How to Clean & Restore a Cast Iron Skillet

Cooking with cast-iron pans is often considered the gold standard, because of their ability to distribute heat evenly for a consistent dish every time -- like this perfect steak or this pizza recipe! For those who come across a piece of cast-iron cookware or have a family heirloom that seems past its prime, it is possible to restore them to their original condition, ready for regular use in your kitchen.

Restore rusted cast iron pans to their original glory.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Things You'll Need

  • Oven with cleaning setting

  • Aluminum foil

  • Heat-safe gloves

  • Bucket or bin large enough to hold pans

  • Water

  • Distilled white vinegar

  • Liquid dishwashing soap, 1 Tablespoon

  • Scrubbing sponge and fine steel wool (optional)

  • Paper towels or cloth rag

  • Peanut oil

These classic pans really do stand the test of time. Look for the dirtier, more affordable options at flea markets, an old attic or one saved from a family member that came with some less than desirable remnants from past cooking adventures.

It's typical for layered rust and grime to build up over time, but this doesn't mean the pans should be discarded.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 1

Spread a layer of foil over the bottom rack of your oven. Lay the pan upside down on the top rack. The foil will work to catch all the baked off buildup, making for easy cleanup on your part.

If you have more than one pan to clean, place multiples in the oven at this stage to save time.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 2

Activate the cleaning setting on the stove and wait for the full cycle to complete. If your oven doesn't have a self-cleaning setting, heat your oven to 425 degrees and begin checking the pan after two hours. Remove the pan from the oven after the cycle completes and pan has cooled. It will still look pretty rusty, but the majority of buildup should have loosened at this stage.

Plan for a day where you can open the windows or be working outside while the cleaning setting is activated to avoid harsh odors.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 3

Immerse the pan in an equal parts water and white vinegar bath, finishing with 1 Tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Allow to soak for three hours.

The rustier the pan is, the longer it should soak.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 4

Remove and rinse pan well, wiping the remaining dirt away with paper towels or a cloth rag until completely dry.

If any additional rust or buildup remains, continue to scrub with a sponge or fine steel wool until smooth.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 5

The pan is now ready for seasoning. Seasoning is the process of creating a nonstick surface, and if properly cared for, the seasoned coating will last. Wipe peanut oil on the entire pan (inside, out and handle) to coat.

If you already have cast-iron skillets in great shape that just need an updated seasoning, this next set of steps is for you.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Step 6

Place the pan on the top oven rack upside down, and heat at 350 degrees for one hour. This process allows the pan's pores to open up and absorb the oil, closing again to retain it when cooled. After removing the pan from the oven, it will have that classic sheen and is ready for use.

This pan is seasoned and ready for use.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Before and After

Using this method, you'll take a pan that looked like it belonged in the trash bin to a beautifully restored piece of cookware, filled with history and fit for display. It just goes to show how these timeless pieces of cookware really are, especially when properly cared for.

It’s hard to believe these are actually the same rusty and grimy skillets we began with.
Image Credit: Image by Tim & Mary Vidra

Now Cook!

Now that you've gotten your cast iron pan into tip top shape, time to get cookin'. This steak recipe is the perfect place to start!

Image Credit: Jackie Dodd