How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet + How to Remove Rust

how to clean cast iron pan, clean cast iron pan

You’ve finally decided to upgrade your culinary arsenal and get yourself a cast iron pan. Now, how in the heck do you clean a cast iron skillet so that it looks good and doesn’t rust.

At first, you were in the honeymoon period, basking in all the new recipes. Yep, cooking delicious food is easy with a cast iron skillet… but cleaning that skillet, that’s where things get a little tricker.

I remember the first time I ever washed a (brand new) cast iron skillet, and the very next day I found it all rusted up. I’ve learned a lot since then—including how to get rid of rust on a cast iron skillet. And more importantly, how to prevent the rust in the first place. For starters, DON’T soak it in water like I did back when I was a cleaning rookie.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Step #1: Let the pan cool slightly before cleaning it

Go ahead and eat your food before tackling the cleaning. Just don’t wait too long, you don’t want the pan to cool completely because then it’s harder to remove food. You don’t want it to be scalding hot either. I usually wait around 15 to 20 minutes.

Take a dry cloth and run it over the inside of the skillet to clean it off. Remove as much caked on food as you can before moving the pan to the sink.

Step #2: Rinse the pan

Rinse the pan with warm water; mild soap is optional but not required. There’s some controversy surrounding the use of soap on cast iron. It’s been said that it’ll absorb the soap and ruin the pan’s natural coating, but according to many experts, it’s not true. So, use the soap if you dare!

Step #3: Use salt to remove stubborn baked on stains

Sprinkle salt into the pan and use a sponge or brush to scrub at the pan. The fine  salt grains work like an exfoliant to remove stubborn stuck on particles.

Step #4: Dry thoroughly 

Remove your cast iron skillet from the water and dry thoroughly with a towel. If you still see food residue coming off on the towel, repeat the process all over again.

How to Prevent a Cast Iron Skillet From Rusting

  • Don’t soak it for too long
  • Never leave water on it, always dry thoroughly

The leading culprit of rust? Water! Make sure the pan is completely dry before you put it away and don’t leave it out to dry. Always take the time to hand dry your cast iron skillet so it doesn’t sit out with water droplets on it.

How to Remove Rust from a Cast Iron Skillet

So, you made a mistake and now your cast iron skillet is rusted. No need to panic, it can still be saved in 6 simple steps.

#1. Scrub at Rust with Fine Steel Wool

Use a bundle of fine steel wool to gently scrub surfaces covered in rust. Eventually, you’ll notice the skillet returning to its raw cast iron form—sans rust.

*Avoid using steel wool on a cast iron grill unless it is rusted up. Otherwise, the coarse fibers can rub away the pan’s natural seasoning.

#2. Rinse skillet

Thoroughly rinse the skillet and scrub at it using a bristle brush or sponge, it’s optional to use a mild soap at this time.

#3. Dry skillet

Make sure the skillet is completely dry using a clean dish cloth or paper towels

#4. Oil it up

Apply a thin layer of vegetable or cooking oil all over the pan, including the handle and bottom side.

#5. Put it in the oven

Set your oven to 350 degrees F, and then place the cast iron skillet upside down on the top rack of the oven. Leave it there for one hour. Set a sheet of foil on the rack below to catch any oil that drips down.

#6. Cool, Reuse, Repeat

Take the pan out of the oven and let it cool. As soon as it cools off it’s ready to be used again!