanitize. You need REALLY, really, really hot water. And also the drying process (step 5) will also sanitize the skillet as well. So don’t worry. Your pan will be sanitized and cleaned of debris without the use of soap!
I swear I’ve used every cleaning product known to Amazon for cast iron cleaning, and the Full Circle Tenacious C Cast Iron Brush and Scraper with Bamboo Handle – Skillet Scrubber with Tough Nylon Bristles, Grey, One Size, Gray is my absolute favorite product.
This brush is my number one go-to cleaner for my cast iron skillet. A hot skillet plus hot water plus this brush is often all I need to clean my skillet. 99% of the time, it’s really just that easy. (When it gets harder than that, I make sure to re-season right away.)
Occasionally I need to utilize stainless steel scrubbers on a spot-cleaning basis only. I don’t like utilizing these as my main cleaning method because I find them harsh, and they seem to break down the seasoning layer quicker. But, on occasion, I do utilize them for something more stuck on.
Step 5: Dry Thoroughly
I use a paper towel to dry my skillet because sometimes a dark residue will be left on the skillet. This initially freaked me out as I thought I was cleaning or sanitizing my skillet properly. In fact, it was the number one reason I thought I was doing something wrong with my cast iron skillet.
However, from the Lodge website: “Occasionally, when your seasoning works a little too hard with acidic foods or really high heat, you may notice some dark residue on your towel when cleaning. This is perfectly safe and normal and will go away with regular use and care.”
However, some people say you shouldn’t use paper towels (for seasoning or drying because it leaves lint behind.) I haven’t had this issue, though.
After the skillet is dry, set it on the oven top and set the heat to medium-high. Let heat for 3-5 minutes or until completely dry. This removes any chance that it will rust.
Step 6: Add Protective Oil Base
I use a paper towel (again, I haven’t had the lint issue, but those who do could try rags or ripped-up brown paper bags) to add a thin oil coat to protect the pan so it’s ready for cooking the next time. Some people call this seasoning, but since you aren’t baking it and creating a polymerized layer, you aren’t technically seasoning it. But you are conditioning, protecting, and prepping it for its next use.
Step 7: Store In Dry Place
I have a double oven, so I store my heavy cast iron skillet in the lower double oven. This works out really well because it’s easily accessible, it’s dry and easy to move from there to the oven top.
What to Do If Nylon Brush + Hot Water Isn’t Enough?
I can’t stress this enough, but if those two products plus a hot pan and hot water don’t get your pan clean, please, please, please re-season it immediately. If you are still having problems, you may want to read my post on selecting the best-cast iron pan. I’ve found it infinitely easier to use a pan that had a great pre-seasoned base than not. But let’s say that you burn the H E double hockey sticks out of something. It happens. What do you do?
Keep in mind that even though these will work and they won’t deteriorate your seasoning layer like soap, they will still likely remove some of it and cut into it. If you have to intensely scrub your pan, I would re-season it as soon as possible if you can.
- You can use these scrappers to scrap off as much debris as possible.
- To remove stubborn bits of food, pour 1 cup of coarse kosher salt into the still-warm skillet. Use a clean kitchen rag or paper towel to gently scrub the towel. (Don’t make my mistake of using the steel scrubbers with the salt unless you want to destroy your seasoning layer. It’s way too harsh of a combination. Unless, of course, you’re trying to restore a 30-year-old pan, which most of us aren’t.) Rinse and repeat as needed.
- For heavily rusted pans, the Culina products have wonderful reviews!
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