Learning how to wash a wok sounds simple. And it is simple once you know what to do. But over the years, we’ve come across many misconceptions when it comes to wok care—not just the seasoning process, but also washing after daily use.
Whether you’ve got a brand new wok or a rusty old one, we’ve shown you how to season a wok properly and care for it. But we still get questions all the time from people wondering about black bits on their wok, or difficulty maintaining a shiny patina.
To clear up any lingering confusion, we put together this definitive guide (with a short video!) on how to wash a wok. Proper daily care and routine use will keep your wok well-seasoned and ready to use for years to come.
Our focus is on the carbon steel wok, which we recommend in our article on choosing and buying a wok.
Lightweight and quick to heat, carbon steel is the best wok material. Another common one is cast iron. It can get very hot, but can also be quite heavy (and brittle at thinner gauges). It can also be difficult to maintain a high heat while cooking.
In general, principles for washing carbon steel and cast iron woks are similar. If you have a cast iron wok, you can follow the same steps laid out in this post.
Routine Wok Washing: The First Principle of Good Chinese Cooking
In a restaurant kitchen, chefs often wash their hot wok right away using cold water from a faucet directly over the cooktop. Steam pours out of the wok as the water hits it, and the chef immediately cleans the wok with a scrub brush (working the brush in a circular motion).
After washing, the wok is then lifted and tipped forward to drain the water and any debris out into a built-in drain on the stove. How nice is that? During busy times, the wok is going non-stop, so this convenient setup is key.
At home, however, there may be longer gaps between cooking sessions, so it’s important that every time you use your wok, you wash and store it properly. Rust is enemy #1. Many of our tips are designed to help you avoid it.
(That said, a rusty wok can be easily saved! See our wok seasoning post for more info.)
How to Wash A Carbon Steel Wok
First of all, NEVER put your wok in the dishwasher. You may be tempted, but don’t do it!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
Step 1: Cool your wok slightly
Once you are done cooking, let the wok cool down to a manageable temperature before you transfer it to a sink.
I say manageable, because sometimes when I’m in a rush, I transfer my hot wok to the sink—holding the handle with a dry cloth—so I can wash it right away. Generally, it’s best to clean a warm wok while grease, oil, and food bits are still soft.
Don’t let the wok sit for very long with sauce or excess food in it, as it may begin to rust. This is especially important when cooking with acidic ingredients (citrus juice, tomato, vinegar, etc.). Believe it or not, these acidic ingredients and even just liquid can form rust on your wok very quickly!
Step 2: Scrub your wok
Once it’s in the sink, if there is a thick residue of sauce or crusty bits, use your metal spatula to gently scrape them off with some water. This helps avoid gunging up your sponge. Don’t worry about any minor scratches to the wok.
Once it looks like the wok is free of thick residue, grab a scrub brush or a sponge with a scouring pad on the back.
Using light yet firm pressure, scrub the wok in a circular motion, starting in the middle of the wok and continuing up the sides. Make sure to clean the entire surface. If your wok is extra greasy, you can use a small amount of mild dish soap.
The goal is not to make the wok one even color or to shine it up. The wok surface should simply be smooth and free of residue. Run your fingers along the surface of the wok to check! The wok may still feel slightly greasy. This is okay. But if you feel any bumpy bits, keep scrubbing.
Give everything a good rinse. If you’ve got a good sprayer attachment on your kitchen faucet, rinsing will be a snap (rather than maneuvering the wok under the faucet). Tilt the wok to pour off any standing water, give it a quick shake, and return it to the stovetop.
Step 3: Dry Your Wok
Always dry your wok before storing! This is possibly the most important step. If you don’t, it can quickly form rust.
The most surefire way to dry out the wok completely and prevent rust is to heat the wok on the stove until completely dry and moisture-free.
This also dries the bottom of the wok, preventing rust from forming on the outside. If you skip this step, the next time you grab your wok, it may have a thin film of rust on it. To speed up this process, you can towel-dry before heating.
Step 4: Oil Your Wok
This step is somewhat optional if you cook with your wok daily, but it’s recommended if you use your wok less frequently, or if you want to build your wok’s patina more quickly.
Spread 1 teaspoon vegetable oil around the perimeter of the heated, dry wok, and wipe the entire surface down with a paper towel. Make sure you get every spot!
The paper towel should have a light brownish color on it, which is a normal indication of a matured or developing non-stick patina.
If the towel is dark brown, you probably could have done a bit more cleaning. Just flip the paper towel over to a clean side and wipe it down again, or return it to the sink for another light washing.
Video: How We Clean Our Wok
Wok Care and Washing Do’s and Don’ts
- Do wash your wok as soon as possible after you’re finished cooking. It’s much easier to clean off fresh sauce and grease than caked on residue.
- Do use your metal wok spatula to lightly scrape your wok to remove heavy grease and crusted food before washing.
- Do use a scrub brush in a circular motion with light yet firm pressure.
- Do heat-dry and oil your wok after each wash before storing.
- Do give your wok a quick rinse before using it if you use your wok infrequently. (This removes any accumulated dust from storage and is generally a good idea). Heat it until completely dry before using.
- Do use your wok often. The more you use it, the better your nonstick surface will be!
- Don’t leave food in the wok for a long time, especially acidic foods. The patina may wear away and rust will form.
- Don’t leave water in the wok after steaming foods in it (i.e. with a bamboo steamer or steam rack).
- Don’t leave the wok unwashed for long periods of time, as it will be more difficult to clean—just like with regular pots and pans.
- Don’t soak your wok for more than a few minutes in water, and definitely not overnight, or rust will form.
Do I Have to Wash the Bottom of the Wok?
It depends on personal preference. I generally don’t pay too much attention to the bottom of the wok, though I do make sure to rinse it.
I have cast iron grates where my wok sits on the burner, so rough bits don’t bother me.
If you have an electric stove and use a flat bottom wok, then it is a good idea to keep the bottom clean and smooth, so you don’t scratch your glass cooktop.
Periodically, I will give the bottom of the wok a scrub to get rid of any areas that are starting to build up with grime.
Can I Wash a Wok with Soap?
Short answer: Yes, but it’s not always necessary!
- Wash your wok with mild dish soap if:
- Your wok is super greasy and you need dish soap to help cut through the grease
- You’ve just cooked meat, seafood, or thick sauces
- It’s not necessary to use soap if:
- You cooked a vegetable stir-fry or anything with a light sauce, and the wok is relatively clean
- You’re able to cut through surface grease with hot water only
Which Scrubbing Tool Is Best?
- Scrub Sponge: Those yellow sponges with the green scrubbing pads on one side are our go-to for use at home. They are readily available, effective at cleaning thoroughly and uniformly, and provide some padding for your hand if you’re washing a hot wok.
- Industrial scouring pads: Industrial scouring pads are best for restoring old and rusty woks and prepping them to be re-seasoned. However, they are much more abrasive than the scrubbing pads on sponges. They are rarely needed when cleaning a well cared for and seasoned wok, unless you have burned something (which happens to all of us!)
- Steel wool and stainless steel scrubbers: Steel wool and those stainless steel scrubbers (the curly kind) are not recommended, since metal pieces can more easily fall off over time and they are more awkward to use. They can also be too abrasive if you’re not careful and steel wool tends to rust with use. We tried many variations at my parent’s restaurant, so I am speaking from experience here.
- Bamboo wok brush: In the restaurants where I used to work, they all used large natural bristled (palmyra or bamboo) brushes (pictured below), and they worked very nicely for larger woks. You can find smaller-sized alternatives for home use.
- Bamboo scrub brush – If you decide to go with a natural bamboo brush with the thicker reeds, opt for a shorter and dense one that is easy to grip. The wooden handle and broad brush allows you to clean the wok quickly while keeping the hot wok and water from your hands. Smaller sizes are also best for home woks, which are generally about 14 inches (35 cm) in diameter. Avoid the long handled bamboo brushes that look like mini brooms—they can be a bit awkward to use. Although they work, we avoid brushes made from plastic, as they can create micro-plastic.
More on the bamboo scrub brush
These are super cheap and you can probably find one in the household goods aisle of a Chinese grocery store (follow the stacks of brightly colored plastic wash bins and rice cookers).
The long reedy bristles of the bamboo work great at scraping food bits off of the wok. There can be a bit more splashing though, so grab your apron before you go at it, or you’ll end up with a shirt full of grease spots.
Kaitlin has taken to using one and she feels it works great. Though, like a regular brush it can get funky, so you will probably want to replace it every 6-8 months or so depending on how often you use it and how its holding up. If it’s a longer style, you could also consider trimming the “bristles” so you get a fresh brush until it gets too short to use, then replace it.
Make sure it dries out on the counter between uses. Kaitlin stores hers upright.
Sarah prefers a traditional sponge. That’s siblings though, right?
Can I Damage My Wok With Cleaning/Soap?
You may think that washing your wok will hinder your efforts to build a non-stick patina. Some people avoid scrubbing it at all, and entirely avoid using soap as well. The result is a steady build-up of burnt residue on your wok and black bits in your food! Not to mention that the bumpy surface of the wok creates friction, and isn’t very non-stick.
The best way to develop a non-stick patina on your wok is to cook often and follow the regimen of washing, drying and oiling your wok I described here.
With time—cooking and enjoying lots of food—your wok will develop a non-stick patina.
Also important to non-stick wok cooking is properly heating your wok before adding oil and beginning to cook.
For more tips on non-stick cooking, see Judy’s post on How to Keep Food from Sticking to Your Wok. (This does not apply to woks with non-stick coatings, which we generally avoid, as they can’t safely be superheated like carbon steel.)
You can damage the patina of your wok while cooking with vinegar-y sauces and other very acidic ingredients or using it as a steamer. If your patina breaks down due to this, don’t worry. Just follow the same wash and dry routine, and the patina will build back up with frequent cooking and proper care.
Where Should I Store My Wok?
Store it like you do all of your pots and pans. Keep it in a dry place in your kitchen to prevent rust and oxidation. If you’re storing your wok long term, avoid closets or the attic over your basement, where it may be damp and cause rusting over time.
That’s it! We hope that clears up any confusion. Go forth and cook! (And then wash your wok like an expert.)
How to Wash a Wok
- neutral oil (optional)
Step 1: Cool your wok slightly
- Once you are done cooking, let the wok cool down to a manageable temperature before you transfer it to a sink. Generally, it’s best to clean a warm wok while grease, oil, and food bits are still soft.
- Don’t let the wok sit for very long with sauce or excess food in it, as it may begin to rust. This is especially important when cooking with acidic ingredients (citrus juice, vinegar, etc.). These acidic ingredients can begin stripping your wok’s patina within minutes!
Step 2: Scrub your wok
- Once it’s in the sink, if there is a thick residue of sauce or crusty bits, use your metal spatula to gently scrape them off with some water. This helps avoid gunging up your sponge. Don’t worry about any minor scratches to the wok.
- Grab a scrubbing sponge, and using light yet firm pressure, scrub the wok in a circular motion, starting in the middle of the wok and continuing up the sides. Make sure to clean the entire surface. If your wok is extra greasy, you can use a small amount of mild dish soap.
- The goal is not to make the wok one even color or to shine it up. The wok surface should simply be smooth and free of residue. Run your fingers along the surface of the wok to check! The wok may still feel slightly greasy. This is okay. But if you feel any bumpy bits, keep scrubbing.
- Give the wok a good rinse. Pour off any standing water, give it a quick shake, and return it to the stovetop.
Step 3: Dry Your Wok
- Heat your wok on the stove until it's completely dry. You can use a paper towel to wipe off any standing water to speed the process.
Step 4: Oil Your Wok
- This step is somewhat optional if you cook with your wok daily, but it’s recommended if you use your wok less frequently, or if you want to build your wok’s patina more quickly. Spread 1 teaspoon vegetable oil around the perimeter of the heated, dry wok, and wipe the entire surface down with a paper towel. Make sure you get every spot!
- The paper towel may have a light brownish color on it, which is normal. If the towel is dark brown, you probably could have done a bit more cleaning. Just fold the paper towel to a clean side and re-wipe, or return it to the sink for another light washing.