If you’ve recently bought a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, congratulations! These are some of the most versatile pieces in your kitchen. But you want to make sure you know how to take care of them properly for years to come. One question that often pops up is whether it’s safe to use steel wool on cast iron cookware.
Here are a few points to keep in mind before making the decision.
Why do people use steel wool on cast iron?
Steel wool is a type of abrasive that can be used to clean cast iron cookware. It has an advantage over some other methods because it incredibly strong at cleaning cast iron and it does not require any water or detergent, it’s also relatively cheap.
However, it is not always the best choice for cleaning cast iron cookware because of its potential to scratch and damage the surface. It can also create a lot of fine dust, which may not be a problem for the cookware but can cause breathing problems in people who come into contact with it.
Finally, steel wool is strong, which is good, however the strength can rip seasoning straight off if it’s not used carefully. And although this isn’t too much of a problem in terms of damage, it can be extremely inconvenient as re-seasoning takes time.
Can you use steel wool on cast iron for cleaning?
You can use steel wool on cast iron, however there are a couple of things to keep in mind when using it to clean your cast iron cookware, such as pressure and frequency of use.
Steel wool if used incorrectly will strip that seasoning straight off your cast iron, especially if it’s a weak layer of seasoning.
To avoid this, you can use the following practices.
The first best practice is to use it occasionally. Every time you use steel wool to clean cast iron, regardless of how harsh you are with it, you will strip some of the seasoning off. However, if you only use steel wool occasionally, then the seasoning will rebuild faster than it gets stripped off when you cook fatty type foods.
So as long as you are cooking around 5-10 fatty type meals in-between each use of the steel wool, your seasoning should be fine.
In the worst case scenario, you would just have to re-season again, which isn’t too much effort.
I see so many people using steel wool incorrectly when cleaning their cast iron cookware, they always put some elbow grease into it.
Applying a lot of pressure when using steel wool is guaranteed to take your seasoning clean off.
The best way to use steel wool to clean cast iron is to use it lightly, just on those stubborn spots that won’t come off. Everything else should be cleaned with a sponge.
Alternative products for cleaning cast iron
If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably best to avoid using steel wool on your cast iron to clean it frequently, you are right.
So I have compiled a list of some good alternatives to use to clean you cast iron pan
Dish soap and sponge
This method is my favourite, and that’s for a good reason, it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it doesn’t damage my seasoning.
All you need to do is apply some dish soap to the cast iron cookware, rub it in with a drop of water and a sponge so the entire cast iron pan is coated, and leave it for 5 minutes.
Leaving it to soak in dish soap for 5 minutes will NOT cause it to rust, I do this all the time. It’s when you leave it for an hour or so that it begins to rust.
After 5 minutes, simply scrub it with a sponge. Normally everything comes off, if it doesn’t I may pull out the steel wool depending on how good my seasoning is at the time.
Chain mail scrubber
This is a good alternative to using steel wool, they are specifically designed to clean cast iron pans (since cast iron is prone to food burning onto it).
The only thing to note with a chain mail scrubber is that it can be quite harsh if you apply a lot of pressure.
So to avoid stripping your seasoning with this, just avoid scrubbing to hard, if you see your seasoning begin to come off, then scrub lighter.
Can you use steel wool to clean rust off your cast iron?
You can use steel wool to clean rust off cast iron, in-fact steel wool is the most sought after tool when cleaning rust of cast iron, it does an amazing job at it, especially when combining it with a soak in vinegar.
Brillo pads are another form of steel wool that can be used too, so if you have any brillo pads laying at home then feel free to use them to clean rust off cast iron.
Can you use steel wool on coated cast iron?
Since coated cast iron is a form of non-stick coating, you should never scrub it with steel wool.
If you do then the fiberglass in the steel wool will scratch up your coating and cause it to wear off. Once that non-stick coating has gone, then it won’t be fixable and you’ll have to buy a new coated cast iron skillet.
So what you can do is use a brillo pad, but be gentle with it and don’t scrub too hard because then you might scratch up the coating anyways.
If the rust or burnt on food is really bad then you can use vinegar to help remove it. You will want to soak your cast iron in a mixture of 1/4 cup white vinegar and 2 quarts of water for about 30 minutes.
If you have a lot of burnt on food then you might need to repeat this process a couple times before the cast iron is completely clean and shiny again.
What steel wool is best for cast iron?
This is a question that I get asked all the time.
You can buy steel wool specifically for cast iron.
If you want to buy a new steel wool pad then I suggest getting the Scotch Brite brand. They have a specially designed pad that is made for cleaning and polishing stainless steel and cast iron.
The reason that I recommend the Scotch Brite brand is because it has a very fine steel wool pad on one side of the pad and then a medium grade steel wool on the other side.
The fine grade steel wool is great for polishing the cast iron and getting into all of those hard to reach places, but it can also scratch your cookware if you are not careful.
The medium grade steel wool is great for regular cleaning of your cast iron and it won’t scratch the surface.
I would recommend using the fine side first to get any really stuck on food off and then using the medium grade side to do a quick cleaning before you use your cast iron again.
If you have any rust on your cookware, I would recommend soaking it overnight.
How to clean cast iron with salt
If you have rust on your cast iron or stubborn burnt on food, I would recommend using the salt and vinegar method. This is a great way to remove any rust spots that may be left behind after soaking or burnt on food.
The salt and vinegar method is really easy to do too.
All you have to do is:
1) Rub the rust or burnt on food with a little bit of salt.
2) Apply some white vinegar to the salt and rust.
3) Let it sit for about 15 minutes.
4) Scrub with a soft brush or sponge.
5) Rinse and dry your pan
Does salt damage cast iron
No, it won’t. Salt and vinegar are both great cleaning agents for cast iron. However you do have to be careful when using salt on your pans because it can scratch the surface if you are not careful.
Salt is a great way to remove rust from cast iron pans because it works on the chemical level and actually removes the rust. It does this by chemically attacking the rust and breaking it down.