How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Steve Russell - December 2, 2022

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If you’re looking for eco-friendly cookware, look no further than a cast iron skillet. There’s no need to use pans with chemical nonstick coating, which is bad for you and the environment. Cast iron has been around for hundreds of years for good reason — it works and will not harm you or the planet’s health.

However, this cookware needs special care to keep clean without damaging the surface. Here’s how to clean a cast iron skillet so it will see years of use.

Benefits of Cast Iron

Cast iron is made by pouring molten metal into a mold, which is then broken apart after it cools, resulting in a solid piece. The process originated in China in the sixth century BC and has remained much the same since then. A cast iron skillet is an unbreakable, long-lasting item that will likely never need to be replaced, which is a breath of fresh air in our throw-away culture.

Unlike other kinds of cookware, cast iron skillets contain no harmful chemicals to make them nonstick. You will often find pans coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon. This is a polymer form of PFAS, which is a “forever chemical” that pollutes the environment, affects water supplies and causes health issues in humans.

How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

A cast iron skillet is not nonstick out of the box. You will need to season it to achieve a natural coating that keeps food from sticking to the surface.

  • Wipe with oil: Use a paper towel to evenly coat the entire pan with vegetable oil, making sure there is no excess or pooling.
  • Bake in oven: Place skillet upside down in 350 F oven for an hour.
  • Let cool: Turn off the stove and leave cast iron skillet in the oven until it cools.

Your skillet is now seasoned and ready to use. You may need to repeat this process occasionally, especially if it’s new, to retain the coating.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet in 3 Easy Steps

Now that your pan is seasoned and has a natural nonstick coating, it’s time to learn how to clean a cast iron skillet. There are three easy steps to follow to safely wash your cookware without damaging the surface.

  1. Wash by Hand

Cast iron should never go in the dishwasher. You’ll want to wash it by hand in warm water with a soft sponge and dish soap. Don’t use any harsh scrubbers, such as steel wool, which could remove the coating. If stubborn food is stuck on and hard to remove, use a rubber spatula to scrape off after soaking briefly in hot water. However, don’t soak for too long or overnight, as this could lead to rust.

  1. Dry It Off

Dry your cast iron skillet immediately with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. Seeing a bit of black residue is perfectly normal — it is just some of the seasoning. You can also dry it on the stovetop over low heat if you wish.

  1. Apply Oil

The final step is to apply a thin layer of vegetable oil onto the surface and carefully rub it in with a paper towel or soft cloth. Be sure to coat evenly and wipe until no excess residue remains. Store your clean cast iron skillet in a dry place until its next use.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

A cast iron skillet is more than just cookware. It is an investment in your health and keeps harmful chemicals from leaching into waterways and damaging the environment. Care for it properly to get years of use out of this kitchen staple.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.