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How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware: 5 Easy Steps

Is the “no soap” rumor true? It sure is. 

Cleaning your cast iron pan wrong can ruin it — and cast iron is not cheap. With that being every cook’s worst nightmare, it’s important to know how to clean cast iron properly.

We’ll run you through the step-by-step instructions for cleaning, seasoning, and storing cast iron cookware. Plus, we’ve got the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Key Takeaways

  • Let the cast iron cool down completely before cleaning with hot water and a stiff brush specifically made for cast iron.
  • To remove stuck-on food, create a paste of water and kosher salt and scrub the areas well. Rinse and dry thoroughly immediately to avoid rust.
  • Season your cast iron pan by applying vegetable shortening and baking it in the oven at 350°F for 1-2 hours. This creates a protective layer for better cooking and easier cleanup.
  • Store cast iron pans on the stovetop or in a dry cupboard with paper towels or dish towels between cookware to avoid scratches and rust.

How to Clean Cast Iron

When you’re done cooking with your cast iron pan, don’t clean it right away. Instead, follow these instructions.

  1. Let it cool: Don’t blast your cast iron cookware with water immediately after cooking. The sudden temperature changes can cause warping (1). Instead, let it cool down completely before moving on.
  2. Hot water: Once the pan has cooled, run it under some hot water to loosen up stuck-on food.
  3. Scrub: You should now scrub clean the cast iron cookware with a stiff brush specifically made for cast iron. You don’t need soap or anything abrasive to clean. These substances can take away the seasoning of the pan. It might seem a little weird to clean a pan without soap but it’s okay.
  4. Removing stuck-on food: If the stiff brush and hot water haven’t removed stuck-on food, there’s another trick you can try. Create a paste with water and kosher salt and scrub the areas well. Alternatively, you can heat the cast iron pan on the stove using a low temperature. The heat should loosen the food up, and you should be able to scrub them off with your stiff brush. Never soak a cast iron pan in hot water to remove stubborn bits of food; this can lead to rusting.
  5. Dry: Dry the cast iron cookware immediately with a dish towel. If you don’t, it could easily rust.

Extra Tips

Never put cast iron in the dishwasher. This will ruin it for sure . Another thing — if you do use soap or an abrasive sponge, you will need to re-season your pan before using it again.

How to Season Cast Iron

It’s likely that your cast iron pan came from the manufacturer unseasoned, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to go like that. You should season it before you use it. This will create a nice coating over the pan for better cooking, a longer lifespan of the span, and easier cleanup. It won’t create a completely non-stick pan, but it will come pretty close. Here’s how to season cast iron:

  1. Clean: Make sure the cookware is clean before starting by following the above steps. Even if it’s just arrived, you should still give it a quick clean.
  2. Dry: Before seasoning, make sure the cast iron is bone dry.
  3. Heat your oven: The oven is where you’ll season your pan, so heat up your oven to 350°F.
  4. Apply shortening: While the oven is heating, apply a layer of vegetable shortening all over the cast iron pan. Yep, this even includes the handle and exterior!
  5. Bake: Place aluminum foil on a baking tray. Put the cast iron cookware face down onto the tray and bake for 1-2 hours. The heat from this will harden the shortening creating a protective seasoning layer.
  6. Turn oven off: After 1-2 hours, turn off the oven but don’t remove the pan. Let it cool slowly in the oven.
  7. Remove: Remove and you’re ready to use your pan!

Check This Out

When your cast iron cookware arrives, always check the specific manufacturer’s advice for seasoning it. It may not match up with our advice. You always want to follow the manufacturer’s advice in case the cast iron has added materials that need to be specially treated.

How to Store Cast Iron

With such luxurious and expensive cookware, you don’t want to just wedge it in a cupboard and hope for the best.

The best way to store cast iron is to keep it on the stovetop. Here, it’s away from moisture, dampness, and the risk of being scratched by other cookware in the cupboard.

If you don’t want to keep it on the stovetop, you can store it in your oven. But remember to take it out before turning your oven on.

If you want to store it in a cupboard or cabinet, always make sure it’s dry in there. Ensure that the other cookware, including the cast iron, is also dry otherwise, the cast iron can easily rust. You should also put paper towels or dish towels between the cookware to avoid scratches.

FAQs About Cast Iron

Can I Clean Cast Iron With Vinegar?

If your cast iron has been struck by rust, vinegar is a great way to clean it. Follow these steps:

  1. Mix water and white vinegar in equal parts in a large bucket or sink, big enough to submerge the pan.
  2. Soak the pan in the mixture, checking on it every hour. You can soak for up to eight hours because it’s not just water, but if you notice it rusting anymore, take it out. If the rust is gone — feel free to remove it from the mixture. You don’t want to leave it in any longer than necessary in case the vinegar starts to ruin the cast iron coating.
  3. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Can You Use Dish Soap on Cast Iron?

You shouldn’t use dish soap on cast iron. Since cast iron is seasoned and dish soap is designed to remove oil, then it can take off the pan’s seasoning.

Is It Ok to Use Steel Wool on Cast Iron?

Anything abrasive, including steel wool, can damage the cast iron and remove the season. Avoid steel wool.

Do You Clean Cast Iron After Every Use?

Yep! Even though you don’t need to use soap, you should still clean cast iron skillet after each use. This removes food residue and ensures you don’t transfer flavor from one dish to another. No one wants morning eggs that taste like last night’s steak.

What is the Best Oil to Season Cast Iron?

We recommend vegetable shortening, but if you want to opt for oil, flaxseed or grapeseed oil are great choices. Flaxseed oil has a low percentage of saturated fat which allows it to create a better bond to your cast iron (2). Grapeseed oil also has a low percentage of saturated fat, but it’s even cheaper than flaxseed oil, so if you’re on a budget, this is a perfect alternative (3).

Can You Over Season Cast Iron?

It’s unlikely you’ll over-season your cast iron. It’s better to season it too often than not often enough. You should remember to re-season your cast iron as per the manufacturer’s instructions whenever it is looking dull, not cooking as well, or beginning to rust.

How Can You Tell If Cast Iron Is Seasoned?

If a cast iron pan is seasoned, it will be dark and slightly glossy. It won’t be sticky or grease, rusty, dull or dry in any way. You can always test it out by frying an egg over one tablespoon of vegetable oil. If you notice a lot of sticking — it’s time to re-season the pan.

When In Doubt

Season your cast iron. If you’re unsure at all, it’s probably best to give it a seasoning refresh.

Can You Ruin a Cast Iron Pan?

You may have heard that cast iron is indestructible. Many cast iron pans are passed down through generations or come with a lifetime warranty. But there are some definite ways you can ruin your cast iron pan:

  • It’s covered in rust. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsalvageable, but it may be extremely difficult to fix.
  • You warped it by subjecting it to extreme temperature changes, like running it under cool water while it was still hot.
  • It went in the dishwasher. Being tossed around in hot and soapy water, with a slightly abrasive texture, is just the thing to remove the seasoning and damage the cast iron beneath.
  • You don’t dry it thoroughly before storing it. This will lead to rust.
  • It’s cracked. If you dropped it or it cracked via extreme temperature changes, the pan is unfortunately ruined and you will need to dispose of it.

Is Rust on Cast Iron Dangerous?

If you’re eating off rusty cast iron, the chances are nothing bad will happen to you (4). The even better news is that you can fix a rusty cast iron pan, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t clean it before using it again.

Does Coke Remove Rust From Cast Iron?

Give it a go! The phosphoric acid in Coke can remove rust (5). To attempt this method, try this:

  1. Pour Coke into a sink or basin and submerge the cast iron. You may need a few cans of Coke for this!
  2. Leave the cast iron cookware in there for a few minutes between checking on it. It may only take a few minutes to remove the rust.
  3. Once the rust is gone, remove it from the Coke and rinse well.
  4. Dry thoroughly.

Easy peasy!

Is Black Residue on Cast Iron Bad?

No, don’t worry about this. It’s all part of the charm of cooking with cast iron. If you do notice it though, you should clean it — it just won’t harm you. It can affect the cooking experience and the taste though. What it is is basically burnt food or greases building up on the pan. Some people like the charred flavor, but let’s be honest, most of us don’t.

Cooking With Cast Iron

Cast iron is a durable, long-lasting and versatile cookware type. To clean it, all you need is a stiff cast iron brush and hot water. No soap. No sponges. It’s pretty easy to clean, but it does take a bit of getting used to.

The most important thing you can do for your cast iron cookware is to season it well and regularly. This will prevent food from sticking and give you the best possible cooking experience.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!