Everything You Need to Know When It Comes to Caring for Your Cast Iron Skillet

updated Jul 29, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

A cast iron skillet needs to be babied. It needs your love and TLC. Take care of it right, though, and it’ll be with you for years. (Generations, even!) It’s not all that hard — you just need to know what you’re doing. And because it’s so different from caring for, say, an enameled Dutch oven, we decided to round up all the best pointers to help you clean it, season it, and store it.

With that, here’s everything you need to know about caring for your cast iron skillet.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. You need to season it.

Many cast iron skillets on the market these days come preseasoned, which means you can start using it right away. But you still need to keep up with that work between uses. Usually people opt for vegetable oil, but you can use shortening or another oil of your choosing (see below). Whatever you opt for, the process will be key.

Credit: Erika Tracy

2. You can try flaxseed oil.

Some people complain that seasoning done with vegetable oil and shortening can scratch too easily. But flaxseed oil — which is essentially the food-grade equivalent of linseed oil, the drying oil that painters and woodworkers use to create a tough, protective layer on their work — makes cast iron surfaces smooth and hard.

Credit: Kitchn Video

3. There’s a special way to clean it.

While you may throw other pots and pans into the sink to soak while you eat dinner, you should definitely never do that with your cast iron. (It could rust!) Clean the pan while it’s still warm and use hot water and sponge or a brush. If there are stuck-on bits, use coarse kosher salt and water. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. Soap is a touchy subject.

Which brings us to the idea of dish soap. You will find lots of conflicting information out there. Some people say they never ever use dish soap to clean their cast iron skillet (it can strip the seasoning), and others say they use a bit each time. We don’t use it ourselves, but we also get that you might want use some from time to time and think that’s FINE.

5. But there are a few things that can help you clean it.

Soap aside, there are a few cleaners you can buy to help with the task of scrubbing your cast iron skillet. There are chainmail “sponges” (like this one and this one) that are designed to knock off burnt-on bits, but leave the seasoning intact. We also really like this Care Kit from Lodge, the leading experts in cast iron. We like it so much that we keep ordering them to give away as gifts!

Credit: Erika Tracy

6. A rusty cast iron skillet can absolutely be saved.

Maybe you’re reading this post too late and you already let it soak in the sink? And now it’s rusted? Do NOT put it in the trash! You just have to scuff off that layer of rust and re-season it. The pan will be good as new in no time. Promise.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

7. You really have to make sure it’s dry before you put it away.

Cast iron can rust if you don’t dry it thoroughly after washing it or before storing it. You can dry it with a towel (paper or cloth), or if you want to be extra certain it’s dry you can heat it up in or on the oven for a bit!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. You should store your skillets with paper towels.

If you’re nesting cast iron, put a paper towel between the pieces. Or even, if you’re storing ANYTHING inside your cast iron, put that paper towel down first. It’ll prevent scratches or damage to the inside of your cookware — and can absorb any moisture that might lead to rusting.

Got any other tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!