How to clean cast iron

Find out how to clean cast iron – and enjoy this durable material for years more to come

how to clean cast iron
(Image credit: Rekeisha Dunlap/Getty)

Want to know how to clean cast iron? Most of us have something in our home or garden that’s made from cast iron, whether furniture, oven or cookware or even appliances, so knowing how to clean them properly is a must. Here are the very best cleaning solutions to keep this material looking as good a new.

For more cleaning tips and hacks, visit our cleaning hub page. 

How to clean cast iron furniture

If you are planning on giving your outdoor chairs and tables one last spruce-up before covering them for winter, use a sponge dipped into a mixture of warm water and washing up liquid to clean all the surfaces. To get into the crevices and tight curves of more intricate furniture, use a small nylon scrubbing brush or an old toothbrush. Rinse with clear warm water and dry with a clean cloth.

How to remove rust from cast iron furniture

Light rusting on the surface of cast iron furniture can be removed by a gentle rubbing with sandpaper. Wipe it down afterwards with a dry cloth to remove any rust particles that may have been left behind. Then, scrub the furniture with a nylon brush dipped in a mixture of warm water and washing up liquid, taking care to rinse thoroughly and dry off with a clean cloth afterwards.

Cleaning your cast iron pan supports

You should clean your hob pan supports by hand and avoid putting them in the dishwasher because it can tarnish them. Use a form of neutral detergent such as washing up liquid mixed with warm water, and a sponge or nylon scouring pad. To get rid of any stubborn, dried on food particles and grease, invest in a brass bristle BBQ brush, such as the wooden-handled Maxman Brass Wire Brush, £5.99, available from Amazon. Always rinse the supports afterwards and dry thoroughly. 

How to clean large-sized cast iron pan supports

If your pan supports are a bit too cumbersome to wash in the kitchen sink, try soaking them for a while in the bath. Buy a cheap, rubber non-slip mat to lie them on carefully so that they don’t scratch your bath and cover them with warm water and washing-up liquid. After you have removed the grease and grime, make sure you rinse them in clear water and dry them off well.

How to clean a cast iron stove

As the nights get chillier, you might be thinking about throwing a log or two into the woodburning stove. There are a few ways to get it looking clean and ready for action. Always try out any cleaning remedies when your stove is cooled and not in use.  

Any random drips and spills can be wiped away with a sponge dipped in a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar. For tougher residues and stains, mix 4oz of bicarbonate of soda with two tablespoons of washing up liquid in a bowl. Add some distilled white vinegar to the mixture until you have a creamy consistency. Dab this onto any stubborn marks which need dislodging and scour with a soft, nylon bristled washing-up brush or old toothbrush. You can use a stiffer brush if the stains are proving stubborn. When you have finished, give the stove a wipe over with a wet cloth and then dry it off with a dry cloth or paper towel.  

Alternatively, try putting 8oz of coarse rock salt into a bucket and adding 1 litre of lukewarm water.  Stir until the salt dissolves, put on some rubber gloves and use a cotton cloth dipped into the liquid to wipe down the stove.  Use a wire brush or steel wool to remove any remaining spots of dirt.   Finally, give the stove a wipe over with a cloth dipped in clear water and dry thoroughly.

Find out more about cleaning and maintaining a woodburning stove in our guide.

How to clean a cast iron skillet or pan

When cleaning a cast iron cooking utensils, it’s always best to avoid using washing-up liquid, steel wool or the dishwasher. That’s because these methods will strip the surface of the pan of its seasoning (slick, multiple coats of thin oil), making it less effective when in use.

Instead, take some paper towels and wipe the interior surface of the skillet or pan while it is still warm to remove any excess food and oil. Next, rinse it under hot running water while gently rubbing with a non-metal, non-abrasive pad to remove any food traces. You should lightly oil your skillet or pan after each cleaning to keep it in good condition. Do this by making sure all traces of moisture are gone before warming it on a low-medium heat. Add half a teaspoon of oil to the pan and, using a paper towel, spread the oil across the interior surface. The surface of your skillet or pan should now look dark and smooth. Let the pan cool before you put it away.

How to remove burnt-on food residue from a cast iron skillet or pan

Pour some hot water into the pan and add about three tablespoons of coarse sea salt. Rub at the sticky residue with a sponge, but if you need to apply a little more force, invest in a cast iron chainmail scrubber. The burnt-on gunk gets caught between the links of the chain and is pulled away effortlessly, with no damage to your pan.      

How to clean a cast iron grill

There are a few different ways to make your cast iron grill look as good as new:

Rub the surface with distilled white vinegar and allow it to sit for a few minutes.  Once the vinegar starts to dissolve any deposits of rust, grease and grime, use a wire brush or a piece of steel wool to clean the affected area.  Repeat this process until all residue has gone, then rinse well with clear water and dry thoroughly.

Or, you can make a thick paste using bicarbonate of soda and water. Apply the paste to the build-up of rust or grime on your grill and allow it to stay there for two to three hours. Then scrub away the paste using steel wool and repeat as necessary. Rinse your grill thoroughly and dry well afterwards.

Finally, for particularly heavy staining when you need some thing more abrasive than baking soda or vinegar, make a thick paste using water and coarse sea salt.  Apply it to the affected area then use steel wool or a wire brush to scrub it away. You can repeat the process if you still have some rust or residue to remove, then remember to rinse well and dry thoroughly when you have finished.   

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Lesley Hannaford Hill is a homes, property and interiors writer of some repute. She started writing on Best magazine back in the 1990s and has since worked for many women's and interiors magazines, writing about everything from property prices to home improvement. She is know for her witty style and broad knowledge. On a personal level, she has renovated flats and houses and has built her own home on the plot where her parents' self-build once stood.