Whether it’s a brand new cast iron skillet or one you’ve picked up from a garage sale, you may be wondering, “How do you clean a cast iron pan without ruining it?!” Here’s what you need to know!

stack of cast iron pans

Cleaning a cast iron pan can seem more daunting than it actually is. Do you really just rinse it? If there’s food stuck on it after making Cast Iron Filet Mignon, Dutch Oven Chicken Breast or Homemade Cornbread, how do you get it off without ruining the seasoning? The good news is that once you get the hang of it, cleaning a cast iron pan is no more difficult than dealing with any other cookware—it’s just a bit different.

top image image of a stack of cast iron pans

How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan

First, let’s talk about some things you shouldn’t do when cleaning cast iron pans. Don’t use steel wool for scrubbing, don’t put it in the dishwasher, and never let your cast iron skillet soak in the sink—this can cause it to rust.

Here are the steps to cleaning a cast iron pan after using it for cooking:

1. Clean cast iron pans with hot water—and maybe a little soap

You should clean your skillet while it’s still warm; at this point, hot water and a sponge may be all you need to clean off any food residue.

If you need a little help, use a mild soap. (Yes, we promise it’s okay to use a little soap.) You can also invest in a specialized cast iron pan cleaning brush, which is designed to clean cast iron without removing the seasoning. 

2. Remove stuck-on messes the right way

Still having trouble cleaning your cast iron pan? Another option is to use some salt with oil to create a paste that will remove the gunk. 

You can also use very hot water and a spatula to scrape off burnt food. Pour the water into the pan and let it simmer on the stovetop for 3-5 minutes; allow to cool and scrape. (Avoid plastic utensils—they won’t be as effective.) 

3. Dry with paper towels

Unless you want to ruin your nice kitchen towels, you’ll want to dry your cast iron pans with paper towels.  If you see black residue, don’t worry, it’s just seasoning. Wipe the pan dry with a paper towel, then make sure it’s bone dry by putting it on a low burner to get rid of any leftover moisture before storing. This will be your best bet to avoid rust.

4. Season

Seasoning is another term for oil bonding, which helps prevent rusting when you cook and allows your food to release more easily. Even pre-seasoned pans can use extra protection. 

If possible, season your pan with every use. All you have to do is heat it on the stovetop until it’s smoking, then rub some oil on with a paper towel. (Avoid touching the pan with bare hands when you do this!) Buff away any excess oil with a paper towel to prevent a sticky, greasy surface from forming.

If you don’t get around to seasoning your cast iron pan every time you use it, you’ll know when food is sticking or rust is starting to form that it’s time to season. Regular maintenance of your cast iron pan will increase its non-stick properties and become less prone to rust. 

How to Clean a Rusty Cast Iron Pan

There’s no need to throw out a rusty cast iron skillet—it can be saved so you can make Cast Iron Chicken Thighs for dinner again! Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Soak each rusty piece in one part vinegar and one part water. Cover the entire skillet.
  2. Test every half hour with a scrub brush to see if it’s starting to come clean. Soak up to eight hours.
  3. After scrubbing, rinse thoroughly.
  4. Dry with the above-mentioned methods and re-season.
  5. If your pot is rusted beyond repair, you may have to repeat this process a handful of times.


Can I soak my cast iron pan in water to lessen the crust of food stuck?

Please don’t—we’re begging you. Add water to your pan, bring to a boil, and scrape off gunk with a spatula. 

Do I have to season my new pan? 

A little bit of extra seasoning never hurt anyone. It will only prolong your pan’s lifespan and nonstick powers.

What kind of oil should I use for seasoning? 

Lodge recommends melted shortening, vegetable oil, or other oils with a high smoke point since you will often be heating your pan to high temperatures. 

Can I season my pan in the oven? 

Yes, seasoning a cast iron pan in the oven adds a tougher layer of protection for your pan, strengthening the bond. Wash and dry, add oil, and place on the top rack upside down. Add a baking sheet to the bottom rack and bake for one hour at 350ºF. Allow to cool before removing. This is called “curing” a cast iron pan. Basically, you’re making it like new again.

Can I wash my cast iron skillet in the dishwasher? 

No! Always wash cast iron pans by hand. A dishwasher will remove the seasoning and result in rust. 

Why is my cast iron skillet sticky? 

When you season and use excess oil, this will result in a sticky residue. Remove the excess oil with hot soapy water and then re-season with a thin layer of oil. 

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About Kasey Schwartz

Hi, I’m Kasey, Founder of All Things Mamma – where I am dishing up family favorite recipes that are easy to make with simple, everyday ingredients. Plus – tips and tricks for living your best life!

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