The Best Way to Clean Your Cast Iron Pans, According to an Expert

The secret lies in this $20 tool.
By Katie Macdonald
January 13, 2021
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Cast iron cookware has a well-deserved reputation for lasting generations. It heats slowly and thoroughly, is tough enough to withstand scratches and scrapes, and easily transitions from searing to baking to frying in one vessel. What's more, the versatile material actually improves over time, forming a natural nonstick seasoning that's even better than chemical coatings. So if you own a cast iron skillet, griddle, or Dutch oven, you want to make sure you're caring for it properly.

Keeping your cast iron clean is probably one of the most important steps in maintaining its longevity. To learn the must-haves for scrubbing our pans, we asked cast iron expert Will Copenhaver for advice. Turns out Copenhaver, who is vice president of marketing and sales at Smithey Ironware Co., swears by just one tool: a chain mail scrubber.

"A chain mail scrubber has long been an insider tool for any cast iron lover," Copenhaver said.  "Metal and metal are friends, and chain mail does a great job of removing stuck or charred-on food without damaging the seasoning on your skillet."

If you've cleaned dishes with a sponge, you can use a chain mail scrubber. Just place your cooled pan under warm to hot water, then rub firmly with the chain mail in a circular motion around the pan. You can even add a little bit of dish soap if you've cooked a very oily recipe, but the simple friction will work on even the toughest baked-on gunk without removing your hard-earned seasoning. You should dry it thoroughly over low heat before storing it, though, to prevent rusting.

Another reason Copenhaver recommends a chain mail cleaner? The knight-favored material is practically as indestructible as your cast iron.

"I like to think of chain mail as a scouring pad that never wears out," he said. "Just throw it in the dishwasher from time to time and you're good to go for years of cleaning."

Copenhaver isn't the only one who considers chain mail to be a 2.0 scouring pad. Amazon's best-selling scrubber is the Ringer, a chain mail cleaner with more than 10,000 five-star ratings.

"I love using my cast iron skillet, but have always hated cleaning it," one user wrote. "I have even had to get rid of a couple in the past because of how dirty they had gotten (my wife refused to eat anything I cooked on it). I got this chain mail scrubber after reading all of the favorable reviews and the first time I used it on my very-used skillet, I got it cleaner than it has been since it was brand new."

Cast iron scrubber prices range from $9 for little cleaners to $40 for larger investments. The Ringer costs just under $22, and Copenhaver's brand, Smithey, sells one for $20. Shop your favorite below to clean your cast iron like a pro.

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: $22 (originally $35); amazon.com

Credit: Courtesy of Smithey

To buy: $20; smithey.com