Cleaning Cast Iron by Electrolysis
This article will guide you through the process of cleaning cast iron by electrolysis. If you have never tried this, you will be pleasantly pleased with both the ease of cleaning and the results you get!
Have you ever thrown out or got rid of a nice piece of cookware because you had no idea how to clean old cast iron?
You are not alone! Literally tons of very good cast iron have been trashed or taken to the land fields or metal buyers because it has always been so hard to clean!
Cleaning Cast Iron with Lye
I remember my first encounter with trying to clean some old cast iron skillets and kettles I had purchased at an auction! I purchased lye, a large thick plastic tub for water, a large grinder and wire wheels for it and some good thick rubber gloves!
I added the water to my tub and put the lye in it. The formula for this if you decide you want to follow this route is, 1 pound of lye per 5 gallons of water. Always remember, add the water then the lye. Do not reverse this process!
Be sure to always wear old clothing and eye and skin protection when adding the cast iron to the bath and when removing it from the bath!
I added the lye, and mixed it well, then added my cast iron. I put 4 or 5 pieces in it! I really don’t remember the count but that would have been all my tub would have held I think.
Now to wait until the lye bath has had time to work! Depending on how much build up you have on your cast iron will depend on how long it will take the lye bath to work! I have had to leave the iron in a bath for a week to get the build up soft enough to clean off!
I have forever moved away from this kind of cast iron cleaning! I worked myself to death cleaning all that cast iron! And it literally took weeks to get it all done! I will never do that again!
I know, you can burn the cast iron in a camp fire or in a self-cleaning oven and some other methods using vinegar, etc. All of these are so time-consuming!
So, you may ask, have I completely quit cleaning or collecting cast iron? The answer is no!
I have found a much easier way to clean and season cast iron, electrolysis!
Electrolysis is the process by which ionic substances are decomposed (broken down) into simpler substances when an electric current is passed through them.
Oh, did I forget to mention, there is an excellent video at the end of our article on cleaning cast iron by electrolysis! Be sure to read through the article and watch the video! Great stuff!
For the love of Cast Iron
My grandmother and mother cooked with cast iron all of their lives and my mother who is now in her 80’s still use her cast iron skillets when she is able to cook a little.
Cast iron has been and still is the skillet of choice for many people from all over the world! It lasts for more than a lifetime and is many times passed down for many generations!
I have personally owned cast iron that dated back beyond the 1800’s. Some of the oldest I have owned were three-legged pots! These were designed to set over the camp fires!
So, I guess by now you have figured out that I enjoy cast iron! I will not bake my corn bread in any other type of skillet. If I don’t have a cast iron skillet, I will not bake corn bread!
The Electrolysis process
The following is the process of cleaning cast iron by electrolysis!
- Items you will need:
- • A 5 gallon bucket or comparable bucket or tub.
- • A medium stick or dowel
- • Some wire
- • A piece of sacrificial iron. (This can be rebar or any kind of iron)
- • A “C” Clamp
- • A Battery Charger
- • Mixing tool
Now, fill your bucket to near the top with water. Leave a little room for the water to rise when you add your piece of cast iron.
Add your sacrificial steel and clamp it to the side of the bucket! (Supposedly, the wider the sacrificial steel the better the cleaning process. I will let you know in an update if I find a larger piece and use it)
Add ½ – 2 cups of the Arm and Hammer Washing Soda and mix well. (The more buildup the more Arm & Hammer Baking Soda)
By hooking the wire (adjust to the length needed) into your cast iron and over the dowel you can now lower your cast iron into the water mixture.
Make sure your battery charger is unplugged and connect the positive lead to the sacrificial piece of steel and the negative lead to your piece of cast iron. The negative lead connected to your piece of cast iron can be submerged in the water. This will not hurt anything. (Do not let the positive lead get in the water!! These two have to be kept separate!! See the pic above!!)
NOTE: MAKE SURE YOUR CAST IRON AND SACRIFICIAL STEEL DO NOT TOUCH EACH OTHER! THIS IS A NO NO!!
(Notice how far away my skillet is from the sacrificial steel? This is because of the size of it. Smaller pieces will hang freely in the water and you can get hem closer to your sacrificial steel and this is supposed to help the cleaning process! I also cleaned a small corn stick pan that turned out great. It was oh so rusty! Now seasoned and on my counter!)
Now you can set your battery charger to its high setting, plug it in, and turn it on!
The settings on my charger are 5amp – 10 amp and 50 amp. I chose the 10 amp as I was not sure how the 50amp might react. That seemed like a lot of amperages to stick in the water?
Now, after 2 hours I turned my iron around so the back faced the sacrificial iron and allowed it to set another hour. At his point, I removed the iron and sprayed it off with my hose.
Next, I used my wire brush to remove the little bit of stubborn stuff left on it. I then cleaned it under water and rinsed it off good. I set my oven to 215° and allowed the cast iron to set at this temperature for about ½ hour. This will completely dry out the iron.
You do not want any moisture left in the iron before you season it.
Next using Crisco lard or the oil of your choice, some folks use different oils to season with such as vegetable oil, flaxseed, etc. We use Crisco lard. (I know this is not available to some folks.)
When you remove your piece of cast iron from the oven, after allowing it to cool just a little bit. Add your oil of choice.
Be sure to wipe it down so it looks like a very sheen finish. You do not want a buildup of oil on your seasoned cast iron! (No puddles)
Wipe it down very good!
Heat the oven to 300° and place the cast iron back in the oven for one hour. Let cool down completely.
Remove and repeat the oiling process and set the oven to 350° and allow the cast iron to heat for one hour. Allow the cast iron to cool down completely.
Remove and repeat the oiling process and set the oven to 400° and allow the cast iron to heat for one hour. Allow the cast iron to cool down completely.
Now, you can start using your cast iron to cook with and it should last you for a lifetime! This is something you can pass down to your children and their children for many generations if you take care of it!
Not even to mention just how much money this can and will save you in the future if you choose to cook with cast iron. Those Teflon skillets and pans just don’t last long. Our kids have never yet learned not to use a fork when cooking with them!!! Well, you won’t hurt cast iron when using a fork or knife or any other sharp object!!
The picture below is the actual skillet I cleaned using the electrolysis process! It took me less than 3 hours to clean it then the seasoning. I did all of this in one day instead of a week or several days!
The skillet I cleaned below, I did not get a pic of before cleaning but the skillet needing cleaned is in the same condition as it was.
Old Skillet condition before Electrolysis process needing to be cleaned.
Skillet after electrolysis process and seasoning. (Not the same skillet as above but was in the same condition prior to cleaning.)
Here is the video I promised. Enjoy!
We also own a Facebook group where we auction many items and cast iron is one of those things when we find it we always offer it in our auctions! IF you are interested you can check out the auction page, Back Roads Living Online Auctions.
If you have information I have left out or other methods of cleaning cast iron you prefer better be sure to share it with us in the comments below!