How to Clean a Cast Iron Pan with Burn Spots, Rust and More!

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Last updated on November 10, 2021


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Cast iron is easily one of the best types of cookware to use in your kitchen. Certain foods like steak, shrimp, and chicken cooked in a cast iron pan boast a distinct texture complete with a char grilled outside and juicy inside.  

If you've never used cast iron, it can be a bit intimidating to know how to use it properly. 

Today, our helpful guide will walk you through how to clean a cast iron pan with burnt-on spots. We'll also share some tips and tricks to keep your cast iron in tip-top shape.


How to Remove Burnt Bits of Food


One of the most common nuances you'll deal with is burnt food on the bottom of your cast iron pan. While it's tempting to scratch off these burnt pieces, you'll likely end up damaging your pan's seasoning. Instead, try one of these gentle techniques to remove burnt bits of food from your cast iron.

Clean Your Cast Iron With Baking Soda


Baking soda is an exceptional cleaning agent, especially when it comes to cast iron pans. Baking soda is mildly abrasive and will help you break down gunk on the surface of your cast iron.

  • Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda into your cast iron pan and use a paper towel or cloth to rub it into the burnt food. The pieces should gently start to lift away.
  • You can also use a coarse sea salt to help rub away burnt food. The process works just the same as mentioned above.
  • If there are tougher pieces of burnt food, you can rinse your pan in warm water and repeat the baking soda or salt process until they are completely removed. 

Cook Away Burnt-on Food


If the burnt pieces are more stubborn, then you may need to cook it away.

Place your cast iron pan on the stovetop and heat it at medium high heat. Add water so that it fills your cast iron pan halfway, and bring it to a boil.

The burnt up food should start to break away from the bottom. You can use a wooden or plastic spatula to help lift up stubborn pieces. Avoid using metal utensils as this can further scratch your pan. 

Dry Your Cast Iron 

Whether you’ve used baking soda, salt, or boiled water to lift up the burnt food, you'll need to dry your cast iron pan. To do this, heat your oven to 350°F and place your pan inside for 10 minutes.

You can alternatively dry your cast iron on the stovetop. It's important that you have zero moisture left on your cast iron pan. Any moisture can allow rust to grow after you've stored it away.

Store Your Cast Iron Pan Properly

Once you've cleaned and dried your cast iron pan, it's time to store it. First, you need to give it a nice greasy rubdown. You’ll want to use a grease with a high smoking point. Vegetable, flaxseed, and grapeseed oils all have high smoking points and are great for using on your cast iron pan for regular seasoning. Here’s what you’ll need to do...

  •  Apply about a tablespoon of oil onto your pan.
  •  Use a paper towel to rub the oil into the cast iron.
  •  Make sure to rub the oil on the inside and the outside of the pan.

Every time you use your cast iron pan, get in the habit of oiling it after cleaning and drying. This will help to lock in the seasoning, adding to the rich flavor created when you cook. It will also help you achieve that sought after non-stick coating.

How to Fix a Rusty Cast-Iron Pan

The second biggest nuance with cast iron pans is rust. Unfortunately, a rusty cast iron pan is something you will deal with at one point or another. While rust is certainly annoying and a headache to get rid of, occasional rust won't damage your cast iron.

Rust appears on cast iron because of a process called oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs when iron is exposed to water or oxygen. You can tell this has occurred when the surface of your cast iron begins to show an orange film on the surface. Take a whiff and you’ll also smell the strong scent of rust.


Getting Rid of Light Rust on Cast Iron 

The method you will use to clean rust from your pan depends on the amount of rust you're working with. For a small amount of rust here's what you'll need to do:

  • Sprinkle some coarse salt over the rusty spots of your cast iron pan.
  • Cut a potato in half, and use the flat surface of the potato to rub the coarse salt into the rust spots. It should start to gently lift away.
  • Do a wipe down of the area with water, and completely dry your pan

Use Vinegar and Water to Remove Rust


If you have more stubborn rust spots, then you'll need to do a vinegar and water soak. Here’s what that process will look like:

  • Fill up a cooking tray or your kitchen sink with a mixture of one part water and one part distilled vinegar.
  • Allow your cast-iron pan to soak in this solution for at least four hours.
  • After this time, use a scrubbing brush or scouring pad to scrub at the rust. It should begin to lift away.
  • If you have some spots that are more stubborn than others, you can allow your cast iron to soak for an additional hour or two.
  • After you have scrubbed all the rust away, dry your cast iron pan completely.

Rust typically occurs when you don't dry or store your cast iron pan properly, or don't give your pan an oil coating after each use. The oil will act as a buffer that keeps moisture from accumulating on the surface of your pan when it’s not in use.

When you store your cast iron, it's best to store it in a cool, dark place with low humidity. Moisture can accumulate over time and leave you with rust patches on your pan’s surface.

How to Restore and Season your Cast Iron 


Whether you have burn marks or rust spots beyond repair, you may need to restore and re-season your cast iron pan.

Restoring your cast iron pan requires you to strip it completely of its seasoning so that the pan is down to its original cast iron layer.

To remove the seasoning from your pan, you'll need mild soap, warm water, and an abrasive scrubbing pad like steel wool. These tools will allow you to scratch away the seasoning so that you can uncover the original cast iron layer. You'll know you have reached this layer when the surface turns a darker gray almost bluish hue.

  • Start scrubbing at the seasoning using your steel wool. 

  • Once you have removed all burnt food and a majority of the seasoning, use a scouring pad or sponge to work out the rest of the seasoning.

  • Once the water starts running clear, you’ll know you have stripped away the seasoning. You may have spots where seasoning might be tough to remove, and it’s not a huge deal if you can’t strip it completely down.

  • Do a final rinse with water and a clean sponge.


Once you have stripped away all the seasoning, it's time to re-season it before you use it again. There are different ways you can re-season your pan, but here is the easiest tried-and-true method:

  • Heat your oven up to 350°F and place your cast iron pan inside. Let it sit in the oven for 10 minutes.

  • Next, remove your cast-iron pan from the oven. Be sure to use oven mitts as the handle will be extremely hot.

  • Now it's time to add oil to your pan. Use a tablespoon of an oil with a high smoking point. Vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, and grapeseed oil are all great options to go with. Olive oil is not a great option due to its lower smoking point.

  • Using your hand or an old cloth, rub and spread the oil throughout the pan. Now it's time to heat it up and season it. 

  • Heat your oven to 400°F and place your cast iron pan inside. Allow the pan to cook for at least one hour. The surface of a cast iron pan is incredibly porous. The oil will absorb into the pan and as it cooks, which will create a nice smooth surface that becomes non-stick as well. If you use too much oil during this process, it might create a sticky surface that can be difficult to cook with.

  • After your pan has baked for an hour, remove it from the oven and place it on your stovetop to cool. Be sure to use oven mitts when removing the cast iron pan. The handle will become extremely hot.

  • Allow your pan to cool completely before using or storing. 

For the best results when seasoning your pan, it can be helpful to repeat this baking process once or twice more. This will allow your cast iron to develop several layers of oil which will result in a smoother surface to cook on.


Cast iron pans can be intimidating to care for, and rightly so. While they are a popular type of cookware for experienced cooks, novices may find themselves overwhelmed the first couple of times using cast iron. After using our tips and tricks, you'll become a pro at caring for your cast iron. 

I hope this helpful guide has given you the confidence to try out the cast iron that’s been tucked away in the back of your cookware cabinet. What are some of your favorite dishes to cook in cast iron? Let me know in the comments section below!



About the author, Nadia El-Yaouti

Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and three kids. When she's not exploring new and improved ways of cleaning and organizing the kitchen on a budget, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.