How to Clean Cast Iron: Easy Tips for Spotless Cookware

Cast iron cookware is a timeless kitchen staple that, when properly cared for, can last for generations. However, cleaning and maintaining cast iron can be a daunting task for those who are new to cooking with it. There are many misconceptions about the best way to clean cast iron, but with a few simple tips, you can keep your cookware looking and functioning like new.

In this article, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to clean cast iron, including basic cleaning methods, how to remove rust, and tips for restoring and maintaining your cookware. We will also cover common mistakes to avoid and provide answers to frequently asked questions.

So, whether you’re a seasoned cast iron cookware user or a newbie, read on to learn how to clean and maintain your cookware effectively.

Understanding Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware has been used in kitchens for centuries, and for good reason. Its durability and heat retention properties make it a favorite among home cooks and professional chefs alike. Proper care and maintenance is key to maintaining its longevity and ensuring that it remains a staple in your kitchen for generations to come.

One of the defining characteristics of cast iron cookware is its seasoning, which is essentially a layer of polymerized oil that creates a non-stick surface. In order to maintain this seasoning, it’s important to avoid using soap and harsh detergents that can strip it away.

Seasoning is just one part of caring for cast iron cookware. Cleaning it properly is also crucial. Improper cleaning can lead to rust and damage, so it’s important to know the dos and don’ts of cleaning cast iron.

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

Before we delve into cleaning cast iron cookware, let’s touch upon seasoning. The process of seasoning cast iron involves coating it in oil and heating it to a high temperature, which causes the oil to polymerize and create a non-stick surface. This process not only helps prevent food from sticking to the cookware, but it also protects it from rust.

It’s important to note that seasoning is not a one-and-done process. Over time, the seasoning can wear away, especially with frequent use and aggressive cleaning. Regular re-seasoning is necessary to maintain the non-stick properties of your cast iron cookware.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of cast iron cookware, let’s move onto the proper way to clean it.

Cleaning Cast Iron: The Basics

Properly cleaning cast iron cookware is crucial for maintaining its longevity and non-stick properties. Here are the basic steps to follow:

Materials Needed:Warm waterSaltSponge or stiff-bristled brushTowel or paper towelsCooking oil (optional)

Step 1: Cool the Cookware

After cooking, allow the cast iron to cool completely before cleaning. Cleaning hot cast iron can cause the metal to warp or crack.

Step 2: Rinse with Warm Water

Use warm water to rinse off any excess food or residue. Avoid using soap, as it can strip the seasoning from the cast iron.

Step 3: Scrub with Salt

Sprinkle a small amount of salt onto the cookware and use a sponge or stiff-bristled brush to scrub away any remaining food or residue. The salt acts as a gentle abrasive that won’t damage the cast iron.

Step 4: Rinse and Dry

Rinse the cookware with warm water again and then dry it thoroughly with a towel or paper towels. Make sure to remove all moisture to prevent rust from forming.

Step 5: Season (Optional)

After cleaning, you can season the cast iron by applying a thin layer of cooking oil to the surface. This helps protect the metal from rust and improves its non-stick properties.

Regular Maintenance

To ensure your cast iron cookware stays in good condition, it’s important to properly maintain it in between uses. Avoid using soap, as it can strip the seasoning from the cast iron. Instead, use a plastic scraper or stiff-bristled brush to remove any food residue. After cleaning, dry the cookware thoroughly and apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the surface to prevent rust from forming.

Removing Rust from Cast Iron

One common issue with cast iron cookware is rust. Rust can occur if the pan is not dried completely or if it has been exposed to moisture for long periods of time. But don’t worry, it’s possible to remove rust and restore your cast iron cookware to its former glory.

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The first step in removing rust is to scrub the affected area with a stiff brush or steel wool. You can also use sandpaper to remove the rust if it’s particularly stubborn. Be sure to scrub in a circular motion to avoid damaging the surface of the pan.

Next, mix a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. Soak the rusty area in the solution for several hours, or overnight if the rust is particularly stubborn. The vinegar will help dissolve the rust and make it easier to remove.

Stiff brush or steel woolScrub the affected area in a circular motion
Sandpaper (optional)Use to remove particularly stubborn rust
Equal parts white vinegar and waterMix solution and soak rusty area for several hours, or overnight

After soaking, rinse the pan thoroughly with water and dry it completely. You can then re-season the pan to restore its non-stick properties. Follow the steps for seasoning cast iron cookware outlined in section 2.

It’s important to note that prevention is always better than cure. To avoid rust in the future, be sure to dry your cast iron cookware completely after each use and store it in a dry place.

Restoring Cast Iron Cookware

If you come across a neglected or rusted cast iron cookware, don’t throw it away just yet. With some elbow grease and patience, you can bring it back to life.

Here are the steps you can take to restore your cast iron:

  1. Assess the condition: Take a close look at your cast iron cookware and determine the extent of the damage. If it is only rusted on the surface, it is salvageable. If it is warped or cracked, it is best to replace it.
  2. Clean: Before you start restoring, you need to clean the cookware using the basic cleaning process. This will remove any dirt, grime, or food residue.
  3. Remove rust: To remove rust, make a mixture of equal parts of white vinegar and water and soak the rusted area for a few hours. Then, scrub the rust away using steel wool or a plastic scrubber. Alternatively, you can use baking soda and water to make a paste and apply it to the rusted area, let it sit for a few hours before scrubbing it away.
  4. Season: After the rust is removed, you need to season the cast iron cookware to restore its non-stick properties. Follow the seasoning process outlined in the previous section.
  5. Store: Once the cookware is completely dry, store it in a dry place to prevent rust from forming again.

It’s important to note that restoring cast iron cookware can be a lengthy process but the end result is worth it. Once your cast iron cookware is restored, it can last for generations.

Alternative Cleaning Methods

While the basic cleaning process for cast iron cookware involves warm water, a scrubber, and a bit of elbow grease, there are also alternative methods you can use. These methods may be more suitable for certain situations but should be used with caution.

Cleaning with Salt

Using salt to clean cast iron is a popular method because it is gentle and doesn’t require harsh detergents. Simply pour a handful of coarse salt onto the surface of the cookware and use a cloth or paper towel to scrub it around. Once you have scrubbed the entire surface, rinse the cookware with warm water and dry it thoroughly.

Note: This method is not suitable for cast iron with a lot of built-up grime or rust.

Boiling Water

Boiling water can be used to remove stubborn food residues from cast iron cookware. Simply fill the cookware with water and bring it to a boil. Allow the water to boil for several minutes to loosen any stuck-on food, then drain the water and use a scrubber to remove the residue. Rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly.

Note: This method should only be used for cookware that is already seasoned, as boiling water can remove the seasoning.

Drying and Storing Cast Iron Cookware

Properly drying and storing cast iron cookware is essential for maintaining its longevity and preventing rust. Here are some tips for effective drying and storage:

  1. Dry thoroughly: After washing your cast iron cookware, use a clean towel to completely dry it. Leaving any moisture on the surface can lead to rust or a loss of non-stick properties.
  2. Air dry: If you have time to spare, let your cast iron cookware air dry for a few hours before storing it. This will ensure any remaining moisture evaporates completely.
  3. Oil or grease: Before storing your cast iron cookware, apply a thin coat of vegetable oil or melted shortening to the surface to prevent rust. Use a paper towel to spread the oil or grease evenly.
  4. Store in a dry place: Choose a dry location to store your cast iron cookware, such as a pantry or cupboard. Avoid storing it in a damp or humid area, which can lead to rust.
  5. Avoid stacking: If possible, store your cast iron cookware in a single layer to prevent scratching or damage. If you must stack them, place a layer of paper towel or cloth between each piece.
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By following these tips, you can keep your cast iron cookware in top condition for years to come.

Tips for Maintaining Cast Iron Cookware

Proper maintenance is key to keeping your cast iron cookware in top condition. Here are some tips to help you care for your skillet or griddle:

  • Avoid soap: Soap can strip the seasoning off your cast iron, so skip it if possible. Instead, use a plastic scraper to remove food residue.
  • Season regularly: Seasoning your cast iron creates a non-stick surface and helps protect the metal from rust. It’s a good idea to season your pan every few months (or after heavy use) to maintain its non-stick properties.
  • Avoid soaking: Don’t soak your cast iron cookware in water for an extended period of time. This can cause rust and damage the seasoning. Instead, rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly.
  • Store properly: Store your cast iron in a dry place with the lid off to prevent moisture buildup. You can also place a paper towel inside the skillet to absorb any moisture.
  • Use the right tools: Avoid using metal utensils on your cast iron, as they can scratch the surface. Opt for wood, silicone or nylon utensils instead.
  • Don’t stack: Avoid stacking your cast iron cookware on top of each other, as this can cause scratches or damage to the seasoning.

By following these simple maintenance tips, you can extend the life of your cast iron cookware and ensure it continues to perform at its best.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Properly maintaining cast iron cookware is crucial to its longevity, but there are several common mistakes people make that can actually damage it. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Using too much soap: While it’s important to clean your cast iron cookware, using too much soap can strip off its seasoning and cause it to rust. Stick to hot water and a stiff brush or salt, if necessary.
  • Leaving it wet for too long: After cleaning your cast iron cookware, be sure to dry it thoroughly to prevent rust. Leaving it wet for too long can cause it to rust, so wipe it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel immediately after washing.
  • Scrubbing with steel wool: While steel wool can be effective for restoring heavily rusted cast iron cookware, it can also scratch the surface and remove the seasoning. Instead, use a stiff brush or plastic scraper to clean it.
  • Heating it up too quickly: When cooking with cast iron, avoid heating it up too quickly or exposing it to extreme temperature changes, as this can cause warping or cracking. Heat it up slowly and evenly to prevent damage.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can help ensure that your cast iron cookware lasts for many years to come.


Here are some frequently asked questions about cleaning cast iron cookware:

How often do I need to clean my cast iron cookware?

It’s best to clean your cast iron cookware after every use to prevent the buildup of food particles and bacteria. If you use your cookware frequently, it may need to be cleaned more often.

Can I put my cast iron cookware in the dishwasher?

No, it’s not recommended to put cast iron cookware in the dishwasher. The high heat and harsh detergents can damage the seasoning and cause rusting. Instead, clean it by hand using the methods outlined in this article.

How do I know when my cast iron cookware needs to be re-seasoned?

If your cookware starts to look dull or loses its non-stick properties, it may be time to re-season it. You can also do a water droplet test – if water droplets bead up and dance on the surface, it’s still well seasoned. If they soak in, it needs to be re-seasoned.

Can I use soap to clean my cast iron cookware?

It’s best to avoid using soap on cast iron cookware, as it can strip the seasoning and cause rusting. Instead, use hot water and a stiff brush or sponge to scrub away food particles. If you need to remove stubborn residue, try using salt or a light abrasive like baking soda.

Can I use metal utensils on my cast iron cookware?

It’s best to avoid using metal utensils on cast iron cookware, as they can scratch the surface and damage the seasoning. Instead, use wooden or silicone utensils.

Do I need to dry my cast iron cookware immediately after washing?

Yes, it’s important to dry your cast iron cookware thoroughly after washing to prevent rusting. Use a clean towel or place it on a low heat on the stove to dry. Avoid air-drying it, as this can cause water spots and encourage rusting.

How do I store my cast iron cookware?

Store your cast iron cookware in a dry place with good air circulation. Avoid stacking heavy cookware on top of each other, as this can cause damage. If space is limited, you can hang your cookware from a sturdy pot rack or hook.

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