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Nov 16, 2012 04:29 PM

Cast Iron cleaning? advice needed

Hi all,

I just bought a used McClary Cast Iron No. 9 Skillet - Drip Top Spider - X617 at an antique market this afternoon.

The entire surface is incredibly smooth, except for the edge of the inner round. (where the flat part meets the edge)

When I wash it (with water or kosher salt), the water comes out a little brown.

Am I best to put this in the oven for a self-clean, and re-season it - or am I throwing away decades of seasoning?

My inclination is to clean it - as I have no idea where it's been, or what's been cooked in it!

Does anyone have some helpful input?


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  1. That looks like rust to me. I would self-clean/reseason.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Becca Porter

      PS - what is the self-clean method? I see a few people mention it, but not *exactly* what it is. Thanks!

      1. re: Tehama


        Self cleaning oven mode. In other words, makes use of the self-cleaning oven mode to remove the original seasoning layer. This allows reseasoning with new layers of oil.

    2. Based on what you have said, especially the fact that the water turn brown, it sounds like it is rust, quiet a bit too. You can season it without removing the original seasoning, or you can strip the original seasoning with the self-cleaning oven, and then season. I prefer the latter option, but that is really my preference. Either way will work, so it is entirely up to you.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Thanks Becca and CK. It is in the oven now. Only 4 hours to go!

        I am planning to follow the advice I found in this post.

        1. re: mikefly

          Everyone has a different opinion. For me, most cooking oil works fine for seasoning cookware. Some say lard is the best. I have tried lard, and I don't notice it is better (or worse). As for olive oil, in my opinion, it is fine if you want to use light olive oil or extra light olive oil to season a cast iron cookware. I don't recommend using extra virgin olive oil -- which many people automatically think of as "olive oil". Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point (~375 oF), so you will see a lot of smoke.

          As for seasoning the cookware at low vs high temperature, I am a high temperature guy who prefer to season at at least 400oF if not 500oF. Many people prefer low temperature seasoning, so I will leave it for you to decide.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I'm not at home this weekend, so have only the choice of corn or canola.

            Seeing as I have lots of time on my hands, and a cold cottage to warm up, it is a good time to experiment!

            1. re: mikefly

              <have only the choice of corn or canola>

              They should both work in experience. Have you seasoned a cookware before? The most common error for seasoning cookware is putting too thick a layer of oil. Try to put only a very thin layer, and use paper towel to wipe of the excess oil before putting it the oven.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Thanks. Assuming all goes well, I can report back tomorrow evening.

      2. In the picture it doesn't look like a cast iron skillet :-/
        (maybe it's the lighting or camera flash)...but assuming that it _is_ cast iron, I'd say sure...put in the self-clean oven cycle. That's what I've _always_ done with CI skilIets from flea market purchases with no problems whatsoever. It will burn off all residues, including the 'seasoning' but it is so easy to re-season a pan, it's not an issue at all.
        Some have argued against this method, but all I can say is that it works great and does no harm to the pan.

        2 Replies
        1. re: The Professor

          <In the picture it doesn't look like a cast iron skillet :-/
          (maybe it's the lighting or camera flash).>

          probably just some lighting:

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Yes, I found that listing too!

            Although I have never heard of McClary before, so hope it is a good make. I was seduced by the super smoothness of the skillet - and my frustration with my current pan. Hopefully it proves to be an improvement.

        2. One self clean and some scrubbing later, it is chock-full o' rust.

          Have tried washing with water and scrubby, water and steel wool, and then including soap or vinegar. Looks like the next step is to let it sit in a water/vinger solution - but this won't deal with the bottom of the pan - which is also rusty.

          Taking a break for breakfast! If you have any advice, please share - it seems to me I need to get rid of this before I start to season it.



          15 Replies
          1. re: mikefly

            After vinegar soak and scrub in sink (did not do 50/50 as there's not enough vinegar!) A little better now, but still rusty!

            1. re: mikefly

              Experiment failure! Hard-wired smoke detector + smoke = insanity. This will have to wait until we get back to the city.


              1. re: mikefly

                Man, too bad I didn't get to read this. Anyway, what you have seen is not abnormal. After the self cleaning cycle, it would have burned off much of the seasoning, but it won't burn off the rust, so this process reveals the rust. It partially also generate some rust from the air moisture, but a lot of you see are probably already there.

                Here is the tricky part, because when you try to remove the rust with water and soap (which works), new rust will quickly form. You can even see it right in front of your eyes. Try it. Try to clean one section, and you will see the rust can be removed, but then within a minute or two, a new layer of rust will form especially because of the water.

                This is how I do it.

                First, remove the rust with a steel wool or a scrubber or a greenpad and water. This should remove much of the rust. Try to dry the pot as soon as possible with paper towel. This will minimize the newly formed rust, but there will still be some.

                Second, use a "oil and salt" mixture and paper towel to clean the pot. Yes, oil and salt. Salt will act as a abrasive medium, and oil will act as a lubricant. I use about 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and one tablespoon of salt -- but there is no real magical number here, do whatever feel right to you. Because you are using oil instead of water in this second step, oil will not promote rust formation. You will need to repeat this step a few times and will use a few pieces of paper towels. Change the paper towels when they becomes too dark or too torn up. The paper will turn brown or red the first couples time, but it will become clear. Focus on the pan interior (cooking surface) more than the exterior.

                Third, After the papertowel is no longer red or brown, this means much of rust has been removed. Now, you can use running water to rinse out the salt. You may wonder if the water will rust the pan. It won't because there is already a layer of oil on top of the pan. Don't use towel or scrubber, just use gentle running water to flush and dissolve salt.

                Fourth, after much of salt has been removed, use additional oil and a paper towel to give the pan one more wipe. This will remove any leftover salt.

                Fifth, now you can season the pan however you like. Again, do not use too thick of a layer of oil.

                This may seem like a lot of steps, but that is only because I spelled out everything. When you do it, you will see it is very intuitive and very straightforward. Once you do it, everything will make sense.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  This is pretty much what I did--based on instinct alone, not Chemical's knowledge!--years and years ago on 2 badly rusted CI skillets. Now decades later, and they're still perfectly seasoned. Salt and oil.

                  1. re: pine time

                    <not Chemical's knowledge!>

                    :P Very humorous with the play of words here. :D

                    Thanks for reaffirming the procedure. I hope the original poster will find it useful.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      For sure. I've restarted the process, and will do the seasoning at home, where I can take the battery out of the smoke detector.

                      Thanks for your help!


                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    If you're interested, have a read - Sheryl posts that not all oils are created equal!

                    Edit: more research shows you have already posted about this theory in a couple of other threads...

                    1. re: mikefly

                      Yes, that is a very interesting post, and many of us have discussed that a couple year ago. It, of course, got all the attention later when Cook Illustrated picked it up.


                      If you are interested, you can look up some of the older posts.


                      My two cent here is that it may make a small difference for the very first layer of seasoning just like using lard vs vegetable oil. In the long run, it really does not matter. Without getting all the very little details., here is my take: cast iron or carbon steel seasoning is really a continuous process. During cooking, you will continue to add and remove the seasoned layer. So unless I plan to cook with flaxseed oil (which I am not), it does not matter in the long run.

                      So if you have flaxseed around, then uses it. If not, don't sweat about it. :)

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Yes, I have been compulsively reading those posts. I'm going to give it a rest now!

                        The other thing I want to add - that is brilliant as far as I can tell - is to do the seasoning on the BBQ - avoid getting the house all smokey and smelly.

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Going crazy. Over half hour of scrubbing with salt and oil. Still brown. Seemingly not making any progress.

                      Should the paper towel literally be clear?


                      1. re: mikefly

                        <Still brown. Seemingly not making any progress.>

                        Ok, it should take a few time, but it definitely should not be half hour. Your smooth cast iron pan should be easier than the rough cast iron surface, and you should able to see the paper towels getting less red or less reddish brown. Maybe what happened is that the cast iron itself is not that bad, but the salt and oil on the pan are very discolor, and we never thoroughly remove the mixture. Ok, try this follow.

                        1) Salt and oil, and scrub with a paper towel as before -- try a bit more salt and less oil. Try one tablespoon salt, but only 1/ 2 tablespoon oil.
                        2) Rinse with water to flush and dissolve the salt. Then, lightly wipe off the excess water and whatever salt with a paper towel. Toss this paper towel.
                        3) Add only oil (no salt) and scrub with a paper towel. Toss the paper towel, and do it one more time with another paper towel
                        Now, look to see if this second paper towel is clear (somewhat clear). If it is still reddish brown or red, then repeat step 1 to 3 one more time

                        <Should the paper towel literally be clear?>

                        That is a good question. I apologize for not being more accurate. Depending how hard you press down, you may not see a clear paper towel. If you see a faint of black color or blackish brown, then it is ok because you may have some left over carbon from the seasoning. If you see red or reddish brown, then that is rust, and it is not quiet ready. Ultimately we are trying to remove the rust, which we know the pan has based on the photo above.

                        Once the rust is removed, then you are ready for seasoning. I just want to make sure that you remove as much rust as possible before the seasoning.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          okay.. I have started over again. This time for good measure, I have decided to double my pleasure by also cooking the pan that has annoyed me in the past.

                          Hopefully I will get the hang of this soon, or I will have nothing left to cook with.

                          Will report back.

                          1. re: mikefly

                            :) I am sure it will all work out. Good luck.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              So far so good! Have done a couple coats so far, and all seems to be going well. I am heating these on the BBQ. Come out smooth and not sticky. Will coat more in the coming days.

                              Side note - the second pan actually had a fair bit of rust - and the paper towel + oil + salt came away red or reddish brown - the colour I got from the first pan was never that reddish colour - it was a black/brown - and developed after cleaning the pan for a minute or so. Which I suspect is normal.

                              Further question - I have a Descoware orange cast iron kettle like this
                              Can this be cleaned in the self cleaning oven (removing the lid and handle)? It is filthy inside.

                              1. re: mikefly

                                <Come out smooth and not sticky>


                                <the colour I got from the first pan was never that reddish colour - it was a black/brown - and developed after cleaning the pan for a minute or so. Which I suspect is normal.>

                                Good, then your second pan probably did not have much rust to start with, and was ready for seasoning.

                                <Descoware orange cast iron kettle like this...Can this be cleaned in the self cleaning oven>

                                It is an enameled cast iron. In theory, you can. In practice, I won't do it because the enameled surface could crack under such high heat. The chance is not that high, but I don't want to tell you something I am not entirely sure.

                                Have you tried just just pouring white vinegar in the pot and bring it into a boil and let it sit and dissolve? White distilled vinegar is pretty good for removing mineral or certain stains (not all kind of stains). Now, baking soda solution is good for removing other kind of stains especially more oily matters. So you can alternate between these two solutions. Do one and then do another. Since both solutions are food safe, you have very little to worry about left over.

              2. Became reunited with CI a few summers ago, when I found 3 different sized, cruddy skillets at a yard sale for $1 each... Lodge/Griswold. Since it was summer, didn't use self-clean cycle in oven... too hot for that. I was a bit of a heretic, I guess, and just used MANY applications of cheap-o $ store oven/grill spray cleaner and the unknown crud came off with little elbow grease required.

                I reseasoned with bacon grease... that's what my grandmother always did. CI is relatively indestructible and forgiving... pretty hard to damage. If I cook something where the pan only needs a good wipe out with paper towels, that's what it gets. If pan needs a little scrubbing, I use cheap salt and lots of hot water... then back on burner till HOT and another dab of BG... rubbed all over (inside & out) and most wiped out.

                My "collection" is always looking for a new member. What I have found to be a key to successful CI cooking is USE the stuff as often as you can. If a piece develops a little rust, just scrub it off and reseason.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kseiverd

                  Thanks KS - at cottage with limited supplies. No oven cleaner here.
                  Regardless, I'd prefer to avoid using it, as it makes my skin crawl.