Cast Iron Basics: How to Clean, Season, and Maintain Your Cast Iron Pan

— By Alex Bosse, Nutrition Education Professional for UMaine Cooperative Extension Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

For most of my life, I avoided using cast iron pans. Why use a cast iron pan, when you could just use stainless-steel, non-stick, or any other pan where the steps are so much simpler: cook, clean, and soak with soap and water, and voila, done. No rust, no maintenance. Why make cooking more time-consuming and tedious? These were all thoughts and preconceptions I had until I lived with a roommate who only used cast iron pans in our house and taught me the basics. Now I will never go back.

Despite the extra work and maintenance that comes with using a cast iron pan, there are so many benefits, which we’ll describe in detail below. We’ll also talk about the proper way to clean, season, and maintain a cast iron pan, so get ready to start your cast iron journey today!

Benefits of Using Cast Iron Pans

  • They are super resilient, durable, and can last a lifetime (even generations) with proper maintenance and care.
  • Once your cast iron pan is seasoned properly, your pan is naturally non-stick.
  • They retain heat very well, meaning once the pan is hot it will stay hot for a long time. This is best for when you want to sear proteins such as fish, beef, poultry, and pork for that delicious crispy brown outer layer.
  • They are inexpensive. Compared to many other types of cookware, cast iron pans are an affordable option, especially considering their longevity.
  • An added source of iron to your diet. While it is true that preparing food in cast iron cookware can increase levels of iron in your food, the amount depends on a variety of factors including the type of foods that are cooked, the cooking time, and the condition of your cast iron. Keep in mind that while cooking with cast iron cookware can be a harmless way to add a little more iron to your diet, it is negligible compared to the amount of iron our bodies need daily from food sources.


Seasoning your cast iron is a very important part of cast iron care. When a pan is seasoned, it simply means that a thin layer of oil is applied to the surface of the entire pan, and then the pan is heated to a high temperature where the oil forms a caked-on shiny protective coating on the pan that is non-stick and resistant to rust. While most pans sold in stores nowadays are pre-seasoned, it is still important to regularly season your cast iron pan. Whether you are seasoning a pan for the first time or re-seasoning a pan, below are some steps on how to properly season a cast iron pan.

  1. Wash your pan thoroughly with warm water and soap to remove any residue.
  2. Once the pan is clean, the next step is to fully dry the pan with a paper towel or a cloth. Alternatively, the pan can be dried over the stovetop or in the oven to remove all moisture before seasoning.
  3. Once the pan has fully dried, add oil to the interior of the pan, and spread it to all parts of the pan using a paper towel. Remember that you’re looking for a thin layer of oil evenly spread out across the pan, so any excess oil should be removed. The type of oil you’ll want to use is also very important. When seasoning a cast iron, you’ll want to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point like vegetable oil or canola oil.
  4. After a thin layer of oil is applied to the pan, place the pan upside down in a preheated oven (around 450° F) for 1 hour. It is recommended to place the pan upside down to avoid having oil pool together in the interior of the pan. Make sure to place a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking pan at the very bottom of the oven to catch any oil drippings as well.
  5. After one hour, safely remove the pan from the oven and let it cool. After your pan has cooled, repeat steps #3 and #4 multiple times until you have a thick shiny seasoned coat. For most pans, this will take anywhere between 3-5 times to form a solid seasoning coat.


One of the most often asked questions when talking about cast irons is how they should be cleaned. While there is no one correct way to clean a cast iron pan, there are many things to always consider and to not do. The key thing to remember when cleaning cast irons is that you want to preserve the pan’s seasoning layer as much as possible. Cleaning a cast iron pan the incorrect way can strip away this precious layer of seasoning that you spent time applying.

  1. One of the most important things to remember when cleaning cast iron pans is to always make sure to clean the pan immediately after cooking, otherwise it will be much more difficult to clean later and you will likely lose some of your hard-earned seasoning in the process. Once you’re done cooking, and the pan is warm, safely use a paper towel or cloth to wipe off any excess food and oil. If your pan is well seasoned to begin with, a few wipes is all it takes to remove food residue left in the pan. Remember that it is also okay to leave some excess cooking oil in the pan, as this helps contribute to a more robust seasoning layer.
  2. Rinse the pan under hot water in the sink, and use a towel, a stainless-steel chainmail scrubber, a nonabrasive scrub pad, a soft sponge, or a stiff brush to remove any stuck pieces of food from the pan. Remember to never use abrasive scrubbers like steel wool or scouring pads on cast iron, as these can remove its seasoning layer. Never rinse a hot cast iron under cold water, as this can warp or crack the pan, and never soak a pan in water or put it in a dishwasher, as this will ruin its seasoning layer and rust the pan.
  3. If there are any stubborn bits of food still stuck to the pan, try using any of the three methods below.
    1. Soap Method:
      1. While there is no clear consensus on cleaning cast irons with soap, it is well established that using a large amount of soap can be harmful to the pan and can strip the pan of its necessary seasoning.
      2. If you do decide to use soap, make sure to use just a small amount and fully rinse and dry the pan after cleaning.
    2. Boiling Method:
      1. Bring water to a boil in your pan. Once water is at a boil, use a wooden spoon to remove excess food bits.
    3. Salt Method:
      1. Add a few tablespoons of kosher salt and a few tablespoons of water to the pan, and use a nonabrasive scrub brush or towel to scrub off stuck food.
  4. Once the pan is fully clean, dry the pan thoroughly with a paper towel or cloth. It is also okay to dry the pan on your stovetop or in the oven until all the moisture on the pan has fully evaporated.
  5. Once the pan is fully dry, place it on the stovetop on low heat, add a small amount of neutral oil to the interior of the pan, and spread to all parts of the pan using a paper towel. Doing this after every use ensures that you add to your protective seasoning layer.

Cast irons don’t have to be a hassle, and with proper care and maintenance cast irons can go a long way with all the additional benefits.