How to Restore Cast Iron

This post will be similar to our post on how to season cast iron, but from a slightly different starting point and focus.

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Here we will discuss the process by which the seasoning on a piece of cast iron cookware may be completely removed, followed by a guide on how to re-season the cookware with flaxseed oil.

How To Restore Cast Iron

So you’ve decided to use cast iron, probably because of its amazing properties. Now it’s time to think about restoring it!

First of all, why would you want to restore cast iron cookware?

There are many possible reasons. Perhaps an ignorant house guest, in an effort to be helpful, washed your favorite, perfectly-seasoned pan with dish washing liquid and steel wool. Maybe you bought a vintage piece of cast iron online or from a shady back-alley antiques dealer and the seasoning is flaking off due to improper storage.

Or maybe you foolishly cooked your grandmother’s famous salt and vinegar pie in the pan, not realizing the acid would eat away at the seasoning.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Assist Handle Holder, 12", Red Silicone

See the 12 inch Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder at Amazon.

Whatever the reason, let’s use a computer analogy and assume you’d like to completely reformat your cast iron’s hard drive and re-install a clean operating system.

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This Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has lost some seasoning around the sides of the pan.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the seasoning on a piece of cast iron cookware is nothing but fat molecules which have bonded to the iron and other fat molecules present in the seasoning layer. Therefore, with a little tweaking, the seasoning may be removed by any method that you’d normally use clean up a big greasy mess (including Noxzema … probably). Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 5 Piece Set, Black

See the Lodge L5HS3 5-Piece Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Cookware Set at Amazon

One popular method is to simply place the cookware in the oven and run it through the self-cleaning cycle. The self-cleaning feature of modern ovens heats the interior to 700-, 800-, or even 900-degrees Fahrenheit, turning any organic material (read: food and grease) into ash.

While we like to think of cast iron as indestructible, these high temperatures are capable of warping or even breaking cookware, and so this method is not recommended.

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Spraying Easy-Off onto the pan inside a trash bag

Therefore, this post will focus on a second popular method, which involves the use of oven-cleaner.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Combo Cooker, 2-Piece Set, 10.25", Black See the Lodge LCC3 Cast Iron Combo Cooker, Pre-Seasoned, 3.2-Quart at Amazon

A note of warning: Oven cleaners such as Easy-Off are essentially aerosolized lye. Wear gloves! Go outside!

The process is simple, if a little messy:

1. Apply oven-cleaner to the cast iron cookware.
2. Place cookware in a trash bag and let sit for at least 30 minutes.*
3. Remove cookware from bag and scrub using soapy water.
4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until all of the seasoning is gone.
5. Rinse cookware with a few tablespoons of vinegar.**
6. Dry cookware thoroughly.***

* The longer you let it sit and give time for the oven-cleaner to work, the fewer repetitions (Step 4) you’ll have to do. Some guides instruct you to let it sit for 7 days before moving on!

** This step really, probably, most likely isn’t strictly necessary, but just to be safe, the acidic vinegar will react with and neutralize whatever miniscule amounts of basic oven-cleaner is left over. And you thought you’d never use high-school chemistry again.

*** Your iron is now naked and unprotected. If you leave it wet from the sink, it will rust. If it’s a humid day, it will rust. See note about high-school chemistry above.

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After 1 round of oven cleaner and soap scrubbing

The unspoken Step 7 is that you should go ahead and apply at least one coat of your new seasoning immediately. If only there were a place on the Internet to learn how that might be accomplished …(Read more about Wagner Cast Iron)

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After 3 rounds of oven cleaner and scrubbing.. This pan is naked!

Please check out this super awesome video by TheCulinaryFanatic on YouTube.  He also goes by Jeffrey Rogers and he knows his stuff.

He actually explains this better and has a method of using the self cleaning oven cycle to strip the cast iron.

Please visit him at Facebook.

Once you’ve finished the restorations, make sure you care for your cast iron properly to ensure your pan is always in tip top shape!