Cast iron is widely popular cookware because of its durability and nonstick qualities. It achieves these characters through its layers of seasoning that build up through each use and every oil application. Since cast iron is so durable, can you use steel wool to clean it when it has stuck-on food?
Steel wool is not recommended for regular use on cast iron as it can remove the seasoning layers from the surface. Steel wool is the ideal material for stripping old seasoning or removing rust. Salt and a non-abrasive cloth or chain mail scrubber are recommended for daily cleaning.
The rest of this article will discuss the effects of steel wool on cast iron, including removing the seasoning and rust from the cookware’s surface. I will also cover the best method of cleaning cast iron to protect the seasoning layers. Finally, I will discuss what you should avoid when washing your cast iron to prevent damage to its surface.
Steel wool is known for removing some of the toughest stuck-on food messes on cookware. It works best on the most durable surfaces, so you would think it would be safe to use on cast iron.
When you stop and think about your cast iron, it seems like it could withstand anything, but what about that special seasoning you must maintain? Since that seasoning is a layer on top of the cast iron, steel wool should affect it.
Let’s look at what steel wool can do to the surface of cast iron.
One of the features of cast-iron cookware is the built-up seasoning layers that form from continued use of the pans, which help make them so durable. While it’s not hard to season cast iron, you shouldn’t have to repeatedly start the process from scratch.
Using steel wool during routine cleaning of your cast iron can remove the built-up layers of seasoning. Loss of these layers can result in your high-quality pan sticking while cooking and rusting.
There may be times when you do need to strip and reseason your cast iron, such as when the seasoning becomes flaky or dull. In these situations, steel wool is the perfect choice for the job.
You can use the following steps to scour and reseason your cast iron:
- Using soap and water, heavily scrub the cast iron with steel wool to remove all the old seasoning.
- Dry the cookware thoroughly.
- Evenly coat the pan with smokeless oil, removing excess oil with a paper towel.
- Place the pan in the oven upside down at 500 degrees for one hour.
- Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely.
Once you complete these steps, your cast iron should be ready for regular use and maintenance.
Through neglect and improper care, cast iron can become rusty. Rust occurs because the cookware has been exposed to too much moisture. This can happen when you soak your cast iron in the sink or wash it in the dishwasher.
To restore your cast iron, you must thoroughly remove the rust from its surface. Like removing old seasoning, steel wool is an excellent option for rust removal. Simply scour the surface with steel wool, soap, and water. Using steel wool and soap is completely okay because you will immediately follow it with seasoning.
Watch this video for a demonstration of how to remove rust and reseason your cast iron:
While steel wool makes an excellent tool to strip cast iron of old seasonings or rust, it is not an ideal material for daily maintenance of your cookware. So, let’s explore the best way to maintain your cast iron.
Now that we have eliminated steel wool as a contender for routine maintenance and care of cast iron, you must be wondering how you get those stuck-on bits of food off your pan.
Cast iron may be durable, but it takes a particular cleaning routine to maintain its unique layers of seasoning. This routine is very different than what you do to care for your standard pots and pans, which involves a lot of soap and water.
For the best results, you’ll want to stick to the following plan and avoid the things that can damage your cookware’s protective coating.
Proper Steps to Clean Cast Iron
The most important step to maintaining cast iron is cleaning it immediately after use and not letting the food cool onto the surface.
You can follow these eight easy steps to clean your cast iron the next time you cook:
- While the pan is still warm, drain any residual liquids and wipe the inside. Doing this while it’s still slightly heated will allow easier removal of most of the food residue.
- Rinse the pan with warm water. Adding cold water to a heated cast iron pan can damage it, so you will want to avoid doing this.
- Add salt to the bottom of the pan with a small amount of water. Coarse kosher salt works best as it has the most abrasive properties.
- Using either a chain mail scrubber sponge or a towel that you are not concerned about ruining, scrub the salt around the inside of the pan. Remove any stuck-on food particles.
- Thoroughly rinse the pan. Make sure all of the salt and food pieces have been removed.
- Wipe it dry with a paper towel. Using the burner on the stove, heat the pan until it is fully dry.
- Using a paper towel, add smokeless oil to the inside of the pan while it is still on the burner. Flip it over and add the oil to the bottom of the pan.
- Allow the pan to cool thoroughly. You should have a nicely coated pan ready to be used the next time you cook.
For an example of the cleaning process, you can watch this video:
It’s essential to clean your cast iron every time you use it. Proper maintenance will continue to build the seasoning layers, keeping the pan’s surface protected.
What to Avoid When Cleaning Cast Iron
Now that you know what to do, it’s essential to know what not to do. A couple of things should be avoided when maintaining your cast iron.
As I mentioned, cast iron can rust when exposed to too much moisture, which can be anything from soaking it in the sink to washing it in the dishwasher. You must avoid using excess water at all costs when handling cast iron unless you intend to strip the cookware.
While this may sound counterproductive to cleaning anything, you should avoid using soap when washing your cast iron. Soap can cause a breakdown of the seasoning, which can lead to rust or the repeated need for fully reseasoning your cookware. You’ll notice that soap was not mentioned once in the steps discussed previously for cleaning cast iron.
The Bottom Line
Cast iron provides a distinctive way to cook with fantastic flavor and nonstick qualities, providing you care for your cookware the right way.
For the most part, you should avoid using steel wool on your cast iron. You should only scrub your cookware with an abrasive scrubber when you intend to strip and reseason it. Following this guideline will help protect the layers of seasoning as they build up on your cast iron.