Why Your Cast Iron Pans Smell – And How To Get Rid of It

Cast iron pans are sturdy and reliable most of the time. However, you may occasionally notice a strange smell coming from your pans. This odor is entirely typical and will happen from time to time, and luckily there are several ways to combat smelly cast iron. 

Your cast iron pans smell because you have not cleaned them adequately or need to reseason them. The best way to rid cast iron of foul odors is to bake them in the oven at 400°F (204°C) for 10-15 minutes. If this doesn’t work, it may be time to scrub and reseason the pan. 

In the rest of this article, I will discuss why your cast iron smells, how you can get rid of the odor and ways to prevent a pan from smelling in the future. So, if you want to learn more about combating cast iron odor, let’s talk about it. 

Why Your Cast Iron Pan Is Smelly

As I briefly mentioned, cast iron pans can begin to smell for several reasons. The most common being poor cleaning and maintenance. However, it’s important to note that cast iron is extremely sturdy, and you can easily fix a nasty-smelling pan. So let’s look at the most common reasons your cast iron pan is stinky. 

It Needs To Be Reseasoned

One of the biggest reasons cast iron pans will begin to smell is their seasoning has worn out. If you don’t know already, seasoning a cast iron pan is when oil is applied and baked into the pan’s surface to provide a layer of protection. 

Ideally, you should reseason your cast iron pans 2-3 times per year. However, this number can vary based on use and whether the pan is adequately cared for or not. If your pan’s seasoning has worn off, a huge sign is a weird smell. This odor arises because food particles can better adhere to the pan’s porous surface. 

You Cooked Smelly Food in It

Another common cause of stinky cast iron pans is cooking strong-smelling food in them. If not correctly seasoned and cleaned, foods with strong odors can easily adhere to a cast iron pans surface. 

A few foods that might make your cast iron stink include:

  • Fish
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Burned food

So, whenever you cook food in your pan, it will absorb some of that flavor, and if not properly cleaned after each use, you will notice an unpleasant odor. That is why adhering to proper cast iron pan maintenance is essential. 

You Used Oil With a Low Smoke Point

Cast iron pans retain heat very well and can quickly become too hot, so using low smoking point oils isn’t an excellent idea. When oils have a low smoke point, they are far more likely to burn, and that horrible burnt oil smell can, in turn, permeate deep within your cast iron. 

Oils with a low smoke point include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Pumpkin seed
  • Olive oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Butter

These oils are better for pans that can maintain lower temperatures (like a nonstick pan or wok) or cold ingredients in things like salad dressing.

Oils with a high smoke point include:

  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Ghee
  • Peanut Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Crisco

I recommend Pompeian’s 100% Grapeseed Oil (available on Amazon.com) for seasoning and cooking in cast iron pans. This oil is fantastic because it’s meant for high-heat cooking and is gluten-free and vegan. 

So as you can see, there are quite a few affordable oil options for using oils with high smoke points in your cast iron. Just be careful, as each brand’s smoke point may vary slightly. 

The Pan Is Rusty

Another reason your pan might be smelly is because it has started to rust. Rusting is another sign that your pan’s seasoning is beginning to wear off and needs a re-up. 

However, if you notice that your pan is rusty, you should clean it and reason it before cooking with it again. Although ingesting small amounts of rust shouldn’t harm you, it’s best not to risk it. Plus, the taste isn’t great, so it’s best just to clean the thing. 

6 Ways To Eliminate Odors from Cast Iron Pans

Now that you understand the underlying causes behind your smelly pans, it’s time to discuss what you can do about it. Luckily there are several methods for removing bad smells from cast iron, and I am about to go over them. 

1. Bake Your Cast Iron Pan

The most straightforward method to rid your cast iron of bad smells is to ensure it’s clean and place it in the oven at 400°F (204°C) for 10-15 minutes. The heat should neutralize foul smells and return your cast iron to its former glory. If you still notice a funny smell, leave the pan in the oven a bit longer. 

2. Boil Salt Water in It

Another method is boiling salt water in your cast iron on your stovetop. Salt generally does a great job of neutralizing bad smells, so a saltwater treatment should allow any gross food particles to come loose. This process should only take about 10 minutes and significantly reduce any foul odors your cast iron produces. 

Note: Be sure to reseason your cast iron after putting salt in it because the salt can dehydrate iron and introduce corrosion. 

3. Use a Lemon and Salt To Clean the Pan

You might also try the lemon and salt cleaning hack. Both lemon and salt are natural deodorizers. To clean your pan with lemon and salt, simply pour some coarse salt into the cast iron and use a cut lemon to scrub the salt around the pan. 

This cleaning process is relatively simple and should help illuminate stubborn smells. Still, be sure to reseason your pan immediately after cleaning it. 

4. Clean the Pan With Apple Cider Vinegar

Another popular cleaning method is to use apple cider vinegar to neutralize foul odors in your pans. You can do this by pouring a little into your cast iron pans and scrubbing them.

Once finished, rinse them out, and you should notice a significant decrease in smelliness. Just remember not to leave the vinegar in the cast iron too long as it is pretty acidic. 

5. Make a Baking Soda Slurry

You can use a baking soda slurry to deodorize your pans. Simply mix a few tablespoons of baking soda into a bit of water – the slurry should be a little pasty. Then, pour the mixture into a pan and allow it to soak overnight. Be sure to clean well after using this trick. 

6. Reseason the Pan

Last but not least, it’s time to reseason your pan. Cast iron pans require regular reasoning. If your pan smells, it’s likely time to redo it. Luckily, seasoning a pan isn’t tricky, and it’s a great alternative to having a stinky pan. 

Here’s how to quickly season your cast iron pan:

  1. Thoroughly clean the pan using one of the above methods. 
  2. Pat dry the surface of the pan.
  3. Apply a thin layer of oil over the inside and outside of the cast iron pan.
  4. Place a cookie sheet along the bottom of your oven to catch oil drippings. 
  5. Place cast iron face-down on the top rack at 400°F (204°C) for 60 minutes.
  6. Turn off the oven and allow it to cool.
  7. Remove pan and store for later use. 

So as you can see, the overall seasoning process is quite simple. However, if you are a visual learner, I recommend watching Martha Stewart’s video on seasoning cast iron. She does a great job of walking you through the process. 

How To Prevent Your Cast Iron From Smelling

Finally, now that I have gone over why your cast iron is smelly and how to combat it, it’s time to talk about preventive steps to take in the future. Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent your pans from growing smelly, so let’s talk about them. 

Here are some helpful and simple ways to prevent your cast iron from getting a bad smell:

  • Clean them regularly. Cast iron pans are far more likely to stink if they have tons of built-up food particles. It’s important to remember that these pans are porous and can absorb scents and flavors. 
  • Don’t cook overly stinky foods in them. Foods like fish, garlic, and onions are harder to clean from pans and can sometimes linger. However, it’s not impossible to remove these smells, so I wouldn’t stress too much about it. 
  • Season your pans 2 to 3 times per year. If you cook with your cast iron daily, you may need to season more often. Simply use your best judgment when it comes to reseasoning your pans. A well-seasoned pan is less likely to hold onto unwanted odors. 

If you keep up on your cast iron pans’ regular maintenance, you shouldn’t have a problem with bad smells. However, if they become stinky, simply follow the steps I have outlined in this article, and your pans will be as good as new again.