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Cleaning/caring for cast iron WITHOUT using paper towels?

Sorry for starting yet another cast iron thread, but my search didn't turn up an answer to my particular question. I'm rather new to cast iron - bought a 12" Lodge skillet a few weeks ago. Following the advice of many people from here and other boards/blogs, I use paper towels for just about everything related to the pan ... wiping it out after use, drying it after boiling water to loosen burnt-on crud, wiping on lard/oil for storage, coating the pan with lard/oil for seasoning, etc.

So today I did the math and I was horrified to find that if I keep using the pan as much as I do now, I'll spend more than $100 a year on paper towels to clean and maintain it! I might as well have bought a Le Creuset enameled pan and been done with it - the total cost of ownership would probably have been far less at this rate. Not to mention the enormous volume of greasy paper towels that will wind up in the local landfill.

I'd use an old T-shirt or dish towel for all this, except that I don't want to have to throw those out after I've used them, either. I'd be afraid to put them in the laundry for fear that they'd either stain my other clothes or catch on fire in the dryer. I've also heard of people using a silicone basting brush to oil cast iron for storage, but opinion is mixed as to its effectiveness.

Anyone got a paper towel-free method of cleaning and maintaining cast iron they want to share?

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  1. You can dry the pan by putting it over a low heat for a moment to evaporate the water.

    If you are seasoning or wiping on oil for some other reason, there is no reason to use a whole paper towel if that bothers you. There are always fingers.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mlgb

      We wash it by hand with a regular dish sponge. Air dry or put on low flame to dry it, then spray it with spray olive oil. No paper towels needed and the pan is in great shape.

    2. I usually wipe with a non scratch scrub pad if alot is on the pan, then rinse dry, I have a small brush I use to get any bits removed, just a regular one from the store, then usually set out to dry or set on a burner on law for a few minutes. Then add oil. I actually use my hands most times paper towels some. I have had mine for over 30 years

      9 Replies
      1. re: kchurchill5

        The OP is counting their pennies on using paper towels, wait until they figure out how much electricity its going to cost to dry the pan.

          1. re: kchurchill5

            I usually just rinse with water and scrub with a pad and put it on high heat till dry, turn it off and a light spray with a commerical non-stick spray. It's an investment.

            1. re: monku

              I'd never give up mine. I rub just with some oil but the spray would work great. I love mine, I have 4 and I'll never trade. I like the non stick, I have an atonmizer with evoo, I should of thought.

            2. re: kchurchill5

              I'm guessing you have a gas range.... doesn't work so well with electric.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  yours must be better quality than mine (but then most are), takes me about 3-4 minutes to warm up enough to dry off a pan. perhaps I can get a new stove after the "recovery"

            3. re: monku

              LOL! KaimukiMan is right, I have a gas range. So zero electricity cost. Good point, though.

          2. I never use paper towels on my cast iron. A lick with a stiff scrub brush and a quick rinse generally do the trick. If that doesn't work, simmering a pan full of water will loosen even the toughest burnt-on goop. After a pan's cleaned out, a minute on a high burner will evaporate off any excess water and prevent rusting.

            1. Since I use the cast iron when I'm making bacon or frying stuff, I generally just use paper towels when I'm trying to soak up any oil. Otherwise, my pan can handle water and a sponge.

              1. you don't need a towel to put fat in the pan, use a brush, if anything other than plopping/pouring, melting, swirling. i also use my "misto" oil mister.

                oiling for storage? new to me!

                also, for wipe-out, use "select-a-size bounty" paper towels. or buy on sale or in bulk from a commercial supply house.

                1. Thanks to everyone for the replies! I may get a mister and/or a brush for the post-drying wipe-down (to clarify, I didn't really mean oiling for "storage" ... just a quick coat after drying as recommended by many, such as the post here:


                  I always thought cast iron has to be cleaned while hot so that hands really weren't an option, not if I don't want fried hands anyway. Am I mistaken?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: happy_c

                    i just looked at your cast iron routine. how often are you having to boil water to get crud off? sounds like you don't have a properly seasoned pan to begin with (as you're getting all this crud you always have to clean).

                    to clean after cooking, wipe out with a paper towel when the pan is warm should do it. maybe -- just maybe --a quick rinse over with water only -- no soap -- and a soft scrubbie if needed, then a wipe out to dry.....

                    are you using enough oil/grease when you cook? remember, this surface is seasoned over time by oil/fat that you season with, then cook with.....

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Basically, every time I cook something that isn't deep-fried or sitting in a pool of oil to bake (like cornbread), I need to boil some water or use salt to scrub it off. I prefer the water as it's hard to get the salt out without rinsing with water anyway.

                      The pan is almost brand new and definitely is not that well seasoned. I gather that Lodge's "pre-seasoning" is not really that, it's just a starter layer on which you have to build up additional coats to really get a non-stick surface.

                      Maybe I'm not using enough grease to cook but that doesn't explain the problem with sticky bacon. Though I suppose the sticking there is because of the sugar in the bacon, not a lack of grease.

                      Maybe I'll try holding off on the cleaning until the pan is cool enough to touch, but still warm. Or will that make it harder to get stuff off?

                      1. re: happy_c

                        the cooler it is, the harder to remove what you want to remove. sometime, try this, as the skillet cools, take a metal flipper-spatula, and just scrape/skim across the surface to dislodge crusty bits. then just wipe.

                        try cooking your bacon on medium heat.

                        maybe you should do a proper "seasoning," as discussed on other threads. expert hounds may want to give you their advice here on this thread.

                        good luck!!

                        1. re: happy_c

                          If you read through ALL the cast iron threads (ha ha just kidding) you'll see that a number of us have commented that the rough interior on new pans (whether prefinished or not) isn't as nonstick as the smooth finish on old pans (back then did they used to smooth down the insides as part of the manufacturing process?) Maybe over time the seasoning will build up on the low parts and the high parts will wear down. Some people have even gone so far as to try to sand down the insides of a new pan to a smoother surface. Others just buy a vintage piece.

                          1. re: mlgb

                            Yeah, I bought my skillet before I learned that it's better to get an old one with a smooth surface. Oh well.

                            1. re: happy_c

                              It will get there, fry some burgers, bacon, and chicken. Just be patient. It will happen.

                            2. re: mlgb

                              Go drill mounted sander! Yea! Smooth finish! It's cheap but it ain't free. There are also drill mounted rust remover things, as well as pre-cut rounds of sand paper, but I just cut my own rounds from regular sand paper and glue 'em down with double face tape. You will probably only have to do this once per pan per lifetime.

                              I also dry on the gas stove top and rarely oil my pan before putting it away unless I really had to strip it bad while cleaning. I usually oil/prime before using. I also use little tiny pieces of paper towel. I too am shocked at the price of paper towels. I sually just use a little ripped off piece I use them at all.
                              In case you haven't noticed, paper towels are also a lot cheaper to buy in the bigger package of multiple roles. You could always rip up you old t-shirts into little pieces and just throw as you go.

                      2. Newspaper. I wipe out the pan with newspaper. Balled up it works well to wipe out all the crud and it soaks up grease although not as well as paper towel. I then dry on the range.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          Never thought of using newspaper. Doesn't the ink come off in the pan , though? (Dunno if you could see it if it did.)

                          1. re: happy_c

                            I'ved used paper as well, seems to work well.

                            1. re: happy_c

                              The ink does not seem to smudge but even if it does I still rinse out the pan and use a nylon scrubber on the pan before drying so any ink would be washed out.

                          2. If youl forget to bring your reusable bags to the grocery store often enough, crumpled pieces of brown paper bag are good to scrunge unwanted grease out of your skillet. Drain bacon and such on brown paper too, to save paper towels. When you get the hang of using it right, you do not get burnt-on crud that does not easily scrape off with the spatula.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: atheorist

                              Dump the grease in whatever you dump grease in, Scrub it with a scrubby thing and dry it on the stove. I have never used paper towels on mine for anything.

                            2. How many paper towels does $100 buy? (just curious)

                              8 Replies
                                1. re: monku

                                  There's the environment to consider. I simply see no reason to use them in this context.

                                  1. re: Whosyerkitty

                                    You're right ... cost and environment together just make paper towel use something I want to lose, or at least minimize. Interesting that I've seen people argue for the use of cast iron because it's 1) relatively cheap and 2) green. Use too many paper towels (or too much energy to heat/dry) and both those advantages go away.

                                    I've been using about a roll a week, maybe more. I do use Bounty select-a-size, as someone mentioned above. I used Amazon.com's price to do the calculation. It actually came out to about $130 for 52 rolls.

                                    I will say that I've been seasoning the pan a lot in between uses for cooking, and that bumps up the paper towel count. Maybe in a few more months the pan will be seasoned well enough that I don't feel compelled to lard and bake it quite so often. On the other hand, who knows?

                                    1. re: happy_c

                                      1) Amazon doesn't have good prices on those paper towels.
                                      2) By comparison to my house, you're using a _lot_ of paper towels. A whole lot. We have only 2 people in the house but we use a roll of select-a-size about every 6 weeks I'd guesstimate.

                                      How many select-a-size towels do you use for each of your tasks?

                                      I'm trying to think through my cast iron use routine:
                                      Pan goes on heat and gets some sort of fat depending on what's to be cooked.
                                      Food gets cooked via whatever method/food gets served and then it goes a couple of possible ways:

                                      1) If I did a deep-ish pan fry then the oil will likely sit there while we eat dinner to cool enough to contend with. Then I'll warm the pan back up a bit if necessary (to get the fat liquid again) and strain the oil out of the pan. Then I'll rinse the pan under the hottest possible tap water and use a nylon scrubbing brush if necessary. Usually, that takes care of that and I put the pan back on the burner for a couple of minutes to dry out and then let it sit overnight to make sure it's totally dry. I put it away the next day.
                                      2) If I seared something or did a more shallow fry of some sort then I'm likely to plate the food or set it aside to rest and then immediately move to rinsing and scrubbing with a nylon brush. Occasionally, in these cases, there might be a spot or two on the pan that look like they could use a bit of touch up in terms of fat/oil and so I'll add a few drops of whatever oil I'm using at the time to the pan and if the pan is too hot to stick my fingers in there bare and rub the oil in I'll use one select-a-size sheet to rub it around and the put the pan back on the burner. After it's warmed up for a minute, I'll kill the heat and after dinner I'll use one select-a-size sheet to wipe out any excess oil.

                                      I don't think you need wads of paper towels to do many of the things one needs to do with a cast iron skillet. Perhaps a silicone pot mit and one paper towel will suffice in many cases for you?

                                      I don't remember the last time I just reseasoned my pan apart from any cooking.

                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                        I've been using wads for the stovetop seasoning process described here


                                        And also two select-a-size rectangles, mostly, every "pass" I make to wipe out the pan. Problem is that they tend get grubby and shred before all the crud is out, especially if I'm using salt as an abrasive. So several passes are usually necessary. With the boiling water technique, one pass will sometimes do the job, but not always. Then I use one select-a-size rectangle to wipe down the pan with lard or oil before putting it away.

                                        I do think I'm using the pan much, much more often than I will in the future (2 or maybe 3 times a day), as I'm trying to build up the seasoning.

                                        1. re: happy_c

                                          It reads to me like you're using more paper towels than you probably need at each step of your various processes. And beyond that, you're spending far more time caring for your cast iron than I've ever known to be necessary. Further, using boiling water in the pan on a repeated basis isn't going to do the seasoning any favors though it won't outright ruin it. A good, stiff nylon brush or scrub pad and hot tap water should take care of most anything that is on a pan. If you're really getting things burnt on, then that's an issue with how you're cooking more than with the pan.

                                          Just cook in the pan, rinse/scrub it out and dry it. Don't worry about seasoning it in between cooking. It'll season itself perfectly well (and better, too) as you cook in it. The beauty of cast iron is that it's a workhorse that doesn't actually need much attention. It just needs particular attention.

                                      2. re: happy_c

                                        you don't necessarily need a fresh paper towel every time you rinse out your pan. I take a look after I eat and if the pan is still moist I wipe it out with a scantly used paper napkin from my meal.

                                        1. re: happy_c

                                          Use a pastry brush to spread the oil instead of a paper towel.

                                  2. for cleaning i i use a stiff bristled brush. for tough crud a add kosher salt.

                                    if the pan has been cleaned, dry it with a kitchen towel, not paper.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: thew

                                      Can you then launder the kitchen towel without fear that it'll catch on fire in the dryer from any residual oil?

                                      I've been scared off it by the warnings that came with the clothes dryer.

                                      1. re: happy_c

                                        do you dry your towels before you wash them?

                                        1. re: happy_c

                                          Goodness! How hot does your dryer get?
                                          Check this chart for the smoke point of oils:
                                          The oil would have to get above THAT to catch fire. Your clothes would be beyond ruined.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            Perhaps I'm just being paranoid about the dryer. Or the manufacturer is just being paranoid about being sued.

                                            Last time I checked, I was doing the washing before the drying (reminds me I gotta go do laundry today), but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the wash cycle may not get all the oil out.

                                      2. hey happy_c,

                                        I also have a pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron skillet that we got a couple of years ago. I use it about 5-10 times a week, and it's rarely needed to be scrubbed, so I'm not sure if yours doesn't have the pre-seasoning or what. I typically just heat it slightly, scrape out the bits with a damp sponge, and then rinse it. Then I place it on a low burner for about 1 minute, and use a newspaper or a dish towel to lightly oil it. The dish towels just go in the laundry. If you're worried about fires, you can just air dry them. It wouldn't matter if it got stiff or a weird texture from air drying, since you could just reserve that particular towel for your cast iron pan!

                                        1. Bar mop towels cost about 50ยข apiece buying them in bulk (20 towels for $10.00).

                                          I use them for everything, wiping up spills, grease splatter, drying cast iron and my hands, applying oil or lard when seasoning cast iron cookware, polishing silver, and polishing out the stains on carbon steel knives.

                                          Launder them after use and they're good to go again. When 1 gets badly stained or thread bare I throw it away.

                                          On average a towel is good for 6 months to a year.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Using it as much as you can will get it properly seasoned.

                                            When you want to wash it, scrub with hot water only, then put it back on the stove over low heat for a moment, as mlgb says, to evaporate the water.

                                            I only oil mine (without cooking anything) if a tiny bit of water escapes me and I get a rust spot.

                                            1. happy c, also look into paul prudhomme's "oiling" technique, in which he oils only the ingredients -- not the skillet -- for certain foods..... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/477249

                                              1. Thanks, all, for the good advice and comments. I think my pan is finally starting to develop its seasoning. At least, I made a frittata a couple of nights ago and it slid right out with minimal coaxing. And I didn't have to boil water to clean it out, either.

                                                I think I'm going to use a combination of the approaches people have suggested. Wash with hot water while still warm. Scrub with a nylon brush or sponge to get out any stuck-on food, boil water only if necessary. Use a sacrificial T-shirt to dry it, then place on burner over low heat for a few minutes. Then melt a bit of lard and wipe it around with a paper towel. Hand wash and hang dry the T-shirt to avoid flammable laundry issues.

                                                Hopefully, this will work out to one paper towel per use, max.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: happy_c

                                                  What an excellent thread. Happy cast-iron cooking, everyone!

                                                  1. re: happy_c

                                                    Sounds much improved from your initial routine! I'd say go one small step further immediately, though, and skip the t-shirt. If you're going to put the pan on the burner to make sure it's dry there's no real need to wipe off the bit of water still on the pan. Just let it drip dry at the sink for a moment and then right to the burner. It'll all evaporate away just fine and you get to skip the hand washing of your t-shirt.

                                                    Enjoy the food!

                                                    1. re: happy_c

                                                      i wouldn't give up using a select a size paper towel (or the even better "dry on stove" method) for the t-shirt. but if you *do* go the t-shirt route (smelly and messy) use oxy-clean and detergent in your automatic washing machine's *hot* water cycle -- maybe with other kitchen towels (other than those used for fine glassware). the t-shirt will be just fine in the dryer.

                                                    2. I'm always doing the dinner dishes when my son is doing his math homework. I use a discarded piece of notebook paper, that he's crumpled up. Works great! Also prevents the lint that paper towels leave behind.