The Common Ingredient That Can Help Clean Stubborn Cast Iron

Navigating the world of cast iron pans comes with plenty of ups and downs. This material boasts exceptional heat retention, the ability to smoothly transition from the stove to the oven, and a unique cleaning method that doesn't involve the dishwasher. But the main downside to using cast iron pans also has to do with how they're washed. Because you don't want to run them through the dishwasher, it can be tricky to clean them correctly — and they can easily hold onto residue and burned food or develop stains and rust.

But if this happens to you, removing unwanted bits from your skillet isn't out of the question. In fact, all you need to do so is a potato. Potatoes are secret weapons for cleaning rust off of baking sheets, and they can also work their magic on your cast iron pan. These vegetables are full of oxalic acid, which reacts with and dissolves iron oxide (aka rust) and tough food stains. And if you only have a sweet potato lying around, that's even better. These spuds boast a higher concentration of oxalic acid than their savory counterparts, so they may be even more effective here. Either way, you won't have to spend a bunch of money on cleaning products, and you can treat your cast iron with a natural substance instead of harsh chemicals.

You say potato, we say cast-iron cleaning tool extraordinaire

As effective as potatoes can be here, you'll need to follow one crucial step to activate them: cut them in half widthwise. This allows you to apply more pressure on your pan and to dip the exposed insides in any other substances you're using to assist. For instance, you can dunk your spud into salt before you go to town on your pan, which will act as a gentle exfoliant to help you scrub away any rusty or burned bits. As an alternative, sprinkle salt onto your skillet first, then rub your potato all over. If you want something less abrasive, feel free to use baking soda (which helps get rid of unappealing flavors and smells) or dish soap instead.

If you notice your cleaning tool (read: the inside of your potato) getting dry or salt-heavy, simply slice a little off the end and repeat the process. Then, once you're satisfied with the state of your skillet, rinse it with water and immediately dry it with a towel to prevent more rust from forming. If you can, try and clean your cast iron right after using it (once it's cool enough to touch), and you may not have to worry about stubborn food stains clinging on ever again.