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Cleaning your cast iron skillet: A how-to guide

If you’ve been delaying cleaning your cast iron skillet, don’t delay anymore and discover how to do it the right way.

Published Jun 07, 2024
4 min. reading time
image of washing a skillet with a sponge

When it comes to cookware, there aren’t many things as widely loved as a cast iron skillet. 

They’re remarkably versatile — you can use them for literally anything — as a frying pan, wok and pie dish to even being able to handle open-fire cooking in a pizza oven. 

Plus, they’re super durable and can last a lifetime if looked after properly. But how do you look after a cast iron skillet properly? 

Dive into this guide and discover how to clean, season and store your cast iron skillet to make it your best friend in the kitchen for decades to come. 

Read more: Dirty oven? Discover how to get it from grubby to brand-new in 5 easy steps

Top cast iron cleaning products

Modular Palm Pot Scrub Brush
Modular Palm Pot Scrub Brush
OXO Good Grips Cast Iron Brush​
OXO Good Grips Cast Iron Brush​
$11.99 at Amazon
dawn dish soap
Dawn EZ-Squeeze Ultra Dish Soap Dishwashing Liquid
$3.94 at Walmart
6 steel wool balls
6 Pack Stainless Steel Wool Scrubber
$5.49 at Amazon

How often should you clean your cast iron skillet?

It depends on your personal preference. We tend to clean after every use — but how you clean it depends on how dirty it is. 

If your skillet is only lightly soiled, we suggest cleaning it by wiping it down or using some light soap and warm water. 

For tougher dirt, we recommend using a steel wool scrubber or scraper and  reseasoning your skillet.

cast iron skillet on counter
Photo: Sherelyn Goh

A step-by step guide to cleaning your cast iron skillet

Step 1: Cool down your skillet

After cooking with your skillet, let it cool down naturally before doing anything — placing it in cold water while it’s hot can potentially warp the skillet and can even cause thermal shock (which can crack your skillet, completely ruining it). 

However, don’t leave it too long if there is a lot of food residue stuck, as it will become harder to remove the longer you leave it. 

Step 2: Remove food residue

Once your skillet has completely cooled, use a wooden spoon, spatula or dedicated scraper to remove any stuck-on bits of food. Ensure you’re going over the entire skillet, including the sides.

For any stubborn bits of food residue, use a stiff bristle dish brush or tool designed for cast iron, which will help remove the tougher residue. These dedicated tools won’t damage the cast iron or seasoning of the skillet, so don’t worry about scratches. 

If you’ve got residue that is baked on, we suggest opting for a steel wool or abrasive scrubber, which will strip any leftover food. It will also strip the seasoning, so you’ll need to reseason if you decide to use these tools. 

Step 3: Rinse with hot water

Now, simply take your skillet and rinse it under hot running water. The running water, along with your scrubber of choice will help loosen and remove those last few stubborn bits of food residue that you might not have even seen.

While many people recommend not using dish soap on cast iron since it can strip the seasoning, it’s actually ok to use a small amount without needing to re-season your skillet. If you do use a lot of soap (like when you’re doing the regular washing up), you will need to re-season your skillet after. 

cleaning cast iron skillet with sponge
Photo: Sherelyn Goh

Step 4: Dry completely

Dry your skillet with a clean, dry towel, ensuring you’re absorbing all the moisture on the interior and exterior. 

This step is essential, so if you want to be 100% sure you’ve removed all the moisture, place the skillet back on the stovetop over low heat for a few minutes to ensure it’s entirely dry. 

Step 5: Oil your skillet

Once completely dry, you need to apply a thin layer of oil to the skillet to protect the surface and maintain the seasoning layer.

Pour a small amount of oil onto a paper towel and rub it evenly over the skillet, ensuring that every inch is covered, including the outer walls and handle. 

We typically opt for a high-smoke-point oil like flaxseed, canola or vegetable, which will ensure  the next step works more efficiently. 

Step 6: Heat to season

Now, put the skillet back on the stovetop over low to medium heat. Keep it there for a few minutes until it starts to smoke lightly. 

This helps the oil penetrate and bond with the skillet's surface and it forms a protective layer, which enhances the skillet's non-stick coating and even prevents rust — ultimately increasing the lifespan of your cast iron skillet. 

Step 7: Cool down and store away

Once you’ve heated your skillet and the oil is absorbed, allow it to cool down fully before storing it away.

We recommend storing it with a paper towel or cloth inside the skillet to absorb any leftover moisture and prevent rust — it’s also for this reason we suggest not storing it next to a dishwasher or sink.

cast iron skillet with kitchen towel laid inside
Photo: Sherelyn Goh

Products you'll need

If you’re a fan of eco-friendly cleaning products, then we recommend this scrub brush from Zero Waste Outlet. 

Available in heavy-duty and regular bristle versions, this is the ideal option for every household and situation. And with this one, you can keep the handle and just replace the worn-out bristles when needed.

We like this brush from OXO that’s specifically designed to clean your cast iron cookware. 

It’s tough on food residue while preserving the seasoning, and we love that it can be used on both smooth and ridged cooking surfaces, making it ideal for everyone with a lot of cast-iron cookware.

If you choose to use dish soap on your cast iron, we suggest opting for this one from Dawn. 

We like that it has no scent (who wants their cookware smelling like lemons?), and is relatively tough on that hard-to-remove residue — making your life easier in the long run.

6 steel wool balls
Photo: Amazon

For more stubborn food residue, a steel wool scrubber may just be the last resort. 

They’re pretty much guaranteed to get the job done and they’re versatile, so it’s something we’d always recommend having in the house, whether you’re cleaning tools, grills or even furniture.

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Prices updated on 06/07/2024. We are not responsible for any changes to the prices mentioned above.

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Written by
Phoebe Davenport

A book aficionado, you will always be able to rely on Phoebe Davenport for the best book recommendations. On the weekend, you’ll probably find Phoebe at a bottomless brunch in London, at a museum, or chilling at home with her two cats.