How to sterilize really old cast iron...probably 50 yrs + old

leibrookDecember 12, 2007

OK, get ready to laugh. I have always used cast iron all my life. My mother cooked with it...been married for 40 years and have always had family pieces. I still cook with cast iron and love it. Well, I have been carrying around a several used cast iron skillets and a larger iron pot for the last 25 years that I have never used. I just move them each time we move and store them in the garage. They must be ancient. I found them in an old house in New Orleans at least 25 years ago and they were old then. Now I want to either use them or get rid of them, but really would rather keep them. What is the best way to sterilize cast iron and I do mean really sterilize. I have to admit that I am a germ freak as you can tell. I know you are not supposed to put cast iron in a dish washer, but do you think that would sterlize them and then I could cure them. What do you think? I can only imagine what you are thinking? I can't believe after all these years I want to retrieve them, but they have grown to be part of me now, so I want to put them to use. Please let me have your thoughts. More than anything, I think I need piece of mind that they will be suitable for cooking. Thanks for your ideas.

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The first thing I do with old cast iron cookware that I purchase is scrub it well with Bar Keepers Friend using a good plastic scrub brush. The active ingredient in BKF is oxalic acid which is a chelating agent that will remove any surface rust and lots of grime off the cast iron. Follow that cleaning with a good wash with antibacterial Dawn liquid detergent. Dry the pan on a stove burner or in a hot will be sterilized at that point.
Re-season your pan following procedures posted on other threads on this forum. After re-seasoning your pan, do not use BKF on a regular basis for cleaning.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 3:49AM
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You're going overboard about this sterilization bit, but if you've got a thing about it put them in the oven at 350 for an hour. Clean them up first, oil them, and use the heat to begin re-seasoning at the same time.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 9:14AM
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We put our cast iron pans in the wood burning stove over night, then wash/scrub very well and re-season. (never soap) That really cleans them up pretty good, especially if there is any build-up on them. All we have are cast iron pans to cook with, except for my soup pots.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 10:55AM
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Put it on the stove.....turn burner to high....let heat for 10 minutes....they will be sterile....not clean...but the dirt will not harbor disease!
I'm joking...but not really.
Just wash them...put on the burner to dry really well so they don't rust....rub with grease and bake in a 300 oven for 30 minutes....rub on more grease and repeat.
Heat is a wonderful germ killer!
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 10:55AM
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According to a couple of sites I read, heating something to 320 degrees F for 2 hours will kill all pathogens. Your oven would do fine for that.

If the item is really cruddy, I'd do what Dan said above to mechanically remove the grunge.

I've heard of a method (but never done it myself) to rescue really cruddy cast iron items: put the cast iron item in a self cleaning oven and then put the oven through a cleaning cycle. That will get rid of built up crud on the surface of the cast iron. Of course, you'd need to reseason it at that point, but that technique would sterilize it for sure. Might even get rid of mad cow prions for all I know (but I don't).

Which reminds me: Two cows are standing in a pasture. First cow says, "Are you worried about this Mad Cow Disease?" Second cow says, "Why should I care? I'm a helicopter."

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 4:23PM
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Another way of removing all the old grease from a vintage cast iron piece is to spray it well with oven cleaner, put it into a plastic bag, preferably black so it absorbs the heat and set it in the sun for a the summer.
Wash it off with the hose and bring it in tow ash it really well
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 7:10PM
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I'm with Lynn 1965. The old-school way of cleaning one entirely is to throw it in the fire and let the fire burn down. This will remove any grease and crud, then scrub the pan and re-season it. I'd only be concerned about germs would be if the surface is severely pitted.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 11:31PM
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Fori is not pleased

I reclaimed a grody pot from the fireplace in my "new" house and it's not just's, well, anyway I understand the problem. I used the EZoff in a bag in the sun for a week method because I had read that using the self cleaning oven cycle occasionally warped a piece and I needed mine to stay perfectly flat for my induction cooktop.

After removing all the EZoff nastiness and then getting out the rusty bits, seasoning it in the oven will sterilize it, plus you'll know you got rid of all the poop from when it was maybe used as a chamber pot. Yeah, I know some folks think old seasoning is great. I know it's not gonna hurt me. Still gross. Clean the insides really good and reseason naked metal. Totally worth doing.

Germs are easy to get rid of. That's why kitchens come with autoclaves! It's that darn "someone else's crud" that's hard!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 11:58PM
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50 year old pans sometimes have perfect non-stick patinas lying beneath all that crud. Cleaning as I suggested above will cause no harm to that patina. Cleaning in a hot fire or using oven cleaner would destroy that patina.

Too, re-seasoning an unclean pan is tantamount to painting over rusty steel or dirty wood. One can do it, but it will not last. Cleaning with BKF insures that new seasoning layers will adhere to the pan and will not flake off as readily in the future. BKF and Dawn will not remove any of the good patina off of the will only remove surface rust, dust, and oily grime.

After cleaning your old pan examine the patina layer that remains. If it is cracked and/or should remove it. The oven cleaner method in the bag as Lindac suggests is a good one. Also, cleaning in an oven to bare metal using the self cleaning cycle works well too. If choose to burn off the patina in an oven to start over, be sure to remove the caustic/rusty ash that will remain on the pan. Again use BKF for that purpose......this step is important if you want to achieve a great new patina.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 12:01AM
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I would never use a commercial cleaner, especially an oven cleaner to clean my cast iron. Like you, I use my wonderful cast iron that I have picked up here and there and also was lucky enough to receive a piece of my grandmothers.

Cast iron is very porous. Any chemicals put onto it can be absorbed. Please don't do this. I actually put water in mine and let them boil for at least 10 minutes, after removing the easy gunk off of it. I clean it again after boiling then rinse, rinse, rinse. If cleaning 2 or more pieces, oven at 350 would me more economical. After all this, I season it and reheat it. Thereafter, wipe out after use and oil it up again.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 12:36PM
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Cast iron isn't porous -- that's an internet myth. Metal isn't porous.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 2:15PM
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