How to Clean Carbon Steel Pan

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If you’ve been struggling with stuck-on food and pans that are impossible to clean, then it may be time to change the type of pan you’re using.

In this article, we'll discuss how to clean carbon steel the right way and why these pans are a great option.

Let's get started.

How to clean carbon steel the right way

Follow this guide for how to clean your carbon steel pans correctly:

1. Rinse your pan immediately after cooking with it

Rinsing off food as soon as you’re finished cooking with carbon steel will prevent bacteria from building up on the surface of the pan while also preventing those food particles from burning into stains that are difficult to remove later. Some foods, like tomato sauce or oatmeal, will stain more easily than others.

how to clean carbon steel pan
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2. Wipe with oil

Once you’ve rinsed away any food particles, use a paper towel to wipe the surface of the pan down with some oil like sunflower oil or peanut oil. This will help prevent rust and keep your carbon steel pans looking great for years to come.

3. Remove stuck-on food with vinegar

If there's still something stuck on when you go to wash the pan later, fill it up halfway with water and add a splash of vinegar (diluted white vinegar works best).

Place the lid on top and place over medium heat until it begins to steam, then let it sit overnight if needed. The acidity in the vinegar should break that food off so that you can easily scrub it out the next day.

4. Wash with soap and water

After getting rid of any food residue, make sure to wash your pan right away so that no extra oil or vinegar is sitting on the surface for too long. Use a sponge or scrubber pad made from silicon to remove any remaining food particles.

If there are still some stains left behind after washing off all the food, simply boil some white rice in the pan until the stains go away (about 30 minutes). The starchiness will help lift them off like magic.

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5. Dry quickly and season as soon as possible

Because carbon steel pans aren't nonstick like other types of pans, they have an important advantage: they get better with age.

Over time, that seasoning can build up and provide a naturally nonstick surface to make cooking even easier. The more you use it, the better it will become.

It's very important to make sure the inside of your carbon steel pans are completely dry before storing them away as moisture will cause rust, which is how you'll ruin your pan after all this hard work. Instead, let them air-dry for an hour before covering and putting in storage for next time.

Why are carbon steel pans better?

1. More conductive

Carbon steel pans are more conductive than other types of pans because they're made from a single layer of metal, which means that your food cooks faster. This is great if you’re in a hurry or need the heat to spread evenly across the surface of your pan. They also have excellent heat retention properties and will stay hot longer than other cookware on the market today, so it's best to use them for high-temperature dishes like curries or stir-fry. Also, the quality of carbon steel pans tends to be very high and will last a long time.

2. Naturally nonstick

Because the surface of your pan won't be coated with any type of material, it is naturally nonstick. The more you use your pan, the better it'll perform in this area over time because the seasoning will build up even thicker than when you first bought it. They’re great for eggs or recipes where there isn't much fat involved already (like steamed vegetables). You can also use olive oil spray on top as needed before cooking.

3. Easy to clean

Because carbon steel pans are single layers, they're very easy to clean and simple to maintain. You don't need any type of special detergent or soap when washing them.

Just make sure you dry the inside completely before putting it away so that your pan doesn't rust. These pans are great because there's next to no work involved in taking good care of them.

4. Cost-effective

You can get a high-quality carbon steel pan for less than $20, which is hard to beat given how long they'll last if taken care of properly. They’re inexpensive but also extremely durable, well-made, and will often come with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer just like cast-iron pans do. This means that once you buy one, it'll be the only pan you ever need to purchase again.

5. Carbon steel is health-friendly

Although they come with a few risks if not cared for properly (like rusting), carbon steel cookware is a better option than most other types of nonstick coated pans since they don't contain PFCs or Teflon. They're also more environmentally friendly than Teflon because they can be recycled and will last for decades instead of just a few years.

clean carbon steel pan
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6. Non-stick pans

As you use it regularly, oils and fats will travel down from your food onto your pan (instead of sticking and burning). Over time, this builds up enough natural oils so that when you cook next time, things won't stick as much. This makes them naturally nonstick after just a few uses so that even eggs will slide right off the surface.

What types of food work best with this type of pan?

Don't be fooled into thinking you can only cook certain types of food on these pans. They're versatile and easy to clean, so the possibilities are endless – given that you buy the best carbon steel pans possible. Try using them at your next dinner party or a family gathering for dishes that require a lot of cooking like stir-frying meat and veggies, making an omelet or sunny side up eggs, scrambling tofu for tacos, or even making fried rice.

Carbon steel will work perfectly fine on the stovetop but they also work great for grilling meats outside since they’re not as heavy as cast iron skillets (check out this article on cast iron vs carbon steel if you’d like to know more about the differences).

Just remember that because carbon steel is easily scratched up, it is not a good idea to use metal utensils or scrape food off the surface with anything other than your spatula.

On that note, you can use a wooden spatula to flip your food (since it’s a lot softer).

Since you don’t need any type of special soaps or detergents to clean your carbon steel pan, cleanup takes just one quick swipe with an old towel and then wiping it off completely before allowing it to dry. No soap is needed. Carbon steel won't rust if properly dried after washing them.

Why is food sticking to my carbon steel pan?

Depending on the type of carbon steel you purchase, they can be more prone to getting scratches and nicks in them from cooking. While they can still work great for cooking food, your dish will stick to these spots since they’re tougher than the rest of the pan.

This is why it’s important not to use metal utensils or don't scrape with anything other than a spatula (especially if you're making eggs).

If you notice this happening to an older pan that has lots of scratches, simply re-season it before using it to make sure food doesn’t stick as much as possible.

Final thoughts on how to clean carbon steel pan

In conclusion, carbon steel is an excellent choice for those looking to cook with a healthier alternative to traditional nonstick cookware.

If you’re ready to make the switch and want a safer way of cooking, then it will be worth your while trying out this new type of pan in your kitchen. 


Kevin Farrugia

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin is a household and appliance enthusiast and loves to follow the latest trends in kitchen and house decoration. He also loves to walk the isles of Home Depot and Lowes to review products and materials in person. Before joining Kitchen Infinity, Kevin owned a handyman company.

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