How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan

Cleaning a cast iron pan is easy! No dishwashers! A clean, well seasoned creates a rust resistant, nonstick surface. Properly cared for, this durable skillet will just keep getting better with age. Here's how to take care of a cast iron skillet.

Stack of Old Cast Iron Pans
Stack of Old Cast Iron Pans | Photo by Meredith.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Frying Pan

To clean, just use mild dish soap (that's right, it's okay to use a little soap!) and a scouring pad or a cast iron pan cleaning brush. Wash it, scrub it, rinse it, then wipe it out well and season it with a few drops of oil and store with a paper towel covering the cooking surface.

Besides soap and a scrubby, you can also use some really hot water and a spatula to take off seriously burnt-on food. It's how cooks clean flat-top grills in a restaurant, so it'll work for you, too.

For really baked-on residue, scrape
For really baked-on residue, scrape with boiling water | Photo by Noel Christmas.

How to Dry a Cast Iron Pan

It's cleaned and rinsed, now make sure the rust doesn't come back. It's easy: just turn the burner to high, set the pan on it, and wait for the water to boil out. That cast iron is practically parched now.

Dry the pan on the stove
Dry the pan on the stove to make sure all the water is gone | Photo by Noel Christmas.

How to Season Cast Iron

Now, it's clean and dry, but you want it seasoned. "Seasoning" is, basically, oil bonding to the iron (there's more to it than that, but once the scientists say "long-chain polymers" I start looking out the window and just want some lunch). So, in lieu of a class on metallurgy, just follow these 2 easy steps:

1. Heat your clean cast iron pan on the stove until it's crazy hot.

2. Pour a little canola oil or flaxseed oil on a wad of paper towel and rub it all over the pan. Do not touch that hot pan with your unprotected hand. Then wipe the surface with a clean paper towel to remove excess oil. You do NOT want a thick slick of oil on your pan, otherwise you'll end up with a sticky, gummy mess. Let the pan cool.

Wiping Oil on a Clean Cast Iron Pan
Wiping Oil on a Clean Cast Iron Pan | Photo by Meredith.

And that's how to season a cast iron pan! Easy, right? NOTE: If you've totally stripped down your pan with steel wool and you're seasoning from scratch, you'll want to repeat these steps a half dozen times until the pan looks shiny and smooth. But don't be tempted to slather on the oil to speed up the process; you'll just end up with a gummy pan. If you're doing routine maintenance on your pan, one round of seasoning should do it.

Stack of Seasoned Cast Iron Pans
Stack of Seasoned Cast Iron Pans | Photo by Meredith. Meredith

Taking Care of Your Cast Iron Pan

If your pan was super rusty, you may want to repeat the heating/oiling/cooling process, reseasoning the pan 2 or 3 times before you use it. For more on cleaning rusty cast iron, check out how to clean a rusty cast iron pan.

What you'll find is that every time you clean and season cast iron -- clean it, dry it on the stove, then oil it and cool it -- your pan will clean easier, become increasingly non-stick, and even get less prone to any rust appearing on it. It's true, cleaning a seasoned cast iron pan is easier.

Cast Iron FAQ

So that's how to clean and season a cast iron skillet. Now we have a few answers to your burning cast-iron care questions

Why is my cast iron pan sticky and gummy?

Using too much oil when you season cast iron will make your pan sticky. You'll need to wash the pan with soap and hot water to remove the excess oil, then reseason it using just a thin, thin, thin coating of oil.

What kind of oil should I use to season my cast iron pan?

Many fans of cast iron cooking swear by flaxseed oil, as it builds up a smooth, hard finish every time you properly season your pan. But because flaxseed oil can be very expensive and fragile (you have to refrigerate it), canola oil is often the next best choice.

My new pan says it's already seasoned. Do I still have to season it?

It's a good idea to give your pre-seasoned cast iron pan a little more protection before you use it for the first time, and always season it again after you use it.

Can I season my cast iron pan in the oven?

Yes, in fact many people do. Here's how to season cast iron pans in the oven. First, wash and dry the cast iron pan. Add vegetable oil to a paper towel and wipe a thin, even coat of oil on the inside and outside of the pan. Then place the pan upside down in a preheated 350 degree F oven (lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil drips). Let the cast iron "bake" for an hour. Then let it cool down. That's also how to cure a new cast iron pan. After curing cast iron in the oven, it's ready for routine use.

Can I soak my cast iron pan in water to soften up crusted-on food before I wash it?

What? No! Never soak your cast iron pan. What you can do is heat the pan on the stove with water in it and scrape off the bits with a wooden spatula as it comes to a boil.

Now Start Cooking

Honestly, what are you waiting for? This pan is going to be your go-to for eggs, potatoes, cornbread, or just about anything you want.

Check out our collection of Cast Iron Skillet Recipes.

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love