How to Clean Cast Iron Properly to Maintain the Seasoning

by | May 1, 2020 | Cook, Thrive

Once you’ve picked out the best cast iron cookware, 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.

Learning how to properly care for and how to 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 to NEVER 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.

How to Clean Cast Iron Properly

  1. Allow pans to cool down enough to handle by hand.
  2. Scrape up any stuck on bits of food.
  3. Run pan under hot water.
  4. Use a soft washcloth to wipe down 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, 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.

This is a photo of my new Stargazer cast iron pan that I am loving 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.

A cast iron pan being scraped with a metal spatula to get remaining egg residue unstuck.

Scrape off any leftover food…

If you have a little bit of food still in your pan after cooking, you can take a metal spatula and gently scrape the food bits off. This is usually easiest if done while the pan is still hot.

Using the flat edge of a spatula won’t harm your non-stick coating (watch the video above to see how), however, you’ll want to avoid using the sharp sides of the spatula or scraping with something like a knife. Those sharp edges and blades will cut through your seasoning.

Cast iron dutch oven being run under hot water.

Run under hot water…

After your pans have cooled enough to handle, run them under hot water. The hotter the water, the easier your pans are to clean.

Using a soft washcloth, gently wipe down all surfaces of your pan. No need to use dish soap, a scouring pad or steel wool here, that will just ruin your seasoning. We’ll be heating these pans up again on the stove which will kill off any bacteria you may be concerned about.

Two cast iron pans drying over a gas stove.

Dry pans completely…

Dry your pans (and dutch oven!) completely on the stove. You want to bring them until they’re just smoking. This ensures all water has been evaporated and you’re no longer at risk of your pans rusting.

Once your pans are completely dry, keep them on your cooking surface over low heat and give them a small layer of seasoning. I like to keep a small jar of lard on hand for this purpose.

Season with a layer of oil…

Wiping a very thin coating of fat or cooking oil on your pans, heating them, and allowing that seasoning to adhere will protect your pans from humidity while they’re stored away until the next time you cook with them.

If you get a bit too much oil during this step, simply wipe it away with the dry part of your towel, or use a clean paper towel.

Cast iron pan being re-seasoned with lard.

Things to NEVER 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 6 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.
  • Never put your cast iron in the dishwasher.
  • Don’t use any abrasive materials when cleaning your cast iron.
  • Never let your cast iron air dry.
  • Don’t store your cast iron unprotected.

Great to meet you!

It is our goal to encourage you in the path to a more healthy, more secure and free lifestyle by sharing and teaching the skills that lead to greater sustainability and self-sufficiency for you, your loved ones and your community.

– Carolyn and Josh 

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