How to Clean and Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Keeping Your Cast Iron in Good Condition

Sep 25, 2018
Cast Iron Skillet
Heather Blackmore

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A cast iron skillet can last a lifetime—probably several if it’s passed from generation to generation. Here’s how to clean and season a cast iron skillet to keep it in the best possible condition.

Cast iron isn’t just renowned for its durability; cooking with it also comes with health benefits. Research has shown that cast iron infuses food with a healthy dose of iron. And take it from me, an anemic gal, cooking on a cast iron skillet is waaaay better than choking back liquid Geritol. It’s the most forgiving cooking utensil, able to withstand neglect and easily restored when it falls into the right hands. Anemic or not, an inexpensive and indestructible cast iron skillet deserves a space in every cook’s cabinet.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

If your pan is in good shape, follow these instructions after each use. 

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Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, preferably while it’s still warm, which will make it easier to remove bits of food. Using a non-metal brush or non-abrasive scrubber, rinse the pan under hot water and give it a good scrub. Use a dollop of soap if needed and rinse well. NEVER allow a cast iron pan to soak. 

Dry the skillet thoroughly with a cloth or paper towel—drip drying is a no-no—then heat it on a medium-low burner to evaporate any remaining moisture. Rust will accumulate if water is allowed to sit on the pan’s surface. Add a half teaspoon of oil (I used canola) to the pan when it’s cooled but still warm. Using paper towels, spread the oil around so that the interior is coated. Continue to wipe down the pan with the oiled towels until the entire surface is smooth and there are no pools. Flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil will also do the trick. 

How to Season a CAST IRON Skillet

Most cast iron pans come with a factory seasoning that improves with regular use and proper care. Well-seasoned cast iron skillets naturally become non-stick. Buh-bye chemicals. Basically, the more you use it, the more non-stick it becomes. How does it work? When heated to its smoke point, oil or fat oxidizes and forms a Teflon-like layer that seeps into the pores of the pan, creating a slick surface known as seasoning. With repeated use, the seasoned layer builds and less oil is needed for cooking.  

Sometimes a pan will need a bit of TLC, especially if it’s gone unused, to bring its seasoning back up to snuff. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and get it good and hot. Using tongs, dip a paper towel in two tablespoons of oil and wipe the interior until it smokes and there’s no residue. Be sure to grasp the handle with a towel or oven glove. Repeat the smoking process three times, allowing the pan to cool a little between each application.  

Read more about why we love using cast iron for cooking!

About This Blog

Heather Blackmore is a stay-at-home mom with two teenage daughters who keep her on her toes. A former college rugby player, she’s continued her healthy, active lifestyle by focusing on the importance of movement, nutrition and teaching her children the value of hard work. For 20 years, she’s enjoyed writing for national and regional publications on a variety of family and home related topics. Blessed with a wicked green thumb and a determined spirit, Heather tends a perennial and vegetable garden in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. She writes about her garden successes, failures and observations on her blog Here She Grows.

Reader Comments

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Cast Iron Skillets

I have cleaned lots of rusty cast using only salt and paper towels cleans them up just fine. And for the build up on the outside save some money and toss it in your fire pit the next time you are sitting outside enjoying the evening dig out the next day clean it off and season it, I use cooking grease ie.Crisco or better yet Lard coat it lightly outside heavier inside and stick in oven at 250 for half hour cool and wipe down done!

Cast Iron Pans

Thanks, good article!
I have many cast iron pans, but one that won't clean up. Each time I wipe it after oiling it down, black continues to wipe off.
The pan came to me with a small amount of rust. My husband used a wire brush to remove it. What do i do?

cleaning a cast iron pan

Hi, Lynne. Some Almanac readers below recommend putting it in the oven on a self-cleaning cycle. We can’t say for sure if it works, but if you can’t clean your pan maybe it is worth a try.

Seasoning cast iron

I have tried every type of seasoning over the years, and find that the best way, is to leave the grease from bacon or other high fat or oils in the pan to cool completely.I pour off the fat,saving it for the birds,mixed with peanut butter and seed. Then I use warm water and a scrub sponge,removing bits.

BEST Pans EVER!

All but 1 of the skillets I have are older than I am (61, to date!)! I have a grill pan, a 10" skillet and one that's the perfect size for frying or basting eggs. I also have 2 different sized porcelain-coated skillets and a Dutch oven (my bread baker) I don't have a single "non-stick" pan in my kitchen. I've found that once they've been properly seasoned they are even better than those coated with Teflon (or the like). It's all about taking care of them. And, contrary to what some folks think, it is QUITE EASY. Follow the instructions given here and your pans will outlive you and your kids and probably their kids too. One suggestion, though: don't use tomato based ingredients when cooking with them. The acid in the tomatoes ruins the seasoning. Better to use stainless steel or porcelain-coated pans for any high-acidic dishes.

cast iron

I have seen videos where the guy sands the inside of the skillet down till it's VERY smooth inside then seasons it. What is everyone's take on this? Good idea or not?

Seasoning cast iron

So it would be better to use an oil with a low temp. flash point so it will smoke or burn when you put it on instead of the grape seed oil I usually use because it has a very high flash point and never burns, smokes or overheats?

cast iron cleaning & restoration

Here's kind of a fun trick. When you go to the flea market or a garage sale and you see a cast iron skillet--that looks beyond repair covered with years and years of greasy god-knows-what--
buy it cheap, then take it home and put it in your self-cleaning oven the next time you clean your oven.

All of that greasy superfluous mess will turn to ashes and you'll get to see that skillet in all its glory for the very first time.

That is brilliant! Thanks

That is brilliant! Thanks Suzanne.

Flaxseed oil

Use Flaxseed oil, toughest coating. Try to get the refrigerated kind.

Black flakes and charred meat

I seasoned and maintained a new cast iron skillet and it worked great for a bit then i made a dish and had really stuck food/burnt food in the middle. Now all but that middle spot is seasoned. Help me.... I really want to get this right. I love cast iron but seem to be cursed! Thanks

Hi Christian! I would try the

Hi Christian! I would try the reseasoning process as described in the article. Clean it up first, making sure not to use an abrasive scrubber, then heat and apply the oil with a paper towel held by tongs. Repeat. Let me know if that works.

Rust

How do I clean rust off of old cast iron pans?

Cleaning rust from cast iron

You can use a 50:50 blend of white vinegar: water. Let the pan soak in this vinegar/water solution for an hour (up to 4-6 hours if the rust is thick), then use fine steel wool or an SOS pad to scour away the rust. Rinse and dry thoroughly, then re-season the pan. For very badly rusted/gunked up cast iron, I've also used my gas oven's cleaning cycle to burn off all the 'gunk' and rust; let the pan(s) cool down, then use the vinegar/water trick to get rid of any flash rust, rinse well, and proceed to re-season. You can make some really ugly, badly mistreated cast ironware look absolutely beautiful, but it will take some effort. Once done, however, you've got a kitchen tool that will outlive you and probably your kids!

Flaking outside of Cast Iron Skillet

The outside of my cast iron skillet have this burned up crud on them that flakes off when it gets hot. Any special care needed, or can I just scrub it away?

Also, I too am curious about seasoning stainless steel pans. I thought I saw something about this on a TV cooking show.

Removing heavy crud/gunk from cast iron

For very badly rusted/gunked up cast iron, I've successfully used my gas oven's cleaning cycle to burn off all the 'gunk' and rust; let the pan(s) cool down in the oven to warm room temperature, then soak for an hour, or longer, in a 50/50 white vinegar/water solution (use a plastic or ceramic vessel for the soaking). Once the vinegar/water removes any flash rust (you can help this along with some fine steel wool), make sure to rinse thoroughly, then dry, and proceed to re-season your pan(s).

Other cast iron pans to season

Can I season the other (porcelain) pans or doesn't it make any sense?

Seasoning cast iron

Jim, if you're talking about enamel coated cast iron skillets and dutch ovens, no, you don't need to season them. The coating makes seasoning unnecessary.

Seasoning porcelain-coated cast iron

Jim, there's no need to season a porcelain-coated pan. The coating acts as its own seasoning. I do, however, suggest you NOT use harsh scrubbers on it. This can scratch the porcelain making for unpleasant clean-up afterward. I have 4 such pans (one is a Dutch oven) that were handed down from my mom, and her mom before that. I heat them BEFORE adding any oil to cook (the saying goes "hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick) and when I'm done cooking, I pour a dash of Dawn (soap) and hot water and let the pan sit until it has cooled. Then I use a soft scrub sponge (Scotch-Brite Greener Clean) to get any stubborn bits off. I don't let them air dry; I wash then wipe dry. All of these pans are over 60 years old! And they work better than any "non-stick" pans I've ever used! If you take care of them, they'll last for EONS! (Well, maybe not eons, but a long, long time!)

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