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Is It OK to Use Soap on Cast Iron?

Let’s end the debate about how to clean cast-iron cookware, once and for all.

Published Feb. 14, 2022.

I’ve been professionally testing and writing about cast-iron cookware for more than 15 years. I’ve been cooking in cast-iron and caring for these pans even longer. And I’m constantly reading contradictory advice about the best way to take care of cast iron.

So here you go, once and for all: Yes, you can use soap on cast iron. 

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Will soap ruin cast iron?

Using soap will not ruin your pan. It is totally fine on enameled cast iron, and on plain cast iron, too. It’s not going to destroy your seasoning. With enameled cast iron, you’re done: Wash and dry. With plain, uncoated cast iron, follow up by very lightly oiling that clean, dry pan and heating it until the oil bonds to the cast-iron surface.

Many sources explain that soap is OK because today’s dish soap (like our favorite from Mrs. Meyer's) is gentler than it used to be. That may be true, but it’s not really the point. Once your pan is well seasoned, a little dish soap isn’t going to make a difference. 

That said, in my house I only very rarely use soap on my cast-iron pans. I’d much rather use the natural oils and fats left in the pan after cooking to season my pan. 

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If there’s a lot of oil and food residue after cooking, I wipe it out with a paper towel, then rinse the pan well under the hottest tap water, scrubbing it clean with a long-handled scrub brush (our favorite is by O-Cedar). And by the way, this takes only a few seconds in a well-seasoned pan. Everything slides off.

Then I wipe the pan dry and put it back on the stove on medium, continuing to wipe the surface a few times if any oil beads up. The point is to let a super tiny—nearly undetectable—amount of oil heat up and bond smoothly to the pan surface.

The pan is likely to smoke a bit as the oil bonds, and that’s OK. The pan should end up looking smooth, matte black—never oily, shiny, lumpy or sticky. I shut off the heat and leave the pan there to cool. 

And that’s it. Not a big production, and done very quickly while I clean up the rest of the kitchen.

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Is the pan still dirty if you don’t use soap?

No. If you heat your skillet after wiping it out and rinsing it, the bacteria can’t survive that heat. There is no food or moisture left, either. Everything is clean and dry.

But: If I ever wanted to use a few drops of soap to break up and remove excess oil, I would. It wouldn’t harm or strip the natural nonstick surface of my well-seasoned cast iron.

So, bottom line: If it makes you feel better, do it. It certainly doesn't hurt. But you don’t have to.

Photo: Tasakorn Kongmoon / EyeEm, Getty Images

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