How to Clean and Refinish Cast Iron Cookware

Note from Naturally Loriel: I’m taking some time off to enjoy my sweet newborn but I’ve lined up some amazing guest posts from some of my favorite bloggers while I’m away. Today’s guest post comes from my good friend Amanda of Refocus on Being

Amanda is a frequent writer on Naturally Loriel with some of her best posts being 5 Reasons to Love Soap Berries + How to Use Them and Gardening Hand Care Tips + Citrus and Rosemary Healing Hand Scrub. Thank you Amanda!

A few years ago I started to take on the task of upgrading all of my cookware. Like most other people, I had quite a bit of nonstick pans and low quality aluminum pans. I was lucky enough to be given my grandmother’s cast iron pans by my father when he cleaned out the house about two years ago, so I threw away 4 pieces of toxic cookware and happily accepted some of my family history into my home.

How amazing it is to be able to feed and nourish my family by cooking food on the same pans that fed my own father, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I ended up inheriting 5 Wagner Ware cast iron pans. Three of them had been continually used up until two years ago by my aunt who had lived in the house, so they had been taken care of (mostly). Two of them were definitely in need of a good cleaning and refinishing. I have had those pans tucked away, but my plans have always been to get them cleaned up and then give them to my cousin as a gift so she could have some of our family’s cookware too, so now became the time to get that project underway.

In my research on how to clean and refinish cast iron pans I have come across quite a bit of differing opinions and methods on how to do this best. I am completely surprised by the amount of advice that is given online to use toxic chemical oven cleaner spray to clean and strip the old gunk and finish off of the pan.

Obviously a lot of people use this method, but I prefer to not actually soak my cookware in harmful toxic cleaner and went a more natural route. I have also read that people use everything from Crisco (NO – just, no on this one), bacon grease, lard, coconut oil, flax seed oil, and even tallow to season their pans with.

I am a big believer in using what we have on hand to help us stay within our budgets and lifestyles. I always use, and have on hand, is coconut oil, so that is what I used for my two pans.

Phase One: Cleaning Your Cast Iron

Step 1: I placed my pans on the burner for a few minutes to heat them up. Using an oven mitt to hold my pan handle, I started scrubbing the inside and walls of each pan with steel wool/a steel kitchen scrubber. If there is rust or anything on the handle or underneath of the pan, be sure to get that taken care of too.

Step 2: Thoroughly wash the pan after you have completed removal of rust and gunk. This is the only time you will ever be encouraged to use soapy water on your cast iron. I used my stiff kitchen brush to make sure everything was washed off.

Step 3: Dry your pan with a clean dish towel or some paper towels, and then place it back on a burner and make sure it is completely dry and free from moisture. The entire point of cleaning is to get your pan back to it’s raw cast iron during this step. It should look really dry and gray in color.

Helpful Hint

You can use the above process to remove the factory finish from your new cast iron cookware. This may be helpful, especially if you are trying to stay away from GMOs and soy products, as Lodge uses soybean oil for their cookware.

Phase Two: Refinish Your Cast Iron

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Step 2: Using a paper towel, rub coconut oil into every nook and cranny of your pan – top, bottom, sides, inside walls, handle…everywhere. Rub it it really well. Get yourself a clean paper towel, and now wipe the entire pan so that it looks dry. Yes, it will look as though you have wiped all of the oil off, but you haven’t…the thin layer of oil that is left is what you are aiming for.

Step 3: Place your pan upside down on the middle rack in the oven. You can place tin foil underneath on the bottom rack to catch any potential drippings, but there should not even be enough oil left on your pan to drip.

Step 4: Set a timer for 1 hour from when your oven reaches temperature. At the end of that hour, turn the oven off and crack the door open, but leave the pan inside to allow it to cool naturally for a hour or so prior until it is safe for removal.

Step 5: Remove your pan from the oven, and notice that it is starting to darken in color…but we still need to get it to a nice semi-gloss finish, so we are going to keep oiling and baking our pan.

Step 6: Repeat steps 2 through 4 at least 2 more times…more if needed (I did mine for a total of 4 times). At the end of this process you will be left with a beautifully restored pan with a nonstick finish that, with the right care, will last for a long time.

Aftercare & Everyday Cleaning

  • Use healthy fats when cooking. Not only are these the best choice for your body and health, it will help keep your pans seasoned with each use.

See: Why I Don’t Use Vegetable Oil For Cooking and Step 4: Use High Quality Fats

  • Clean your pans immediately after each use, while still warm whenever possible. You can usually use a paper towel to wipe out any leftover food bits after cooking. Sometimes using some regular old salt to use as an abrasive will help loosen up stuck on messes.
  • For tougher, really stuck on food you can run hot water over your pan and use a stiff kitchen brush to remove everything. Be sure to place your pan back on the burner and use the heat to completely dry your pan.
  • Rub a light amount of coconut oil into your pan once it’s dry, and then wipe that clean with another paper towel.

  • Store your cast iron in a non-humid area.

The process of cleaning and refinishing cast iron is easy and nothing to be nervous about. It is, however, time consuming and tiring. I will admit – scouring my pans was tough work and I am happy that it is over! You can refurbish old cookware or you can refinish new cookware to make it safer.

No matter what you are doing, you are taking care of pans that are one of the best choices in non toxic cookware and you will be able to pass it down for generations.

Amanda is the creator and writer for Refocus On Being, providing inspiration on living life authentically while pursuing passions and doing what we love. She is an aspiring homesteader living in Maine with her amazing boyfriend, Jedi son and Princess daughter (twins!) and a very furry Maine Coon cat named Simone. After leaving the corporate world to become a work at home mom, she empowers and inspires people to follow their heart and embrace life. In addition to writing about being a highly successful Adult Child of an Alcoholic, she is passionate about being a mom, strives for self-sufficiency, loves to live creatively, enjoys teaching others about healthy living, and has a borderline obsession with all things organizational.

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