If you are an avid cook and often use a cast iron skillet, you need to know how to clean a cast iron skillet and remove rust. Cast iron retains heat better than other metals, providing a crispy, seared texture and better browning. Over time, however, cast iron becomes more difficult to clean – what was once easily washed off won’t shift with just a sponge.
Before you know it, your pan will be covered in burnt residue. We’ve put together a guide to cleaning a cast iron skillet so you can get it looking like new again. If you have an enamel cast iron skillet skip to the end of the page as the cleaning instructions are different. This is because the enamel can be damaged by some of the recommended sanding methods for cleaning exposed cast iron.
You also need to know how to season your cast iron skillet and how often, and you may also need one of the best cutting boards to prepare meals.
How often should you clean a cast iron skillet?
You should clean a cast iron frying pan immediately after each use, so that any leftovers do not have a chance to stiffen.
What you will need
Paper towels or dry cloth
Non-abrasive dish soap (optional)
Non-abrasive sponge or cast iron cleaning brush
Raw potato (optional)
Kosher salt or rock salt (optional)
Wooden spatula (optional)
Unlike other cookware, you cannot soak cast iron or put it in the dishwasher, as this can cause rust. You should also avoid placing a hot skillet in cold water as this can ‘shock’ and lead to warping and cracking. It’s a good idea to clean it more thoroughly if you notice any burnt residue that won’t shift, or worse, rust.
How do you clean a cast iron skillet after daily use?
1. While the pan is still hot, rinse it under hot water and use a non-abrasive sponge or cast iron cleaning brushlike the Full Circle Tenacious C Cast Iron Brush (opens in new tab), to remove any residue. If you want to use dish soap, you can, but it can strip the herbs, so only use a small amount of non-abrasive soap. Do not use steel wool as it can also strip the spices and scratch the pan.
2. Dry the frying pan well with a cloth. Drying is necessary because any moisture left behind will lead to rust. You can put the skillet back on the stove and let it heat up to make sure all the water has evaporated.
3. Using a paper towel or cloth, apply about a teaspoon of vegetable oil towards the inside of the pan and cover the cooking surface. Keep polishing until the oil is absorbed and you can’t see it anymore.
4. Let the pan cool down completely before saving.
How do you clean a cast iron frying pan with burnt residue?
If the above doesn’t remove some of the burnt residue, follow these steps:
1. Mix some coarse kosher salt with water (a tablespoon of each should be enough) and scrub the burnt residue in a circular motion with your non-abrasive sponge or cleaning brush. If you’re dealing with grill lines, you need to scrub in that direction. Than rinse, dry and oil by following the daily cleaning steps.
2. You can also boil water in your frying pan to soften stubborn residue before attempting to remove it. Once emptied and still hot/warm, use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the residue away.
How do you clean a rusty cast iron skillet?
There’s nothing worse than discovering rust has covered your trusty cast iron skillet. This happened because the pan was left in water for too long, or was not completely dry when it was stored. But don’t worry, this can be easily remedied with a potato and some salt – yes, you read that right.
1. This can get a bit messy so put down a newspaper before starting.
2. Cut a raw potato in half. Make sure it’s big enough to get a good grip on.
3. Sprinkle a generous amount of coarse Kosher salt in the pan; a handful should be enough.
4. Place the potato, flat side down, in the pan and scrub in a circular motion. Make sure you give it a good amount of pressure and work your way around. Think of it as a facial for your frying pan! If your pan has grill lines, you can cut an angle on the side of the potato so it can get between the lines and scrub in an up and down motion.
5. The potato needs to provide enough moisture for the salt to work its magic, but if not, you can add a small amount of water as required.
6. The salt will turn brown as it absorbs the dirt. If you have a lot of rust, you may want rinse off the salt and proceed with a fresh batch.
7. Once the rust is gone, wash away the salt and follow the daily cleaning steps to dry and grease the frying pan before storing it.
Your cast iron skillet should now look like new – remember to keep oiling it after every cleaning.
How to clean enameled cast iron?
Some cast iron pans have colored, fully enamelled exteriors and interiors, making them great to display and easier to clean, too. Here’s how to clean enameled cast iron.
1. For daily cleaning, once the pan has cooled down, rinsed and cleaned with warm soapy water and a sponge or soft brush. Some of these pans are dishwasher safe, but this can dull the enamel, so we recommend hand washing.
2. For stubborn stains you can use a pasta of baking soda with water and use that to scrub the pan. It is slightly abrasive and will not damage the enamel.
3. For really stubborn stains you can also: let hot water soak in your enamel cast iron pan for 20 minutes before following the daily cleaning steps.
4. Dry the pan well before storing it. You do not need to oil enamelled cast iron before storing it.
Unfortunately, the enamelled cast iron exterior can easily show scorch marks that are difficult to remove. Don’t worry, these can also be buffed out with a few household ingredients.
1. Mix a paste of baking soda with water. You want the consistency to be thick and not too runny.
2. Turn your pan upside down and apply the paste to the burn marks† You can use a paper towel to spread it, but I found it easier with my fingers.
3. Leave it on for 3 hours.
4. Spray the paste with white distilled vinegar. It starts to foam as the two react. Continue until foaming stops.
5. Use the abrasive side of your sponge, scrub the outside of the pan in a circular motion. It may need some elbow grease, but you’ll see the scorch begin to shift.
6. When the marks are gone, beautiful your cast iron pan in the sink. Than dry it according to the instructions above for daily cleaning.
Want more cleaning tips? Here’s how to quickly and easily remove common Thanksgiving stains, how to clean a dishwasher, how to wash a pillow, and how to clean a washing machine.