Is it True You Can’t Wash a Cast Iron with Soap?

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Last Updated on June 10, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

soap on cast iron

Cast iron is a type of cookware that often scares people. It seems like it is a lot of work to care for, and if you’ve never used cast iron, the idea of caring for these amazing pans can be daunting. Or, so you thought.

One of the most common myths about cast iron cookware is that it cannot be washed with soap. While that is true in some respects, it isn’t the full story. It is better stated that soap should only be used on your cast iron cookware in certain circumstances. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the times that you will want to use a bit of soap to clean your cast iron cookware.

1. Restoring Cast Iron

One of things that people really love about cast iron is that it lasts a long time. Some cast iron cookware is handed down from generation to generation. If your parents or grandparents haven’t given you the gift of cast iron, then you should check out your local antique store or thrift store, they often have a nice collection of cast iron cookware. 

However, the problem with buying old cast iron from thrift or antique stores is that they are often not in good condition. We’ve purchased a few pieces from our local antique store, that were unique finds, but they were rusted, and really dirty. In this situation, it is necessary to wash your cast iron with soap, because you’ll need a little something extra to get rid of rust, and to sanitize your pans. 

Also, when you’re restoring an older pan, it is helpful to break down a bit of the seasoning layer, to eliminate any weird tastes and to freshen up your new, “old” cast iron cookware.

2. That Gross Taste

One of the disadvantages of using cast iron is that the seasoning layer can hold onto flavors. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and some people love all of their meals to taste like bacon, for some of us, we’d just rather taste the food we’re cooking.

If you’ve recently cooked a food that has a strong taste, you may find that the flavor has stuck around and is making your other meals taste wrong. In this instance, using a little soap when you wash your cast iron will get rid of that funky taste. We find that this is especially useful when cooking things like fish or organ meats that have a strong flavor that can linger.

It is important that we reiterate the statement about how much soap to use. Dish soap is really effective at breaking down grease, with just a drop or two. If you need to kill a funky taste in your cast iron skillet, use a drop of soap, and not much more. Using too much soap will leave you with a different type of taste in your cast iron.

3. Fresh and New

Just like any other new cookware, dishware or flatware, you do want to thoroughly clean your cast iron if you’ve bought a piece that is brand new. New cast iron will have residues from the manufacturing process, not to mention junk from the packaging. And really, you never know who touched that pan before you bought it, so you do want to give any brand new cast iron cookware a good scrubbing before you use it.

The nice thing about buying a new piece of cast iron cookware is that it is free of funky tastes, and you can build the perfect level of seasoning on your cookware. Some new cast iron comes “pre-seasoned” but you still want to wash it before you cook with it. It’s just a good habit, and it is really important for sanitary food preparation.

4. Tips for Washing Your Cast Iron

Washing your cast iron cookware doesn’t have to be as scary as it may seem. Don’t worry about harming your cookware, cast iron is really resilient, and if you do over wash, remember that all you need to do is re-season, with or without an oven and you’re ready to cook. To help make washing your cast iron a successful process here are some helpful hints.

  • Pick the right soap. If you need to wash your cast iron cookware, whether it's because it needs to be restored, or you’ve got a funky flavor going on, you do need to use a quality soap. Our preference is regular Dawn dish soap. It has minimal fragrance and works well with just a drop or two (depending on how dirty your cast iron is). If you don’t want to use our favorite, pick a product with minimal fragrance and skip soaps with moisturizers.
  • Try scrubbing before you use soap. Sometimes, all you need to fix a cast iron pan, is a little elbow grease. The best options here are a little bit of fine steel wool or a dish sponge with a scrubbing pad attached. These are gentle yet effective ways to remove stuck on foods from your cast iron.
  • Dry with paper towels. This isn’t a must-do, but cast iron can be grimy and you don’t want to ruin good kitchen towels with cast iron residue.
  • Season with mild oils. If you do have to use some soap on your cast iron cookware, you will need to re-season the pan. Select a mild oil, like vegetable or canola. These oils don’t have a distinct flavor so they are perfect for seasoning your cast iron.

Jim Bob

Author: Jim Bob

Final Thoughts

Cast iron is great cookware. It is durable and lasts a long time. Once you pick a cast iron pan, it will quickly become your favorite. Cast iron also comes with a lot of myths about care and use. 

Using soap is one of those myths that can be confusing. In general, our recommendation is to avoid using soap as much as possible. But, if your cast iron cookware needs a bit of work, don’t be afraid to use a little soap, to get your favorite pan back into shape.