How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Learn How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet, the easy way. And maybe a little lesson on how to season a cast iron skillet as well!

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

I get a lot of questions about cooking with and cleaning cast iron. Maybe it’s because I live in the Carolinas.

I will say, my cast iron skillets do have a much better season going on than they did before we moved here. Families in the south pass on well-seasoned cast iron like a precious heirloom.

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

So I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about cast iron.

The first thing to know about cast iron skillets is that they must be “seasoned” in order to cook as a nonstick surface. The seasoning is a protective nonstick layer sealing the iron. This layer is developed over time by the microscopic pores in the iron absorbing fats.

In order the keep the season you must never wash a cast iron skillet with dish soap, which is a degreaser. If you do, you strip away the protective coating, which will cause your skillet to rust.

dirty skillets

Let’s first talk about how to season a cast iron skillet, and then I’ll go into how to clean a cast iron skillet so you don’t lose your seasoning.

Most cast iron skillets you buy now days are sold as “pre-seasoned” but I always season them anyway, just to be sure. I’ll save my soapbox message on false advertising.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

Then rub the skillet’s interior with a generous layer of vegetable shortening. Place the skillet on the middle oven rack up-side-down over the baking sheet.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

Bake the skillet for approximately 2 hours. The pores in the iron will open and absorb the shortening, and the excess will drip down off the baking sheet. After 2 hours, turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool to room temperature in the oven.

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

You should do this to new, or newly acquired, cast iron skillets and again anytime your seasoning seems to be wearing off, i.e. when the babysitter puts your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher!!

If you care for your cast iron skillets properly after you’ve seasoned them… you may never have to season them again. Through cooking and proper cleaning, the seasoning will improve over time.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

So now that you have a newly seasoned skillet, how should you clean it?

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

With salt.

And oil.

And a little bit of fresh water if needed.

That’s it.

Here’s how to do it…

Place a spoonful of salt in your dirty skillet. Pour an equal amount of cooking oil over the salt.

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

Using a paper towel, rub the salt-paste over the skillet in a circular motion to loosen debris.

If the food is really caked on, use a flat metal spatula to scrape it off.

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

Then… and this is important… wipe the salt out of the skillet and wipe out any excess oil.

The oil not only helps loosen the crud, it adds a little more “seasoning” to the skillet every time you clean it.

Think skillet moisturizer.

If you happened to overkill on the salt (or burnt something in your skillet and have a TON of debris) you can rinse your cast iron skillet with fresh water and dry thoroughly.

Then you’ll need to rub the skillet again with oil to make sure you’ve added that thin layer of seasoning.

How to Season and Clean a Cast Iron Skillet #howto #diy #kitchen

I can feel some of you out there brooding over germs. Yep, I’m talking to you… You want to add a drop of dish soap to your skillet when no one is looking.

RESIST!

Did you know salt is antibacterial?

Rubbing your cast iron skillet down with salt and oil, is not only safe for your seasoning, but it naturally kills germs in the process. (Like swigging warm salt water in your mouth when you have a sore gums.)

And remember, this is a tool that gets heated to scalding temperatures day after day. Germs are not an issue here, I promise.

Chicken Picatta

As long as you remove the debris with salt and rub the skillet with oil, each time you use it, your seasoned cast iron should just keep getting better and better with age!

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124 comments on “How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

  1. Erika Jayneposted May 13, 2017 at 1:58 am Reply

    These are some great and very helpful tips. I just got few cast iron pots from my mother along with some instructions how to clean them, but I’m not into that stuff and decided to find some more ideas. Your tips on keeping cast iron pots in a proper condition seem to work perfectly for me and I’ll definitely keep them on mind for after my next cooking. I’ll recommend your post to my sister too. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Yonne Greyposted April 19, 2017 at 6:09 pm Reply

    The way to clean & season cast iron is very helpful but I’ve inherited a cast iron skilled & flat bottomed pot both are partially rusted. How do I clean the rust off before I even think of seasoning. I live on the coast in South Africa cause of the rust.

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  7. Megan Drakeposted October 1, 2015 at 7:03 am Reply

    Rubbing your cast iron skillet down with salt and oil is a fantastic idea. I am going to follow your advices. I always hate cleaning my skillets. It was like a nightmare for me. I hope with your help it will be easier. Best regards!

  8. Elizabeth Fitzmauriceposted April 1, 2015 at 4:18 pm Reply

    Would it be okay to use bacon fat to re-season my pans?  I happen to have that on hand and I don’t have any lard.  

  9. Clara Deanposted March 13, 2015 at 10:24 am Reply

    OMG!!! So easy way to clean my iron skillet! Thank you so much for sharing so incredible way of cleaning! Keep going with the amazing advices!Edmonton Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

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  11. NancyDposted January 17, 2015 at 11:38 am Reply

    I’ve had a cast iron skillet since college. I never knew how to season or clean it properly. (I’m talking YEARS before the internet.) Last year, after many years of disuse and ridges of rust, I was ready to throw out my pan. I decided to give it one last shot, figuring I had nothing to lose, since I was ready to get rid of it. I placed the cast iron pan in my self-cleaning oven when I ran that cycle.

    I only recommend it if it’s beyond saving by more conventional means. The result was all the rust was gone; all the finish was gone–just down to bare cast iron; but I had a clean, smooth pan. I’ve since reasoned it (had to do it 2x) and maintained it following instructions here.

    Thank you for the salt scrubbing tip. It’s fabulous!

  12. Kathyposted January 1, 2015 at 5:45 pm Reply

    I will think about salt.

  13. Kathyposted January 1, 2015 at 5:45 pm Reply

    i used to just burn of my scraps and scrape witha putty knife but then I got a fancy alarm system that brought the fire dept. so now I put water in the bottom, get it very hot and then scrape with the putty knife and let it cool a tad and dump hot water into sink with the cold water running. Then rub some oil on pan when cold.

  14. Anneposted December 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm Reply

    Is it safe to put the cast iron pans in the oven when they have wooden handles?

    • Sommerposted December 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm Reply

      Hi Anne! Hmmm…. I don’t think I would try it, but I don’t know for sure. Sorry!

  15. Connieposted November 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm Reply

    I recently bought a Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. After seasoning it and using it, I’ve been wiping it out and then adding a thin layer of vegetable oil and putting it in a warm oven. However, the inside of the pan is sticky rather than smooth as everyone else has stated it should be. What do I need to do to get it right?? All suggestions are welcome!

    • karinposted December 6, 2014 at 11:47 pm Reply

      i was having the same problem. try using a more solid fat (crisco, lard, coconut oil) and turning up the heat of the oven. coconut oil at 400 for an hour worked for me – let the pan sit in the oven after you turn it off. i turned out a perfect pan of cornbread for thanksgiving after seasoning it that way. it’s very smooth now.

  16. Amberposted October 11, 2014 at 7:46 am Reply

    My grandmother has a set of cast iron that’s been somewhat neglected over the years. It’s at least 20 years old and I wanna restore it. She seasons it but she also uses soap to clean it to “kill the germs and bacteria” as she says. I’ve tried to point out to her that that’s part of the reason it’s rusting, but she won’t listen. She also just let’s it air dry with water still on it in the dish drainer in the sink. I’m seasoning the cast iron as I do like using it to cook but it’s not as seasoned as it should be due to her negligence over the years. I prefer the cast iron to the stainless steel ones she has, actually. I don’t know what I can do to keep it looking good and keep it functional short of seasoning it after she cooks with it, which is everyday. To save time putting the shortening on it, can it be melted in the microwave then brushed on or will that be just like putting liquid vegetable oil on it? She has this big roasting pan that is very difficult to season properly due to it’s size and the handles. Any tips on how to make seasoning that particular piece of cast iron, and the rest for it for that matter, slightly easier and less time consuming? I love this set as it really functions well when it’s kept up. I don’t know how to get through to my grandmother to start taking care of it better.

  17. move to hawaii cheapposted September 19, 2014 at 6:30 am Reply

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  18. barbaraposted September 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm Reply

    Sounds like a lot of work i was taught to scrub w/a brush ( not too stiff) in hot water wipe with a paper towel and while still warm spray w/a light coat of pam ( as recommened by lodge) been doing it this way for years

  19. Patricia St. Claireposted June 20, 2014 at 5:15 am Reply

    I have tried frying eggs in my cast iron skillet. They ALWAYS stick to the bottom and burn.Is this because I don’t have the skillet seasoned enough, or seasoned wrong? I have three cast iron skillets, that I never use because EVERYTHING sticks. What exactly am I doing wrong? All help is appreciated.

  20. chelsie cryerposted June 6, 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    Would you recommend cleaning the cast iron after it cools down after use, or when it is still hot?

  21. Lyndaposted May 31, 2014 at 4:46 pm Reply

    Great article, I have ruined 3 cast iron skillets, not knowing how to clean them. Using detergent and water, tried Coca Cola in the oven all the tales I’ve been given, but nothing like your instructions, I will definitely be getting another and will follow your instructions to the letter, even if it say pre-treated.

  22. your input hereposted May 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Good blog post. I definitely appreciate this site. Stick with it!

  23. Mylesposted May 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm Reply

    I have a cast iron grill pan. I have quite a buildup of crud that is building up between the grill ridges that create the grill marks on the food. Only use for cooking salmon in the oven. Any suggestions on getting this heavy buildup out of the bottom of the pan. THanks.

  24. Debposted May 4, 2014 at 11:30 am Reply

    The last time someone commented was 2013 I hope you still check this site!!!
    When I cook with my cast iron skillet, the food leaves a thick layer of gunk on the bottom of the pan. Some say clean it immediately after cooking. But I’d like to eat my dinner before it gets cold! How can I easily remove that nights dinner of left over gunk, after I eat? It seems hard as a rock when I’m done cooking. Thank You!

    • Sommerposted May 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm Reply

      Deb, try soaking it for a few minutes in JUST water, then use a flat metal spatula to scrape off the gunk. THEN clean as instructed above.

      • judyposted June 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

        we grew up using cast iron pans, and nothing ever sticks i season and clean as you stated…that is how i was taught be my mother, i have given my children cast iron pans and they thought they were ok until they cooked a steak in it and now they are sold on it, i would die without mine for cooking eggs they are the best, never stick

    • Chrisposted June 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm Reply

      When your ready to clean the pan, just re-heat it with all the gunk in it. Then when it’s nice and hot (5 min) add water and scrub with a handled dish scrubber. Be careful not to get scalded. Steam cleaning works great. Then salt clean, heat dry and re-oil.

  25. Carinposted April 29, 2014 at 4:57 pm Reply

    I have looked online for various ways to clean my cast iron skillet in the past and have never felt like it was really clean afterwards (the salt!!! Big ole kosher salt for abrasion! Genius!!). My skillet was gross enough that I turned tons of paper towels black and shredded them to pieces (I had serious scrubbing to do), then I read the comments and decided to try a dish rag – worked like magic!!!
    Thank you so much for giving my otherwise underused and underloved cast iron new life again!!! Happy girl over here :)

    • Sommerposted May 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm Reply

      Your welcome, Carin!!

  26. alisonposted April 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm Reply

    I’ve always cooked spicy/savory dishes in my cast iron skillet. It seems to retain the onion/garlic/spicy flavors a bit which hasn’t been an issue until now that I’ve come across a dessert recipe i’d love to try. is there a way to remove these flavors or do i need 2 skillets, 1 for savory and 1 for sweet dishes ?

    • Sommerposted April 24, 2014 at 5:53 am Reply

      Hi Alison, the salt scrub should help remove the flavor.

  27. anthony priceposted April 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm Reply

    i’ve worked and worked with oven cleaner, metal brushes, steel wool, straight razor sacrapers, and the like. i have 5 skillets and a dutch oven with zero “removable” cooking debris, and i still get a dirty towel when i wipe them down to set up curing procedure. the patina is a dull dark grey for the most part…lovely to look at, but still dirty. what’s going on? please help me.

  28. Katrina K Forneyposted April 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm Reply

    Love this tutorial! I have one question though. I don’t use paper towels, would I just rinse it? Is there another alternative?

    • Sommerposted April 8, 2014 at 5:51 am Reply

      An old dish towel would work. :)

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  31. Donna Sandbotheposted March 16, 2014 at 11:29 pm Reply

    I am seventy nine and the only skillets my mother had were different sizes of the iron skillet and used them three times a day. We had to wash dishes and always washed them in the dishwater at the end and never knew about seasoning. they were always slick in the bottom and I have some of them now. Never knew of them rusting. Have bought some of them in later years and had trouble with rusting and sticking. My dad bought one of the iron dutch ovens and cooked beans in it and they turned black and you can imagine what happened to that. Also heard a doctor’s wife say that cooking in the iron skillets was so much healthier than thes newer coated skillets. Am using a large skillet now that burns and sticks to the food but will try to use your remedies to correct that.

  32. KatieRose50posted February 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm Reply

    I’m now Happy Happy Happy!! I have my large cast iron skillet and it’s one more MESS! My son got hold of it and he never does dishes, except this time.. and ruined it! Now I know how to clean all the gunk out of it! I’ve tried everything from oil to Scotchbrite.. the HEAVY stuff.. this all stands to reason! Now. when I finish getting all the crud out, should I re season it the way it should have been seasoned in the first place? My Grandmother used to season her new cast iron by cooking Salt Fat Back in it and then just wiping it out…..I have never ever seen her have a problem with any of her skillets after doing this. She just always used to cook her salt fat back in the cast iron skillets. I suppose I will give it a try! It sure can’t hurt it! Thank you so much for the tip!!

  33. Gibsonposted February 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm Reply

    Do you clean the cast iron skillet every time you use it? I’m thinking about getting a cast iron skillet and the cleaning process seems somewhat complicated, I wouldn’t want to have to do it every time.

    • Sommerposted February 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm Reply

      Hi Gibson, You do need to rub it with salt and oil every time to keep/improve the seasoning, but it’s worth it!

  34. Kymposted January 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm Reply

    Hello,

    I just bought 5 preseasoned cast irons pans for Lodge. Thank you for the information, I just rec’d them so they had their first wash with soap and water BUT no more.

    Have a question, I’ve heard not to use metal spatulas etc on these pans, but I see people on the Food Network using them.

    Thank you

    • Sommerposted January 3, 2014 at 6:19 pm Reply

      You know, I think some people are worried they are going to scratch their seasoning off, but I still use them. As long as you’re not too rough on your skillets, it should be ok.

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  36. Cherylposted October 27, 2013 at 11:06 am Reply

    Can I save a cast iron skillet that has some rust inside on the cooking surface. It was given to me and I would really like to try and save it. Its not thick rust just a few spots on the surface but I’m not sure if I should use it or not.

    • Trishposted February 15, 2014 at 9:47 pm Reply

      Yup, to get the rust off you can use whatever it takes (metal spatula, steel wool, etc.) as long as you then treat it like an unseasoned pan and do the full seasoning procedure, ideally a couple times. Cast iron can always be saved and pampered back to health, so don’t hesitate to buy rusted out cast iron at garage sales or thrift shops. :)

  37. Melissaposted October 21, 2013 at 9:38 am Reply

    Thank you for the information, BUT, MY QUESTION IS, I obviously have been mistreating my cast iron griddle because I wash it with dawn every now and then and now I am having a problem with black flakes coming off onto my food. I was wondering if you know how to get the flakes off the griddle. It’s like it’s chipping off around the edges. Any info would be great.

    Thank You

    • Sommerposted October 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm Reply

      Hi Melissa, the black flakes are burnt on food. Try giving it one last scrub down with steel wool, then “season” it and start fresh. :)

      • linda partridgeposted April 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm

        My mother showed me how to clean stuff burned in a iron skillet..we were cooking sliced apples with a lot of sugar to carmalized them,,,soooooooo good…but the skillet was a mess…she put just a spot of soap in skillet with about an inch of water and brought to a boil until it all turns loose and smooth and clean…then she seasoned it afterward…it is a lot easier then trying to scrape it off.

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  39. pam taylorposted September 13, 2013 at 10:59 am Reply

    How do you get rust off? My skillet got left outside and it is now a globe of rust. Any ideas? Thanks so much, Pam

  40. Roseposted September 10, 2013 at 11:09 pm Reply

    This is great so glad I came across it… Curious if you or anyone has ever tried it on a cast iron grill pan and if its same process just longer due to the grates?

  41. Debbieposted August 15, 2013 at 7:03 pm Reply

    Hello –

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet so I’m not sure if this has been addressed yet. Would coconut oil be OK to use to season? Or even to clean along with the salt?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Sommerposted August 15, 2013 at 11:04 pm Reply

      Hi Debbie,

      Coconut oil would work great! :)

      • Debbieposted August 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

        THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR HELP! I bought another cast iron skillet (smaller than the first) because I liked the first one so much. I will season it with coconut oil!

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  43. lesleyposted August 9, 2013 at 6:55 am Reply

    If you use water to clean it, put the cast iron in the oven before putting more oil on it. This way you don’t lock the water in with the oil because oil rises and the water will be sitting on the cast iron. You want it to be completely dry before adding oil.

  44. Tammyposted August 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm Reply

    Do you find that Kosher salt or regular salt works better, or does it not make a difference? Thank you.

    • Sommerposted August 9, 2013 at 6:46 am Reply

      Hi Tammy, it doesn’t really make a difference. :)

  45. Chrisposted August 6, 2013 at 4:22 pm Reply

    I’ve used the salt trick many times but this is the first I’ve seen on using it WITH oil. Thanks for sharing!

    • Peggyposted November 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm Reply

      My cast iron skillet is showing rust spots. How do I get rid of them?

      • Sommerposted November 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm

        Scrub with salt and re-season! :)

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  47. Miss @ Miss in the Kitchenposted August 3, 2013 at 6:52 am Reply

    Cooking with cast iron is my favorite. Great tips!