Many different methods are often recommended for cleaning cast iron, and in some cases experts seem to disagree. Some recommend never using soap or abrasives, while others claim that aggressive cleaning will do no permanent harm. In most cases, using soaps or abrasives can sometimes reverse the seasoning process, which will likely cause foods to stick to the bottom of the pan and necessitate repeating the seasoning process. This is especially true with newer pans. Older pans that have been well used and well seasoned can usually withstand washing in hot soapy water.
Cast iron pans can be purchased already seasoned and ready for use, however, it is considered a good idea to repeat the process after purchasing. The more times the process is repeated, the better finish the pans will have, and the better they will withstand washing. A really well-seasoned pan can stand up to washing and even scrubbing.
If scrubbing is necessary, when cleaning cast iron it is probably a good idea to start with warm water and a plastic scrubber. These are less abrasive and will often work as well as copper or steel wool. Plastic scrubbers may require more vigorous scrubbing, and food removal may take a bit more time, but they are much less likely to remove the seasoning from the pan. Plastic scrubbers are usually inexpensive and should be replaced often. When their surfaces begin to flatten out from wear, it is probably a good idea to replace them.
Another method for cleaning cast iron pans is the open fire method, but this method should probably be used only if the pan is extremely soiled. This method involves putting the pan into an open fire, such as a barbecue pit or fireplace, and leaving it there until the food begins to curl and burn away. Eventually, the food will burn to the point where it should simply flake off. This usually eliminates the need to use abrasives. The fire should be extinguished and the pan sufficiently cooled before attempting to remove it.
When cleaning cast iron, any method that involves detergent or abrasives may result in losing some of the seasoning. If this occurs, it may be necessary to repeat the seasoning process. This can be done by coating the entire pan with grease or oil and putting it in a preheated oven for about an hour. The oven should ideally be set to medium heat during this process. Prevention can save a lot of time and aggravation, so cooks should take precautions to keep cooked foods from burning into the bottom or sides of the pans.