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The Great Soap Debate

The Great Soap Debate

It’s really kind of amazing the vitriol that spews from some folks on the issue of using soap to clean your cast iron pans. I have a youtube channel, and occasionally people comment on my vids. On one of my videos where I used a bit of dish soap to clean a pan, I received a nasty comment from a keyboard ninja threatening violence against me for my use of soap on MY pan. Amazing. I’ve been searching for it but I think the ninja must have deleted it – perhaps he realized he was overreacting just a tad.

*Update April 1, 2019. I found it. 

For your reading pleasure, I took a couple of screen shots from people commenting on my vids on the “soap no-soap” issue. When people get behind their keyboards – vs. a face-to-face discussion – sometimes decorum goes out the window. Hence “keyboard ninja.”

From a video where I was cleaning a Griswold cast iron muffin pan and used a drop of soap:

From a video where I was cleaning a Griswold cast iron oval roaster two days after having made a delicious roast in it:

There are very strong opinions within the cast iron community on the issue – particularly in the “No Soap! Never!!” camp. I’m not in that camp. Sorry “no soap” friends; I hope you will still be my friend even though I use soap to clean my pans when I want to use soap.

Using a bit of dish soap on a properly-seasoned cast iron pan will not remove the seasoning. This is supported by science. Take a look at this short vid from the Knowridge Science Report, this article from Serious Eats, and give a listen to this podcast from “Ask A Clean Person” (interview with Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director at Serious Eats). Just as I found with my youtube vid comment, Daniel noted that “People get so violent about [the soap issue]!” A gentle cleaning with a bit of dish soap – as opposed to mad scrubbing with a soap-filled SOS pad or steel wool – is not going to remove the seasoning.

I posted a little poll on the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware (GCICA) Facebook page. After two days, the “Yes” soaps had 178 votes, and the “No” soaps had 80. The comments to the poll were interesting.

The instructions for the poll said:

“Question is: Do you ever use soap to clean your vintage cast iron after its use?
I’m talking routine cleaning after use to cook food, not pans that you clean after finding them and before seasoning them.
Answer is only ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ So if you never ever do, the answer is no. If the answer is ‘only if I really think it needs it’ or ‘once in a great while’ or something similar, then the answer is ‘yes.'”

I felt I needed to clarify what “yes” means, as people have such particular views about cleaning their vintage pans. I was trying to get at “if you EVER” use soap, you are a “yes” response.

I was particularly interested to hear from the “no soap” people. “OMG Never,” “Never,” “Never use soap,” “No never,” “No one uses soap. This isn’t a complicated question that requires assistance with figuring out what a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response means.”

Even with the “yes” responses, there was much clarification. “Once [in] a blue moon, if there is anything stuck to the cook surface that was cooked in grease, then let it stand in soapy water for 30 min. Then scrub clean using plain water. Then dry and whip thin film with oil and store for next use,” “Yes but very sparingly and sometimes not at all,” “I will if I have a little stuck on that won’t come off with green pad,” “depends on the circumstances,”  “I only do it, if its real greasy, its only in soapy water for seconds.”

I did some googling on the issue, and it is no wonder that people have differing viewpoints about the soap issue. Various sources – including some that you would presume to have done their research – give different conclusions on the great “soap / no soap” debate. Just for fun, I’ve set some forth below.

SourceUse Soap?Notes
America's Test Kitchen
Soap shouldn't be used on traditional cast iron because "soap will remove the seasoning which makes it non-stick and rust-free." Au contraire: "a few drops of dish soap are not enough to interfere with the polymerized bonds on the surface of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet."
Better Homes & Gardens
No."no strong detergents, metal scouring pads, or time in the dishwasher. Dish-washing soap removes oiled finishes and might leave a residue that will cause your cooked foods to have a soapy taste. The experts at Lodge Manufacturing, a maker of cast-iron cookware, remind cooks that cast-iron skillets are sterilized during the cooking process, reaching 400 degrees Fahrenheit in 4 minutes at medium heat; at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface becomes sterile so germs should not be an issue."
Bon AppetitUsed to be "no," now "yes."Earlier - "steer clear of the soap." Now - "don’t be afraid of a little so[a]p! Really!"
Cooking Issues
Yes."Modern soap will not harm seasoned cast iron. Old, lye based cleaners will hurt seasoned cast iron because lye dissolves the oil-polymer. Seasoned cast iron can also tolerate gentle scrubbing with non-metallic abrasives. Vigorous washing is not recommended on new, weakly seasoned pans."
Cooking Light
No."Rule # 1: DO NOT use soap. Soap breaks down oil, which will ruin your great job of seasoning."
Cooks Illustrated
Yes."Use small amount of soap if you like; rinse well."
Eating Well
No."[N]ever use soap because it can strip the pan's seasoning..."
Only once."When you purchase a piece of new or used cast iron cookware it's okay to use mild soapy water for the first washing. But that's it! Avoid harsh soap and scouring pads thereafter because they can remove the seasoning you'll be trying so hard to achieve."
Fine Cooking
Yes."in the Fine Cooking test kitchen, we wash our cast iron with soap and water and immediately towel it dry."
Food Network (Marcela)
No."Don't use soap." "Never."
Food Network (Trisha Yearwood)
No."just rinse it with warm water--don't use soap--and make sure to dry it really well."
Food & Wine
No."Soap removes a regular cast-iron pan’s seasoning, so it’s best to scrub solely with a brush or abrasive sponge and hot water, while the pan is still warm."
Food & Wine
Yes."The oldest and silliest misconception of them all is that you should not use soap to clean cast iron, which is just not true. Again, as long as your pan is well-seasoned, feel free to use soap and water to clean your pan after each use."
No."Soap also strips seasoning, so it’s a no-go when it comes to cleaning cast iron."
Good Housekeeping
Yes. Use a mild dishwashing detergent.
The Kitch'n
Yes and No."Avoid using the dishwasher, soap, or steel wool, as these may strip the pan's seasoning." And, "If the skillet is well-seasoned from years of use, a small amount of mild soap may be used without doing much damage — just be sure to rinse it well and oil it after drying."
The Kitch'n
No."Cast iron should not normally be washed with soap..."
The Kitch'n
Yes."The myth that you shouldn't wash your cast iron skillet with soap is just that — a myth." "It would take a lot more than soap to remove the seasoning from a skillet."
Lodge Mfg. Co.Yes."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."
Martha Stewart
No."Only before seasoning. Otherwise you are 'never, ever going to use soap on your cast iron pan.'"
Martha StewartNo."never use soap."
Martha Stewart interviewing Henry Lodge
Henry Lodge says that you can use “hot soapy water” or “cold soapy water” to clean your cast iron pans.
NY Times
Sometimes.Only "in really, really sticky situations....The soap will do its work, and leave you with a nonsticky pan. Of course, it won’t have a patina on it, either, and you’ll need to build that back up."
The Pioneer Woman
Yes.Mild soap.
Rachael Ray
No."Don't wash it!" "Never use soap!"
Real Simple
Once in a while."you can also use a few drops of a mild dishwashing soap every once in a while."
Refinery 29
Yes.Soap is unnecessary, but "[m]ild soap is fine, as long as you rinse and dry it thoroughly and coat with olive oil."
Southern Living
Yes."To remove any stuck-on food, a small amount of mild dish soap won’t cause damage."
Taste of the South
No."avoid soap."
Yes."You may absolutely use dish soap to wash a cast-iron pan. If you're a cast-iron newbie, know that there are people who will go all red in the face if you merely suggest using dish soap on a cast-iron pan, their blood pressure will rise at such heresy. It's insane, obviously -- there is truly no need in this world to get so upset over a skillet -- but it should also give you, the cast-iron newbie, a sense of how good cast iron can be. People love it enough to get heart attack-level mad at the mere suggestion of maltreatment."
Tasting Table
Yes."[U]sing soap won't wash away the precious seasoning you've worked so hard to build up. That magical layer isn't just any old oil that will dissolve in a bath of citrus-scented suds, but polymerized fat that's chemically bonded to the surface. So go ahead: Break out the double-sided sponge and clean to your heart's content."
Taste of Home
Yes."It’s a common misconception that soap will strip the seasoning from your pan. A little soapy water now and then will help banish stuck-on food and reduce the elbow grease."

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