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Cast Iron in Dishwashers: Why You Need to Avoid It Like the Plague

June 22, 2020 5 min read

Cast Iron in Dishwashers: Why You Need to Avoid It Like the Plague

The last century has introduced countless technological innovations that have made our collective lives a little, or a lot, easier. The dishwasher is one of the best modern inventions in our homes. In a culture where our free time is so precious, it's such a treat to not have to spend so much time hand washing our dishes every day.

While most plates and glassware are made dishwasher safe, there are a few pieces in your kitchen that you should take a few extra minutes to hand wash after you've finished cooking dinner. The dishwasher can be quite harsh and some of the more fragile dishes can't take the pressure.

In this article you'll find answers to these questions:

Can you put cast iron in a dishwasher?
Can putting cast iron in a dishwasher lead to damaging it for good?
What will happen to my cast iron skillet in a dishwasher?
How fix cast iron that has been put in a dishwasher?

Cast iron is one of the toughest materials we use in our kitchen tools. Its mortal enemy is excess moisture so, as you can imagine, putting cast iron skillet dishwasher will certainly mean some issues for the pan. We're here to let you know the best way to care for your cast iron and keep it in top shape for years to come.

Is cast iron dishwasher-safe?

The answer is a resounding NO. A dishwasher propels hot water filled with detergent to the dirty dishes via jets for a prolonged period of time. The water then drains and the air is heated inside (many but not all dishwashers have this feature) to dry the dishes afterward.

There are two reasons why cast iron skillets (or cast iron pans) just aren't well-suited for the dishwasher.

  • It ruins the seasoning. If you're wondering how to remove seasoning from cast iron, a dishwasher is a quick path to success. Of course, this isn't what you want to do to your cast iron. The water jets and harsh detergents strip away the solid seasoning you may have spent years building on your cast iron skillet. And a well-seasoned pan makes for great cooking.
  • It can cause rusting. Cast iron cookware rusts easily when exposed to moisture - this is why it is so important to dry your cast iron thoroughly after each use. The prolonged exposure to water in a dishwasher is too much for cast iron. The heat dry setting doesn't do a fantastic job either; it tends to leave a ton of moisture behind. If you've ever opened up the dishwasher right after it has finished a cycle, you've probably seen firsthand all of the extra water left behind.

Do you wash cast iron?

If you can't put it in a dishwasher and you know too much water isn't good for it, how do you properly clean cast iron? Cast iron cleaning is a simple process when you know the proper steps to follow.

You should start by cleaning the pan shortly after cooking. You will want to wait until the pan has cooled before you put it near any water so as not to cause thermal shock. This occurs when you put a hot cast iron pan into much cooler water. The drastic change in temperature can cause the pan to crack, weaken, or warp.

Scrape any loosely-attached food scraps from the cast iron using a metal spatula and dispose of them.

You will want to avoid soaking your pan in the sink. Similar to the dishwasher, the prolonged exposure to water will make your pan rust.

Can you use soap on cast iron?

Yes. Cast iron can be exposed to moderate amounts of water and mild dishwashing soap. Place your pan in the sink when you are ready to clean. Take a dishcloth and use warm, soapy water. Contrary to some old-fashioned advice, using gentle dish soap is completely safe to use when cleaning a cast iron pan.

If you have some cooked-on remnants of food that aren't coming off easily you can use a plastic scrubber or a chain mail scrubbing pad. Try not to use steel wool on your pan as it will damage the pan's seasoning.

Rinse well and dry the pan thoroughly with a clean, dry towel.

Pour a small amount of oil into the pan and remove any excess with a paper towel. Put it on the stovetop on low heat for 10 minutes. This not only helps to maintain your pan's seasoning but also to ensure there is no water left behind when you put your pan away.

Can you ruin cast iron?

It depends on your definition. It's almost impossible to truly ruin a cast iron pan - they're stronger than nails.

What happens if you put cast iron in a dishwasher?

Putting your cast iron in the dishwasher and improper care can lead to rusting and ruining your seasoning. Both of these things can be fixed to restore your cast iron back to new with a fantastic nonstick surface.

There are only a few signs that your cast iron is actually ruined. Cracks, holes, and a warped pan are all things that should make you consider retiring the pan.

How do you fix a cast iron pan that has been in a dishwasher?

If you've realized a little too late that your cast iron pan shouldn't be going through the dishwasher, we have some fixes for you.

First, you need to assess the state of the pan.

Is it rusted?

If your pan has rusted from the dishwasher, you will need to remove the rust and then re-season your pan. To remove the rust you must:

  1. Loosen the rust. This can be done using a vinegar/water soak, baking soda/water paste, or coarse salt to scrub the pan.
  2. Use steel wool. It's okay to use steel wool in this case, as your seasoning has already been ruined by the rusting.
  3. Rinse, wash, and dry thoroughly.
  4. Re-season your pan as if it was brand new. Here's how to season cast iron properly. You'll need vegetable oil and paper towel.

Is it dull grey, less shiny, or flaking?

If you see any of these signs your pan has likely lost its seasoning, at least partially. You will want to re-season your pan before you cook with it again to regain its non-stick qualities.

  1. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil or shortening to the pan.
  2. Lay the pan upside down in your oven and turn it on to 350°F. Place a piece of aluminum foil or a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any dripping oil.
  3. Turn off the oven after 1 hour. Leave the pan in the oven to cool down.
  4. Remove the pan, and repeat 2-3 times or more, depending on how the pan is looking and performing.

Final Thoughts on Cast Iron in the Dishwasher

The most important takeaway in this post is that cast iron should NEVER be put in the dishwasher, but if you or someone else ends up making this mistake it is not the end of the world and your cookware will be completely fine after a little TLC.

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