Can You Really Put a Cast Iron Skillet in a Dishwasher?

Upon leaving my parent’s home, my mother gifted me a cast iron skillet as a farewell present, assuring me that it would endure for a lifetime if I maintained it properly. However, when I ignorantly disregarded her advice to never place the skillet in the dishwasher, I frantically contacted her for guidance.

According to her advice, it is not advisable to put cast iron in the dishwasher as its finish is unsmooth and needs seasoning and oils to create a nonstick surface; if washed in the dishwasher, the detergents will remove the protective oils that prevent rusting.

Why Are You Not Supposed To Wash a Cast Iron Skillet?

A common misunderstanding that arises often is that you can’t put a cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. This is not accurate. You can clean your cast iron skillet, but not in the same way as you would with other cookware. This is because a cast iron skillet’s chemical makeup consists of 2.5-4.0% carbon, 1-3% silicon, and 93%-96.5% pure iron [1].

Because of its high iron content, a cast iron skillet is almost unbreakable; however, it does have one downside. It is highly vulnerable to oxidation, which is the process in which a substance loses electrons when exposed to oxygen [2].

When it comes to metals like Iron (Fe), they react with oxygen and form rust (Fe2O3).

If you use dishwashing detergents or regular household soaps to clean your cast iron skillet and remove its protective layer of oils, exposing it to water can cause rusting, rendering it useless.

How to Clean Your Cast Iron Skillet After Use?

To properly clean a cast iron skillet, it is necessary to be willing to get your hands dirty and act promptly after cooking in it for optimal outcomes.

  1. When cleaning your cast iron skillet, opt for an old cloth, paper towel, sponge, or stiff brush, and avoid using steel wool or dish soap.
  2. Avoid soaking the cast iron skillet as prolonged contact with water can damage it and lead to rust formation if the seasoning is compromised. Instead, rinse it with hot water immediately after use and wipe it dry. Allowing the skillet to cool down before cleaning may cause warping.
  • To get rid of stubborn food particles, you can utilize a paste made of kosher salt or vinegar to assist in breaking them down for easy removal.
  • To dry the cast iron skillet, you can either use a cloth or towel or put it on the stove over low heat.
  • Coat the interior of the skillet with a sparse amount of vegetable oil or another neutral oil, ensuring that every part of the skillet is covered. Remove any surplus oil using a cloth or paper towel.
  • Keep in a dry location, such as a cabinet or above the stove.
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How & Where Does This Protective Layer of Oils Come From?

Typically, cast iron skillets are sold with either an enamel or porcelain coating, or without any coating at all. Teflon coatings are ineffective on cast iron skillets due to their porous surface.

Opting for a cast iron skillet that features an enamel or porcelain coating can safeguard it from exposure to oxygen and also offer a sleek surface throughout the pan.

Although using enamel or porcelain-coated cast iron skillets in a dishwasher eliminates the need for seasoning with oils, it can lead to chipping of the coating over time, which exposes the skillet to air and increases the risk of rust formation.

The uncoated cast iron skillet is particularly useful in this regard, as a properly seasoned pan will fill the crevices and bumps on its surface, preventing food from adhering and rust from forming at the same time.

How to Season Your Cast Iron Skillet?

It is crucial to season your cast iron skillet correctly the first time to ensure its longevity, and this will be the only instance where you need to use soap to wash it.

  • Heat up the oven to a temperature range of 350-450°F.
  • Clean the cast iron skillet. Using warm, soapy water (regular dish soap), thoroughly wash the entire surface of the skillet, including the inside, outside, and handle, using a sponge or stiff brush.
  • Clean and dry thoroughly. Remove all soap residue by rinsing the skillet, then ensure that it is completely dry to prevent any moisture from remaining.
  • Include oil. The most frequently suggested oils are unsaturated cooking oils such as vegetable oil or melted shortening, and it is advisable to use a neutral fat while avoiding flaxseed oil since it has a tendency to flake.
  • Distribute the oil evenly. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to cover the entire cast iron skillet with oil. It is important to ensure that every part of the skillet, including the handle and exterior, is coated with oil to prevent rust from forming and spreading rapidly throughout the pan.
  • Heat up the cast iron skillet by placing it upside down on the center rack of your oven and putting a sheet of aluminum foil underneath to catch any oil drips. Let it bake for an hour.
  • Allow it to cool down before storing it. Once you remove the cast iron skillet from the oven, let it cool completely. You can then decide whether to apply a light coating of oil or simply store it in a cupboard or above your stove.
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What To Do If You Put a Cast Iron Skillet in the Dishwasher?

If, like me, you disregarded your mother’s advice and washed your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher, it may be possible to salvage it, but it will demand a significant amount of effort on your part.

Regrettably, in case your cast iron skillet is a treasured family possession or an inherited item, it might not be able to restore its former protective layer and the corresponding taste that comes with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, as it takes several years to develop a good coating.

Rust can begin to develop rapidly, so it is crucial to scrub the cast iron skillet vigorously to eliminate all traces of it. Although it is the most time-consuming step, it is also the most critical since the entire skillet must be free of rust. To accomplish this step, you will require a significant amount of effort and hot water.

To prevent rust formation, it is recommended to season your cast iron skillet immediately after cleaning it and ensuring that the entire surface is evenly coated with oil, especially if there are scratches or scars on the skillet.

After completing the cleaning process, there are no further actions to take except for using the cast iron skillet as usual. However, it is necessary to restore the protective layers that were removed.

It should be noted that although it is feasible to rescue a cast iron skillet that has been washed in a dishwasher, there is no assurance of success. The high temperature of the water, the detergent used in dishwashers, and the abrasive motion will eliminate all the seasoning from your pan, causing it to return to its original unprocessed state.

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Keep in mind that it will be very difficult to restore the cast iron skillet’s original functionality, which may result in the need to buy a new one.

Is It Ok To Use Soap on a Cast Iron Skillet?

It is not recommended to apply soap or detergents on your cast iron skillet, except for the first time use or if it has never been seasoned before, as they can dissolve the oils that have been infused into the iron through years of careful cooking.

One advantage of cast iron skillets is that their seasoning improves with time and use, making it important to avoid using soap on them as it can ruin the accumulated treatment.

Wrapping It Up

Proper care is crucial for a cast iron skillet, which is an indispensable utensil for any cook. If you clean it correctly, maintain its seasoning, and avoid using soap and dishwashers, it can last for many generations and even get better with time.

You can also check this video about “Can You Really Put a Cast Iron Skillet in a Dishwasher?”

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