How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan

Wondering how to clean your cast iron Pan? Kitchen Expert Paul Zarate explains what you need to clean it and how to go about cleaning it properly.

Wiping down a cast iron pan

All photos by Paul Zarate

So you own a cast iron skillet or pan but may be intimidated to cook with it because you're not sure how to clean cast iron. I'm here to tell you that cast iron cookware is easy to maintain when used frequently, infrequently, after heavy usage, and even when rust-damaged. I'm a tremendous fan of cooking with cast iron cookware, and I have eight different pieces of cast iron in my kitchens, such as Lodge skillets, dutch ovens, a grill pan, and enamel-lined cast iron cookware. They are versatile, durable, and have tremendous heat retention. I cook with cast iron cookware daily and find that my cast iron cookware is as easy to clean as my non-stick pans from All-Clad or Calphalon. Cleaning cast iron is simple and worry-free. Read on to learn how to properly clean yours.

What Do I Need to Clean My Cast Iron?

After you’ve used your cast iron, the amount of cooking residue left will determine how you need to clean and season your cast iron skillet for optimal performance. It is important to season your cast iron pan after deep cleaning. Seasoning is essentially layers of fat and flavor built up when cooking with your cast iron skillet. You lose a small amount of seasoning after washing, but it’s easy to build it up again. For this article, I will use the Lodge cast iron skillet as an example; it’s my everyday workhorse in the kitchen.

For everyday cleaning, you need some standard household cleaning supplies:

  • mild dish soap (preferably something without heavy perfumes or dyes)
  • a non-abrasive sponge or a soft bristle scrub brush
  • coarse kosher salt
  • a wooden spatula or a pan scraper to scrape up leftover bits of food stuck to the pan
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • paper towels to rub in the oil

For rust-damaged cast iron cookware, you can use a steel wool pad and elbow grease. If there is a lot of residue left on a cast iron, I find that a Lodge chain scrubber is great for extra difficult cleaning.

Dirty iron pan
Scraping off an iron pan

What You Need to Know About Handling Cast Iron

First, never attempt to shock a scalding hot pan with cold water, as cast iron is a fragile metal that can get damaged or cracked. It is essential to let your pan cool completely. You can let your cast iron pan cool by resting it on a different burner, a trivet, or on the kitchen counter with a kitchen towel placed in between so you don’t damage your counters. Remember, a cast iron skillet is not dishwasher-safe unless you have Le Creuset enamel-lined cast iron—more on that later.

Washing a cast iron pan

Wash, dry and season

Now that your cast iron skillet has cooled, hold it by the handle, take your wooden spatula, and start scraping up any leftover bits of food stuck to the pan. You may also use a pan scraper to do this too. It will take some elbow grease to get it off, but removing all the stuck-on food and residue is essential. If the residue is stubborn, you can add a heavy pinch of coarse kosher salt and gently scrub away the residue before washing. Add warm water and a few drops of dish soap, and clean the skillet with a non-abrasive sponge or soft bristle scrub brush. Rinse and dry immediately and place it over a low burner to dry off any leftover moisture. It is crucial to dry your cast iron cookware to prevent rust.

Cast iron pan on the stove

If the residue is extra thick or heavy, add a cup or two of warm water and let your cast iron simmer on the stove over a low burner for about 10 minutes or so. The hot water will loosen up the remaining heavy residue. You can use a wooden spatula or pan scraper to remove the residue and stuck-on food. Wash the cast iron skillet with warm soapy water and remove the remaining food residue with a non-abrasive sponge or bristle bush. Rinse and dry immediately, and place your cast iron on a lower burner to remove any remaining moisture. Add a thin layer of oil, such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or seasoning spray, and rub the oil in with a paper towel.

Is Your Cast Iron Rust Damaged?

Suppose you have a cast iron skillet or pan that is neglected and developing rust. Did you know that you can restore the pan? Just add soapy water to the pan and scour it with steel wool. It will take elbow grease, but the result is worth it. Once the rust is cleaned off, rinse and dry the cast iron completely.

It's Time to Bake

Cast iron pan in the oven

Now that your pan has been cleaned and dried, it is time to bake your cast iron. Baking your cast iron pan improves the buildup of seasoning and develops a patina, essentially making it non-stick. Patina is the layers of fat built up through seasoning cast iron. The protective layer built up on the cooking surface of the pan becomes non-stick from seasoning. You are going for a dark black sheen throughout the pan.

First, preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees. Place a sheet pan down or cover the bottom rack of your oven with foil to protect the oven from drips. Rub a thin layer of oil on the cast iron inside and out. Be careful not to add too much oil; excess oil will cause the cast iron cooking surface to become sticky. Place the cast iron skillet upside down inside the oven on the middle rack and bake for one hour. After an hour, remove the cast iron from the oven and let it cool on the stove. Repeat the baking process as needed to achieve a patina. It is important to achieve a nonstick cooking surface on your cast iron skillet. If it is not cooking and cleaning it will erode the cooking surface.

Final Thoughts

If the maintenance of cast iron is not your jam, you may consider Le Creuset enamel-lined cast iron skillets and cookware that are dishwasher-safe and easy to maintain and season.

If you’re ready to take your cast iron to the next level, I recommend rendering some bacon in your cast iron skillet occasionally. The layers developed from bacon fat residue will help build a deep rich patina. Additionally, baking cornbread in your cast iron skillet is a great way to improve the seasoning via the layers of butter fat baked into the skillet. My tip as an Expert is to use your cast iron often; it is versatile cookware that can cook various dishes on multiple surfaces. The more you cook with your cast iron skillet, the easier it will be to clean and maintain.

Looking for the right cast iron cookware to compliment your kitchen? Ask a Curated Kitchen Expert and challenge them with what your kitchen needs to take your cooking to the next level.

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Written By
Paul Z.
Paul Z.
Kitchen Expert
I love to cook. I love to eat and I love to eat the delicious meals I cook for my family. I caught the cooking bug early as a child. My whole family cooked growing up. I spent the weekdays in the 'burbs watching my mom cook anything from scallop potatoes and pork chops to chile verde and enchiladas....
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