The Secret of How to Clean Cast Iron in Four Easy Steps

Best Of Hometalk
by Best Of Hometalk
5 Materials

How many times have you passed up a rusty cast iron pan at a thrift store or a garage sale thinking that it was ruined and not worth taking home?

How to Clean a Cast Iron skillet (pixabay)

At some point, everyone hears the myth that cast iron cannot be cleaned. Not true! Despite the fact that they can’t be washed in the dishwasher and are heavier than most kitchen cookware, a cast iron skillet can outperform and outlast other pans in your kitchen with very minimal care. Although many rusted or burnt cast iron pans are simply discarded; with just a few household ingredients and a little bit of work, cleaning a cast iron pan can easily restore it to its original beauty and function. 

Learn how to clean a burnt pot, too.

Cleaning Cast Iron (Shawna Bailey)

See post: Shawna Bailey|How to Clean and Reseason a Rusty Cast Iron Pan

Why rescue and clean a cast iron pan that looks like the one above? Aside from the fact that cooking with cast iron produces wonderful tasting food, there are many other benefits! Cast iron retains heat better than any other cooking surface; making it incredibly good at evenly searing food. While most kitchen pans wear out and get replaced after repeated use, cast iron pans actually improve with age and perform better the more they are used! That is the more times a cast iron pan cooks and is seasoned by cooking oils, the better the natural nonstick coating on the pan becomes. A cast iron pan doesn’t have a chemical coating on it like other nonstick cookware found in kitchens, lessening the risk that chemicals find their way into food and allowing for any cooking utensils to be used on it without worry of scratching or damaging the pan.

The minimal effort cleaning cast iron takes pays dividends and caring for cast iron pans is an investment in the future of your cooking. Next time you see a rusty or dirty cast iron pan, be sure to salvage it with these easy steps!

How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan (Quick and Dirty Tips)

See post: Quick and Dirty Tips|9 Tips for Caring for Cast Iron Pans

How to Clean Rusty Cast Iron

Follow four simple steps—scrub, rinse, season, bake— and discover the secret to how to clean cast iron using products you probably already have at home.

Step Scrub Rusty Cast Iron

The first step to cleaning cast iron is to remove the rust. One simple and extremely effective way to do this is by cleaning cast iron with salt. Two items found in most homes—a damp cloth and kosher salt— may be all that is necessary to scrub the rust and grime from a cast iron pan that would otherwise be thrown away. Simply dip a damp cloth in kosher salt and carefully rub off the rust from the surface, including the inside edges of the pan.

How to Clean and Reseason a Rusty Cast Iron Pan (Shawna Bailey)

See post: Shawna Bailey|How to Clean and Reseason a Rusty Cast Iron Pan

Step Rinse and Dry the Pan

Although the rust was most likely caused by water left on the surface of the pan, this step is very important to ensure that all of the grime and dust just scrubbed free gets completely removed! Rinse the pan thoroughly under running water until the water runs clear and towel dry it. When most of the moisture is removed, move the pan to the stovetop and heat to completely remove all moisture and begin to open the pores for seasoning. Be cautious now that the pan is hot!

How to Clean and Reseason a Rusty Cast Iron Pan (Shawna Bailey)

See post: Shawna Bailey|How to Clean and Reseason a Rusty Cast Iron Pan

Step Season Pan with Oil

Place a sheet of tinfoil across the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Using oven mitts, carefully remove the pan from the stove and, while the pan is still warm, coat the pan with the oil of your choice on both the inside and outside. Vegetable oil, coconut oil, olive oil, or even the flaxseed oil shown below work well. If necessary, use tongs to hold a cloth or paper towel to rub the oil into the pan to avoid the risk of a burn. Seasoning the pan with oil seals the pores of the pan and allows a nonstick coating to build up that will provide the best cooking surface.

Clean Cast Iron Flax Oil (Michelle)

See post: Michelle|How to Season a Brand New Cast Iron Pan

Step Bake

Place the oiled pan face down directly on the top oven rack, making sure a tinfoil sheet covers the rack below to catch any oil drips. Bake the pan for one hour. Carefully remove the very hot pan from the oven and admire the restored sheen! The pan should now appear more black than gray. Rub away any excess oil and let the pan cool thoroughly before storing until ready to use.

Restoring Cast Iron Pans (Kathy R.)

See post: Kathy R.|Restoring Cast Iron Pans

How to Clean a Cast Iron Grill

Now that you know the best way to clean cast iron, have you thought of any other items in your home that might benefit from the same treatment? Of course, these tips are helpful for anyone with dirty or rusty pans that need rescuing; but what about using these same strategies to solve the problem of how to clean a cast iron grill? Instead of replacing worn and rusty cast iron grill grates that have been neglected, use steps similar to this tutorial to clean, season and protect them! Rubbing Crisco shortening on cast iron grill grates before using them prevents rust from forming and also prevents the frustrating problem of food sticking to them while cooking. Scrub the dirty grill grates clean and free of rust, season with oil, and heat in oven at 350° for one hour. Repeat as many times as necessary to restore the grates.

How to Clean Cast Iron Grill (Home Repair Tutor)

See post: Home Repair Tutor|Cast Iron Grill Grates: Season with Crisco to Stop Rust and Sticking Food

How to Clean Cast Iron Stove Grates

Just as the same principles from the tutorial apply to how to clean a cast iron grill, follow similar steps for how to clean cast iron stove grates. After thoroughly cleaning cast iron stove grates and burners, cover every surface with oil and bake them in a 350° oven for one hour; repeating as many times as necessary to remove any sticky residue.

The time invested in taking these steps to preserve and protect cast iron provides years of quality cooking on a surface that improves the more it is used. Rather than investing in cookware that will wear out and need replacing, try to salvage and care for cast iron that will last a lifetime! Remember the four easy steps for how to clean cast iron—scrub, rinse, season, and bake.

Have you rescued a rusty or seemingly ruined cast iron pan or have a cast iron pan that has lasted through many years— or even generations— of cooking? Maybe these tips inspired you to start your own beautiful cast iron pan collection? 

How to Clean Cast Iron Stove Grates (Kathy R.)

See post: Kathy R.|Restoring Cast Iron Pans

Share before and after photos of cast iron that you rescued, tips on how you keep your cast iron looking beautiful, or photos of cast iron that has been in your family for years with other Hometalk readers!

Written for the Hometalk community by: Kate Griffin | Eating in the Shower Blog

Frequently asked questions
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3 of 15 questions
  • Christina Christina on Mar 02, 2019

    Any tips on taking out the wobble. Purchased and reseasoned a few pans. They are lovely.. but have a wobble, one only appears when the pan is heated.

  • Kathy Kathy on Jan 05, 2020

    Do you have a solution for pots

  • Aronel Aronel on May 27, 2020

    My cast iron skillet has 60 years of built up black hard stuff on the outside and inside rim and on the bottom inside. I still use it but love to know how to get all that "build up" cleaned off. It is the only pan that I use to make pancakes in. The build up on inside bottom is almost as thick as the outside rim. How can I clean it off?

Join the conversation
4 of 34 comments
  • Ney86 Ney86 on Feb 06, 2019

    I have always put a lil cooking oil and salt ! Rub in to pan with a paper towel or dish cloth then smoke it on burner. Makes a nice clean smooth surface . Its called smoke it! Was tought this from generations!! Works well for me...

    • Ney86 Ney86 on Feb 11, 2019

      Thamk you ! It has been passed down for years only i ment to say it seasoned. Lol

  • Lisa Carll Lisa Carll on Feb 12, 2019

    Husband thought I was crazy for buying 3 nice size, rusty cast iron pans at a auction for $10.00. I knew they could be cleaned and were worth a great deal more than I paid. So thank you for your great advice. Now my husband is eating his words, once I showed him the price on good cast iron pans.

    • Rob Wagner Rob Wagner on Feb 13, 2019

      The garage sale pans are probably better as the have been used and will be easier to season after they are cleaned. I have also removed rust with vinegar soaking in pan overnight then rinse then this process.