Why Using Soap To Clean Your Wok Is A Dire Mistake

Have some food stuck to your wok? You might be tempted to scrub it down with dish soap, but doing so is a dire mistake. To understand why you shouldn't soap down a wok to clean it, you first need to understand what makes a wok special and different from other cooking pans. Typically crafted from hammered cast iron or carbon steel, these woks are naturally non-stick after they are seasoned with oil. When oil polymerizes (or its molecules combine) over a hot wok, the oil creates a protective and naturally non-stick layer on the surface of the wok called a patina. And this patina layer only gets better with time when you keep your wok well-seasoned and cared for properly.

A harsh scrub down using dish soap, Bar Keepers Friend, or a stainless steel scrubber will usually remove this cherished patina layer from your wok. Without the patina layer, your wok loses its non-stick properties. You'll also find diminished nuanced flavors from it when you make your next stir fry; the wok hei, or prized smoky aroma, that your wok imparts to food will diminish. 

All is not lost, however, as you can always season your wok again and rebuild the patina layer from scratch. But this is a time-consuming task that you can avoid if you simply stop using dish soap to clean your wok. 

Keep your wok's patina layer intact

You're probably wondering how, then, should one clean a wok to keep its valuable patina layer intact. Well, for one, you can invest in a good bamboo wok brush. After cooking with the wok, allow it to cool. Scrub off any gunk or excess food from the wok using the spatula you use with your wok, or a bamboo wok brush, as aforementioned. Then, rinse the wok with warm water to remove the loosened food particles and gunk. Once cleaned, be sure to dry your wok completely. This will prevent your wok from rusting. You can also brush a bit of neutral oil over a dry wok using an oil-soaked paper towel. This keeps the wok shiny and reinforces its patina. 

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid putting your cast iron and carbon steel woks in the dishwasher. The enzymes in the dishwasher detergent will happily eat away at their patina layers. Thus, by nurturing your wok's patina through proper care and washing, you ensure it'll produce the best stir-fries for you, full of charred wok hei goodness and flavor.