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How to Clean a Carbon Steel Wok

All the tips and tricks you need to keep your carbon steel wok clean—without stripping its seasoning.

By Maggie Talley
Oct 25, 2023
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Caring for your cookware is the easiest way to make it last a lifetime. This is especially true of carbon steel cookware, whose seasoning needs special attention in order to maintain its beloved non stick surface.

From avoiding certain ingredients to following specific cleaning instructions, caring for your carbon steel wok can feel like a large undertaking.  But when you know what you’re doing, maintaining carbon steel can be both incredibly simple and worthwhile.

With a little time and the right tips, you’ll be cooking with your wok for years to come. Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about cleaning your carbon steel wok.

How to Clean Your Carbon Steel Wok in 3 Steps

Carbon steel heats incredibly quickly, and with the right approach, it can be cleaned even faster. Whether you used your wok to make a vegetable-forward stir-fry or you deep fried some drumsticks, these step-by-step tips will have your Wok clean and ready to work in no time.

The most important thing to remember when cleaning your wok is to be gentle. Refrain from dunking your seasoned wok in hot soapy water, as the harshness of soap will strip away any seasoning you have already built.

  1. Gently wipe the pan clean with a paper towel or dish towel once you’ve finished cooking and the pan has cooled. The towel should help you collect any burnt food and remnants and absorb excess oil and fat.
  2. If you have food that's stuck or burnt to the pan's surface and requires scrubbing to remove, you'll need a little water to loosen the debris. Gently scrub the residue off with a bristle brush or sponge and a small amount of water—do not use soap or steel wool and do not use a soaking bath. Hot, soapy water will strip the seasoning that makes cooking with your wok so simple and fast.
  3. If you're still having trouble, add water to your pan and boil it on the stove top. Once it reaches a rolling boil, dump the water and carefully wipe away any remaining residue, again using a paper or cloth towel.

In both cases, make sure that your pan is completely dry before storing it. Any dampness will damage your seasoning over time or cause rust.

To be sure it’s totally dry, we recommend heating your wok on your stove over medium heat to help expel any lingering moisture. You can follow this by reseasoning your wok with a bit of our Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax or oil.

Additional Carbon Steel Wok Care Tips

While cleaning is important, it’s not the only aspect of carbon steel care. If you want your Wok to last a lifetime, you’ll need to make sure you’re maintaining a healthy layer of seasoning, preventing or removing rust, and storing your pan in a safe environment. We detail all three below.

How to Season Your Wok

Seasoning is a big part of what makes carbon steel one of the most popular materials in professional kitchens. This polymerized layer of oil is responsible for its naturally non stick surface and an overwhelming amount of flavor.

Scientifically, seasoning is the process of heating a high-smoke-point oil on the surface of your pan to create polymerization—the oil and heat react together to form a solid layer, filling in the metal’s small pores. This helps prevent rust and keeps food from sticking during cooking.

You’ll need to season your carbon steel wok before using it for the first time.  To get the full details on the seasoning process, check out our complete guide to seasoning our Carbon Steel Cookware.

As you cook with your carbon steel wok, you may notice that your pan’s seasoning is growing thin in areas. This is perfectly normal and easily remedied, as seasoning isn’t a one-and-done experience—it’s a practice you’ll need to keep up throughout the lifespan of your pan.

How to Remove Rust From Your Wok

Sometimes, rust happens. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel. In fact, with some vinegar and a little effort, it’ll be good as new.

Carbon steel may rust when left in a moist environment for an extended period of time, or if you live in a particularly humid environment. This happens due to the presence of oxidizable iron in carbon steel’s alloy (which is what also causes cast iron to rust).

But even stubborn rust can be stripped. Our helpful guide will tell you everything you need to know to clean rust from your carbon steel wok.

Store Your Wok Correctly

Because of the potential to rust, it’s essential to store your wok somewhere dry. In addition to wiping it completely dry after cleaning it, you must take care to store it somewhere free of moisture.

The biggest culprits of rusted carbon steel pans are often other pans—if you put a damp stainless pan next to your newly-cleaned wok, the trapped moisture can cause rust or affect the seasoning. For this reason, it’s best practice to ensure that all items in your cabinet are completely dry before storing them.

Cleaning FAQs

As with any cookware material, there are plenty of questions surrounding carbon steel care. One of the most common questions we receive is whether Carbon Steel Cookware can go in the dishwasher. The answer is a resounding no—the harsh chemicals found in dishwasher detergent would strip the seasoning. We also don’t recommend using common household cleans like baking soda and vinegar.

Have more carbon steel questions? Our FAQ guide should have your answer covered.

Ready to Shop?

Our Wok will ensure you never—at at least, rarely—order takeout again. Our endlessly versatile, high-heat friendly Carbon Steel Wok will have you making restaurant-quality stir-fry right in your own kitchen.

Need inspiration to decide what you’ll cook first? Check out Chef Eric Silverstein’s go-to Fried Rice with Lap Cheong or explore six unique ways to get to work with your Wok.

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