A girl's quest to live on the greener side.

How to Care For + Clean Cast Iron

how to care for and clean cast iron

Are you curious about how to care for and clean cast iron? Many people are, but believe it's too much work and upkeep. The honest truth is cast iron skillets require very minimal care, are pretty cheap, and can last a lifetime. All you have to do is know the basics to caring for them and they'll become your most prized kitchen tools. I would know: My trusty Lodge 8-inch cast iron skillet is pretty much my go-to in the kitchen now. I use it to make everything from omelets to stir fries. It's super easy to clean, low fuss, and practically unbreakable. What's not to love?


As a zero waste advocate, I'm in love with items that are built to last (a stark contrast to single-use disposables). Cast iron will last for a lifetime - maybe even longer. I've heard of people finding vintage, rust covered cast iron skillets and cleaning them up, making them work like new again. Who's to say long after I'm gone my beloved cast iron skillet won't go on to be used by some other eco-conscious person? I have high hopes it will. 

The other amazing thing about cast iron is it doesn't have any Teflon coating on it. Teflon can be found in most nonstick pans nowadays. Teflon, when heated to high temperatures (which happens whenever you cook), releases toxic fumes harmful to humans and lethal to pet birds. Never cook with a Teflon pan around pet birds, that's for sure: It can outright kill them, and has happened on multiple accounts. Is that something you want to expose yourself, or your family to? No thanks. I'll stick to my cast iron skillet thank you very much. 

If you're ready to say goodbye to nonstick pans and want to purchase a cast iron skillet, Home Goods is a decent option, along with thrift stores. You can also purchase cast iron online at relatively low prices. Amazon sells my 8-inch Lodge cast iron skillet for about $11 (shipping not included). If you already have a cast iron skillet, but are afraid to use it, get ready. I'm going to show you the basics for caring and cleaning cast iron so you can get cooking ASAP. Also, just a heads up, I do have some affiliate links in this post. It's to a cast iron skillet I myself use and recommend. Now without further ado, here's how to care for and clean cast iron!


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Seasoning cast iron

how to care for and clean cast iron

If you have a new cast iron, you may need to give it a seasoning. However, let it be known I did not do this. In fact, I didn't even know what seasoning was until after I bought and started using my Lodge 8-inch cast iron skillet. Oops. The good news is, most newly purchased cast iron nowadays comes pre-seasoned. Though, adding another few layers of seasoning manually could never hurt. Either way, seasoning is essentially a hard, protective coating on the pan that's created by rubbing the pan with oil and then heating it (in the oven). When a cast iron skillet (coated in oil) is exposed to heat, the layer of oil transforms into a thin, almost plastic-like coating. With each new layer of oil, and each new seasoning (some people season their cast iron at least 4 times in one sitting), the pan becomes increasingly protected from rusting. It will also develop helpful nonstick characteristics from seasoning.

If you'd like to season your cast iron skillet, most people recommend using flax oil. So many websites claim it's literally the best oil you could ever use on cast iron, and yields fantastic results. Other options include canola oil, corn, or vegetable oil (as long as it's unsaturated it should work), but people don't rave as much about these oils in the cast iron community.

Here's how to season cast iron properly:

  1. Add a little bit of unsaturated oil onto your skillet. Using a reusable cloth (or a paper towel which you can compost directly after use), rub the oil all over (inside and out). Don't lay the oil on too thick, and make sure to buff it until it looks almost dry.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. Pop the pan in for 30 minutes. Repeat this baking cycle at least 3 to 4 times. By then, you should have a nice, well-seasoned pan ready for cooking!

Pretty simple right? The trick to making sure your seasoning lasts is just to use your pan often, on a consistent basis. Letting your pan go unused will just lead to it rusting over time (which happens naturally when its left out in the open air, or exposed to water and not dried properly). 

In regards on how to reseason a cast iron skillet, all you have to do is repeat these steps. You shouldn't have to reseason a cast iron skillet for a long time though, if at all. It all depends on what condition your cast iron is in, how often you use it, and how good you are at maintaining it. You can reseason your skillet whenever you want, or feel it's time (there's no set rules to that).

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Cooking with cast iron

how to care for and clean cast iron

You're now ready to start cooking with your skillet. You can use it to cook just about anything: Saute some veggies, make an omelet, sear some meat, make a stir fry. The choice is totally yours. Personally, I use my skillet most to make omelettes for myself. I've also used it quiet a few times to saute some collard greens, beet tops, and other veggies. It's such a versatile little pan.

How to make sure food doesn't stick to cast iron:

I highly recommend heating your cast iron skillet for a least five to ten minutes (on low) before cooking with it. Don't even add oil to it while it heats for these first few minutes. This will activate its non-stick properties, making for much easier clean up. I use this technique all the time when cooking eggs and oh my god does it work. Prior to this method, I was scrapping off stuck on egg for at least 10 minutes after cooking! Now, nothing. My pan is ridiculously easy to clean.

Speaking of cleaning...

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Cleaning cast iron

how to care for and clean cast iron

The moment you've all been waiting for: How to clean cast iron. There's so much debate about this in the cast iron community. Many people believe soap is the devil and should not be allowed anywhere near your angelic little cast iron skillet. Others use soap and say "hey, it's not so bad." The real truth is, people don't want to wash away their seasoning, which is one of the big reasons they're so against soap. 

I can't tell you what to do on this one. You go for the method that works for you. I can however say what I myself do. And no, I do not use soap.

Here's how I clean my cast iron pan:

  1. After cooking with your skillet, add hot water to a hot pan (I usually move it into the sink, grabbing it with my dish towel - the handle gets really hot!). You can also pour in the hot water using a measuring cup.
  2. Using your preferred scrubbing device (sponges, wooden pot brushes, wooden dish brush, copper pot scrubber, etc.), scrub the pot lightly. If you're afraid you'll burn your hand, wear gloves, or use some tongs to hold your scrubbing device at a safe distance.
  3. Rinse the pan with hot water. Wipe dry with a towel, or put it on low to medium heat on the stove to evaporate any excess water. Excess water on your cast iron can cause rusting.
  4. Add some unsaturated oil (flax seed, canola, vegetable, or corn oil work) to your pan and buff it out using a rag (or a paper towel - compost after use). You want to apply a thin layer, not cake it on.
Done! It's truly that simple, I promise. If you do wind up using a little soap though, it won't be the end of your skillet, so no worries.

How to clean off rust and stubborn burnt on food:

If you do wind up with some stuck on bits of food that are really stubborn, I recommend cleaning cast iron with salt. After step three (listed above), add some kosher salt to the skillet with just a little water. Use a cut potato or a wooden spoon to scrape off the bits of food. Clean a cast iron skillet with salt and potato when it either starts to rust or when there's a lot of food stuck on. You just cut a (small) potato in half, sprinkle some coarse salt onto the pan, and scrub away. Once you're done scrubbing, just rinse off with water, pat it dry, heat it on the stove (or in the oven). You should also add another layer of oil to your skillet, and consider reseasoning it by putting it in the 450 degree oven for 30 minutes. This will guarantee your skillet will work flawlessly.


So, are you ready to go out there and get yourself a cast iron skillet? Thought so. Let me know what you like to cook in your cast iron below!

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