The best tried-and-true methods.

By Micah A Leal and Melissa Locker
Updated April 21, 2021
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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! They 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.

Step-By-Step Guide for Basic Cast-Iron Skillet Care

  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 soap to help remove stuck on food is perfectly fine, if necessary. Rinse the skillet out well and dry immediately with a towel (do not allow the cast iron to air dry).
  2. Transfer pan to the stove over medium-high heat until the pan is completely dry and hot (or place inside a preheated oven for 10 minutes). This step removes any excess water still in contact with the pan. While hot, spread a small amount of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil or grapeseed oil, around the entire surface of the pan with a paper towel until there is no more oil residue on the surface.
  3. 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.

How To Get Rust Off 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. Luckily, a little white vinegar and elbow grease are usually enough to whip that pan back into shape.

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 cast iron and vinegar barely get along and if left too long the vinegar can damage the pan. Look for the rust to be loosened and then you're ready for the next step.

Once the soak is complete, gently scrub the rust away with a fine steel wool scrubbing pad, nylon brush, or whichever is your favorite. Be sure to remove as much rust as possible.

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 in the "Seasoning Your Skillet" section of our article here.