I Tried a Bunch of Scrubbers for My Cast Iron Skillet — And There Were 2 Clear Winners

published Jul 16, 2021
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Someone scrubbing cast iron skillet.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I have a big collection of cast iron skillets, (non-enameled) Dutch ovens, griddles, and grill pans in a range of sizes, shapes, and vintages. They’re my pride and joy, and I use them for nearly everything. This means that I end up cleaning at least one piece of cast iron on a daily basis.

They’re all pretty well-seasoned at this point, so few things stick. And it’s usually not a problem to just use my usual scrubby sponge (sans soap) and plenty of hot water to get them clean. But every once in a while, I cook something that just doesn’t want to come clean. That’s when I have to reach for a tool that can really scrape off the gunk. The trouble is, I haven’t really had a go-to tool for the job. I’d switch between a scrubby brush, a bamboo scraper, and a scouring pad. They all had their pros and cons and performed about the same. So, I wondered, was there one tool that could beat them all?

I decided it was time to put all the options to the test. I gathered a bamboo scraper, a scouring pad, a chainmail scrubber, a bunch of brushes, and some special sponges. And then I got to work.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How I Tested the Scrubbers

To find out which tool would be the most effective and easiest to use, I tested all of them on the same pan crusted with the same gunk: cooked-on refried beans. Then, I tested them all on a different cast iron skillet crusted with cooked-on scrambled egg. At this point, I had narrowed down my favorites. For my final test, I cooked frozen dumplings, which always leave an oily residue of stuck-on bits from the dumpling wrappers. For each test, I used only hot water and no soap, and I timed how long it took to scrub the pans clean and made notes of how much effort was required. 

In the end, I had to declare a tie!

Chainmail Scrubber

For years, I had heard from other cast iron aficionados that a chainmail “cloth” was the best way to scrub cast iron. But I resisted getting one because I just didn’t like the idea of scraping metal on metal. I thought, Wouldn’t that damage the seasoning? It also seemed silly to have a tool that I couldn’t use on anything else. But after using the chainmail scrubber, I’ve come around to loving it; all of those little metal loops do a great job at scouring, and they don’t mess up the seasoning. (Just be careful not to push too hard!)

While I wouldn’t use it on any of my other pans (nonstick, enameled, or stainless steel), the good news is that it hardly takes up any storage space, so I don’t mind having a tool just for my cast iron. The chainmail rinses clean, and I can even toss it in the dishwasher. And because it’s made with metal, it’s not going to deteriorate anytime soon. I expect I’ll have this for many years to come!

It’s not perfect, though. Because there’s no handle, I have to keep my hands in the super-hot and gross dishwater while using it. (Note to self: Buy more gloves ASAP!) But for incredible durability and effectiveness, chainmail can’t be beat.

OXO Cast Iron Pan Brush

This is the tool I actually look forward to using when scrubbing my pans. Here’s why: The handle makes it comfortable to hold and keeps my hands out of the hot water. The bristles are sturdy and stiff, so they easily scrape up stuck-on gunk. In terms of efficiency, it performed the same as the chainmail during my tests. And because it’s narrow, it really fits into the corners of the pan. The bristles are arranged in little clusters, which make scrubbing grill pans even easier because the clusters can effectively get into the grooves. Plus, it has a plastic scraper at the end to chisel off the toughest stuff!

It’s made of plastic, though, so there’s no way this scrubber will last as long as the chainmail. Most likely, the bristles may get damaged and lose their stiffness over time. But until then, this is a fantastic brush that’s a pleasure to use and gets the job done!

What do you use to clean your cast iron pans? Tell us about it in the comments below.