Cleaning a cast-iron skillet

We have a skillet which lately seems difficult to clean. We go through the usual cleaning routine with soap and water (and sometimes scouring pads), and consider the skillet clean; but lately we dip a paper towel in cooking oil and rub the surface of the skillet and get a vague black residue! We’ve had the skillet for about 55 years, and used it regularly all that time. Is it age, or are we missing something when cleaning it? :confused:

I don’t ever use soap. A quick scrub with a tbsp or two of salt and then a coating of veg oil and it is good to go. I’d always been told to never use soap due to the porous nature of the metal.

You’ve probably given foodies a good case of the vapours talking about cleaning your cast iron with soap.

When seasoned, a cast iron pan shouldn’t need to be cleaned with anything other than water.

Clean with water - dry - light application of oil. Pan should be good for routine cooking for a long time between seasoning.

If something gets badly burned or for some reason the protective layer of oil and gunk becomes compromised, the pan can be re-seasoned.

A quick google turned up this site. There is no shortage of on-line advice for cast iron care.

The instructions in the link from Critical Mass are good. Note that oil should be applied to a hot pan, not a cold one. Even with a pan that’s not well-seasoned yet, heating first and then applying oil, as opposed to applying oil first and then heating, makes a world of difference in preventing food from sticking.

I just baked one of my skillets today. I made cornbread the other day. Rinsed it in hot water and ran over it with a brush to remove the bread bits. I preheated the oven to 500º (hotter than recommended, but lower than that and the oil gets tacky), wiped it with Crisco, and let it go for a couple of hours. Nice, shiny non-tacky coating on it. It got the same treatment a couple of weeks ago when I last made cornbread, and before that when I made bacon.

This is my ‘go to’ pan. I have another of the same size that is better-seasoned, but I like to use this one because that’s the way you build up the seasoning. So bacon, fried potatoes, cornbread, steak, the prime rib I made for Christmas and the Yorkshire pudding that went with it… This is the pan I use. Hm… You know? Another thread reminded me I need to get some veal. I see Wienerschnitzel in my future.

My mom leaves her cast iron pan on the stove…I would assume she “cleans” it (salts it, whatever) occasionally but it’s a permanent fixture on her stove, and whenever you want a grilled cheese or something heated up or whatever…she just throws it in the pan with a little oil or butter and there ya go. You want one the next day? Well there’s the pan. Knock yourself out. The oil in the pan? That’s “seasoning,” I guess.

No humans have apparently been harmed in the making of these foods…

I’m not a chef, not even a cook, but I clean the skillet with water only, and put it on the burner on medium until it’s dry. Haven’t had to re-season it, and We’ve had it at least as long as we’ve been married - 10 years.


My grandmother’s skillet (a wedding present in 1922) is still in daily use and is never cleaned with anything rougher than a nylon ‘doobie’ and hot water - as noted never with soap.

It has a beautiful, natural non-stick coating of carbon.

My mom did the same thing, and I’ve always done the same thing. You dry it by heating it, so it’s sterilized. I’ve never put an iron pan in a cupboard. And I’ve NEVER used soap on one. You damage the seasoning every time if you use soap.

That vague black residue is what you want.

If there’s badly stuck junk, then very hot water and soak. No soap, no scouring pads.

First off, the “EEEEK, don’t EVVAH wash cast iron with soap” stuff is a pretentious fetish. You normally do not need to use soap to clean a cast iron pan, and doing so will make it more likely to stick and to cook less wonderfully for a couple iterations, but it does it no permanent damage. After cleaning with soap and skritchy-pad (if need truly be), dry it, stick it on the burner, heat it up, pour a tbsp of veg oil in it, let it get hot so it spreads out, then wipe it all around the interior, coat it good. Repeat next few times you cook. Good as new.

Even doing the unmentionable — brillo pad, scraping the poor pan all the way down to greyish-white semi-shiny iron — is not the death of the pan. (I would say EEEK and some other, harsher, things at that point though). Its nontrivial but you can restore a frying pan unto which this has been done.

Ultimately, it’s iron. It’s not spectacularly fragile. You have to really work at it to truly destroy a cast iron frying pan.

Is coating it with oil after every use the same as “seasoning” the pan? I just got one as a gift and I haven’t used it yet because I’m a little nervous about killing it. My skillet says “pre-seasoned” on the label - do I need to do anything fancy before I can cook stuff in it?


Seasoning is the process of building up a proper coating on the pan. Applying oil and heating the pan are steps in that process.

You won’t kill it, but missteps will delay the seasoning process.

Nothing fancy, but before each use it’s best to heat up the pan, then apply oil, then cook. Avoid acidic foods before it’s well-seasoned.

Clean it after use as advised in this thread and in Critical Mass’s link. My suggestion for cleaning if food gunk is stuck to it: heat the pan (medium-low), pour a bit of hot water into it (it will sizzle), then scrub the remaining gunk off with a plastic scrubber while rinsing in hot water. I’ve sometimes used a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil as a scrubber, but plastic is probably a better choice for a not yet fully seasoned pan.

Telecommuting day, so I decided to make myself a proper breakfast. I bought a fajita pan at a yard sale for $2 a year or to ago, and decided to use it for some sausage. The previous owner followed the ‘do not wash’ method, and it had some dried-on egg in the eye of the handle. I did wash it when I got it and baked it with oil. Having not used it, I washed it again yesterday (no soap) and greased it up and heated it.

Something occurred to me. This isn’t a very big pan. Do restaurants really cook fajitas in them? Or are the fajitas cooked in a larger batch and then a serving is thrown into the fajita pan just for the sizzle at the table? It just seems too small to be used to actually cook fajitas.

I think this will become my grilled cheese sandwich pan.

Exactly. I use soap all the time on my cast iron skillets. Not a problem when the pans have been fully seasoned (i.e. aren’t new out of box, light gray raw iron). I wouldn’t toss one in the dishwasher or leave it in a sink full of water, but there’s absolutely zero problem with washing them as you would any other bit of cookware given the above caveats.

Seasoning is an on-going process, anyway, according to my own experience – a pan is seasoned by use and time, not just an initial burn-in of fat on the pan, and the seasoning will always degrade through time, use, and heat. Why fight it?

My worry about using soap is that it would wash off the oil coating, and make it rust. As it is, I just dump a little coarse salt and rub it down with a paper towel.

I use salt and a paper towel.

Actually it’s neither. A pan that has never been washed with a detergent and has been cared for properly will, over time, have a far superior surface than one that has. Nothing pretentious or fetishist about it.

I use light soap sometimes on my cast iron, and even hit it with the scrubby side of a kitchen sponge. Of course, I heat on the stove, and hit with a bit of oil prior to storage. Storage is either on the stove top, or in the bottom drawer of the oven (but it usually doesn’t stay there long).

I have cast iron skillets in various sizes from 6" to 18", all of which outperform all of my other pans. For really sticky things, like eggs, I do use teflon though. For nearly everything else, cast iron.

It took me a while to build up a good seasoning, but once you get a few years of use on them, a proper “reseason” usually isn’t required, unless you screw up royally. (Like leaving it on the stove to “dry,” and walking away and forgetting it. That tends to set the seasoning back a bit. I usually just go and cook some good oily food in it for it’s next few uses.)

Keep highly acidic foods, like tomatoes out of your pans until you’ve got that good seasoning on them.)