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How to Clean Cast Iron Properly to Maintain the Seasoning

Once you’ve picked the best cast iron cookware and stripped and seasoned your cast iron pans to perfection, it’s important to know how to clean cast iron properly. We’re sharing tips and tricks on washing, protecting and maintaining the seasoning of your cast iron.

Cast iron dutch oven being run under hot water.

If you missed any other videos or blog posts in this series, you can check them out below:

Learning how to properly care for and clean cast iron is so important to protect all that hard work you put into them of stripping and re-seasoning.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to clean cast iron. I’m going to show you the right way and also share some things NEVER to do when using cast iron.

Best Foods to Cook in Cast Iron

Once your pans are properly seasoned and you have been cooking on them for some time, you can cook almost anything in them.

The very best food to start cooking with is going to be fatty foods. My preference is bacon or some breakfast sausage. The fat is going to cook out and continue to coat your pan with a nice extra layer of seasoning.

The more you cook in your pans and continue to build up that seasoning, the more you can expand what you cook in your pan.

Two fried eggs cooking in a cast iron pan.

Why Does Food Stick to My Cast Iron Pan?

If you’re having a hard time with food sticking to your cast iron pan (most people complain about scrambled or fried eggs sticking horribly), then either your seasoning isn’t well-developed enough, or you’re not properly cooking in your cast iron (video and blog post coming soon!).

If you’ve just finished seasoning your cast iron pans, as I recommended above, start by cooking with very fatty items in the pan for a while. Once you have no problems with that item of food sticking, then keep trying new less-fatty foods until you’re cooking without sticking for everything.

Side view of cast iron pots and pans sitting on a wooden table.

How to Clean Cast Iron Properly

Cleaning cast iron couldn’t be easier once you get the hang of it. Because it’s slightly different than traditional cookware, it can take a bit of getting used to. But in the end, I find them much easier to care for than stainless steel or other cookware.

  1. Allow pans to cool down enough to handle by hand.
  2. Scrape up any stuck-on bits of food.
  3. Run the pan under hot water.
  4. Use a soft washcloth to wipe down the pan.
  5. Dry pans on the stove.
  6. Protect your pans with a thin layer of oil.

Even the best seasoned pans will have a little bit of sticking from time to time, but the ultimate goal is for your food to cook up to perfection and then slide out of the pan with ease.

This is why non-stick cookware became so popular! But the toxins in those pans aren’t worth the convenience, especially when you can achieve that same non-stick coating with cast iron cookware.

Below is a photo of my Stargazer cast iron pan that I love so much. The pan came pre-seasoned (and I added my mandatory extra layer or two of seasoning once I got it out of the box), and it’s been cooking eggs like a charm since day one.

  1. Scrape Off Food Before the pan cools off, scrape off any remaining food into the trash. This is usually easiest if done while the pan is still hot. Be careful and use pot holders so you don’t burn yourself while doing this step. Also, be careful you’re not scratching the seasoning. Use a flat metal spatula, and don’t dig into the coating.
  2. Allow Pan to Cool – Running cold or even warm water over a hot cast iron pan could cause damage, so it’s important to allow it to cool down before cleaning.
  3. Run Under Hot Water – The hotter the water, the easier your pans are to clean. Run the pan under the hot water and wipe gently with a soft washcloth. No need to use dish soap, a scouring pad or steel wool here, that will just ruin your seasoning. Don’t be concerned about bacteria either, the heating process will kill off any bacteria you may be concerned about.
  4. Dry Pan Completely – Once the pan is clean, place it back on the burner and turn the heat to medium. Heat the pan until they’re just smoking. This ensures all the water has been evaporated and you’re no longer at risk of your pans rusting.
  5. Season – Once the pans are dry, reduce the heat to low and give them a small layer of seasoning. I like to keep a small jar of lard on hand for seasoning, but avocado oil is another great option. Adding a thin layer of fat and heating them causes the oil to adhere to the pan and protect it from humidity during storage. Then, the next time you’re ready to cook, this oil works as a non-stick barrier. If you happen to add too much oil, simply wipe it away with the dry part of your towel, or use a clean paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
Cast iron pan being re-seasoned with lard.

Things NEVER To Do When Cleaning Cast Iron

As I mentioned before, learning how to clean a cast iron skillet is easy when you know what to do, but knowing what NOT to do can also be very helpful. Here are six things to NEVER do when cleaning cast iron.

  • Never take hot cast iron and put it into hot or cold water. There’s a high possibility of warping or cracking your cast iron pans.
  • Don’t soak your cast iron pans in water. This is just a recipe for ruining your seasoning and inviting rust.
  • Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher. You’ll ruin the seasoning and end up with a rusty mess on your hands.
  • Don’t use any abrasive materials when cleaning your cast iron. If you follow proper seasoning, cooking and cleaning practices, anything other than a soft rag should be all you need.
  • Never let your cast iron air dry. Again, this is just an invitation for rust.
  • Don’t store your cast iron unprotected. Always add that extra layer of oil prior to storing. Your future self will thank you.
Multiple enameled cast iron pans and pots on a counter.
A man and wife smiling.

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Josh and Carolyn bring you practical knowledge on how to Grow, Cook, Preserve and Thrive on your homestead, whether you are in a city apartment or on 40 acres in the country. If you want to increase your self-sufficiency and health be sure to subscribe for helpful videos on gardening, preserving, herbal medicine, traditional cooking and more.

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