How to Clear Black Residue off a Cast Iron Skillet

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It’s important to take care of our kitchen tools so they can last us a lifetime! Though cast iron skillets [link to Best Cast Iron Grill Pan] are known for their longevity and durability, they are, unfortunately, not infallible. Even the best cared for cast iron skillet can be prone to tough cleaning issues. A common one is a black residue that can build up on the cooking surface of the pan.

Many things can cause the black residue that builds up on your cast iron skillet. When your cast iron skillet builds up its coating of seasoning, it will have a smooth, slick, jet-black coating. Over time, though, residue on this surface can start to build up.

If your cast iron skillet leaves black flecks on food or there’s black buildup seemingly chipping off the surface, it could be carbon deposits, which happen if you heat oil and fat too quickly or too hot in your pan. It will cause them to carbonize, resulting in a black residue that can get on your food. While there is nothing harmful about consuming these particles, it can be annoying to have them show up in your cooking.

Black residue on your cast iron could also result from burnt food or grease getting stuck on the surface of your pan. The more you use your pan, the more prone it is to get this buildup. You may be tempted to use intense cleaning products or the dishwasher to get rid of it, but this isn’t what you should do!

You have to be careful with cast iron products when cleaning, as you don’t want to destroy the pan’s seasoning and non stick coating you’ve spent months building on it. If you remove the residue properly, you can get your pan back into good shape without removing the useful seasoning that’s hidden underneath it.

All you need to do is follow the methods in our guide to ensure you get the black residue off of your cast iron pan without ruining it.

How to Clean Off Black Residue on Your Iron Skillet

There are some different ways you can approach cleaning this residue off of a cast iron skillet. Here are the best methods to try when removing back residue off of cast iron:

Using Your Self Cleaning Oven

You can use your oven to easily clean buildup off of a cast iron skillet. This method is great for those whose ovens have a self-cleaning mode.

If you’re planning on cleaning your oven, you can clean your cast iron pan at the same time. Just follow these steps:

  1. Move your oven racks so one shelf is at the very top of the oven. Place your cast iron on this top-shelf.
  2. Turn your oven on to self-cleaning mode.
  3. Let your pan sit in the oven for the entire duration of the oven self-clean.
  4. Once the cycle is complete, leave your pan in the oven to cool.
  5. Once cool, remove and wash your pan. The residue should now easily scrub off with hot water and soap.
  6. Dry your pan, apply a thin layer of cooking oil, and you’re done!

Scrubbing Your Pan with Soap and Salt

This method is the go-to for a lot of cast iron pan owners. It’s super for removing tough black residue from your pan.

Some people use this method for milder cleaning, like the kind you do immediately after cooking. However, we don’t recommend this, as regularly washing with salt can break down your pan seasoned lining. It’s best to reserve the use of salt to clean things that are tough to remove.

Here’s how to clean your pan with soap and salt:

  1. Pour ¼ of a cup of salt into your cast iron skillet. Coarse kosher salt works best here.
  2. Add in a squirt of dish soap on top of the salt.
  3. Using a sponge, washrag, or cleaning bush, begin to scrub the surface of your pan with the salt and soap mixture.
  4. Once the black residue lifts, rinse with hot water.
  5. Repeat the process of adding salt and soap and scrubbing with water.
  6. Once all residue is gone, do a final rinse.
  7. Dry your skillet with a towel and coat it with a light layer of cooking oil. Now you’re done!

Soaking Your Pan in Vinegar

Normally, we would never recommend soaking your cast iron pan in any kind of liquid. Prolonged exposure to moisture can cause rust damage to a cast iron pan super easily. However, if your black residue truly isn’t budging, you may have to go for a short soak to get it loose.

It’s super important to pay attention to the timing and quantities of this cleaning method. Vinegar is super great for cutting through oil and grease, meaning it’s super great at stripping seasoning from your pan. If you want your seasoning layer to last, you should avoid this method unless you’re truly desperate.

Thankfully, you can easily bring cast iron back to life. Be sure to season your pan again after using this method to get your pan into great shape.

Here’s how to clean black residue off of a cast iron pan using vinegar. While we recommend soaking the entire pan in a sink (which is the method we’ll outline below) you can also adjust this to pour the soak straight into the pan.

  1. Combine equal parts of vinegar and hot water in your kitchen sink. Submerge your pan in the mixture.
  2. Let your pan soak for an hour, then pull it out. Use a scrubbing brush or sponge to scrub off the black residue.
  3. If residue persists, resubmerge for another hour. Your pan should only soak for a maximum of 2-3 hours.
  4. After an hour of soaking, recheck the pan and scrub. Black residue should scrape off more easily.
  5. Once all residue is removed, remove the pan and rinse with water.
  6. Dry your pan with a towel, and place in the oven on low heat. The heat should draw out and remove any additional moisture.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool. Once cool, apply a thin layer of cooking oil on the surface of the pan. It should now be perfectly clean!

Boil Water In Your Cast Iron Skillet

Boiling water in a pan with tough stains is a common kitchen hack for all kinds of cookware! This method may not work every time, but it can remove most food-related build-up and residue. The method is super simple to accomplish:

  1. Set your cast iron skillet on high heat on your stovetop
  2. Fill your cast iron skillet with water. It should be enough to cover the entire surface of the pan.
  3. Let the water in your pan come to a boil
  4. Once boiling, lower your stove and allow the water to simmer
  5. Leave water simmering and begin to gently scrape your pan. The black residue should begin to lift!
  6. Once you scrape up all the residue, remove the pan from the heat.
  7. Let your pan cool, then drain all water and residue from the pan.
  8. Dry your pan with a towel, apply a thin layer of oil, and you’re done!

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