How to Clean Cast Iron

Read time: 6 mins

Cast iron skillets are favorites among many cooks. Their durability is legendary, but cleaning and maintaining them can seem tricky. 

You might have heard debates about using dish soap or water on cast iron, or questions about cooking acidic foods like tomatoes in them. Don't worry, though. Using and caring for cast iron skillets is simpler than you think. 

In this guide, we'll show you the straightforward steps on how to clean cast iron, ensuring your skillet stays in top shape for all your cooking adventures.

Here is how to clean cast iron:  

How to Season Your Cast Iron

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

Follow these steps to season your cast iron:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F
  2. Wash the pan with hot water and dish soap. Thoroughly dry the pan. 
  3. Place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes to open up the iron and make sure it is completely dry. Remove the pan from the 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. Note: 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.

How to Clean Cast Iron

Many people recommend simply wiping out a cast iron skillet after each use. But 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.

Here’s how to properly clean your cast iron:

  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.

Contact COIT for a professional cleaning!

Cast Iron Expert 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 reseason it.
  • Cast iron is excellent for cooking oily foods such as bacon, fried chicken, seared chicken thighs. 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. 

What's the best thing to clean cast iron with?

The best way to clean a cast iron skillet is surprisingly simple: warm water and a sponge or stiff brush are usually all you need. 

For tougher residue, a paste made from coarse kosher salt and water works wonders as a natural abrasive. If your skillet is well-seasoned, a little bit of mild dish soap won't harm it. 

Just remember, gentle is key – harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbers can damage the seasoning on your cast iron.

What should you not clean cast iron with?

When it comes to what not to use, the list is short but important. Avoid using steel wool or metal scouring pads as they can strip away the seasoning. Also, steer clear of harsh detergents or soaps with harsh chemicals. 

Soaking your cast iron in water is a big no-no, as it can lead to rust. Remember, the goal is to maintain the skillet's seasoning, not scrub it away.

Read more examples of the worst cleaning advice we’ve ever heard. 

How do you clean a burnt cast iron pan?

Burnt-on food can be a challenge, but it's not the end of your cast iron pan. 

Start by boiling water in the skillet to loosen the residue. Once the water cools a bit, scrub gently with a brush or salt paste. For stubborn spots, baking soda can help lift the burnt food. 

After cleaning, dry the skillet thoroughly and apply a light coat of oil to protect the surface. With patience, even the most stubborn burnt-on food can be removed.

Do I have to wash cast iron after every use?

Yes, it's generally a good idea to clean your cast iron skillet after each use to prevent food buildup and maintain its non-stick surface. However, if you've only cooked something light, like vegetables or a grilled cheese sandwich, a quick wipe with a paper towel might be enough. 

Just ensure there's no leftover food residue, and give it a light oiling if needed. Regular cleaning keeps your cast iron in great condition and ready for your next cooking adventure.

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

Looking to keep your home spotless beyond just your cast iron skillet? COIT offers a wide range of professional cleaning services for every corner of your home and business. 

From air duct cleaning to carpet and area rug cleaning, our experienced teams are ready to tackle any cleaning challenge. Don't let the dirt and grime build up – schedule your free consultation today and experience the COIT difference. 

With over 70 years of expertise and a 100% satisfaction guarantee, we're committed to keeping your spaces clean and healthy. Schedule Now and transform the way you clean!

Contact COIT for a professional cleaning!

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