The 5 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Cleaning Your Cast Iron Skillet

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

Treat it right, and cast iron cookware will last you a lifetime. Literally. In fact, you really can’t ruin it forever; it might take a little elbow grease and some patience, but there’s always a way to bring it back to life.

The real key to making cast iron stand the test of time (and cooking) is knowing the best ways to clean and maintain it.

1. Hot water and coarse salt are all you need.

Complicated as it might seem with all the dos and don’ts, cleaning a cast iron skillet isn’t difficult. Get started while the pan is still warm, using hot water and a sponge, or a mixture of coarse salt and water (along with a stiff brush) to get at any stuck-on food.

2. Yes, you can use soap, and no it won’t ruin your cast iron skillet forever.

Even the folks at Lodge concede that a little bit of dish soap won’t ruin your cast iron pan forever. It’s not the most favorable way to clean cast iron, but it is okay. And if you must use soap, be sure to use a mild detergent and stay away from strong detergents and metal scouring pads.

3. No matter how you clean it, always dry it immediately.

Rust is enemy number one when it comes to cast iron cookware. An important part of maintaining your skillet is keeping rust at bay. A smart way to do this is by always thoroughly drying your skillet immediately after washing.

4. No towel needed! Dry your skillet on a heated stovetop.

Put that dish towel away — there’s an easier (and hands-off) way to dry your cast iron skillet: Dry your skillet over a low flame on the stovetop. It takes about five minutes and will give your pan the thorough drying it deserves.

5. Yes, you can restore even the most rusted skillet.

When you’re staring down a rusted cast iron skillet, cleaning it could look like a seriously daunting task. It might take time, patience, a lot of elbow grease, and more than one cleaning session, but it’s totally doable. Remove the rusted areas with a scouring pad, wash with water and mild soap, thoroughly dry, season, and it’s good as new.