Introduction: Rescuing Cast Iron

Picture of Rescuing Cast Iron

Cast iron is an amazing cooking surface. Heavy and thick, it acts as an amazing heat reservoir and is excellent for searing steaks and other fine meats at your disposal. 

Many a time, an unskilled, forgetful, or uninformed aspiring chef will let the pan soak, leave it in a moist place, or even accidentally run it through the dishwasher. Lo! Ruin and shame! Avert thine eyes!

But no longer!

Bring out the maimed and sad pans from deep within your cabinets! Cast (iron) away your shame! 
We can fix this. It'll take some elbow grease, and time. But you'll be back on the cast iron horse in no time.

(This particular pan met its rusty fate when a wet mixing bowl was left on top of it and ignored for a week or so. View my shame, and learn from my mistake!)

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need
You'll need a solution to loosen the dirt/debris, something to buff away the portions where rust has eaten away at the metal, and something to restore the cast iron seasoning. 
  • Vinegar
  • Lard or Shortening 
  • Scouring pad
  • Cast iron pan in need of restoration
  • Elbow grease (Now with 100% more elbow!)

Step 2: Soak

Picture of Soak

If you have a self cleaning oven, and a pan with some serious gunk or buildup, run your pan through the self clean cycle. Any debris will be annihilated, and you can continue on with the following steps to restore your pan to its former glory.

Depending on the extent of rust damage to your pan, you'll want to soak just the inside, or the whole pan in a vinegar solution. Anything from an hour to about six hours or so will work wonders to release any caked on muck and loosen the surface rust/damage. Leaving your pan in an acid soak for longer may start to eat away at your pan, so be careful. I used 50/50 vinegar to water, but I've seen solutions that go with a lower vinegar solution and a longer soak- I don't mind the smell, personally, so I went with the 50/50 solution.

Step 3: Scrub

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Let your pan dry before getting to this bit, or you can try scrubbing in the solution as well to pick up any debris. The main idea to this step is to get rid of ALL the rust that has eaten away at your pan. Scrub like mad, until you can't make out the region of damage on your pan. I used a copper scrubber, but depending on the severity of damage, you can use anything from rock salt for spot touches to a drill mounted metal scour for those heavy duty jobs. Try to be as thorough as possible- you've already lost the seasoning in those patches, so scrub to your heart's content. 

Step 4: Grease

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Time to fatten your baby up.

Get a nice thick and even coating of your fat of choice all over your pan. Since my pan only had damage on the inside, I didn't coat the bottom of my pan, but if it's necessary for your job, do one surface (inner/ outer) at a time. Pay attention to the smoking point of lard or the shortening you're using! Lard can stomach from 370ºF to 400ºF, while many vegetable based shortenings will only tolerate a lower range, say 350ºF to 370ºF. Use a higher smoking point fat if you can. 

Step 5: Bake

Picture of Bake

Pre-heat your oven until about 275ºF, and place your pan in. Use a baking sheet to catch any drippings- you may find that flipping your pan upside down and putting the cast iron directly on your oven rack (dripping pan underneath) will work better, depending on the extent of lard-ification you sent your pan through. After letting your pan warm up for 10-15 minutes or so, crank up the heat up to near the smoking point of your fat. This gradual heating allows for the iron to slowly expand, preventing any cracks or fractures. Let your pan bake at full temperature for 45 minutes, and let cool. 

Step 6: Repeat?

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Depending on the appearance of your pan after this baking cycle, you may want to repeat the scrubbing process once again. Repeat the greasing and baking as needed. Ideally you'd repeat the re-seasoning step at least 4 times to let the seasoning take hold, but if you're feeling good about its appearance, it should be ready to go after one cycle. If food proceeds to stick to the bottom during use, you'll definitely know that the seasoning layer did not properly form and you'll have to repeat this process. 

Restoring cast iron is a pain, but maintaining it is quite simple- remember to scrape any food debris away, dry, and coat with a layer of fat while still warm. Stay away from detergents, metal scrubbers, long soaks, and dishwashers and you'll have a great, heavy duty pan for all of your frying needs. Have fun!


joseamirandavelez (author)2012-02-25

OK so once you grease it? Where do you store it??? I mean, it have grease on it, Its a bug party environment...

You need to wipe all the grease off. I've been using cast iron cookware for almost 60 years and have never noticed bugs being the least bit interested.

I usually just keep mine on the stove-top ready to use. Also instead of using lard as a final coat I usually just do a light coating of vegetable oil and I haven't had any bug problems as of yet. Even if you do...protein! Yum!

amnartist (author)2012-04-14

Okay everyone, I have a couple of questions for you. I've read a few 'how to season' etc, cast iron cookware. I have 6"&10" skillets (not even sure where I got them). I took them out and they were seasoned but I did a little more just to be sure. What's the point of all the work and energy used(electric oven) to season and maintain them. I have non-stick coated cookware I've used for years that work just fine. And I'm not interested in health issues with them at the moment. My mom cooked with Teflon cookware since it first came out and at 89 when she passed, it didn't cause her health problem. The sizes of my cast iron skillets are not very good for most of the daily cooking I do. But I did fry sausage patties in the 10" and you know the darkish grease that seem to follow cooking them, I wiped and wiped but still I get that dark grease on my paper towels. Not sure if I would want to use it for anything else. Also, I used the 6" to melt butter(very handy might I add) but even after wiping the pan out, what's to keep from the excess butter from seeping out and going rancid? I won't be using these every day and I wonder if the grease/butter/lard will go rancid and make us sick eventually. Sorry this is so long, no other way to explain. Thanks!

I wish I could read a answer because I have always had the same problem and thoughts?

I don't know what the big deal is about detergents on cast iron. I grew up using cast iron and we always just plopped it into the dishwater and washed it. (Drying it afterwards is a good idea, as is recoating it with your seasoning fat, but if you've been frying in it for years and treating it well, you can get away with a lot.) If it's well seasoned, it's not a problem. I, too, don't like the idea of one dish continuing on to the next.

If you have a pan that is seasoned, DON'T put it in the oven cleaning cycle or into a fire to clean, as it will take ALL the seasoning out and you'll be starting back as if you just bought a new pan. Put up with the crust on the outside and think of all the lovely meals that pan has given you.

One other suggestion: season with bacon grease. It's mostly just lard with salt, and perhaps a preservative, depending upon what bacon you buy. In either case, it never seems to go rancid on your pan. Vegetable oils, on the other hand, seem to leave a gooey residue and go rancid quickly. Some oils may be better than others (I haven't made a study); if I was guessing, I would try coconut or palm oil. If you're not a vegetarian, definitely go with the lard or bacon grease.

KathleenT31 (author)2016-11-20

OMG! the oven cleaner worked a miracle on my old Gris - had lots of built up junk on the outside of the pan! thanks a mil!

dcalh0un (author)2016-04-12

Help!!! I put my cast iron dutch oven in and ran through my clean oven cycle. It removed my rust but I still had burnt on grease on the outside so I put it in again on the clean cycle. Yikes! it came out with rust all over the pan. What do I do now?

TedC20 (author)dcalh0un2016-09-22

Pour a small pile of course sea salt into it, then pour a decent amount of vegetable oil over the salt. Now use a DRY dish rag to rub the salt into the cast iron. It will remove the rust at the same time that it coats it with oil, prevent additional rust from forming. If you've ever had a completely unseasoned cast iron pan, you probably know how amazingly fast rust will form on it - - right before your eyes, and with so much as merely humid air as the catalyst.

ClaudiaV7 (author)2015-09-10

This is such an interesting article. I would love to try this on my old rusty pan!! I was frustrated on how to get rid of the rust that I was thinking to put it inside a self cleaning oven and see the result?? Lol... Judging by this article I read about ( I think i can put my pan there???

TitanoB (author)2015-02-14

Hello all,

Please take this advice from someone who cares about your cooking and your pans that you treasure. Pans CAN be warped, cracked or otherwise rendered unusable by subjecting them to high heat!! The best way to clean and remove the gunk from cast iron (CI) is to use a method called 'electrolysis', which takes a battery, a bath for the pan and some scrap iron (see the Wagner and Griswold Society pages for this).

The second-best way which I use is to use plain old Lye-based spray on oven cleaner, wrap your pans in plastic and store them for a time (in a plastic tub with a lid) where kids and pets cannot get to the lye, then wash them out (yes, with SOAP) and season them. I get the cleanest, most beautiful finish from the lye cleaning method.

Your pans are worth it, be gentle. No more putting pans in the fire. Look up the Wagner and Griswold Society. If you have a true antique pan and you ruin it, can you go to the manufacture and get a 'new' one? NO. They are literally irreplaceable. Treat them that way.

from one who cares,

Titano B.

ShanaK1 (author)TitanoB2015-09-02

electrolysis is great if you do it a lot, not really worth building for one pan.

Lye doesn't remove rust either, FYI.

Vinegar is great for rust.

sunshiine (author)TitanoB2015-08-15

I just wanted to mention that my brother recently gave me some beautiful old iron skillets and had I not read your comment about how to clean them, I might have resorted to polishing them with a drill or something. Thanks so much for sharing your opinion.I wonder if vinegar would be OK. Have a wonderful day~


DanielR10 (author)2015-01-02


I tried this method out last night, and one of the more gunked-up pans I was working on burst into flame inside of the oven. We had to call the fire department and have the oven moved outside to cool down.

Admittedly, once we were able to reopen the oven, the pans had been cleaned as promised, but the risk of fire is VERY HIGH.

Alternative recommendations: 1) burning off debris inside of an outdoor grill on high, or 2) burning off debris using an open, outdoor fire.

Also, on a side note, I recommend using flax oil for seasoning. It leaves a nice, shiny, durable finish, and is easier to apply onto the pan without winding up with excess oil.

you are right! and , you can crack the cast also!!

Creak (author)DanielR102015-02-17

You do know, that an ovens self cleaning cycle essentially burns everything out? And that in a gas oven, large flames are common? Unless smoke escapes your stove I'm sure its fine. It is made for heat after all.

terrence.chaplin.7 (author)2015-04-20


little.shead (author)2014-11-05

can you leave the racks in the oven when you are cleaning a skillet with the self cleaning oven

rolley3304 (author)little.shead2014-11-19

I always have. My mom says it can discolor but I never have noticed it in mine. I sometimes put my iron skillets or corn bread stick cast iron pans in the oven on the shelves. I have 25 years of doing this if it helps put your mind at ease.

little.shead (author)2014-11-05

can you leave the racks in the oven when you are cleaning a skillet with the self cleaning oven

little.shead (author)2014-11-05

I want to know if you can leave the racks in the oven when you use the self cleaning oven to clean a skillet?

I have a pan with pits or pockmarks in the bottom. Is this to far gone or is there any way to save this by grinding the inside or something? It looks like its flaked through the first layer of metal.

madams20 (author)2014-08-13

Always, always ALWAYS! Wipe away the excess seasoning fat! Too much fat on the surface of the metal causes ugly, uneven seasoning and shortens the lifespan the seasoning! What happens when you season cast iron is you seal up all the microscopic imperfections in the surface of the metal with polymerized fat. This can only be achieved through many (6-10) very thin layers of seasoning. The best way to do it is to work the fat into the pores of the metal with your hands, being careful to thoroughly cover any creases or impressions. Then, using a paper towel or lint-free cloth, rub the excess fat from the surface. It should look and feel like there's no longer any fat on the metal. Personally, I only season with Flaxseed oil, 500F for an hour, but shortening does a pretty good job, too. (Taking your fat beyond it's smoke point is what seasons cast iron, by the way.)

fransie (author)2014-07-06

Only rub the pot with vaseline after cleaning and drying on the stove and put away.

Fransie South Africa

tpagels (author)2013-11-16

Much easier way is to bake your cast iron through the clean cycle if you have a self cleaning oven. Takes your cast iron to factory new clean. Everything burns off! Then bake in oil or lard as instructed or cook bacon or sausage in it. then after cleaning coat with oil and enjoy! Don't be afraid to use metal utensils it was meant for such things!

cat2phat (author)2012-09-16

I have scoured the internet for re-seasoning cast iron and have read several articles where you are suppose to wipe off excess lard and only leave a thin layer on the pan before putting in the oven. Any suggestions on why to put more on vs leaving a thin layer?

WurdBendur (author)cat2phat2012-11-09

The point is to heat the oil above its smoke point (you'd never do this while cooking, but you will not be eating the pan), so that it polymerizes and leaves a protective layer on the surface. In order to get heat to it evenly, it needs to be very thin. The process should be repeated several times, say five or six times, until the seasoning is thick enough.

MysticHobo1982 (author)2012-02-23

A quick word of warning if you are going to run your pan through an oven's self cleaning cycle: Wipe any grease or oil out of the pan first it can and will ignite in an 800 degree oven.

I know from experience though I will claim it was not my fault: I was cleaning the kitchen at work and turned the oven on to it's self clean cycle not knowing that some idiot co-worker had decided to stash greasy cast iron pans in the oven instead of cleaning them properly and putting them away.

Of course there wasn't much I could do about the fire in the oven except let it burn out since the oven automatically locked when the cleaning cycle was running.

Actually, the self-cleaning temp is about 450 degrees. Not quite enough to ignite paper... That's why it needs to run for one or two hours instead of ten minutes.

But some blame fool would open the oven to see how things are going and blister their face & frizz their hair. Gotta make 'em lawyer-proof.

skrubol (author)Tim Temple2012-03-14


angelprojekt (author)skrubol2012-09-10

Tim was clearly referring to Fahrenheit (paper burns at that infamous 451F), but everything I'm seeing online concurs with the much higher temperature of a self-clean cycle. So, per skrubol's conversion, I'm guessing that Tim was looking at Celsius without realizing it.
Just in case there were any confusion.

That said, I enjoyed this instructable! I haven't yet ruined my cast iron pan, but I have been living in fear. Now fear no more!

skrubol (author)angelprojekt2012-09-10

Flash point of paper is actually close to Celsius 451, but Bradbury didn't like the sound of that so he arbitrarily switched the units to Fahrenheit.
But ya, usually top cooking heat is 450F, cleaning is 450-480C, 800-850F

angelprojekt (author)skrubol2012-09-11

Thanks for the education. I guess that's a strong misconception, because I used the ever-rigorous "Google method" of research! :-P So it's a simple matter of units after all!

LynxSys (author)MysticHobo19822012-02-24

I wonder if that's why the door automatically locks? My experience has been that a fire in a heat-resistant container (like an oven) is often best left to simply exhaust its fuel. Opening the door tends to provide more O2, which makes the fire want to come out and be social. There's also the added risk of exposing the fire to more potential fuel (such as yourself).

That said, I've noticed that most of the advice online suggests that you open the oven and smother the fire with a lid, sand, or baking soda (don't use flour!). I suppose that approach could reduce damage to the oven, but it also exposes you to the fire. Does anyone have a definitive answer as to why one should or shouldn't open the door?

skrubol (author)LynxSys2012-03-14

I think the primary reason for the door locking is that air at that temperature can pretty easily burn your skin and eyes.

kenbrbkr (author)LynxSys2012-02-25

If something inside the oven catches fire leave the door closed. Turn the oven off. Consider calling 911. So what if it damages the oven. If you open the door the inflow of air can cause the fire to flash faster than you can cope with and you may well lose the whole house.

articice (author)2012-03-02

Yes! Excellent instructable, cast iron pans are great, serve you long and well (but are bad for business, hey).
Compared to them, teflon-coated ones are cheap, easy to destroy and probably slowly poison your food with fluoride in trace quantities (that's only my guess).

I'm from Ukraine - a country with a long history of cast-iron kitchen utensils;
I think it's possible to use vegetable (sunflower) oil only for pre-coating, especially if the surface is porous enough (at least that's what was written in the instruction to my new frying pan, and it works well for several years now). The key here is to start nicely and further maintain the surface in a good condition.

A little word on how it works: Not quite sure, but IMHO molecules of fat get stuck in the metal pores as it expands from heating, and the final surface resembles a lipid monolayer (like that in the cell membrane, half of it), with the hydrophobic tails of molecules facing upward, creating a perfect non-sticking cooking surface. Please read for more info ;)

sarawelder (author)2012-02-23

I use crumpled aluminum foil ( re-use really) with salt. No washing at all. I reckon that salt kills most things as it is used to preserve food like meat anyway.... and with the crumpled aluminum it is a great scrubber. very non-toxic...that way the gunk is gone and no need to preseason .

DIY-Guy (author)sarawelder2012-02-23

May I suggest using a different metal than aluminum? It's rumored to contribute to alzheimer's disease.

articice (author)DIY-Guy2012-03-02

Listen to the pieces of advice from mwseniff,
but still, meanwhile avoid aluminum in your food, fluoride in your water,
and prefer cast iron pans (not teflon-coated).
Cheers ;)

graydog111 (author)DIY-Guy2012-02-23

I read that somewhere but I forgot ........what were we discussing.

mwseniff (author)DIY-Guy2012-02-23

The aluminum and Alzheimer syndrome connection was debunked many years ago. I pay close attention to Alzheimer related stuff since my father was stricken by that horrible disease and we had to watch his slow deterioration (he fortunately died of an aneurism before he required institutionalizing ). If you are concerned about Alzheimer Syndrome use your brain, do word puzzles, play a musical instrument, eat food made from scratch and pray they find a cure soon. There is no disease more horrible in it's effect on the sufferer and the people around them.

Sergei- (author)2012-02-29

Nice quick tute except for the lard it will go rancid if its not a vegetable based oil and looks like when you first got it you didn't try to take of the factory coating on the cooking area

When you first buy cast iron you need to take as much factory coating of as you can where the cooking surface is and do the seasoning before first use or you get it in your food

The coating is there so it doesn't rust before you buy it and should never be used straighr of the shelf

mailmam71 (author)2012-02-23

We have a wood burning stove, I took a couple of neglected, rusted, crusted cast iron skillets and put them in the ashed after it had burned down and left them over night. The next morning, all the crud knocked out, I greased them up and they are some of the best I have. Pretty easy also, you could do it with a woodpile fire outside.

mikes686 (author)mailmam712012-02-28

I remember my grandmother refreshing old cast iron pans and dutch ovens inside of her wood-burning stove, then cooking bacon and salt pork and leaving a greasy residue in the pans.

servicetechase (author)2012-02-27

You make it sound so easy, but some of the pans I have bought would never get clean this way. I know because I have tried. Most cast iron pans that have years of built up gook take many steps of cleaning in order to get down to the metal. Using metal pads leave light scratch marks on the cast iron which do not cover with just a lard covering. The older pans with the smooth finish like Griswald or Wagner look really bad with marks all over them.

Bruce Ratcliffe (author)2012-02-26

Congratulations on the PUNniest instructable. I love your style--combining humor and good advice. Keep up the good work!

mariselita (author)2012-02-25

Really goog, but I have a question.. Since I can't put a pan with a plastic-like handle in the oven, what would be the equivalent time in a furnace?

jiggy (author)2012-02-23

For old crusty new-to-me cast iron, I like to use a coarse grit sandpaper (somewhere around 80-120 grit) to take off absolutely everything and start from the bare metal. The fat used for seasoning still has ample nooks and crannies to stick to and you get a super smooth surface. I especially like to do this if the pan is Lodge brand. Lodge leaves the rough sand texture from the casting process. It's basically a way to duplicate 150 years of use in an hour or so.

You don't have to do this for old worn in pots and pans or brands that smooth out the sand texture after casting, but I do it depending on the individual pan.

pgm8693 (author)jiggy2012-02-24

I've found that the casting texture on the Lodge brand ironware works just as well as the traditional smooth surface.

I didn't expect that.

I don't like the sound of the spatula on the Lodge surface, so it's not quite the same user experience. But otherwise, I think they cook just fine like they are.

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