How to Clean Cast Iron

Cast iron pan with towel and spatula

Rayia Soderberg / Unsplash

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 25 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Cast iron is a centuries-old material that is beloved by professionals and home cooks for its ability to conduct heat evenly and retain heat. This ability allows foods to be cooked at a lower temperature and leaves foods with a moist interior and wonderfully-thick crusts.

From a variety of cookware styles to outdoor grills, cast iron is versatile and can be used with gas, electric, and ceramic cooktops, ovens, and open fires. Most cast iron cookware offered for sale today comes pre-seasoned so that foods won't stick. But even with proper cleaning and care, there will come a time that the cookware needs to be reseasoned.

Learn how to clean and care for cast iron, rejuvenate rusted areas, and reseason the cookware for years of use with just a few simple products.

Warning

Cast iron must be washed by hand. It should never be placed in a dishwasher. The excessive amount of water and the harsh detergent will strip the oils from the cookware and allow it to rust.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Non-abrasive sponge or dishcloth
  • Non-abrasive plastic scraper
  • Dishcloth
  • Stiff-bristled nylon scrubbing brush

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Paper towels
  • Vegetable oil
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice
  • Plastic wrap or plastic bag

Instructions

How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware After Cooking

If your cookware is well-seasoned, clean-up is very quick and easy. Grates on waffle irons, cast iron grills, and decorative pieces can be cleaned using the following steps.

  1. Allow the Cast Iron to Cool

    Allow the cast iron skillet or griddle to cool slightly before cleaning.

    Warning

    Never plunge a hot cast iron pan into a sink of cool water. A rapid change in temperature can cause the pan to weaken and even break.

  2. Wipe Down While Still Warm

    While the cast iron is still warm, use a dry paper towel to wipe away any food residue or excess oil on the cooking surface.

  3. Safely Remove Stuck-on Food and Grease

    Since cast iron can rust, it should not be left to soak in a sink of water to remove stuck-on food. Use a non-abrasive plastic scraper to clean away food residue. Do not use steel wool or a metal scraper that can damage the seasoned surface.

    If the pan feels sticky or oily, use a few drops of dishwashing liquid on a non-abrasive sponge or dishcloth to wipe out the pan after removing any food bits.

    Warning

    Never allow cast iron cookware to soak in water for an extended period. Soaking removes all of the oil that seasons the pan and prevents food from sticking. Removing the oil can lead to corrosive rust.

  4. Rinse Well

    Rinse the interior and exterior of the pan or both sides of the grill grate in hot water to remove any soap residue.

  5. Dry Immediately

    Immediately dry the cast iron pieces with paper towels or a soft dishcloth. Never allow cast iron to air dry.

    To ensure that the cast iron is completely dry before storing, place the cookware over a cooktop heating element set to medium-low or in a warm oven set at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for five to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cast iron to cool completely before storing..

  6. Lightly Reseason if Needed

    If you feel the cookware needs to be reseasoned, especially after washing with dishwashing liquid, it should be done before heating the cast iron to dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the interior of the pan and use paper towels to distribute it evenly over the entire surface. Rub the oil into the surface until it is absorbed.

    Heat the oiled cast iron on the cooktop or in the oven for five to 10 minutes and allow to cool before storing.

How to Restore and Reseason Rusty Cast Iron

If you are lucky enough to find some vintage cast iron but it is coated with rust, it can usually be saved if the rust has not damaged the integrity of the piece. Once the rust has eaten through the iron to create holes or caused the iron to feel thin, too much damage has occurred to save the cookware.

  1. Scrape Away Rust

    Use a non-metallic scraper to remove as much loose rust as possible. Do this step outside, if possible, to prevent rust particles from staining other surfaces.

  2. Create a Rust-Removing Paste

    Mix a paste of lemon juice and baking soda by mixing one tablespoon of lemon juice with one cup of baking soda. Double the batch if necessary to have enough to cover all of the rusted areas.

  3. Let the Paste Work

    Apply the baking soda paste to the rusty areas and cover with plastic wrap or place the cookware in a sealable plastic bag. Allow the paste to work for at least 24 hours and then scrub the piece with a stiff-bristled brush to remove the rust. 

    Repeat the steps if there is rust remaining. Rinse well with hot water, dry completely, and reseason the cookware.

    Tip

    If you would like, you can use a commercial oven cleaner to remove the rust from cast iron. Protect surrounding surfaces with plastic or old newspaper and coat the cast iron with the oven cleaner. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated space. Cover with plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag for 24 hours. Rinse well with hot water. Repeat if needed.

  4. Reseasoning Steps

    • Heat an oven to 500 degrees F.
    • Add one tablespoon of vegetable oil or melted solid vegetable shortening to the cast iron. Use a paper towel to wipe down the interior and exterior of the cookware until it is black and shiny. There should be a thin coating of oil on every surface.
    • Place a disposable pan in the oven on a lower rack to catch any oily drips.
    • Place the oil-coated cast iron upside down in the hot oven. Bake for one hour. Turn the oven off and allow the cast iron to cool completely before using it.