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How to Clean Cast Iron Skillets and Pans

Cast iron pans are an incredible investment in your kitchen. In this post we’ll go over how to clean cast iron skillets and pans and restore them for years to come.

Cast iron pans are durable, and with a little care and attention can be used for centuries.

dutch baby in a clean cast iron skillet

I’ve seen stories of cast iron skillets being recovered from house fires, or abandoned cabins that are lovingly restored and put back into use!

While you might not be restoring something as dramatic, regular cleaning and reseasoning can help lengthen the working life of your pans.

Don’t worry! While there are a few rules, it’s not as complicated as it may seem.

Before we talk about cleaning cast iron skillets, we need to talk about how NOT to clean them.

  • do not use regular soap (see below for cast iron soap)
  • do not use a harsh brush like a brillo pad
  • do not put them in a dish washer
  • do not soak them in water

All of these methods will damage the “season” you’ll have on them and you’ll have to reseason them. (More on that below).

oil and food in a cast iron skillet

How to Clean Cast Iron Skillets

There are two different scenarios for cleaning cast iron – cleaning after daily use, and a good deep cleaning before you reseason.

You want to clean your cast iron skillets as soon as possible after cooking to prevent corrosives (such as water or acidic food) from damaging the seasoning, causing foods to stick.

For daily cleaning, you have a few options:

Use Paper Towels

If your cast iron skillet is well seasoned and nothing is really stuck to it after cooking, simply wipe the inside well with a paper towel.

If you find your food is stuck to your pan, you can:

Use Salt

You can use salt, kosher salt specifically, to remove the stubborn bits of food from your cast iron pans.

While still warm, pour 1 cup of it into the pan, then use a folded kitchen towel to scrub it clean.

Rinse the cast iron pan with hot water to remove the salt, then dry it using a clean kitchen towel or place it back over a hot stove top to quicken evaporation.

Use Water

While still on the stovetop on low to medium-low heat, add a cup or so of water and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Then take a flat, wooden spatula and scrape the stubborn bits off the bottom of your pan.

After this you should be able to rinse off the gunk and wipe it dry.

a whole chicken roasted in a cast iron pan

However, if you notice food sticking to your cast iron pan more often than not, it’s time to reseaon it.

Before reseaoning, however, you need to clean it well.

Use Cast Iron Soap

Some companies make a cast iron soap that works on food and grease, but does not damage your pans. Check out this cast iron soap from Livana.

The best way to keep your cast iron skillets clean, though, is to season them well.

pasta cooked in a cast iron skillet

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning your cast iron skillet means applying a layer of oil to the metal to create a non-stick surface and to protect the cast iron from corrosives that will cause it to rust.

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F
  2. Start by cleaning your cast iron pan thoroughly using warm, soapy water.
  3. Scrub the surface until clean.
  4. Especially when you’re cleaning an old cast iron pan, it is often difficult to remove food residues completely. You might want to use paper towels or rags to finish it off. Take note that it is not necessary to scrub the outer surface of the pan. Though scrubbing this part makes it look nicer, it is not necessary since it doesn’t come in direct contact with food.
  5. Coat the inner and outer surface of your cast iron pan with vegetable oil.
  6. Place the cast iron pan inside the oven in an upside-down position, with a cookie sheet underneath and bake it for about an hour.
  7. After an hour, remove the cast iron pan from the oven and let it cool.
  8. Once it is cool enough to handle, grab a paper towel and rub it across the surface of your cast oil pain. If nothing rubs off, your pan is reseasoned. If black residue rubs off, you may need to repeat the process.
bacon frying over an open fire in a cast iron skillet

How Often Should I Re-Season Cast Iron?

Re-seasoning your cast iron pan would depend on how often you use it. Kitchen experts suggest that you do it a few times a year.

With a little extra tender love and care your cast iron will serve you for decades and be something you can hand down to your children!