How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron

If you have a cast iron pan that’s looking a little rough, let me show you how to restore it, get that rust off and have it shiny and clean again. In most cases, it’s not too difficult to remove rust from cast iron and have it in working order once again.

How to remove rust from cast iron

If you have a rusty cast iron pan, don’t worry, you can easily get it back to pristine condition. With just a few basic steps, you can learn how to remove rust from cast iron and prevent them from happening in the first place. I’ve written more in depth about how I use, season and maintain my cast iron pans, so if you’d like to find out more about that, I have a blog post with a video.

Not only is cast iron one of the most economical pans, it is also very durable. I’ve heard so many stories from many of you, my readers, of you using cast iron pans that were given to you from your moms and grandmothers. If your pan is in rough shape, you find one in a thrift store or it gets passed to you from family members, follow the steps in this post and you can get it back in shape again.

Why Does Cast Iron Rust?

Cast iron pans can rust more easily than other types of cookware because of the material they are made of. The good news is that usually it’s fairly simple to remove the rust and restore your pan to pristine condition.

How to Prevent Cast Iron From Rusting

It’s also really simple to prevent your cast iron from rusting. Basically, don’t let it be wet for longer periods of time.

  • Don’t leave food in the skillet too long or leave it in the sink to soak. This will cause your pan to rust.
  • Wash cast iron by hand, not in the dishwasher.
  • Don’t air dry cast iron. After washing it, dry it with a towel or paper towel, not letting it air dry.
  • Season the cast iron after each use. This only takes a few minutes and is really easy to do. If you use cast iron often, it becomes second nature.
Prevent cast iron from rusting
Don't put it in the dishwasher
Wash cast iron by hand
Don't air dry cast iron, dry it right away

How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron

Step 1 – Wash the Cast Iron With Hot Water and Dish Soap

The first step is to wash the pan and get as much as dirt and grime off. Try to remove as much rust as you can with some dish soap before you move on to harsher products. Kitchen dish soap is already created to degrease and remove dirt and since we all have it in our homes, it’s a great place to start.

I also use really hot water, as hot as I can stand. I even add a bit of boiling water to make it even hotter. (Not hot enough to scald my hands, of course.)

Look at how much of the rust I was able to remove with just that.

Removing Rust From Cast Iron with hot water and dish soap

Step 2 – Scrub the Cast Iron With Coarse Salt

Next, I add some coarse salt, like kosher salt. We need to strip all that rust and grime. I use it all the time on a regular basis when I have a really dirty pan from cooking too. The salt soaks up the grease and then is abrasive enough to scrape the layers off from the pan without stripping it too much or damaging it.

You may need to do this several times, until the pan is no longer rusty. This works really well if your cast iron isn’t rusty, but is leaving behind black specks on your food. Scrape the pan with salt, then reseason with oil.

How to remove rust from cast iron using coarse salt, like kosher salt

Of course, this cast iron that I was cleaning wasn’t in too rusty to begin with. It was fairly easy to remove the rust.

If you have a really rusty and more damaged cast iron, it will need to be stripped more. I have never had to do that, but from my research, I’ve read that you can do that with oven cleaner, like Easy Off Oven Cleaner or a vinegar solution. Spray or soak the cast iron in either one for about an hour, (if using the oven cleaner, it’s best to work outside and make sure to wear gloves). Scrub the pan, then wash it in hot soap and water. Continue with re-seasoning the pan.

Seasoning Cast Iron Pans

The last step is to reseason the pan with oil, then heat it up. I use avocado oil, you can can use mild oil that has a high smoke point, like vegetable oil, grapeseed oil or even shortening.

  • Use a wadded up paper towel, add about 1 teaspoon of oil, then rub it into the pan, all over the surface.
  • You shouldn’t have too much excess oil. It should look almost dry, not glistening and oily. If you do, wipe it off.
Removing rust from cast iron and then seasoning the cast iron pan
  • If your pan was just a little rusty, place it on the stove on medium low heat for about 5 minutes.
  • However, if the pan was in really bad shape, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the oiled pan in the oven for about an hour. You may have to do this several times until it has a dark, smooth surface.
Seasoning cast iron pans on the stove and in the oven

Stripping and re-seasoning can breathe new life into cast iron cookware when it’s in bad condition and get it back into pristine shape again – smooth and perfect.

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