How to Clean Cast-Iron Cookware

If you take good care of your cast-iron cookware, it will last a lifetime. Learn how to restore and maintain your cast-iron kitchen pieces so you can pass them on to the next generation.

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Here are some quick tips that will keep your cast-iron skillet in great shape:

Clean immediately after use, as soon as the pan has cooled to the touch. Don’t let the pan soak too long as it will rust. Use hot water (and a tiny bit of soap, but only if necessary to remove residue). Don’t use an abrasive scrubber, use a scrub sponge or brush. Dry well, coat with oil, then wipe off the excess oil.

Choose your cleaning technique based on the state of your skillet. When food remnants are rinsed off, simply wash your skillet with hot water and pat it dry with a paper towel, as the cookware could leave dark marks on fabric towels.

If the residue won’t just wash away, use a bit of soap. It’s a common misconception that cast iron and soap don’t mix. Get your cast iron wet with warm water and soap, scrub it gently with a sponge or brush, and dry with a paper towel.

If the food bits seem like they are glued to your cast iron, go with one of these two tactics: coarse salt or chainmail.

Toss about a tablespoon of coarse salt in the skillet. Use a sponge to scrub the salt pieces around the pan, especially the problem areas. Once finished, throw away the dirty salt and rinse the now-empty skillet with warm water. Dry with a paper towel or a clean towel that you don’t care about, as it will leave dark marks on the fabric.

Chainmail is a small rectangle of rustproof stainless steel. Place it in your cooled cookware, fill it with warm water, then firmly scrub the entire pan with the chain mail. Rinse and repeat until fully clean. Dry the pan before storing.

To eliminate any lingering odors and flavors, kill bacteria, and minimize discoloration, sprinkle a bit of baking soda over your cookware as you rinse it with warm water, then lightly scrub with a nylon brush.

How to season your cast-iron skillet

Seasoning is the process of adhering oil to the surface of your cast-iron cookware to create a protective coating. New pans are factory-seasoned, but if you notice food starting to stick more and more, that means it’s time to reseason it.

Here is how:

The professional way

  1. Line the lower oven rack with aluminum foil and preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Scrub the pan with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush to remove any residue or rust. Rinse your skillet.
  3. Towel-dry your skillet, then drop a tablespoon of vegetable oil on the pan and spread it around using a paper towel. Oil the outside and the handle, too.
  4. Wipe off excess oil with a folded paper towel. Keep the skillet lightly greased.
  5. Place the skillet, upside down, on the upper rack for about an hour. Turn the oven off and leave the pan inside until it’s cool. The oil will bake into the pan’s pores, this provides a nonstick finish.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 a second time, and you will have an almost glassy surface of seasoning.

The quickest way

  1. Scrub the pan with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush to remove any residue or rust. Rinse your skillet.
  2. Towel-dry your skillet, then drop a tablespoon of vegetable oil on the pan and spread it around using a paper towel. Oil the outside and the handle, too. Keep the skillet lightly greased.
  3. Place the skillet on the stove and turn on the heat for a couple of minutes, then take it off and store it in the oven until it cools.

How to store your cast-iron skillet

Hefty, durable cast iron skillets are easy to store. Their only true nemesis is water. So, keep them dry, and you’ll keep the rust at bay.

Store in a dry cabinet. Your kitchen cabinet is the optimal storage space for a cast-iron skillet. Just make sure it’s dry, as excess moisture rusts cast iron in a hurry. We recommend making drying thoroughly part of your cast-iron cleaning routine.

Keep on the stovetop. Feel free to display your cast-iron skillet on the countertop or stove, as long as it’s moisture-free and far from the kitchen sink.

Stow in the oven. Ovens make a great storage space for cast-iron cookware, but only if your pans are free of wooden parts or plastic (such as the handle holder). Always remember to remove the skillet before heating the oven.

Hang on a sturdy hook. You can hang your cast-iron skillets and pans on the wall, just be sure your hooks are securely mounted to studs. These bad boys are heavy. Hanging makes them both decorative and readily available. Bonus point: the free airflow will help prevent rust!

Place paper towels between pans. No matter where you keep your pans, you can prevent scratching and rusting by stacking your cast-iron pieces, including any lids, between paper towel sheets.

How to restore a rusty skillet

Cast iron is prone to rust. But even if you snag a rusty skillet at the flea market, that orange will come off with a little love. Follow a few simple steps to make your cast iron look new again.

  1. Wet your skillet, add a little dish soap, then use steel wool to scrub in small circles, focusing on the rustiest parts first. Continue until the original dark gray iron emerges.
  2. Rinse the copper-brown cleaning residue off in the sink. Use a softer, soapy sponge to scrub again, buffing off any remaining residue or rust.
  3. Wipe your skillet with a clean dishrag. Note that the skillet can leave dark stains on the rag. Place the cast-iron skillet on the stove and turn on the heat for a few minutes. Any lingering moisture will evaporate.
  4. Follow the step-by-step instructions we mentioned above:
    • Prep the oven
    • Get to scrubbing
    • Oil it up
    • Pat it down
    • Stick it in the oven
    • Repeat

Daily care tips

The more you use your cast-iron cookware, the better it will perform. Each use adds a layer of polymerized oil molecules that will ultimately make the metal darker and shinier, essentially creating a nonstick surface.

Remember to heat cast-iron cookware gradually. Make sure to allow a few extra minutes of preheating. If your pan gets too hot, it might start smoking, then turn off the heat, allow it to partially cool, and then proceed. To prevent this from happening, consider cooking at a lower heat setting than you typically would.

Try to clean cast-iron cookware as soon as the pan has cooled to the touch. And remember that submerging hot cast iron in cold water could cause it to crack!

Don’t let cast iron soak too long. Long exposure to water will create rust very quickly.

Make maintenance even easier with this handy kit. Slip-on the handle holder to prevent burns, get out the scrubber and scraper for quick cleanup, and spritz some seasoning spray to prep for your next meal.

Or this option from the same brand for enameled cast skillets:

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