Mike Whitehead says that there are three Dos and two Don’ts when it comes to cleaning cast iron:
Don’t: Soak it in the sink overnight.
Soaking cast iron overnight will only lead to rust, which is the physical breakdown of the surface metal. Once rust forms, the seasoning your cast iron has taken on is completely lost. Once gone, the pan must be scoured to remove the rust, then re-seasoned. This process requires a lot of elbow grease, time, and monitoring. So it’s best if you realize right out of the gate that soaking is a major no-no in the cast iron world.
Don’t: Use the dishwasher.
Putting cast iron in the dishwasher is akin to cleaning your kitchen floor with a power washer full of acid. It is extreme overkill. With a properly seasoned cast iron skillet, food debris and any baked on grease should dissolve easily with simple soap and water. If you find you have a really tough baked-on food situation, don’t be afraid to put the pan on the stove and boil some water in it until the remnants are dislodged from the pan. Under no circumstances should your cast iron be placed in the dishwasher. It will strip it of it’s seasoning and, because dishwashers take so long to dry the dishes, can lead to rust.
Do: Use soap and water.
It’s as simple as that. A tiny bit of dishwashing soap and a bit of elbow grease and you’ve got your pan looking as good as new. Many people are afraid that the use of soap will remove the seasoning from the cast iron–it will, but not enough to make a marked difference and besides, as Whitehead notes in the video, the great thing about cast iron is that you season it as you cook in it. So, the more you use it, the better seasoned it becomes. Think about how non-stick your skillet can be after only a few months of cooking and proper care.
Do: Use a chain-mail scrub pad to remove any food residue.
Yes, chain-mail scrubbers do exist. We recommend this one found here. They’re inexpensive and work wonders when it comes to cast iron. You could also opt for steel-wool, but honestly, the chain-mails scrubber just looks cool. Both products are soft enough that they won’t scratch your cast iron’s surface, but strong enough to remove even the toughest baked on food–think burnt cheese.
Do: Dry it thoroughly.
This is absolutely key. Any moisture left on a cast iron skillet will oxidize and rust the surface metal–leaving you with an unhappy pan. Use a paper towel after washing to thoroughly dry the cast iron. Don’t forget the handle. If you’re a natural worrier, you can even got the extra mile and put it back on the stove over high heat until any residual water is evaporated. As Whitehead says, “We’ve never seen a dry pan rust.” Take that to heart.
Pretty easy right?