How To Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

The best tried-and-true methods.

Cast-iron skillets are one of the most beloved items in many kitchens—and what's not to love? You can whip up smashed fried okra, potato-bacon hash, perfectly crisp pizza, and drool-worthy apple pie all in the same pan! Cast-iron skillets are versatile, durable, and practically indestructible.

It seems daunting, the somewhat mysterious metal pan your grandmother swore by and that takes two hands to move around. The lore surrounding our cast irons is hard-earned considering the use of this metal pan is nothing short of household physics and chemistry, but the confusion surrounding the care of this pan is a product of wives' tales and myths about the alleged ways to "ruin" a cast iron. Allow us to be the bearers of good news and announce that cleaning your skillet is very simple.

Two Cast Iron Skillets
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How Often to Clean Your Cast-Iron Skillet

We know it might seem intimidating or you might be worried about damaging your perfectly seasoned surface, but you should clean your cast-iron skillet after every use just like any pan. It's how you clean your skillet that differs from other cookware, but don't worry, we've got the answers for you here.

What You Need

  • Non-abrasive scrubber
  • Dish soap
  • Vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
  • Paper towels
  • Optional: white vinegar, steel wool

How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet

  1. After you've finished cooking in the skillet, and while the skillet is still warm, use warm water and a non-metal, non-abrasive scrub to remove any residual food bits clinging to the pan. Despite popular belief, using a small amount of dish soap to help remove stuck-on food is perfectly fine, if necessary.
  2. Rinse the skillet out well in the sink and dry immediately with a paper towel (do not allow the cast iron to air dry).
  3. Warm the skillet on the stove over medium-high heat until the pan is completely dry (or place inside a preheated oven for 10 minutes). This step removes any excess water still in contact with the pan.
  4. Turn off the burner or remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While the pan is still warm, coat with a small amount of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil or grapeseed oil, around the entire surface of the pan with a paper towel (you can bunch your paper towel up into a thick pad to protect your fingers from the heat.)
  5. Rub the skillet with clean paper towels until there is no more oil residue on the surface.
  6. Store your cast-iron in a dry place, and be sure not to stack other freshly washed pots or pans inside the cast-iron skillet, as this will introduce moisture to the pan and affect its seasoning.
Rusty Cast-Iron
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How To Remove Rust From a Cast-Iron Skillet With Vinegar

Just because something is built to last doesn't mean you can't do some damage to it, especially if you (or your kids or well-intentioned guests) leave it to soak in water overnight or put it in the dishwasher. If that happens, your cast iron may end up *gasp* with some rust. For a small amount of rust, just scour it with a scrubber and water like normal and rub with oil. But if you've got a bigger problem, luckily, a little white vinegar and elbow grease are usually enough to whip that pan back into shape.

  1. To get your pan good as new, Bon Appétit recommends mixing equal parts of white vinegar and water and leaving the mixture to soak in the pan for somewhere between one and eight hours, depending on the amount of rust. Keep a close eye on the pan, because if left too long the vinegar can damage the pan. As soon as the rust is loosened you're ready for the next step.
  2. Once the soak is complete, gently scrub the rust away with a fine steel wool scrubbing pad or nylon brush.
  3. Using a paper towel, coat the entire surface of the pan with a neutral oil, inside and out.
  4. Set your oven to 350 and place the skillet in the oven for one hour.
  5. Allow the pan to cool, give it another wipe with paper towels, and put it into storage.

Tips to Keep Your Cast-Iron Skillet in Good Condition

  • Don't cook highly acidic foods in your skillet as it can pit the surface
  • Don't put your skillet in the dishwasher
  • Don't allow your skillet to air dry; dry with paper towels and rub with oil after each use
  • Don't use metal scrubbers on cast iron (steel wool is acceptable if you are removing rust and reseasoning the pan)

If you find that a significant amount of food is sticking to your pan and that you have a difficult time removing the residue with a non-abrasive scrub, it's probably time to season your cast iron. But no worries—you can find a simple guide here in the "Seasoning Your Skillet" section.

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