How To Clean And Restore Cast Iron Pans
Have you wondered how to clean and restore cast iron pans? If so, I have you covered today. This post is a few years old, but we can always use a reminder on how to take care of cast iron pans, right?
I was at a friend’s home the other day and she said she was giving an old rusty Dutch oven to the thrift store in town. Then I said, “You’ll be sorry if you do!”
I explained to her how awesome it is if you have one Dutch oven that’s cleaned and ready to go. It’s one of the best emergency items you can store for cooking or just boiling water. Then we talked about storing charcoal briquettes in air-tight containers to be used when she puts that Dutch over to work. Just think, when it comes to cooking she will be set for almost any disaster. Of course, you will need some matches.
Related: Why You Need Cast Iron Pans
Scrub With Soapy Water
Here’s the deal, you can scrub them with warm soapy water like crazy, pat them dry and season them before “baking” them. You may need to use some fine steel wool to get them smooth, or what I like to call getting down to the raw cast iron. They will look like new, I promise.
I bought some used units and they were so rusty, but I used some elbow grease and they were ready to restore to like new condition. The ones I purchased looked like they had been left in the sink to soak. That’s not a good thing to do. Yes, they will rust if you do this, and I mean big time rust.
Please be aware you may find some that will need to be sand-blasted. You may want to compare the price of that to buying brand new ones or just buying some rusty ones from a garage sale or thrift store. I was lucky and found some really bad rusty ones, but they were not flaked. I guess that’s how I would describe it. So, what I’m saying is don’t be afraid of the rust, that’s fixable, in most cases.
I remember when I was a little girl my mom always had a cast iron pan on the stove for scrambled eggs and bacon. Oh yes, we saved that bacon grease in the refrigerator, too! I have been on the lookout for used cast iron pans, Dutch ovens, griddles, etc. for a few years. They are getting harder and harder to find at the thrift stores.
I have slowly been buying a few pieces of cast iron here and there. My goal is to build a fire pit when it gets warmer, right here in Southern Utah. I have a Lodge tripod to hold a cooking pot over the fire. Can you just picture that, or is it just me? I can hardly wait to build my fire pit.
Oh, I want it for roasted marshmallows, but I really want to be able to cook outside over a fire. Yes, my family will smell like we have been camping. I suppose you could call it wishful thinking on my end.
I love having some cast iron to cook with, especially outside because I don’t want to drag my other pans outside. A few years ago I was out in Hurricane, Utah at one of my favorite antique stores looking at treasures. The store has some treasures because at one time all those items were a treasure to someone.
I heard one lady came in and bought all the cast iron pots and Dutch ovens in the store a few days before I came to visit them. We are talking about filling the back of her car. Then I asked the owner if they were Lodge or another American made cast iron. He said he had some made in China, but this lady only wanted American made cast iron pieces. That’s all I want as well in my cast iron pans or pots.
How To Restore Cast Iron Pans:
Lightly sand the cast iron with fine steel wool, if needed, as explained above.
Wash the cast iron pans in warm soapy water
The second thing you will do with your cast iron is to wash it in warm soapy water. You will need to dry it before we do the next step. The towel I used to dry the cast iron pieces had some residue on it after wiping down the cast iron lid. So I re-washed the lid a little more. It had some black residue that wiped off. I washed it until it no longer left that little black stuff on the towel.
Foil on the bottom oven rack
Next, take all the racks out of your oven but the two bottom ones. Lay a large piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack. It will catch the drips, if any, from the vegetable oil if it happens to drip down from the seasoning step. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Spray or wipe the cast iron pans with vegetable oil
Now you can wipe with vegetable oil, or as in my case, I used a vegetable spray. The Lodge book showed using some type of spray stuff so that’s how I seasoned mine. The next step is to place the cast iron items with the vegetable spray side down.
Although I sprayed the inside and outside and on every crevice, still turn them upside down. This is where the foil is needed on the lower shelf of the oven.
Bake the cast iron pans at 350 degrees
Bake the cast iron for 60 minutes, turn off the oven and let them cool down overnight. After this initial seasoning, you should be able to take these camping or use outside and wipe out the residue from your meal while the pan is hot and it is good to go until the next time you use it.
I did learn a few things we need to do to keep our cast iron looking good and keep it from rusting. Place a few sheets of paper towels between the lid and the pan when storing them. Add a few sheets of paper towels in the bottom of the pan as well. I bought covers for all of my Dutch ovens, or at least the ones I use less often. Those Dutch ovens I store in the garage ready to grab and take anywhere to go camping or use at parties.
Easy Peasy Steps
- wash with warm soapy water if the food sticks (hopefully, you won’t have to do this if you keep the cast iron seasoned)
- pat dry
- oil them
- bake them
- store them
They will last a lifetime if you take proper care of them. I only buy Lodge cast iron, that may sound snotty, but they’re made in the USA! May God bless you for being better prepared.
There is something awesome about having cast iron pans, Dutch ovens, and griddles. They will last a lifetime, if you take proper care of them. If you can restore cast iron pans back to their original state, why not do it? You will have pans you can use inside and outside your home. It’s all about being prepared for the unexpected. May God bless this world, Linda
Janet: I use kosher salt and a fresh potato to get mine clean. I always have salt and a potato, I don’t always have steel wool. I then season them with coconut oil and put them in the oven. I also use coconut oil, to keep my cutting boards from cracking after I wash them.
Beth: Linda, you’re apparently in love with Lodge. But don’t pass up Griswold, if you run across some in a thrift or antique shop. They are older than the Lodge brand but stopped production before or around the time of World War II. I still have and use Mother’s. It’s like the Fire King items, the original is better.
My favorite things:
Lodge Camp 12-Inch Dutch Oven Tote Bag
Lodge EC6D43 Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6-Quart, Island Spice Red
Lodge L10SK3ASHH41B Cast Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned, 12-inch
Lodge LPGI3 Cast Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle, 20-inch x 10.44-inch, Black
Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch
12 thoughts on “How To Clean And Restore Cast Iron Pans”
I love cast iron,although I don’t use it everyday due to the weight and my arthritic hands. I have 2 durch ovens, 2 different sized frying pans, a corn bread pan, a griddle, and 2 loaf pans. I use lard to season mine and never use cooking spray on them. The seasoning lasts much longer than vegetable oil. I also have a cast iron wood cookstove and a firepit. Everyone needs a Dutch oven as they are so versitle.
HI Liz, it sounds like you are equipped with many cast iron pans! My mom used lard to season hers. You are so lucky to have a cast iron stove and a firepit! You can survive anything! I love it! Linda
The absolute easiest way I have found to clean cast iron (not the rust, just burned on gunk, like what you find with used pans), is to put them in the oven on the oven cleaning setting. The pans come out looking like brand new and are then ready to season.
Jennifer (PrepSchoolDaily dot blogspot dot com)
Hi Jennifer, what a great tip! My readers are going to love this comment! Thank you! Linda
I agree with Janet regarding the potato and salt. I gave my daughter a frying pan that was too large for me (1 person household). It was well seasoned and I told her how to care for it but unfortunately, she didn’t heed my instructions! She finally reseasoned hers and it is now good as gold.
I was out at a friend’s home the other day. He is a cast iron fanatic and goes to a lot of estate sales and auctions. He buys up ALL the cast iron! He must have 60-70 pieces at this time and I don’t know how many he has sold or given away. Anyway, long story short, he had a DO (without the legs and with a lid) that I thought my daughter could use in her oven. He also had a flat griddle (round tortilla cooker) that I thought she would use as well. So, I asked him what he wanted for them. He hmmd and hawed for a while and said nothing. We continued to have conversation and finally I asked again. He quoted me $15 for both!!!!! Then as we were talking, he wanted me to teach him a skill that I have so I have traded my skill for his cast iron. I may have gotten the worst of the deal, however!!
I was at a store a couple of years ago and was looking at new Lodge cast iron. I noticed that Lodge has or had at the time, a spray seasoning. So, I looked at the ingredients and it is/was the same as PAM. So I use PAM to keep my cast iron seasoned.
Also, if you are out camping and something gets really stuck to the cast iron, add some wood ash from the fire to the pot and some oil. Bring all of that to a boil and it will come clean. Be sure to have something to reseason the pots/pans though as the ash/water/oil will make soap in the pot! I have done this and to reseason it while camping, I simply cooked bacon and after it was cooked, used the bacon grease to reseason it. On another quick note, if you have cooking utensils that have stubborn cooked on gunk, you can do the same thing with a pan/water/ash/oil and soak the utensils to clean them.
Hi Leanne, wow your friend has a lot of cast iron pans! That was a great deal for your daughter. It’s nice to have a DO with legs and one without. The tortilla maker would be awesome too! Linda
I have a problem with the outside of my cast iron frying pan – it has become coated with something, I assume that I have not always properly scrubbed the outside of the pan, and now it has a crust of something – burned grease? I would like to remove it, but scrubbing doesn’t have any effect, at this time.
Hi Janet, you may want to try what Jennifer said and clean it with your oven? I haven’t tried it that but you may want to look into that. Those pans can be hard to scrub. Linda
I’ve had a couple of skillets that had never been cleaned on the outside. I put a steel brush in my drill and scrubbed 30 years of campfire crud off the bottom. then I seasoned it as usual. After that there were no more “hot spots” or not so hot spots. The inside had been cared for properly, because they were used frequently. If you are desperate enough to use the steel brush, be sure to wear eye protection and long sleeves because that crust comes off in chunks sometimes, at high speed.
Hi LaJuanna, thanks for the tip on caring for the OUTSIDE of the skillets. Great comment! Linda
I do so enjoy all of your wonderful information and advice! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
As for this post, I am wondering if there is such a thing as light weight cast iron cooking vessels?!?!
I have a large cast iron skillet that is so heavy I have never used it. I can barely lift the thing, but perhaps this is where I could get my husband involved in the cooking process! Hmmm, that is a pretty good idea! I will be sure to get it well seasoned even though it says it is already seasoned.
Hi Kathleen, only the small cast iron pans are somewhat lightweight. I can’t buy anything bigger than a 6-quart Dutch Oven. Once filled I cannot lift it. I have a 12-inch skillet with small handles on two sides. It is heavy but boy does it make the food taste good! I keep it out on my stove every day ready to use. When I was younger I didn’t think about the weight of the pans, now I do. But my pizza one makes the best pizza in the oven or on the barbecue. The small frying pans are not too heavy, but I use hot pads on both sides. Linda