How Do You Clean a Burnt Cast Iron Pan?

Every chef and home cook has burnt food in their cast iron pan before. It’s easily done, all it takes is a few minutes of distraction and then your pan is black. This burnt residue can be difficult to remove at home, and it may seem like all hope is lost.

Have no fear, with the tips listed below you will never feel overwhelmed by the cleaning process again. It is very easy to clean a burnt cast iron pan with nothing but household items. 

You should never use soap or acidic substances to clean your cast iron skillet. The low pH of acidic substances such as vinegar and lemon juice can cause the layer of seasoning on the skillet to break down. The acid can loosen molecules from the iron in trace quantities. While this is not harmful to your health, it can make whatever you are cooking have a metallic undertone.  


There are many oils that you can choose to use for this. We recommend one with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. For more information on how to choose the correct oil, visit this article. If you do not have time to read through, we recommend vegetable, rapeseed, or olive oil. 

This is a really handy method to use if you can catch the food as it begins to burn onto the surface of your pan. Pour a tablespoon or 2 of oil into the pan while it is still warm. Grab a piece of kitchen paper and use this to wipe the oil all over the pan. 

This should loosen any food remnants in the pan and allow them to come out cleanly. This method will ensure your skillet is ready for storage and the next use. 

Oil and salt

Combine some olive oil with a few tablespoons of salt to create a paste. Once mixed, pour into your cast iron pan and rub across the entire surface using kitchen towels. Pay particular attention to the areas where food residue has been caked in. 

Keep scrubbing the pan until all of the food remnants have been removed. Once you are satisfied with the clean, grab an oiled piece of kitchen paper. Use this to wipe any remaining salt off of the interior of the pan. 

Baking soda or salt

These are both abrasive substances and will help to scrub burnt residue off of the surface of the pan. Try to use a coarse form of salt, as this will make your life a lot easier. 

Wipe it into the pan using your fingertips or a clean, lint-free cloth. Scrub until the surface is smooth and clean. Rinse the pan thoroughly to remove any remaining powder and then re-season. 

Boiling water

This will help to lift off any particularly stubborn food debris. Pour an inch or so of boiling water into your cast iron skillet and place it on your stovetop. Turn on the heat and allow the water to simmer for a few minutes.

As the water simmers, grab a wooden spoon and use this to prise off some of the burnt food. The water will help to loosen the adhesion and will make it much easier to scrape. 

You should only use plastic and wooden cooking implements in your cast iron pan. Some people say that metal is acceptable, although this can cause damage to the coating. For best results, avoid metal tools. 

Steel wool

If you have tried the other methods of cleaning your pan and they have been unsuccessful, try using some steel wool. Add a small amount of dish soap to the pan and pour over a few drops of water.

Grab your steel wool and scrub the pan with vigor. You will see the old coating coming off of the cast iron, and the original blue-gray color of the iron will be revealed. Continue to scrub until the entire pan is the same color. 

Use some mild dish soap and warm water to rinse the pan and remove any remaining dirt. Ensure you dry it completely before you attempt to season it again. 

You should re-season your pan following this step. The iron will not be protected at this point and is not suitable for cooking on. You should only do this when you are preparing to strip and season your cast iron pan. It is not a daily cleaning method. Doing this too often will cause the quality of your pan to deteriorate. 


This method is highly effective but should only be used as a last resort. Create a large bowl of lye solution and place your pan inside. Your pan will sit in here for between 7 and 30 days. The exact time frame depends on the concentration of your lye solution and the freshness of it. 

Lye is incredibly dangerous and should be kept well clear of pets and children. It will completely strip the pan of any organic materials and return it to a state of bare metal. 

Once the time has passed, remove the pan from the basin and scrub it down well using a plastic washing-up brush. Rinse the pan well under running water. 

You should then pour white vinegar over the entire interior and exterior surface of the pan. This will prevent the metal from rusting. Place inside an oven that has been preheated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes to allow the metal to dry out.

You can then begin to re-season your cast iron pan. 

Removing rust 

This is an intense cleaning process and should not be done frequently. The method calls for the use of vinegar, which can cause damage to the protective coating of the pan.

Fill up your kitchen sink with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water. The sink must be large enough to submerge the entire cast iron pan. 

Place your pan into the sink and leave it to sit for 3 to 4 hours. Check on the pan at regular intervals to see how the rust is lifting. The vinegar should make light work of dissolving it. 

Once the time has elapsed, pull the pan out of the solution. If there is still rust on the surface, use a plastic washing-up brush to scrape off anything that remains. Do not be tempted to leave the pan in the vinegar for longer as it can cause irreversible damage to the metal of the pan. 

It is vital that you rinse the pan well and allow it to dry completely before you store it. We recommend placing the pan in a preheated oven for a few minutes to adequately dry it out. 

Your pan will need re-seasoning before its next use. 

Daily cleaning 

Provided your cast iron pan is seasoned properly, it should not require too much maintenance. This will seal the surface and provide a protective coating over the porous surface of the metal. 

When washing your pan, try to only use hot water and a plastic scrubbing brush. Avoid using dish soap unless absolutely necessary, as this can cause the seasoning layer to break down, leaving your pan unprotected. Do not scrub too hard, as this can remove the seasoning too. 

After cleaning, you should ensure that you dry your pan completely. It is a good idea to place it in the oven for a few minutes before putting it away, as this will further ensure the pan is dry. 

You should rub a thin layer of oil over the pan before you put it in the cupboard. This will create a sealant layer on the metal, preventing moisture from entering and causing rust. 

Reseasoning your cast iron pan

Even if you have purchased a pre-seasonedthroughout its lifespan. Before starting the seasoning process, you should ensure that the surface has been scrubbed clean. 

If you are cleaning it with water, place the pan in the oven to heat and dry for 10 minutes before moving on to the next step. 

Pour a teaspoon of neutral oil into your cast iron pan. Use your fingertips to spread this all over the pan’s surface, both inside and out. You can use a kitchen towel to do this, although your fingers will produce the best results. 

Preheat your oven to a temperature that exceeds the smoke point of your chosen oil. Generally, temperatures of 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit will be sufficient. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom of your oven.

Place the cast-iron skillet upside down into the preheated oven. Leave it to sit in here for an hour. This will cause the oil to smoke and polymerize onto the metal. This creates a protective layer on the surface, seasoning your skillet. 

The foil is on the base of the oven to catch any excess oil that drips out of the pan. This will prevent your oven from becoming an oily mess. 

Remove the skillet from the oven and allow it to cool. Repeat this process a few times to adequately protect your pan.