How To Clean A Cast Iron Pan (Without All The Mystery!)

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I love cooking in my cast iron skillets. Not only are they versatile, inexpensive and pretty, they last forever — in fact, the more you use them, the better they get. Well-cared-for cast iron pans have a natural, non-stick finish and, unlike most nonstick pans, you can use any utensils you like, even metal, as there is no chemical coating to damage. They can also be used on any cooking surface, even the grill. However, cast iron does require a little TLC when cleaning to maintain the non-stick coating, known as the “seasoning,” and also to prevent rusting. But if you take good care of your cast iron, it will perform beautifully and last long enough to pass on to the next generation, just like a well-loved family recipe.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding cast iron, but cleaning and caring for it is really easy — I promise! To start, you’ll need a clean dishtowel or paper towel, a soft sponge, coarse salt (if necessary), and a bit of vegetable oil.

After you’ve used your skillet, use a sponge to scrub it with water. But don’t let it soak in water, as this can cause rusting.

If it still needs a bit more attention, add some kosher salt to the pan and scrub with a damp sponge. The salt acts an abrasive cleaner without disturbing the seasoning.

If there are still stubborn bits clinging to the pan, try bringing just a bit of water to boil in the skillet. Let it simmer until the water evaporates and then wipe out or scrub the pan again. Soap isn’t usually necessary, but contrary to popular belief, a little mild detergent won’t strip the seasoning. (Just stay away from dishwashers and metal scouring pads!) Once the skillet is cleaned to your satisfaction, rinse it well and then set it on the stove over medium heat for a few minutes to dry.

Finally, when the skillet is completely dry and still warm, use a cloth or paper towel to coat it very lightly with vegetable oil (you’ll need about 1/2 teaspoon for a 10-inch pan).

Continue to wipe the surface with oiled paper towels until it looks dark and smooth, and no oil residue remains (I rub the handle and outside of the pan too). You may notice some dark residue on your paper towel or cloth when cleaning. This is just the the baked-on cooking oil, or seasoning, reacting to foods — don’t worry, it will disappear with regular use and care. Let the pan cool completely before storing.

Note: Most new cast iron pans come seasoned and ready to use, so if you’re using your cast iron pan for the time, simply give it a quick rinse and hand dry with a dish towel. But older pans may need to be restored or seasoned before using.

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Comments

  • Well-seasoned cast iron cookware provides one of the best surfaces for cooking, since it heats foods evenly and can do just about anything — including go on the stove or in the oven. That said, it’s a notoriously tricky material to clean and maintain if you don’t know what you’re doing.

    • — Mellia on June 27, 2018
    • Reply
  • I inherited a cast iron pan from my grandmother. She kept it seasoned while she had it but unfortunately, it got a little gunky when she moved into assisted living and she wasn’t cooking anymore. It sat in the cupboard for a few years before I took it.

    I can’t tell the brand because there’s a layer of “stuff” on it from the lack of use. It’s not rusty but has an almost white-ish layer all over it. It’s all over, not just limited to the inside part.

    I’ve been afraid to try anything for damaging the pan. Any advice??

    • — Stacie on July 11, 2017
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    • Hi Stacie, It sounds like it just needs to be restored. Here’s a good tutorial. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on July 14, 2017
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  • I, too LOVE my cast iron pans. And, similarly to Shakshuka, it is the ONLY way to prepare & serve Eggs in Purgatory (Italian Grandmom’s version)! My pans, with the exception of one squared-off Lodge Pan (which I quite like) were my mom’s from the 40s & 50s, tho her oldest one was from her mom, a Griswold. They have been used all of my life & longer, & I must confess to recklessness: I use Dawn for the grease & a Brillo pas as needed. The Griswold can show signs of rust sometimes. But, by drying them by hand right away (definitely no air drying & coating them with a bit of olive oil, then placing a paper towel inside while storing, they are fine. The Griswold is (interestingly) the lightest in weight & cooks the best, despite the small amount of rust it occasionally shows.

    • — Fran Antolina on July 9, 2017
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  • I use Bar Keepers Friend on my stainless steel pans and it works beautifully. Do you know if this would harm cast iron?

    Thanks

    Dave

    • — Dave on July 7, 2017
    • Reply
    • Hi Dave, I use Bar Keepers Friend to keep my stainless steel pans shiny as well. I’ve never needed it for my cast iron and, unfortunately, I’m not sure if it’s mild enough to use (couldn’t find any info online, either). Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

      • — Jenn on July 8, 2017
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    • Dave, I must confess to having done it. But, my pans are old & have had pretty much everything done to them through the years. I don’t think it did any damage (even to the newer Lodge pan), but I felt like a new, soapy Brillo or SOS pad got it cleaner overall. Once rinsed I dry them immediately. Sometimes I oil them & sometimes not, but I usually use a paper towel b/c I nest them & don’t want to cultivate rust.

      • — Fran Antolina on July 9, 2017
      • Reply
  • My mom used to give a quick spray of cooking oil spray such as Pam, and then stored her skillet in the oven. It seemed to work like a charm. No need to use paper towels or get your hands greasy.

    • — Ruby on July 7, 2017
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen. I love your website and all your recipes, but I have to disagree with you about the care of cast iron. It can be very straightforward. It does not have to be complicated. In general, I scrub the pan with a brush with dishwashing soap on it and then hold it under running hot water while continuing with the brush. If there is anything stuck on (sometimes if I sear steak) then I scrape or scrub it (usually with a plastic utensil, but with a metal scrubber or scraper, if necessary). I hardly ever have anything stuck on that is so stubborn. Once rinsed, I dry with a towel, then put in on the stove with the flame on, until the pan is hot. I turn off the stove, and then rub a little bit of olive oil all over the interior surface with a paper towel, and let dry. My pans all stay beautiful and with a great cooking surface.

    • — Kathy on July 6, 2017
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  • Hi Jen,
    I love my Lodge cast iron pans to the moon and back . They look as beautifully as the day I perchased them except one. That one is a “10 inch” skillet, I paid $3.00 for at a garage sale and it now looks better than the day I bought it. A little restoring is all it took. It is my go to skillet. Four years a go I baught the Lodge wok (pre-seasoned) on Amazon, it is truly the best wok I have ever owned and best of all, I’ll never have to buy another.

  • Hi Jenn, my son eats vegan and when he visits told me that he misses my meatloaf. Do you have a recipe for meatloaf, vegan of course? Thanks, doting Mom

    • — Dorothy Land on July 6, 2017
    • Reply
    • I don’t, Dorothy– I’m sorry! You may want to browse some websites/blogs that specialize in vegan recipes to see if you can find an option that looks appealing.

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2017
      • Reply
  • Hi Jen –
    I prepared your Moroccan chicken for one of our holiday meals last week and EVERYONE went nuts over it. We grilled it of course……it was SO delicious! Will surely become a summer go-to dish – outstanding! I’m always inspired by your recipes, please keep them coming!

    • — Carole on July 6, 2017
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  • Hello, even new preseasoned cast iron needs a little more seasening, I’ve had mine for years, many pieces, they work better than most non stick pans. I have learned that I should not use a high heat on those so called nonstick pans, plus they are so expensive. You gave the best info for the care of cast iron. I do the exact things to my collection of cast iron, thank you,Carol

    • — Carol Milford on July 6, 2017
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  • Hi

    The way I clean/season my cast iron is when they are still hot, I run them under water with while scrubbing with a stiff brush such as https://www.amazon.com/Caldrea-8-08E-11-Dishwashing-Brush/dp/B000RMU6UU/ref=pd_sim_79_12?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B000RMU6UU&pd_rd_r=VQPGZ2QGBWCKYRB52Y4M&pd_rd_w=i5KEz&pd_rd_wg=0JZsF&psc=1&refRID=VQPGZ2QGBWCKYRB52Y4M — because the pan is hot it doesn’t absorb the water, almost repels it, and then put it right back on the heat to cook off any wetness. I rarely need to apply more oil after cleaning.

    • — felicity on July 6, 2017
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  • My cast iron pan has a little rust stain because I stupidly soaked it. Tried everything to get it out. I don’t feel
    Comfortable using it again. What do u think?

    • — Kathie on July 6, 2017
    • Reply
    • Hi Kathie, You can restore it – see this tutorial to bring it back to life.

      • — Jenn on July 6, 2017
      • Reply

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