How to Clean Cast Iron

Cast iron skillets evoke images of campfires and traditional home cooking.  Many cooks swear by their cast iron pans.  Despite cast iron's reputation for durability, it seems finicky to clean and maintain.  Some swear that you must never use dish soap to clean cast iron.  Others won’t let water touch their cast iron.  And can you cook tomatoes?  Cast iron skillets are not difficult to use and maintain.  We’ll set you straight on how to season, clean, and cook with cast iron pans.  Here is how to clean cast iron

Seasoning Cast Iron

Before any cooking can begin, cast iron pans must be thoroughly seasoned, even if they come pre-seasoned from the manufacturer.

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F
  2. Wash the pan with hot water and dish soap. Thoroughly dry the pan. 
  3. Place pan in the oven for 10 minutes to open up the iron and make sure it is completely dry. Remove pan from oven.
  4. Set oven to 500°F or maximum setting if the oven doesn’t reach 500°F.
  5. Wipe the pan with a cold-pressed, unrefined, organic flaxseed oil.  Make sure to thoroughly rub it in the pan, not missing any spots. If you cannot find flaxseed, you may use coconut oil or canola, but flaxseed polymerizes more easily to create the desired non-stick coating.
  6. Wipe the pan with paper towels until you get every last bit of oil out.  There will still be some left, but multiple thin layers of oil will create a smoother surface then one thick bubbly layer of oil. 
  7. Put the pan in the oven.  When the oven reaches 500°F or the maximum temperature, set a timer for one hour. 
  8. After one hour turn the oven off and leave the pan in the oven.  Don’t even open the door.  Allow the pan to cool for at least 1.5 hours or until it is cool enough to handle.  The pan should not seem oily or sticky.  If it is oily or sticky, you left too much oil in the pan and should start the process over.
  9. Repeat oiling, wiping, heating, and cooling at least six times.

Cleaning Cast Iron

Many people recommend to simply wipe out a cast iron skillet after each use.  No matter how well seasoned a cast iron skillet is, a quick wipe will not always get the job done. Contrary to popular belief, you may use soap and water to wash a properly seasoned cast iron pan.  It just needs to be thoroughly dried immediately after washing.  Cast iron should NEVER be left to soak in water.

  1. After cooking, wipe the pan out with a paper towel to remove any excess oil or debris. Hint: getting rid of oil will save your home’s plumbing.
  2. Wash with a scrubby sponge, hot water, and dish soap.  Need extra abrasive power? Pour out the water, add a couple handfuls of coarse salt, and scrub away.
  3. After rinsing the pan, IMMEDIATELY dry the pan with a towel.  Do not leave it to air dry.
  4. Once the pan is dry, put it on the stove and turn the burner up to high.  Add a little flaxseed oil or canola oil.  Rub it around with a paper towel. 
  5. Keep it on the heat until it begins to smoke and then allow the pan to cool completely before putting it away.

Cast Iron Tips

  • Keep a towel just for drying cast iron as it can stain towels.
  • Get a cooking glove or leave a pot-holder on the handle of the pan when you are cooking to avoid burns. Cast iron holds heat.
  • If the pan gets rusty: scrub the pan with a mixture of salt and canola oil.  Then clean and re-season.
  • Cast iron is excellent for cooking oily foods such as bacon, fried chicken, seared chicken thighs, etc.  Stay away from excessively wet or acidic recipes, especially when the pan is new.  Feel free to deglaze a pan with wine; just don’t cook a long-simmering tomato sauce in a cast iron pan. 

Need more cleaning and home maintenance tips?  The COIT Blog has tips on everything from making cleaning fun to affordable cleaning solutions.