Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: August 17, 2022

Most kitchens have at least one cast iron skillet, and it is by far the most regularly used cooking utensil in my home. Cleaning a cast iron skillet can be difficult for the uninitiated.

We have put together a guide on how to clean these useful kitchen utensils to help you get the most out of your cast-iron skillet without worrying about rust and other issues.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Cast iron skillets must be kept well seasoned.
  • Rusted skillets can be salvaged by scraping off the rust using a scraper, scourer, water, and paper towel.
  • Freshly scoured skillets must be thoroughly wiped and seasoned before storage.

Cast iron skillets have one downside. If they are not thoroughly cleaned and cared for correctly, they can rust as skillets are made from iron.

How To Clean A Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillet with cleaning materials and a towel on a white plate

You will need a soft lint-free cotton cloth or paper towel, scraper, nylon pot scourer, and clean water.

  1.  Allow the skillet to cool down so as not to burn yourself.
  2. Using a soft cloth or a paper towel, wipe the skillet's surface clean of food leftovers and oils. Use a couple of clean paper towels to avoid spreading the leftover food around the skillet.
  3. If stubborn burned spices or fatty deposits remain on the surface after wiping with a cloth or paper towel, re-heat the skillet again and pour clean water onto the surface. The water will begin to boil. While the water is boiling, use a scraper or scourer to dislodge the stubborn bits.
  4. Once the stuck-on bits are cleaned away, turn off the heat. When the plate has cooled down enough, do the final cleaning with a cloth or paper towel as described in step 2. If the griddle is still hot, use the scraper as a tool to rub the cloth over the skillet's surface till all the water has dried up.
  5. Allow the skillet to dry properly by letting it stand for a while.
  6. Once the skillet is dry, apply the recommended seasoning. You can use a cast iron conditioner or good-quality vegetable oil (2 to 3 tablespoons). Pour directly onto the skillet and distribute it evenly over the whole surface using a clean paper towel. This will leave the skillet clean and ready for future use.

Removing Rust From A Cast Iron Skillet

Old rusty iron skillet top view

Cast iron skillets are made from an iron alloy, which is prone to rust if exposed to the elements.

High humidity levels, such as those experienced in coastal areas, promote rust formation.

Cast iron skillets rust when the protective layer created by seasoning the skillet no longer forms a protective layer between the skillet's surface and the environment.

The degradation of this protective layer allows moisture to settle on the skillet, resulting in rust forming.

How you’re going to get your skillet back into good working condition depends on how badly the skillet has rusted.

Light surface rust that has only changed the surface color of the skillet from black to a rust color is easy to remedy.

A badly rusted skillet surface will most likely have resulted in the cooking surface becoming pitted and permanently damaged.

A pitted cooking surface may not warrant the effort of saving.

The surface of a cast iron skillet should always be smooth to avoid food getting stuck in the pit marks.

When cooking on the skillet, these hard-to-remove food flakes tend to become dislodged, leaving old burned specs of food in your newly prepared dish.

Rust removal from a skillet should best be done outdoors due to the potential mess, and secondly, to avoid setting off your smoke alarm while seasoning the skillet after de-rusting.

How To Remove Surface Rust From Your Skillet In 7 Steps

A gas stove and a rusty pan collage

You will need a soft lint-free cotton cloth or paper towel, scraper, griddle scourer, water, and a seasoning compound.

  1. Place the skillet onto the burner and heat it until very hot.
  2. Scrape the skillet's surface until the rust starts flaking off using the scraper. Be careful not to scratch the skillet by exerting too much force. Take your time and keep the scraper at a shallow angle.
  3. Turn off the heat to avoid burning yourself.
  4. Using a paper towel or a cloth, wipe the surface clean of the rust residue.
  5. Pour water onto the griddle and wipe down with a cloth.
  6. Once cooled, rub down the surface with a scourer and rinse with water. Dish soap can be used at this cleaning stage as the skillet will be re-seasoned later.
  7. Should the rust remain, repeat steps 3 through 5.

The skillet's cooking surface will need to be re-seasoned to prevent it from rusting again. The re-seasoning also restores the nonstick cooking surface.

Seasoning and conditioning kits are available at most reputable retailers. Alternately seasoning can be done using good quality vegetable oil.

Cast Iron Skillet Care

Cast iron skillet with raw meats

Cast iron skillets require more care than conventional cooking pots and pans.

Skillets are made from cast iron, making that rare steak taste just that little bit better than when fried in a traditional frying pan.

Skillets degrade or rust because the protective layer of oil formed on the skillet's surface has worn off, allowing moisture to start the formation of rust.

Correct storage of the skillet is essential to avoid rust. This process starts when the cooking is done, and the skillet is being cleaned. Ideally, the skillet should only be wiped clean using a paper towel after cooking.

Should the skillet be really dirty, it can be washed in water containing a few drops of detergent soap. After thorough rinsing in clean water, the skillet must be thoroughly dried.

A handy tip is to re-heat the skillet to promote evaporation of any water droplets still found on the surface.

After allowing the skillet to cool, it needs to be lightly seasoned by rubbing either one of the commercially available cast iron conditioners onto the surface or alternately lightly coating the surface with a good quality vegetable oil [1].

Regular use of the skillet is the best way to keep it in perfect working condition as the fats and oils found in food naturally season the surface during the cooking process.

Recipe Using a Cast Iron Skillet: Easy Keto Filet Mignon With Herb Butter

Conclusion

A well-seasoned skillet is easy to clean by wiping the surface down with a clean paper towel or lint-free cotton cloth. If it is really dirty, washing it in soapy water is the only option.

Removing surface rust from a skillet is quickly done using a scraper with a nylon scourer and water.

To remove stubborn rust, heat the skillet to a high temperature on the stove. This will loosen the rust flakes.

Once it has cooled sufficiently, scraping, scouring, wiping, and washing the skillet in water will remove any remaining rust particles.

Dry the skillet thoroughly after cleaning and season the surface well before storing it.


References:

  1. https://www.lodgecastiron.com/discover/cleaning-and-care/cast-iron/all-about-seasoning

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