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Washing cast iron vs. not washing

Hello, all. This is my very first post on the chow boards, but I've been reading them for the last month or so. Basically, I came across these boards when I did a search for seasoning cast iron. My husband just bought me my very first cast iron skillet, last month. I was a complete novice to cast iron. I was raised on Teflon and the like. Last year I threw out all of our nonstick pans and switched to stainless steel. Then I wanted to add a cast iron skillet to my collection, b/c of it's traditional charm. I had no idea that it was supposed to even be nonstick.

Alright, so I got the skillet, and I had read not to use soap, so I did not. I didn't see anything about using a scrubbing pad like Scotch Brite, so I figured I could as long as I didn't use soap. Then one day I realized that the inside of my skillet had turned gray, while the outside was still black. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be like that or not, so I looked online, found these threads, and realized that I had scrubbed the preseasoning off. I have since reseasoned the skillet with lard, and it has a nice, glossy, black finish to it. It is indeed nonstick. I do not use any soap or scrub brushes on my skillet. Most things just wipe right out. I haven't experienced anything getting truly stuck to the pan, yet. I've read a few ways to get that kind of stuff out, though. The one that I'd probably try would be putting water in it and letting the water boil for a little bit on top of my stove, while scraping with my spatula. Someone correct me if that is not a proper way to clean the skillet?

So on to the debate of washing vs. not washing (sorry I had to give a little history before getting to this point). My husband and I just went to visit my inlaws in TN and GA. They've been using cast iron forever. I thought I'd ask them for pointers, since I'm still new to the cast iron world. First off, they all use soap on their skillets. My husband's grandmother even puts her's in the dishwasher sometimes. Second, everyone's skillets did not have the glossy finish that my skillet has. And thirdly, they all said that cast iron is not meant to be nonstick. Umm, is this really the way that cast iron is traditionally used? I've read where people on CHOW have a skillet that is so old, and so seasoned, that they are able to use soap and water. For those of you who do that, do you find that your skillet is not nonstick? Those of you who don't use soap, do you find that your skillet stays nonstick? Is it normal for a skillet to have a dull look to it?

Thanks!

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  1. I've washed my cast iron for decades also. I would not use lard as a seasoning as it is organic and may get rancid. I have never considered real cast iron to be non-stick. Every six years I put my pans through the cleaning cycle in the oven and re-season them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BMartin

      Er??? Ah....hum....what oils would you consider not organic? ALL edible oils can go rancid. Nothing seasoned in i.e, it;s been heated into the pan (not just wiped around) will do that. But hey, I did not know there was an edible NON organic oil out there either......

      1. re: BMartin

        I do use soap and water. My pans are well seasoned and rancidity is not an issue for me, crud build up is. If I do get a lot of crud then a trip through the self cleaning cycle does the trick. I usually do not get crud build up because of the washing, but have occasionally picked up a pan or two at a thrift shop that was totally crusted. In the self clean cycle in my oven they are brought back to life.

      2. If I don't use soap, and just use the salt and papertowel to clean it, it stays slightly shiny and nonstick to the point that I can do eggs in it with just a spray of oil. However if I burn something in it, or cook fish, then I'll use a little bit of dishsoap, dry it over the stove, and wipe a bit of oil on it. It takes a bit more use to return to full nonstick status, but it will eventually.

        I'm in the peanut oil seasoning camp, rather than lard.

        5 Replies
        1. re: mlgb

          Both of you are recommending against lard. Are you suggesting that I strip the seasoning off, and redo it with something else? Or should I just go over it with peanut oil, or another oil? How's olive oil?

          1. re: amselby81

            Keep in mind that if you do decide to season it with peanut oil, you should absolutely never ever use it to cook for anyone with a peanut allergy. It may seem like something that would never come up, but my little 5 year old recently acquired a friend with an extreme peanut allergy, so I'm newly aware of the care required when you meet someone with such a deadly allergy. And I could see it being easy to forget that you seasoned your pan with peanut oil one time twenty years ago, you know?

            I bought a pre-seasoned Lodge about 4 months ago and have reseasoned it a number of times with Crisco and a number of times with olive oil. I prefer the Crisco, myself. Although I find the best is just to cook some bacon or fatty sausage in it. I accidentally scrubbed off the preseasoning on mine the first time cleaning it too, by the way.

            If you're happy with the way it's working, I doubt there's any real reason to strip the lard off. Even if it's a little sticky, it should working itself out after a couple of uses. I'd just wait until you feel like it needs another seasoning to use another oil.

            By the way, I cook fish in mine all the time and still never use soap on it. I don't find it retains any smell or flavor. Although I also keep mine out in the open, with no lid on, so it gets plenty of air.

            1. re: paraque

              Good precaution. I'm allergic to skate. My mom once cut skatefish on a wooden cutting board, washed it thoroughly with soap and cut some vegetables on it for me. I reacted from it from the vegetables as there were probably tiny amounts of skate transferred from the porous cutting board.

              1. re: paraque

                Not to detract from your wise sentiment regarding awareness of allergies, but... most people who are allergic to peanuts are allergic to peanut proteins/solids, not peanut oil. Research for yourself, especially if you have a specific person you are dealing with, but seasoning a pan with standard peanut oil will not cause an allergic reaction in most people (perhaps any people) with peanut allergies.

                Again, not trying to dismiss the care being displayed, just pointing out that peanut oil is different than peanut butter or peanut solids.

                As for the original question...to wash I usually run cold water into them while they are hot (that's NOT for enameled pans) and wipe down. If something has stuck (can happen if I've done something that "dried out" a section of the pan then put a sticky food in the unoiled area) I scrub under running water (while hot) with a bamboo wok scrubber. In either case once clean I usually position them in such a way (hanging, in a rack, or whatever) that they can drip dry or I heat them up again to evaporate any water. If I think it's called for I'll put a little extra oil/cooking spray on the pan before storing.

                I like my cast iron a little smoother than the surfaces usually are so I often sand the inside of new (pre-seasoned non-enamel) pans and re-season. I usually use EV olive oil or sesame oil because those are the only two oils I usually keep on hand...not a big oil person.

              2. re: amselby81

                Use your lard! Oils leave a sticky yellow residue that gets worse with time.

            2. I have to agree with gimmeflavor -- the peanut allergy is not in the oil, but in the solids. I have heard about some issues if you're using a non-commercial peanut oil (something natural, which is cloudy rather than clear, which might contain bits of the solids).

              I have to completely disagree with BMartin -- what oil do you use to season your pan, mineral? All plant and animal fats are organic in nature, thus can go rancid. Although is rendered useless by the fact that the seasoning is carbonized oil -- e.g. it's not oil anymore, thus no unsaturated fatty acids to go rancid via "free-radicals".

              To the OP, in my opinion and experience, a good seasoned cast iron skillet is very smooth, not sticky, and is just about non-stick -- with proper heat application. My small egg skillet is seasoned well enough that when I preheat it properly and add no fat (which happens in the early morning sometimes) my egg does not stick, it's wonderful :) Best of luck, I think you're CI skillet sounds great, besides the sticky part, that's usually a factor of having too much fat on when you try to season it.

              mateo

              1. All this is really simpler than is being portrayed here. First, I don't care what your relatives do or how long they've been doing it, or what any poster here does. You should NEVER wash an iron skillet, or anything made of cast iron (enameled cast iron is another thing entirely, but I assume we are talking about the naked stuff.) Sure, you can wash it, and it won't be the end of the world, it's just that things will then stick to it and what's the point in washing it anyway--do you suppose little green things will grow in there if you don't?

                As to seasoning, there are as many opinions on that as there are folks opining. I doubt the oil or fat you use will make much difference as long as it's edible--just don't use motor oil. The main thing is to heat the pan with the coating of oil until very hot, even burning is OK, then let it cool and wipe once in a while as it cools. In the old days the method was known in the restaurant biz as "burning out the pan." BTW, the same technique is fine for steel omelet pans, steel woks, etc. You can redo this any time if you're getting sticking. Over time, just through use a nice layer of oil will build up and the pan will do its job better and better.

                As to cleaning it, again there are various ways--I'm in the deglaze camp--just heat it up again, then pour in a little water, let it boil like crazy a few seconds, then pour out and wipe. If necessary you can scrape off any particles left. Add a touch of clean oil if that floats your boat, and put it away.

                4 Replies
                1. re: johnb

                  Johnb, even though it's all new to me, I felt that my inlaws' were making their pans "sticky", or not nonstick, b/c they were washing them. Seeing how beautiful my skillet is and comparing it to my inlaws' dull skillets made me think that they were doing something wrong, but who am I to judge them? They've been using cast iron all their lives. That must be the way that the skillets were handed down to them. ::shrugs::

                  I'm not saying that there's a right way and a wrong way to clean an iron skillet. Just saying that they wash theirs, I don't. Their skillets stick, mine doesn't. I just wasn't sure whether all iron skillets end up looking dull whether they're washed or not.

                  Oh, and I definately think that in the case of my father in law washing the pans, it's b/c he's a total germaphobe.

                  1. re: johnb

                    I find that a scrub with hot water removes anything that would be offensive in the pan. As to the pan sticking after being washed with water, that's incorrect. My camp oven, my two dutch ovens and my three skillets are all very non-stick and are washed every time they are used. If anyone wants more info on the science behind seasoning I could provide a description.

                    1. re: rockfish42

                      That would be an interesting contribution. BTW we agree on "washing." As I see it, by itself water really isn't a problem. It's when you add detergent and scrub away, as you would an ordinary pan, that you remove the oil coating and expose the iron, and that is when you get sticking.

                      I see no valid germ-based reason to use detergent to wash a CA pan. There aren't any germs in the first place--germs don't survive the 400 or so degrees F involved in frying, and if they did detergent wouldn't kill them anyway, but germaphobes, and I suppose neat freaks, won't listen to that argument. For them, enameled cast iron is likely the best solution.

                    2. re: johnb

                      Yes, and again yes!

                      Never use detergent in a non-stainless or iron pan. Never.

                      I scour them with steel wool if there's stickies in them and rinse them out, then heat them up on the stove to dry, adding oil when they are at 350F or above. Then they're great, and better with every use.

                      Also, shortening is fine, as is olive oil or any good oil that you would cook with for a hot saute. Sesame, coconut, almond burn at too low a temp.

                    3. Without giving away mine or my mother's ages, I will tell you with complete assurance that you can wash and scrub a well-seasoned cast iron skillet with no ill effects. You can use soap, too, for that matter.

                      Sometimes you cook something that requires a scrubber and soap. Something gummy, something stinky, something burned.

                      It's not like cast iron is Waterford Crystal, for goshsakes.

                      My mother put hers in the dishwasher once or twice and hers looks like a mirror.

                      You MUST dry them completely, though.

                      If it's not well-seasoned, you can still do it, but you may need to touch up the seasoning if you do it a lot.

                      No need to use pricey oils seasoning either. I use Crisco.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        Well, it just shows that experiences and opinions will vary.

                        Here is a link to Lodge's page on seasoning and care.

                        http://www.lodgemfg.com/usecare1.asp

                        They say never to use a (harsh) detergent (harsh detergent--what is that anyway!!). They ought to know.

                        1. re: johnb

                          Harsh detergents are ones that contain abrasives and or have a high pH. Either of those will remove seasoning rather well. For example, a lye bath is the traditional method for removing everything from a cast iron pan. Dish soap has a pH of around 8 on average, Lye is around 13 (there are several different chemicals that are called lye). pH is a logarithmic scale so that's quite a large jump in power.

                          1. re: rockfish42

                            I know that cast iron is not waterford china, and that it is extremely tough. I guess the only way that you can destroy cast iron is if you pour something cold on a really hot skillet. It's my understanding, though, that it's the seasoning that is what's delicate. It's made up of oils, and the reason why it's reccomended not to wash it with dish soap is b/c dish soap is supposed to cut through oil.

                            I understand the concept behind not using dish soap. Just wondered if those who use it have a problem with stuff sticking to their skillets. I know I've said that a few times, it's just that most of the people who said that they use soap, haven't said whether they have those problems or not. They've just said that they do it, and haven't had ill effects. Well by ill effects, does that mean that your seasoning is still nonstick, or does it just mean that it hasn't destroyed your pan. I don't think it'd destroy it, but just might strip the seasoning some.

                            1. re: amselby81

                              The seasoning is really carbon, as opposed to fresh oil. A few drops of dish soap won't really harm a well-seasoned pan. It isn't always necessary but it isn't the end of the world if you use it.

                              1. re: amselby81

                                My skillets do not have the finish of teflon (my mom's do though but she's had hers for 20 years more) but they are very smooth and I have no sticking issues when I cook correctly (as opposed to, say , burning something).

                                I only use soap when I have to -- not each and every time. But I have absolutely no reluctance to do so.

                                I use regular dish soap and a scrubber.

                              2. re: rockfish42

                                Thanks for the scientific explanation, but my point in mentioning it was more along the lines of, "what do they mean when they say harsh? Is the dish detergent in my sink "harsh" or "non-harsh." I'll bet few laymen, such as ourselves, can state one way or the other that, say, Dawn, or Joy, is or isn't "harsh," and both of those come in varying formulations anyway. Nobody I know uses lye for dishwashing. For that matter, I'm sure hardly anybody uses soap either--just about everything is detergent these days, maybe even including Ivory--P&G refers to Ivory as a dishwashing liquid, not a soap, a term they seem to apply only to the bath bars.

                                Bottom line, my advice is don't use detergent ("soap") for washing cast iron. No matter how "mild," it is bound to have a negative effect on the oil coating that makes the pan (somewhat) non-stick, thus compromising its performance. It is not needed to get the pan "clean," and it certainly won't sanitize anything.

                                1. re: johnb

                                  I don't recommend anyone use dish soaps/detergents on their pans as I too find it unnecessary . I hope I didn't ruffle any feathers with my response. My background is in the sciences and I'm working on writing up a bit of a cast iron primer with similarly rigorous information to post here.

                                  1. re: rockfish42

                                    We will await it with great interest.

                              3. re: johnb

                                Well there are those who think Lodge's seasoning instructions are not really very good, so not a surprise that they say don't use detergent, since their seasoning process is incomplete. As I said, once you build up a good layer of seasoning a quick wash with a few drops of dish detergent isn't going to hurt it.