How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron: Your Ultimate Guide

How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron: Your Ultimate Guide

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There's nothing like cast iron cookware. It's strong. It's durable. It locks in the flavor. It's what your grandma used to make some of your favorite recipes growing up. While there are all kinds of other cooking surfaces out there, nothing can replicate what cast iron can do. However, what happens if you do not remove moisture from it and it forms rust? Whether you've had it for decades or only a few months you have seasoning and flavor locked in that can only be replicated through repeated use. So what should you do? Here is how to remove rust from cast iron.

Minor Rust Care

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Minor rust is known as profile rusting. This happens when moisture is left in the cast iron cookware and rust has developed on the top portion of the material. Thankfully, iron is thick and can be cleaned without much wear from it. Now, with that said, it is still important for you to target the rust as soon as you see it. The longer you let it sit, the more of the cast iron it will affect and damage. Here are the steps you need to know for how to remove rust from cast iron when it is only a minor problem.

Break Out the Steel Wool

Yes, you will be breaking one of the major cast-iron rules here. You'll be cleaning it. However, the cardinal sin of cast iron cookware has already been committed (letting it rust), so you'll need to do what you can to restore it.

You don't need to saturate the cast iron equipment, nor do you need to soak it in water. Instead, take the steel wool that likely already has some soap and moisture in it, then work the rusted areas. If the rust really is minor, it will pull away and leave you with a good looking cast iron cookware that looks like it always has. If this doesn't work and there is still rust left over, it means the rust corrosion is more extensive than you think and you'll need to move on to medium rust care.

Medium Rust Care

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When it comes to how to remove rust from cast iron when just the steel wool didn't do the trick, you'll need to pick up a few extra items (you probably already have everything you need here). Beyond steel wool, you'll need dish soap, a scrubbing brush, dish towel, cooking oil (olive oil works best for this), an oven, and aluminum foil.

Removing and Cleaning the Rust

Now use the steel wool over the cast iron and remove as much as you can. You'll then need to wash the cast iron with warmer water and a mild soap. Don't use anything too harsh; otherwise, you might cause further damage to the cast iron.

While it's in the water, use a scrub brush and scour the cast iron. You may want to use the rough side of a sponge here as well.

Rinse the cast iron cookware and dry it with a dish towel or paper towel. Repeat this process as needed if there is still rust.

Protecting From Future Rust

Now that the rust is gone, you shouldn't just assume all is well. Part of the cast iron has been brushed down and is now exposed. This means it is more likely to develop rust in the future. To protect the cast iron, apply a coat of olive oil. You don't need to saturate it but you need to evenly coat it (you need to get the underside of the cookware and the handle as well).

Now, turn the oven on to 350 degrees and insert the cast iron into the oven. Once it's in the oven at 350 degrees, turn the oven off and let the pan sit. The oil will bake in to leave a protective coating. You should repeat the oil process (at least to the interior of the cast iron cookware) after every use.

How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron: Serious Rust Care

If the previous steps did not completely remove the rust, you are now in the danger zone. There are a few other potential tips you can follow, but you may discover that you're not able to completely remove the rust. When this is the case you may need to bite the bullet and replace the cast iron cookware

Bartender's Friend

Go to the store and pick up some Bartender's Friend cleaner. There are a few brands of this kind of product. Think of it as AJAX but for kitchen equipment. This is a safe product to use in the kitchen as it is made to be used on copper and silver, so you can use it on cast iron.

After you have performed the previous steps and still have rust you'll want to rinse off the rusted area, then pour the powder onto the area. Let the powder sit for a minute, then take your steel wool and dampen it. Now, rub the steel wool over the cleaner on the rust. This will help remove the rust.

It is important to note that with this how to remove rust from cast iron step, you will be effectively removing all previous grease and seasoning that was once cooked into the cookware. However, there isn't much you can do about it at this point. Now you're just doing this to save the cookware and to save money over buying a new product.

Cleaning Further

If the Bartender's Friend cleaner doesn't completely remove the rust the first time, use it a second or even a third time. If still after two or three times using the cleaner the rust is still there, the rust is just too deep, and removal will cause problems with the cooking surface. This will result in cracking of the cast iron, and areas of the cooking surface will not heat evenly. In this case, you'll need to ditch the cast iron and pick up a new one.

If the cleaner removed the rust, you must follow the previous steps from the "Medium Rust" section to complete the how to remove rust from cast iron steps.

Future Care

It is important to properly care for your cast iron equipment. When taken care of correctly there's just nothing like what it can do for you and how it can add flavor. Now, there are some people who will tell you to wash and dry the cast iron cookware no matter what. Don't listen to those instructions. If you're going to scrub away the flavor after every use, you might as well purchase aluminum or another cooking surface. The entire purpose of using cast iron is because the flavor soaks into the metal.

So how do you care for it? It depends on what you use it to cook with. Let's say you're using a skillet and you fried some bacon up. You will want to scoop out the bits of bacon and then pour the grease out. From here you have one of two options. If you only use the skillet for bacon (or other heavily fatty foods) you'll want to take a paper towel and smear the remaining grease is in the skillet (even after pouring the grease out there will be a thin layer remaining). With it smeared, turn the oven to 350 degrees, put the skillet inside, then turn the oven off. This will cook off the grease while allowing the flavor to soak in.

Now, let's say you use the skillet for a number of foods and, while you want some greasy flavor to remain, you may not want the flavor of bacon to overpower whatever you cook in the future. In this case, you'll want to pour out the grease (never pour grease down a drain; instead pour it into a cleaned vegetable can or mason jar). Now, rinse it out under water but do not wash it. Swirl the water around then pat it dry with paper towel. From here, take the olive oil and add it to the skillet. Like the other instructions, you'll want to set it into a 350-degree oven and let it cool with the oven.

Different Oils

Note that you can use different oils when treating the cast iron. However, the oil you use will leave some flavor. So whether you use peanut oil, canola oil, or olive oil, there will be some taste of the oil remaining after following these how to remove rust from cast iron tips.


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Rust is especially dangerous to any kind of metal. It eats away at the material, and once it starts, you can't replace what it has consumed. Hopefully, you catch it in time and remove it from your cast iron cookware. However, if it rusts through or if the metal becomes fragile, there's nothing you can do but replace it. While you do not put the cast iron skillet through the washing machine, you should still rinse it off, pat it dry, and treat it with oil to prevent rusting. Next time around, you'll understand not only how to remove rust from cast iron, but how to best care for the cast iron equipment.

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David Williams

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