Cast iron cookware is known for its extreme heat retention and resistance, the quality of the meals it produces, and how hard it is to clean.
So is it irredeemable if left to mold?
Thankfully, no. Like any other piece of cookware, your cast iron pans can be saved even if they develop mold or rust.
They’re just a little trickier to handle.
The best way to get mold off a cast iron pan is to kill it and gently clean it with warm water and a mild soap or abrasive.
Once the mold is gone, you’ll need to reseason the pan.
Here’s what you need to know about how to clean mold off a cast iron pan, as well as how to keep it from growing back.
How to Clean Mold off a Cast Iron Pan
Sometimes, in the hubbub of meal preparation and packing away after the fact, we forget to clean our pans.
If this happens, uneaten or stuck-on food is left to sit. Food left out to sit will naturally attract mold spores, which will start to break down the food.
We can also sometimes find our pans stored in moist, warm environments.
This is the perfect breeding ground for mold, which will attract excess oil left from the seasoning process.
Unfortunately for us, mold is usually toxic. An infestation like this renders the pan unusable.
Don’t worry, though; you can easily salvage the pan with proper management.
Killing the Mold
Mold removal can and should start with a burning session.
Place your cast iron pan in the oven on the self-cleaning cycle, and let it run its course. You can do this with fire as well.
It’s possible to clean your cast iron with bleach, but most owners strongly discourage this.
Bleach will kill the mold, but it will also rust the surface of your pan, meaning extra cleaning.
Still, you’re looking to kill the mold as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is to prevent it from either sticking or spreading. Once it’s burned, you can clean the pan out.
Removing Any Rust
Sometimes, mold and rust will develop simultaneously in your cast iron. This is especially true if you’ve left it in a moist environment.
It’s difficult to remove rust from a cast-iron pan without scraping it, but it can be done. The easiest way is by using oven cleaner.
Coat the pan in an aerosol oven cleaner, then leave it in a covered, non-metal container for about ten minutes. After that, thoroughly rinse the pan to remove the black and red rust sludge.
Be careful to do this part in a well-ventilated area, or preferably, outside. Oven cleaner can be corrosive, so use a strong container. You’ll also want to keep any pets or small children clear.
This part will most definitely strip the seasoning from your pan, but that’s okay. It can be reseasoned. More on that in a minute.
For now, it’s time to clean your cast iron pans. It’s easier than you think it is.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron Pans
Many people advise against using water to clean cast iron at all. The popular theory is that the cooking oils you use are the seasoning layer.
This isn’t entirely true. Non-neutral oils like olive and peanut can and do spoil, making them ineffective for seasoning a pan.
If you use them and don’t wash your pan afterward, you leave a coat of inedible oil that will get baked into your next meal. This could make you ill and is best avoided.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly okay and even recommended that you wash your cast iron pans with water. You just have to be sure that you’re doing it right.
To start with, never soak your pan – this could lead to rust. The same is true for the dishwasher; machine cleaning is too aggressive for cast iron seasoning and will strip the pan.
Instead, a good starting point is to put the pan on the stove and bring a half-inch of water to a simmer. Use a spatula to scrape off debris, and pour the gunk away. Do this a few times.
You can also clean your pan with about half an inch of warm water and mild dish soap. Use a regular kitchen sponge or a nylon brush for particularly stubborn pieces.
Alternatively, you can use salt to clean.
Cover the pan with coarse salt, then add enough warm water to form a paste. Scrub the pan with the paste until clean, then rinse in warm water.
The critical thing to remember is that you need to dry your pan immediately after cleaning it. Do this by setting it in the oven or on the stovetop on a low heat setting.
Reseasoning Your Cast Iron Pan
Because the cleaning process can be intense when it comes to mold, you’ll want to reseason it when the pan is completely clean.
Seasoning is what the protective oil layer that coats the surface of cast iron cookware is called. This is what gives it a glossy, nonstick surface and protects it from rusting.
Also read: Seasoned Vs Unseasoned Cast-iron Skillet
Oiling Your Pan
Begin by coating your pan in a layer of neutral oil.
The best seem to be flaxseed, canola, and vegetable oil, though some recommend solid shortening. Again, pick something that won’t spoil.
This layer needs to be light because if it’s too thick, you could end up with more cooked-on residue to clean, which means starting the process over again. Have a light hand when applying.
Make sure that you coat every surface of the pan, not just the interior. You should coat the exterior as well, including the bottom and the handle.
Baking Your Pan
Once coated, place your pan in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 177 degrees Celsius for one hour. This helps the oil react with and “bake on” to the surface.
After an hour, turn the oven off and let your cast iron come down to room temperature before removing, wiping off the excess oil with a paper towel, and storing.
Most experts recommend reseasoning your cast iron pans at least once a year, whether or not they’re “preseasoned.” This, and regular use, keeps them in top condition for a lifetime.
Keeping Mold Off Your Cast Iron Pan
One of the easiest ways to keep mold off your cast iron cookware is to make sure that it’s stored properly.
Keep your cast iron somewhere dry. Many people choose to store their cast iron in their ovens or broiling drawer, where it will be able to withstand heat from regular cooking.
If you’re storing multiple pieces together, use something soft as a buffer between them, such as a paper towel. This will prevent the surfaces from getting scratched.
When you finish cooking, don’t let food sit in your cast iron pans, especially not under a lid or in moist conditions. Clean and dry the pans immediately to prevent mold growth.
Don’t use a pan you suspect of having a mold issue, even if you’ve already cleaned it. Instead, wait a week, and if there’s still mold, repeat the process.
Tips for Keeping Your Cast Iron Pans in Working Order
It’s easy to forget that, though they’re known for having long lives, you can still damage or weaken a cast iron pan through improper use. Here are a few things to remember.
Be careful when handling your pans. Don’t slam them onto surfaces or let them take any intense knocks, especially not from other pans.
That being said, be careful when using your pans on glass countertops or stovetops. They’re heavy and can scrape, crack, or shatter glass with enough force.
Avoid using cold water in a cast iron pan, as this encourages rust and other damage.
You should always cook with and wash the pan in room temperature or warm water for the best results.
There are some foods to be careful with when cooking with cast iron. Avoid extremely acidic meals, such as tomato-based dishes, as that can eat the seasoning.
You can definitely cook delicate foods in a cast iron pan, such as eggs or fish. You’ll just want to be sure it’s well-seasoned, and that you’re carefully watching as they cook.
Finally, cook with the pan regularly! Cooking with a cast iron pan means that the pan regularly interacts with oil, which is good for the seasoning. Just be sure to clean any residue afterward.
Cast iron cookware is popular for a reason. It’s naturally nonstick, cooks quickly and evenly, and is extremely long-lived. Even if it’s higher maintenance, it’s worth investing in.
That’s why it can be so frustrating when your cast iron develops mold. If you’re not confident cleaning it normally, then mold removal can look impossible.
If you have a mold problem with your cast iron, don’t panic. Kill the mold, clean the pan, and reseason it. Your cast iron should bounce right back to being your favorite pan.
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