How to Clean and Re-Season a Cast Iron Skillet

5 from 1 vote

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If you’re new to this age-old cookware, you will need to know how to clean cast iron, as well as how to season it. Some people may initially feel intimidated by the care and maintenance of cast iron, but with a little know-how and technique, cleaning and maintaining your cast iron cookware can be incredibly simple and rewarding.

black cast iron skillet on a white background with a blue-green towel beside it and a metal spatula with brown wood handle in it.
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Cooking with cast iron is making a comeback and with good reason. Cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens are extremely versatile cookware that boasts a wide range of amazing advantages over stainless steel, copper, and other varieties of pots and pans. 

Cast iron, made from a molten mixture of iron and steel, has unique properties that make it visually appealing, naturally non-stick, and extremely durable. It’s no wonder chefs worldwide are again turning to this traditional cookware.

Why You’ll Love Cooking With Cast Iron

  • Nonstick surface
  • Safer and healthier material
  • Durable and indestructible
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Versatile uses for cooking

Properly Seasoned Cast Iron is Naturally Nonstick

This classic cookware is a great choice for household use due to its nonstick nature, perfect for making Saturday morning blueberry pancakes.

Unlike other cooking materials, cast iron is porous. When heated, these pores expand, allowing cooking oil, fat, or lard to penetrate the pan’s surface, where it is cooked into the cast iron surface. 

This coating accumulates every time you cook and helps to form the seasoning on the cast iron, which makes a nonstick surface. Cooking bacon in cast iron is an excellent and delicious way to keep the pan seasoned.

Just keep cooking in the pan, and it will become more nonstick as it ages and is used.

black cast iron skillet on greenish background with a black and white towel around handle and cooked bacon with grease in skillet.

Cast Iron is Safer and Healthier

By maintaining properly seasoned cast iron cookware, you will no longer need to purchase conventional nonstick pans, which are made of questionable materials.

Conventional nonstick cookware often contains Teflon, which can be hazardous to humans.  Studies have linked Teflon-coated pans to an increased risk of some types of cancer, changes in liver enzymes, increased blood cholesterol levels, and other issues. 

Teflon also poses some environmental risks, is hazardous to birds, and should be avoided in any home with pet birds. 

Cast iron, on the other hand, does not pose these risks and is a much safer alternative.

black cast iron skillet on black stove with cooked sausage links and grease in the skillet.

Durable and Nearly Indestructible

Cast iron is a heavy and resilient material that can withstand a surprising amount of wear and tear. Its heavy nature not only helps it cook evenly, but it almost guarantees that cookware will not have regular issues, like scratching, flaking, or handles falling off.

While many first-time users may feel intimidated by it at first, particularly when pans rust, even a very rusted pan can be rehabilitated and look as good as new with a little know-how. 

Because cast iron is such a durable material, many cast iron pans can last several lifetimes, becoming family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. 

Though cast iron is quite durable, it can be sensitive to temperature shocks.  When cleaning hot pans, only wash them in warm water.  Cold water can shock your pan causing it to crack.

Cast Iron is Simple and Easy to Clean and Maintain

Although they may look a little different, cleaning and maintaining cast iron cookware is not that much different than the maintenance required for stainless steel pots and pans. 

By knowing how to clean cast iron, maintain the seasoning, and which cleaning tools work best, you’ll have your cast iron looking great and cooking delicious recipes like old-fashioned cornbread in no time.

Cast Iron Pans are Incredibly Versatile.

Cast iron’s unique properties make it one of the best cooking materials. Not only is it naturally nonstick, but it also maintains an even cooking temperature and retains heat longer. 

Cast iron skillets are great for sauteing and frying, but they can also be used for broiling, baking, and much more. We use our cast iron pans to cook any number of amazing foods every single day!

three black cast iron skillets in a sink full of soapy water.

How to Clean Cast Iron

Keeping cast iron pans clean is simple and even gets easier the more seasoned the pans become over time and with frequent use. Here are some best tips for cleaning cast iron cookware.

General Cleaning of Cast Iron

Clean the pan immediately after use by simply wiping the surface clean with a moist paper towel or washcloth.  Thoroughly dry the pan right away to prevent rust. 

If a small amount of dark residue wipes off your pan during cleaning, it is just excess seasoning and is perfectly normal.

Cleaning Dirtier Cast Iron Pans

If food gets stuck in the pan, you will need to take care not to remove your pan’s seasoning during cleaning.  This is more likely to happen when the pans are newer or have recently been deep-cleaned. The cookware simply needs to rebuild or form a deep seasoning to make its surface truly nonstick.

It’s important not to use copper scrubbers or steel wool, as these can be too abrasive and remove seasoning. Instead, opt for chainmail scrubbers, pan scrapers, or cast iron scrub brushes, which will be gentler on your pan’s seasoning.

Though it may be tempting for stuck-on messes, never soak your cast iron in water. This will help prevent the pan from rusting.

Gently scrub with hot water.  While it is a commonly held belief that you should not use soap on your cast iron, a small amount of soap will not affect the seasoning and will make cleaning greasy pans easier.  

If you’re using dish soap, only use a drop or two and thoroughly rinse the pan. Too much dish soap can destroy your pan’s seasoning, so a little goes a long way.  After cleaning, thoroughly dry the pan.

For super stuck-on food, fill the pan with water and lightly simmer for three to five minutes, allowing the pan to cool before cleaning with a scrubber as above.

Regular Maintenance and Care for Cast Iron

When properly maintained, cast iron is simple to use and clean and will not need to be re-seasoned frequently.  The trick to keeping cast iron in tip-top shape is to use gentle cleaning techniques and keep your pan dry.

From time to time, if your pan starts to look dry or dull or food seems to be sticking, rub a bit of vegetable oil on your pan when it is still warm to maintain your pan’s seasoning.

four cast iron pans turned upside down inside an oven.

How to Refurbish and Season a Cast Iron Pan

Old, dull, and rusty cast iron pieces may look daunting at first, but they are simple to refurbish when you know what you’re doing, and you can save a lot of money by purchasing cast iron secondhand. 

Refurbish Cast Iron With a Deep Clean

Often, old cast iron will have spots of rust or old, cooked-on oil that has turned rancid over time and needs to be removed. If your pan has begun to rust, smell, or have sticky areas of cooked-on oil, it’s time for a deeper clean.

The only time you should use copper scrubbers or steel wool on your cast iron is when you are doing a deep clean. After wetting your pan, thoroughly scrub it inside and out with your scrubbers until all rust and other cooking residue is removed.

If needed, you can use dish soap during this process because you will be re-seasoning your pan next.

How to Re-Season Cast Iron Pans

After your cast iron is thoroughly cleaned, it’s time to re-season it.

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Next, using a paper towel, evenly coat the pan with a light layer of vegetable oil; your pan should be coated but not dripping with oil. 

Place the pan upside down in the oven and cook for one hour. This will allow the seasoning to bake into the cast iron, forming a natural, nonstick coating. This process can get messy, so you may want to place aluminum foil under the pan to catch any drippings.

Be sure to turn on the stove vent to limit any smoking!

After one hour, turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool completely before removing.  Your old cast iron pan is now re-seasoned and ready to use! 

To maintain the seasoning, simply follow the general care instructions above to keep your cast iron looking great for years to come.

For small amounts of rust, you likely won’t need to completely re-season a pan. Scour any rusted areas to remove rust and then reapply a thin layer of vegetable oil.

four black cast iron skillets nested together on a brown wood background.

Getting Started With a Brand New Cast Iron Skillet

While there is a lot to be said for buying cast iron secondhand, there is a lot of great cast iron cookware on the market today.  Sometimes it can be difficult to find used cast iron at secondhand stores and the like, so at times, buying new may be the only option.

If you’re starting your cast iron journey with a new piece, your pan will likely be coated in an anti-rust wax from the manufacturer.  Just as if you were working with a rusty pan, thoroughly scrub the new cast iron with a chainmail scrubber or cast iron scrub brush until the wax is removed.  Next, follow the steps above to season your pan with vegetable oil before use.

Cast Iron FAQs

When is it time to replace your cast iron?

Likely never!  Cast iron can last decades, if not lifetimes.  Improper cleaning, however, can damage cast iron over time.  If your skillet develops a crack or begins to corrode with holes, it’s time to replace it.

Can I put my cast iron pan in the dishwasher?

No, putting cast iron pans in the dishwasher is not recommended. Doing so will promote rusting. Hand washing with hot water and minimal soap, if necessary, is the best way to clean a cast iron pan. Additionally, make sure to dry it thoroughly after washing to prevent rust.

Can I use soap to clean my cast iron pan?

A drop or two of dish soap can be used to cut grease when cleaning cast iron pans. For a deep clean prior to re-seasoning, it’s okay to use soap since the pan will be going through the seasoning process again.

black cast iron skillet on greenish background with black and white towel under edge and uncooked bacon in pan.

Expert Tips for Cooking With and Keeping Cast Iron Pans

  • While cast iron can cook most dishes, highly acidic foods, such as wine and tomatoes, can react with cast iron pans causing metallic flavors to leach into the food.  If cooking acidic foods, make sure the pan is well-seasoned and try to keep cooking times short.  Once you’re done cooking, remove all food from the pan as soon as possible.
  • To ensure food doesn’t stick to the pan, warm it before adding cooking oil or butter.  Once the oil is heated, add the food, and it will be much less likely to stick.
  • For proper storage, keep cast iron pans in a dry place, and store them with their lids in place if possible.

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5 from 1 vote

How to Clean and Re-Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Here’s a simple tutorial on how to clean cast iron which is a great skill to know for when you see cast iron skillets or Dutch ovens at the thrift store. 
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 2 hours
Total: 3 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 1

Ingredients 

  • Cast iron skillet or other cookware pieces
  • Scrubby
  • Soap and water
  • Vegetable oil

Instructions 

  • Get your hands on some beautiful cast iron pieces.
  • Wash them in hot soapy water. If they are rusty or coarse, use a copper scrubber or steel wool to really scrub them. You can scrub inside and out. The goal is to remove any old oil, sticky spots, or general "crud". Don't fear the scrub or the soap. This is a one-time deep clean.
  •  Rinse very well and then pat dry with a dish towel or paper towels.
  • Evenly coat the inside and outside of the pan with vegetable oil using a paper towel. This is just a light layer, no need to put it on thick. It should be darker in color but not dripping with oil.
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. and place the pan upside down in the hot oven. You can line the bottom of the oven with foil to catch any oil drips if you like. Let the pan bake for one hour. Expect it to be pretty smoky 🙂 After one hour, turn off the oven and let the pan stay in the warm oven until it has cooled (that will take a few hours).
  •  Your cast iron is now clean, seasoned and ready to use.

Notes

  • When cooking with your cast iron skillet, it’s best to warm the skillet and then add a layer of fat to the pan before adding your food. This helps things like eggs not to stick.
  • When you are cleaning cast iron moving forward, if it’s not too dirty, just wipe it out with a paper towel or a damp cloth.
  • If it’s quite dirty or things are stuck to it, wash it in hot water and use a stainless steel chainmail scrubber. This is a lifesaver for cast iron, and I use mine all the time. The chainmail scrubs but doesn’t scratch. 
  • You can reoil your cast iron as needed. If it looks a little dull, add a light layer of oil to the inside and outside and spread it around with a paper towel. There is no need to heat it again in the oven.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 seasoned cast iron, Calories: 1kcal
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47 Comments

  1. It is quite common for Flaxseed oil to chip and flake. It makes for a beautiful looking pan, but it just doesn’t hold up to normal use.

  2. I Love, love, love using cast iron pots & pans. I have been using them for decades and can’t say enough about them to encourage more people to try them! I have ALWAYS used bacon grease to re-season all of my cast iron cookware! I’ve never had any issues with stickiness or lack of non-stick issues when cooking after using strictly bacon grease when seasoning them. I’ve also never had any issues with rancid food or even any type of “food poisoning” type issues using cast iron seasoned with bacon grease! This is what my great grandmother, grandmother, and great aunt have used for ever & we’ve never had any negative issues because of it! Any reason NOT to use bacon grease to season/re-season cast iron?

  3. So I bought a new preseasoned 12” cast iron skillet and didn’t realize that I didn’t need to season it again before I used it.(1st time with cast iron) I used canola oil and baked it in a 350* oven for an hour and left it in the oven to cool down with the oven. It’s sticky now. Should I scrub it down and start over seasoning it and use a different kind of oil? And paper towels leave fuzzies on it when I season it and dry it too. What am I doing wrong?

    1. You just used too much oil too. I’d just give it a little wash and scrub and call it good. Then start cooking! That natural cooking process will do wonders for seasoning.

  4. I don’t use vegetable oil. I have olive, grape seed, avocado oils and ghee. I do have old bacon grease too. Can I use any of those to treat my pans?

    1. Avocado oil or grapeseed would be my first choices for you, if you look up the oils that you have, look up their smoking point. The oil with the highest smoking point is your best option.

    2. Wish I’d seen this comment. I used veg oil & now understand why my 3 pans are sticky. Oh well. Once these two finish baking I’ll pull out the steel wool & avocado oil & redo. Great resource!! Thanks melissa for the article & for all the excellent comments & tweaks on recureingmy ancient pans

  5. I am having trouble keeping a seasoning on my lodge skillet. I don’t use soap. I do lightly use a scrub pad meant for nonstick skillets. Sometimes I boil water in the skillet to remove stuck on bits. And always oil it after cleaning.
    I have had to reseason this skillet 3 times in the last 6 months. This last time I scrubbed the inside bottom down with Bar Keepers Friend and a stainless steel pad. I oiled it down with flaxseed oil, baked it at 450 for an hour , let it cool, and repeated it 6 times. I cooked chicken breast in it and then steaks last night. I boiled water to remove the stuck on bits and the seasoning is coming off again. What am I doing wrong?

    1. I’d try not boiling the water in it. It should like that might be some of the issue. Do you have a chain-mail scrubber, it’s my favorite for cast iron!

  6. Important tips in this post as to how we can clean our cast irons. Thanks for letting us know, this would surely be a huge help.

  7. Can I use my self cleaning oven to put get rusted cast iron skillet clean? I don’t want alot of smoke and what is the confusion about using soapy water to clean them? My grill isn’t working and they have been on the outside grill all summer long.

    1. I wouldn’t put it as hot as the self cleaning option on the oven, I’d just wash it and bake it like I’ve directed!