How to Restore Cast Iron Pan

Restoring cast iron is a simple process of cleaning, seasoning and caring for your pans in the long-term. Here, we bring together those three areas of looking after your cast iron pan into a helpful guide about all-round restoration.

We’ll cover:

  • How to clean rust off a cast iron pan
  • Can you recoat cast iron?
  • Why is my cast iron pan flaking?
  • What you can do to prevent rust forming again

Sous Chef’s Cast Iron expert Kristin Lohse is our cookware buyer. She has many years of experience using, testing and cooking with a huge breadth of pots and pans. She shares her expertise from her career looking for the very best cast iron pans.

Become a cast iron expert, with our ultimate guide to cast iron pans. And browse all cast iron cookware at Sous Chef.

Restoring a cast iron pan is a straightforward process. Begin by assessing the pan's condition. If it's rusty or the surface is no longer smooth, it needs attention.

  • Step 1: Scrub the pan with steel wool to remove rust and any old, flaking seasoning layers. You won't damage cast iron by scrubbing it with steel wool or a wire brush. You'll expose more of the metal, but you just need to re-season it, maybe a couple of times, to restore it.
  • Step 2: Wash the pan with warm, soapy water. This step helps to remove any remaining debris and rust particles. Use a stiff brush or sponge to clean it thoroughly.
  • Step 3: Dry the pan completely. Any moisture left can lead to rust. You can dry it with a towel and then put it on a stove over low heat to eliminate all moisture.
  • Step 4: Preheat your oven to as high as it will go - about 250°C. This prepares the pan for the seasoning process, which will restore its non-stick surface.
  • Step 5: Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil to the entire pan. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to spread the oil evenly. Make sure to cover all surfaces, inside and out. Then wipe off excess oil to the point where it almost looks like there is no oil left.
  • Step 6: Place the pan upside down in the preheated oven. Put a piece of aluminium foil or a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any oil drips. Bake the pan for one hour. This baking time allows the oil to polymerize, forming a new seasoning layer.
  • Step 7: After baking, turn off the oven and let the pan cool down inside until it's safe to handle. This slow cooling process helps to strengthen the new seasoning.

Your cast iron pan is now restored and ready for cooking. To maintain its condition, avoid using soap for cleaning after cooking. Simply scrub it with a brush and hot water, dry it thoroughly, and apply a light layer of oil before storing.

For example, if you've just found an old cast iron skillet at a garage sale, follow these steps to bring it back to life. Similarly, if a beloved family heirloom has been neglected, this restoration process can make it as good as new.

How do I make my cast-iron pan look new again?

Making your cast iron pan look new is easier than you might think. The key is regular maintenance and a bit of TLC when needed. Here are practical tips to rejuvenate your pan:

  1. Start with a Good Scrub: Use steel wool or a stiff brush to remove rust and stuck-on food. This step prepares the surface for re-seasoning.
  2. Clean It Well: After scrubbing, wash the pan with warm, soapy water. Not being able to use soap on cast iron is a myth. It started when lye was used in soap. But it isn't anymore, and a cast iron pan can be cleaned with soapy water no problem. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Dry Thoroughly: Moisture is the enemy of cast iron. Dry the pan completely with a towel, then put it on the stove over low heat to evaporate any remaining moisture.
  4. Oil It Up: Once dry, apply a thin, even coat of cooking oil to the entire pan, inside and out. Use a cloth or paper towel to spread the oil. Choose an oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable oil or rapeseed oil.
  5. Bake the Pan: Preheat your oven to 250°C or as high as it will go, and place the oiled pan upside down on the middle rack. Put a sheet of aluminium foil on the bottom rack to catch drips. Bake for an hour, then turn off the oven and let the pan cool inside.
  6. Repeat as Necessary: For pans with extensive damage or rust, you might need to repeat the oiling and baking process a few times.
  7. Regular Maintenance: After each use, clean the pan with hot water, soap, and a brush. Dry it thoroughly and apply a thin layer of oil. You want to season your pan with oil every now and then. Kristin says: “When I’m using my pan a few times a week, I might do a proper season once a month. At times when I’m not using it as often, I’ll season it every 2-3 months.”
  8. Use Metal Utensils Carefully: Metal spatulas are fine but avoid scraping the pan aggressively. This could damage the seasoning.
  9. Store the Pan Properly: Keep your pan in a dry place. If stacking pans, place a paper towel between them to absorb moisture.

Can rusted cast iron be restored?

A rusted cast-iron pan is far from ruined. In fact, thanks to the durable nature of cast iron, such pans can almost always be restored. While other materials might degrade or weaken over time, the integrity of cast iron remains intact beneath any surface rust. The rust that typically forms on cast iron is superficial and does not deeply penetrate the metal, preserving the core strength of the pan and allowing for effective restoration.

The ability to restore a rusted cast iron pan arises because rust, a form of iron oxide, develops when the iron is exposed to oxygen and moisture. This reaction occurs at the surface and does not affect the metal's fundamental structure. 

Thus, removing the rust reveals the underlying iron, which is usually in good condition and ready to be reseasoned. This resilience of cast iron to rust and wear is what makes it a reliable choice for cookware, ensuring that even pans suffering from severe neglect can be brought back to life with proper care.

Read our extensive guide to removing rust from cast iron pans here

How do you revive a burnt cast-iron pan?

Reviving a burnt cast iron pan is simpler than it seems. Here are quick, effective steps to bring it back to life:

  • Cool the Pan: Let the pan cool down completely before starting any cleaning process.
  • Scrub Gently: Use a stiff brush or a paste of coarse salt and water to scrub away burnt residues. Avoid using steel wool if possible to preserve the seasoning.
  • Rinse Well: After scrubbing, rinse the pan thoroughly with warm water to remove all salt, debris, and loose rust.
  • Dry Completely: Dry the pan immediately with a towel. Then, place it on a stove over low heat to ensure all moisture evaporates.
  • Re-oil the Surface: Once dry, apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the entire pan, inside and out, to protect the surface and start the re-seasoning process.
  • Heat it Up: Place the pan in a preheated oven at 250°C (or as high as it will go) for an hour, or heat it on the stove over a low flame to help the oil penetrate the iron.
  • Cool and Store: Let the pan cool before storing it. If stored properly, it will be ready for your next dish!

Can you recoat a cast-iron pan?

Yes, recoating is just another word for seasoning. This is the process we’ve explained above, and you can go into extra detail about the seasoning process here:

Read: How to Season your cast iron pan

The need to re-season arises when the pan becomes dull, sticky, or starts to show spots of rust, indicating that the existing seasoning has worn away. And you should also re-season regularly after use, to build up a patina of non-stick on your cast iron pan.

Quick steps to recoat (or season) a cast iron pan

  1. Clean the pan. Start by cleaning the pan with a stiff brush or sponge to remove any rust and food particles. For tough residues, a paste of coarse salt and water can be effective.
  2. Wash with soapy water, and rinse thoroughly afterward.
  3. Dry thoroughly. Dry the pan immediately to prevent rust. You can also heat it on the stove over low heat to ensure all moisture is gone.
  4. Apply oil. Once the pan is completely dry, apply a thin layer of vegetable oil or any other cooking oil with a high smoke point. Ensure the entire surface, including the bottom and handle, is coated.
  5. Heat in the oven. Place the pan upside down in a preheated oven at 250°C, for an hour. Place aluminium foil or a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any drips. This process allows the oil to polymerize, forming a new seasoning layer.
  6. Cool down. Let the pan cool in the oven after turning it off. This slow cooling helps solidify the seasoning.

Why and how this works:

The recoating process works because cast iron is a porous material. When heated, its pores expand, allowing oil to penetrate and form a durable polymerized layer upon cooling. This layer is what gives cast iron its non-stick properties and protects it from rust. The reason for applying oil and then heating it is to initiate this polymerization process, which bonds the oil to the pan, creating a hard, protective layer.

Recoating a cast iron pan not only restores its non-stick surface but also protects it from corrosion, ensuring that it can continue to be used for everything from searing steaks to cooking pancakes. With proper care, a recoated cast iron pan can last for generations, making this process a valuable skill for any cook.

Can you pressure wash rust off cast iron?

Using a pressure washer to remove rust from cast iron is not recommended. The force of the water can further damage the pan's surface and strip away any remaining seasoning. Instead, a gentler approach is advised to preserve the integrity of the cast iron.

Why is my cast iron seasoning flaking?

If your cast iron seasoning is coming off, it’s because it hasn’t properly ‘bonded’ with the pan. And you may see flakes of seasoning coming off. This is why you make see flaky seasoning:

  • Flaking is generally caused by using too thick layers of oil to season your pan, which means it can't bond properly to the pan and when they build up, they end up flaking off. Which is why you want to ensure you use thin layers.

To restore a pan where the seasoning is flaking, simply clean in the same way that we’ve outlined above when addressing light rust. And your pan will soon be back to normal.

Looking to expand your cast iron collection? Read our buyer’s guide on cast iron pan first. It includes everything you need to know about cast iron cookware, including the best brands to buy and how to care for your pans to ensure they last forever.


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