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Tool Tips Guide: Cast Iron Cookware

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Step 2: Cleaning cast iron

Picture of Cleaning cast iron
All pieces of cast iron must be cleaned before using them in the kitchen. New pieces of cast iron (bare or "pre-seasoned") usually have a thin coating of wax on them to keep them from rusting on the store shelf. Pieces from yard sales or flea markets are most likely very dirty also.

For the first cleaning of a piece of cast iron, it is OK to be a little rough, but remember - never use soap or detergent on cast iron. Also, never put cast iron in a dishwasher. They must be cleaned by hand. The more often cast iron is used, the faster it will build up its own natural non-stick surface (called the "seasoning") and the easier cleaning will become. However, it should be scrubbed well on the first cleaning. The reason for not using soap is simple - on a microscopic level, cast iron is very rough with many crevices for soap to get into. It will stay in there and make food taste like soap. Instead, it is necessary to let it naturally build up the seasoning that will bond to and fill the crevices.

Cleaning is simple - use hot water. The hotter, the better. A sponge with a smooth side and a scouring side works well for this. For the first cleaning, scour it well to remove any wax, stale oil and other bits of built-up grime. Small spots of rust can be scoured until the rust washes away. Problem spots of rust can be rubbed off with a small piece of sandpaper or some type of rotary tool. But remember - bare spots of metal will be very likely to develop rust rapidly, so use care.

After the first cleaning, all other cleanings should be more gentle, with a soft cloth or sponge. Stuck-on bits of food can be left to soak for a few moments in a sink of plain water or scoured off, but remember - you will be scouring away the seasoning that you are trying to build up.

In this photo, I am cleaning a new bare cornbread sheet, a new pre-seasoned bean pot and an old, used pan.

 
 
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catfancy1 month ago

I've heard and read this about cast iron cleaning in many, many places, including the instruction leaflets or tags that come with new cast iron cookware. However, I don't feel comfortable using only hot water to get the film of grease off a pot or skillet. Hot water often doesn't do the trick, and the cookware feels slick and not very sanitary. and the admonitions about using detergent can, I think, make someone panic unnecessarily, thinking they've ruined their cast iron if they use a bit of detergent.

For the past 40+ years, I've washed my cast iron cookware in hot water with detergent. My Dutch oven and my most often-used skillet are now 37 years old, and my other skillets and saucepans close to 20 years old. They are not rusty, food doesn't stick, and I feel a lot better when I hang them up than I would if they still felt greasy from the last meal cooked in them.

I recognize that most people prefer to follow the rules for cleaning cast iron, but, for me, I intend to keep going by what I've seen with my own eyes for decades.