The Surprising Ways You Never Thought to Clean Cast Iron

Persistent food bits stand no chance against these super effective tricks. Here's how to really clean cast iron.

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Cast iron is great for its versatility, durability and affordability. (If you’re new to the material, get our guide to cast iron cooking.) But it’s not so great with cleanup, mainly because the process isn’t quite as intuitive as that of its nonstick or stainless steel counterparts.

Psst! Do you know which type of cookware is best for you?

Cast Iron Cleaning Basics

Nevertheless, it’s still pretty easy: Once the pan has cooled down enough to handle, clean it with water and soap immediately, but don’t let it sit for an extended period of time or use a particularly hard scrubber. We break down the full cast-iron skillet cleaning process here.

But not all messes are created equal. If your food remnants won’t just rinse right off with some soap, water and light scrubbing, you’ll need to pull out plan B…or even plan C. When grit and grime seem like they’re glued to your cast iron, go with one of these two lesser-know tactics: coarse salt or chainmail.

How to Clean Cast Iron with Coarse Salt

A sprinkling of coarse salt—about a tablespoon—will do the trick on tough residue. Use a sponge to scrub the salt pieces around the cast iron, especially the problem areas. (By the way, do you know how to clean your sponge?)

Once finished, just throw away the dirty salt and rinse the now-empty skillet with warm water; dry with a clean—but not special—towel. Even though the cookware is clean, it could still dirty your rag with dark stains.

How to Clean Cast Iron with Chainmail

Chainmail, a small rectangle of stainless steel, can also beat persistent food bits. Trust us—this armorlike cleaning tool is not as medieval as it looks.

Taste of Home‘s deputy editor, James Schend, loves this gadget so much that he gave it out as Christmas presents this year. “I’ve tried chainmail on every single piece of cast iron I have, which is a lot,” he says. “It quickly and easily removes baked-on residue without removing any of the valuable seasoning.” 

To use this convenient tool, fill the cooled cookware with warm water, then firmly scrub the entire pan. Rinse and repeat until fully clean. Dry the pan with a not-so-special towel before storing. (The Ringer is our favorite chainmail product. You can check it out here.)

If you’ve been avoiding stirring up your favorite cheesy steak skillet or that crave-worthy breakfast hash for fear of never getting your trusty cookware clean again, these everyday tricks are your go-ahead. (And if you’re having a cast iron cleaning emergency, try this product.) Now get cooking!

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.