The Best Way to Clean Your Cast Iron Pans (If You Want Them to Last Forever)

Follow this six-step plan to keep your cast iron clean and in top condition for years to come.

There are plenty of reasons chefs swear by cast iron cookware: It’s durable, versatile, great for searing and can be used on both the stovetop and in the oven. The downside is that cast iron has a reputation for being a chore to maintain. Because it can rust—especially if you use too much water when washing—many are wary of cleaning their cast iron pans, and might be neglecting some basic maintenance.

We spoke to Hemant Kanchan, a chef and professor at George Brown College’s culinary school, about how to clean a cast iron pan so that it lasts for a lifetime.

How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan

Cool it down

Letting your pan cool before washing is key, says Kanchan. One of the worst things you can do is transfer a blistering hot pan from the stove to a sink filled with cold water—that’ll trigger thermal shock, which can cause your pan to crack or warp. The pan should be cool enough to handle before you attempt to clean it.

Be very gentle

According to Kanchan, a light hand—and gentle tools—are the best way to tackle dirty cast iron dishes. “Don’t use a metal scrubber,” Kanchan says, as that can scratch the pan’s seasoning, getting rid of your hard-earned non-stick surface. Instead, opt for the soft side of your sponge or even a towel to wipe off any stubborn bits.

Soap is okay

While some chefs avoid soap altogether (claiming it breaks down the non-stick seasoning), Kanchan says it’s okay to clean a cast iron pan with a little bit of soap. As long as your pan is properly seasoned, it’ll take more than a few suds to get rid of the coating. Just don’t soak it in that soapy water, or you really will compromise the non-stick surface.

Dry it in the oven

It turns one of the most important steps in learning how to clean a cast iron pan is the drying process. Moisture is the enemy of cast iron, so making sure it’s totally dry is essential.

Kanchan says that, in a restaurant, there’s always an oven on, so he sticks his clean cast iron in the oven to dry completely. At home, he recommends placing freshly-washed cast iron into a still-warm oven (if you used your oven for the meal, it should still be warm enough; if not, turn it on at a very low setting). The pan should be dry within 45 minutes. 

Re-season the pan

After your pan is completely dry, Kanchan recommends spreading a thin layer of neutral cooking oil on the pan to replenish the seasoning. Heat it on the stove until it’s just starting to smoke, then let it cool at room temperature.

Store it properly

Once your pan is dry and cool, Kanchan suggests storing it with a sheet of paper towel over the pan’s cooking surface, and with the lid removed to prevent rusting. The paper towel serves double-duty, absorbing moisture and preventing scratches on the non-stick surface.

Now that you know how to clean a cast iron pan, check out 40 kitchen hacks that’ll change the way you cook.