Cleaning Old Cast Iron, the Power of the Lye Bath

So how do we clean up that gunky old cast iron flea market find?

One method involves lye (sodium hydroxide) or Yellow-Cap Easy-Off oven cleaner.

Safety First! When working with lye, ensure you have nitrile gloves or the like, eye protection, and long-sleeved adequate clothing and pants, and regular, covered shoes.

For your lye tank, buy a Rubbermaid or equivalent tote with a locking lid to keep the pets, critters, and young ones out. Label your tote all around with “Corrosive/Toxic” and “Lye/Sodium Hydroxide.” You want to use something that will hold 5-10 gallons, with about 6-12″ at the top for a small-to-medium size tank. Go as small as you can for the size of piece you need to do.

To purchase lye, you want 100% lye crystals. You can find this at Lowe’s on the Plumbing Aisle (not with the regular household cleaners.) For Lowe’s, It’s Roebic brand in a black bottle, 2lbs. Sometimes the employees may not know where it is. Ace Hardware is also good, though you may have to ask at the counter.

100 Percent Lye Crystals

The ratio of lye to water is typically 5 gallons of water to 1 pound of lye. Some use a stronger solution. Add your water to your tote first. Always add lye to the water and not the other way around!

Once your solution is ready, simply dunk your pans for however long it takes. You can nest as many as you want. If it fits, it sits.

If it’s summer time, that is ideal as lye works better in warm conditions. If it’s winter, I highly recommend buying a large aquarium heater, available at most pet supply stores.

If you do not want a lye tank, you can use the garbage bag-Easy Off method. Simply coat your item in Easy-Off (well-ventilated area and wear eye protection and gloves) and then place in a plastic bag. Again, this method works better in summer.

Happy Cleaning!

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2 Replies to “Cleaning Old Cast Iron, the Power of the Lye Bath”

  1. Great advice and easy to follow instructions. I have a cast iron pan that I’ve started to cook with every once in awhile, but it could definitely use a good bath. I might have to try one of these methods! Thanks for posting!

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