You can use steel wool on your cast iron so long as a few things are kept in mind. However, it is best to not use steel wool on cast iron unless you are removing rust. The biggest danger in using steel wool on cast iron is that it can strip your seasoning.
Two Things to Consider When Using Steel Wool on Cast Iron Cookware
If you are cleaning your cast iron with steel wool, do not use a lot of pressure. Lightly apply pressure to the part of the cast iron that needs to be cleaned or you can create hot spots in your cookware by removing small pieces of the seasoning. Do not use the steel wool over the entire surface to prevent rusting and hot spots over the entire piece. After you scrub the cast iron, wash the residue out of the cast iron. Dry the piece and reseason it immediately so it doesn’t rust.
It is best to cook several meals in between cleanings with steel wool. Preferably fatty foods are deep-fried foods. The reason is that cooking adds more layers of seasoning to your cookware, which protects the cast iron from the abrasiveness of the steel wool.
The Uses of Steel Wool on Cast Iron
There are two primary uses for steel wool on cast iron that were touched on earlier. Removing rust and stripping the seasoning. Steel wool is highly abrasive. As such, it is the primary tool for removing rust and seasoning. If using this method, you should wash the residue out and reseason the cookware right away.
If your cast iron develops rust, scrub the rust away with fine steel wool. Once the spot reveals raw cast iron, wash the cookware with soap and water. Dry the cast iron, either over low heat or by using a paper towel, and reseason. You may have to reseason the cast iron a couple of times to produce the non-stick effect.
If you have an off-putting flavor in your food, or you simply want to add another flavor profile to your cast iron, you can remove the seasoning with steel wool. Gently scour the surface until the raw cast iron is visible. Wash and reseason the cast iron like you would during the rust removal process. However, the best way to do this is by using a chainmail scrubber (see below).
Alternative Methods For Cleaning Cast Iron
There are several alternative methods to cleaning stuck-on foods off of cast iron cookware. Soap and hot water, boiling water in the cookware, wooden spoons, and chain mail scrubbers. Again, you can use steel wool to clean the cookware if used carefully. The alternative methods are safer for the cast iron and easier to use.
The first alternative method, soap, and water is the least abrasive method used. It is often dogmatically stated that you should never use soap on cast iron but so long as you use it for a few minutes it is fine. Soaking a cast iron in water and/or soap for long periods is when issues arise. You can use a less abrasive scrubber with hot water and soap to clean stubborn food off the cookware.
The easiest and safest way to wash a cast iron is by boiling water in it and scrubbing it with a wooden spatula or wooden spoon. The process is straightforward. When you are done cooking, pour water into your hot cast iron cookware and place it on the stovetop.
As soon as it boils, scrape the hardened food off with a wooden utensil. Once the food is removed, pour the water out, dry with a paper towel, and reseason while the food is being served.
Another great option is by using a chain mail scrubber. A chain mail scrubber not only scrubs hardened food off the cookware, it actually helps the seasoning process. In fact, you can use a chain mail scrubber on a cast iron while it’s clean to help the seasoning process.
Metal loves metal and this makes the chain metal scrubber perfect for cleaning cast iron. If the cast iron is dirty, wash the cookware with soap and water and, in a circular motion, gently scrub the cast iron with the chain mail scrubber. Dry the cast iron and reseason.
If the cookware is clean, simply scuff the cookware with the chainmail while it is dry and reseason the cast iron. The point in doing this is that chainmail scrubbers provide the cookware with a stronger seasoning over time. The process is similar to priming a surface before painting. The chainmail scuffs the top layer of seasoning which provides a textured surface for the new seasoning to adhere to.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.