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. 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.

Be sure to check out the video at the end of this post for more information!

How To Restore Cast Iron

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. 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.

This Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has lost some seasoning
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).

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.

how to restore cast iron - using oven cleaner
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. 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.

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 …

how to restore cast iron
After 1 round of oven cleaner and soap scrubbing

 

After 3 rounds of oven cleaner and scrubbing
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: https://www.facebook.com/aboutcastiron


8 thoughts on “How To Restore Cast Iron”

  1. I have a wagner ware -0- with a number 3 on the handle and the letter P on the underside of the handle. I also noted on other skillets the letter V after the 1053. What do the letters mean? Thanks

    1. Hi Mike. Thanks for coming by to visit! Very good question and it’s the first thing I noticed when I got my first Wagner. The letters denote the mold the cookware foundry used to cast the iron. This way the foundry could monitor the quality of the production lines. When a mould started turning out subpar products they new the mold was worn out.

      Hope that helps!
      Billy

  2. Just ordered a minimal 5 piece lodge set -due to arrive this week. Should I take down the factory finish and refinish and season (as per your video?)
    Oh, and other sites are really bragging on the flax seed oil?!

    1. Hey Susan,
      Yes, give it a shot if you want a project. :) I like to experiment with things so if I were you I would reseason the cookware using flaxseed for most and canola for the rest. See what you like better.

      I have a Lodge skillet that I’ve been cooking my home cured bacon on for the last couple months. It is getting the greatest seasoning on it. Use those new skillets as much as you can for the best non stick seasoning.

      Cheers!

  3. I have what I know to be a raw cast iron piece that was my Mom’s. Not sure what it is suppose to be used for but we love it. It was in my vacant unheated home for over a year due to Hurricane Sandy and it appeared to have some mold growing in it. I doubt my mother ever seasoned this piece (-0- 3266 R) Please advise what is the best course of action.

  4. I’m confused. Article states the oven cleaning method is NOT recommended but then one is encouraged to watch the video because the Jeffrey Rogers knows his stuff. He demonstrates the oven cleaning method – so which is it?

  5. I found a flat skillet at the thrift store that appears to have had some kind of nonstick coating maybe on it but most of it is gone in the center. Around the outside it is kind of crackled where it looks like the coating still is. Is it safe to cook on this pan? Should I use a wire wheel to remove whatever it is? Thanks, John

  6. Will the self-cleaning oven method work with any electric range and is there any danger from the racks melting, etc.? Remember, safety first.

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