Is It A Good Idea To Clean Your Cast Iron Pan With Soap?

From searing meats to whipping up a batch of cornbread, skilled home cooks swear by their cast iron pans. They also know those trusty pans need to be scrubbed thoroughly to remove gunk left behind after a good meal, but they have to be cleaned gently to protect their all-important seasoning. Is it a good idea to use soap to tackle that task? Yes, it's absolutely fine. 

In the past, the advice was to avoid cleaning pans with soap. Of course, that's back when many types of cleaning powders and soaps contained lye, which can remove the seasoning from a cast iron pan. So, unless you're cleaning a really dirty piece of cast iron that will need to be seasoned again once you're done, avoid using products with lye. 

There are several effective ways to clean cast iron. One is to create a scrub using salt mixed with a little water and work it around the pan with a brush, or you can use half of a potato as a scrubber instead. You can also try using a chainmail scrubber, which can remove stuck-on food without scratching the protective surface layer. But for regular, day-by-day cleaning, dish soap is both convenient and safe.

The easy way to clean cast iron pans with soap

While some naysayers still discourage the use of anything sudsy on cast iron, there's really no reason why you can't use a smidge of liquid dish soap to help get your skillets nice and clean. Letting it sit filled with warm to hot water for a few minutes and then loosening any stuck-on food with a plastic scraper is a good place to start.

You can also let water simmer on the stove for a bit if the grime is stubborn, before moving the pan to the sink. Then add a drop or two of liquid dish soap and scrub the pan gently with a brush to get it clean. After a good rinse with water to remove all the soapy residue, dry your pan thoroughly with a soft cloth or paper towel to keep rust from forming. Then, when completely dry, coat it with a bit of cooking oil to preserve the seasoning before stowing it away.

Things to avoid when cleaning cast iron

Keep in mind that there are a couple of things you'll want to avoid when cleaning cast iron — the first one is the dishwasher. The harsh cleaning agents in dishwashing detergents, combined with a lengthy wash cycle, will remove the seasoning from your pan. It's also very likely that your pan will develop rust if you wash it in the dishwasher. Stick to hand washing for the best results whether you decide to use soap or not.

When hand washing, you'll also want to skip the steel wool pads for scrubbing. While chain mail scrubbers gently remove cooked-on grime, using a wool scouring pad will scratch the surface and remove the seasoning from your cast iron, creating more work for yourself in the long run. Using soap with a soft sponge or brush is a better alternative. If you take good care of your cast iron pans, by washing and storing them correctly, they should be as good as new for many years to come.