Really, It's Okay To Wash Your Cast-Iron Skillet With Soap

There's a tweet making the rounds today that is probably a joke, but hilariously horrifying nonetheless:

Unsurprisingly, this message quickly gained traction, with Boyfriend Ben getting labeled a "monster" amid all sorts of internet screaming and fainting. But then there's messages like this one:

Grodaeu, however you pronounce that, you couldn't be wronger. We're big fans of cast-iron pans over here; my husband collects them at yard and estate sales, so we probably have six or seven of them right now in various sizes. His favorite late-night hobby is "seasoning the pans." It makes the whole kitchen smell like a garage, but it also keeps those pans from rusting.

I'm a little terrified of cleaning them, considering how much work he puts into them. Obviously, I'm not going to put a cast-iron skillet into a dishwasher (it will turn an unsightly orange due to rust). But I admit I've been a bit loathe to soap them up too much, for fear of shredding that all-important pan seasoning. No longer! This dishwasher debacle inspired a cast-iron care search, wherein the folks at Serious Eats debunked various cast-iron myths, including this one: "You should never wash your cast-iron pan with soap." SE points out that most cast-iron skillets, like the ones my husband picks up at estate sales, have been around for decades, and can handle a lot. Including a little soap.

That's because the pan seasoning "is actually not a thin layer of oil, it's a thin layer of polymerized oil, a key distinction." So a properly seasoned cast-iron pan should be fairly non-stick, and also not affected by the "surfactants in dish soap." Thanks to my husband's hobby, I will not longer treat these pans with kid gloves, but will instead go ahead and scrub them out vigorously.

If you're still scared about using soap, maybe the folks at Lodge—as far as we're concerned the gold standard of cast-iron kitchenware—can assuage your fears. Here's what they say on the "how to care" section of their site:

Soap isn't always necessary, but if you like, a little mild detergent is fine. Promise. Stay away from dishwashers and metal scouring pads, which can harm the seasoning.

Even Martha Stewart uses soap to clean her cast-iron skillets, so it must be okay!

Lodge also suggests you add a thin layer of cooking oil onto your skillet for seasoning, preferably while it's still warm. This is something my Takeout colleagues have espoused—Kevin Pang says he fries bacon in his cast-iron skillet and just lets the drippings solidify. In the Martha Stewart video above, she applies Crisco onto the surface, then "bakes" the skillets in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for an hour or so, just like my husband does in our kitchen.

Very important: Once you're done cleaning them, though, dry that pan immediately. Water is your cast-iron pan's worst enemy. So leaving it to dry, instead of wiping it down quickly with a paper towel or dishtowel could be catastrophic. Almost as bad as putting the pan in the dishwasher.