You can restore a rusted cast iron pan if it’s not severe rust, all you need to do is clean the rust off, season your cast iron pan, and your cast iron pan should look new again.
Keep reading to find out how to restore a rusted cast iron pan the right way. To avoid rust happening again, follow the best ways to prevent cast iron from rusting.
How to tell if your rusted cast iron pan is restorable
Before deciding whether to restore a cast iron pan or buy a new cast iron pan, you should determine how severe the rust is.
There are 3 stages of rust.
Stage 1 – Signs of rust spots around the pan.
Stage 2 – Pitted rust, where pits begins to form in the rust.
Stage 3 – Every area on the cast iron pan has rusted.
Stage 1 is restorable, this is also known as “Surface rust” if you have surface rust, then you will be able to restore it with ease following the guide below.
If your cast iron pan has reached stage 2 or 3, then it’s time to throw away your cast iron pan. It’s still useable, but the performance and structural integrity will have declined. At this point it’s worth buying a new cast iron pan.
Most people will not have reached stage 2, and should certainly not have reached stage 3. Stage 2 is uncommon for cast iron, and it’s more common for metals like stainless steel.
If you have spots of rust everywhere with no obvious holes, then it’s going to be stage 1. Stage 3 is where the entire skillet is bright orange without any black iron visible, and at this point, it’s not safe to cook in the rusted cast iron pan.
Restoring your rusted cast iron pan:
Now you’ve determined whether you can remove the rust or not, it’s time to start removing it.
There are a few methods for removing rust, all should be sufficient. Choose the one that’s the most convenient for you.
Remove rust from cast iron with vinegar
If you have white vinegar, and steel scouring pads, this method is the best way to remove rust.
To remove the rust with this method follow these instructions:
- Soak your cast iron in white vinegar for 1 hour. If there are any rusted parts which can’t be covered, using a plastic bag full of white vinegar and place your cast iron inside.
- After 1 hour, use your steel scouring pad to start scrubbing away at the rust. A paste of rust and vinegar should begin to form, this is a good sign it’s working.
- Finally, once you feel you have got the rust off, rinse the pan with water and dry. If rust still remains, then repeat this method again.
Remove rust from cast iron with salt
Removing rust with salt is the worst method with large amounts of rust, but if you only have a little bit of surface rust, it’s a quick and easy solution.
Pour some salt into the cast iron, and use a steel scouring pad to rub it into the rust. Both the salt and the scouring pad are used as an abrasive, this should get any surface rust up. Then simply rinse with water.
Don’t use paper towels or cloths unless you have a good layer of seasoning, otherwise you will get fibres stuck in your cast iron.
Remove rust from cast iron with coke
Using coke to remove rust is just as effective as vinegar, so if you have no vinegar then use coke. But vinegar will be more effective for cases where the rust is more severe, as vinegars acidity is higher than coke.
Use the method above and soak your cast iron for 1 hour in the coke, and then use a steel scouring pad to scrub the rust away.
To read about this method more in-depth, see how guide on removing rust with coke.
Has the rust gone?
If there’s rust left over after using the methods above, then repeat the process again until all rust is gone. If you can’t remove the rust, then it’s time to throw away the skillet and buy a new one.
However if you have removed the rust, then it’s time to move onto the next step of restoring your cast iron.
Wash the skillet thoroughly
Now that the rust has gone, wash your skillet thoroughly, this is a critical part of the restoration process, because if your cast iron skillet isn’t clean, then the oil will not bond to the imperfections of the cast iron during the seasoning process.
My best advice for washing your cast iron skillet is to use dish soap and an abrasive sponge, this will get rid of any stubborn food that’s small which you may not notice.
Dry the skillet
Now it’s time to dry your cast iron skillet, again this is an important part of restoring your cast iron, because any water droplets may prevent the oil from bonding to that part of the cast iron.
Do not use paper towels or any other cloth, as you will get fibres stuck into the imperfections which block the oil from polymerizing to it.
Simply place your cast iron skillet on the stove and heat it up to dry it.
Cover the pan with a coating of oil
Now it’s time to season your cast iron, this is the final step of restoring a rusted cast iron skillet. Simply put a small amount of oil on your pan, and spread it around with your fingers making sure you cover every spot including the handle and base.
Do not use a paper towel for this stage either, as you will end up with fibres getting stuck into the cast iron.
When you are finished, you should end up with a light coating of oil, it should not drip off.
Place the pan in the oven
Now it’s time to place the pan in the oven.
First preheat your pan above your oils smoking point, If you don’t know it, you can use our seasoning calculator to find any cooking oils smoking points
Once your oven is preheated, we can begin the final part of restoring your rusted cast iron pan.
Simply place your cast iron skillet upside down in the oven, this is to ensure any excess oil drips off, so I would advice placing aluminum sheets underneath it to catch it.
Leave your cast iron skillet to bake for an hour, this gives the oil enough time to polymerize.
Disclaimer: Your kitchen is about to get smoky.
Now it’s time to repeat the seasoning process 5 more times. This is to get a good build up of seasoning which will protect your cast iron pan for years to come. One days work, for multiple years protection, it’s a no brainer!