Sustainable Cooks
First Time Visiting? Start Here!

Removing Rust From Cast Iron {How to Use and Love Cast Iron}

Learn the secrets to Removing Rust From Cast Iron without toxic chemicals or harsh treatments. You’ll also learn how to clean and season cast iron, and LOVE your skillets and dutch ovens. Seasoning cast iron can see intimidating, but we’re breaking it down to make it easy for anyone. You’ll also learn about cleaning a cast iron skillet after use and cast iron rust prevention. Cast iron is a wonderful non-toxic cooking tool that should be in every kitchen!

a cast iron skillet with a heart drawn in salt

There are a few tools that every cook should have in their kitchen – a great set of knives, a heavy-duty stand mixer, a food processor, stainless steel nesting mixing bowls, a dutch oven, and a cast iron skillet.

Cast iron is one of those things that people either LOVE, or it scares the beejesus out of them because they don’t understand it. The common complaints people have against cast iron:
1) “it rusts”
2) “they’re heavy”
3) “I don’t know how to use it and food always sticks.”

Today, I’m here to convince you that cast iron rules and belongs in your kitchen!

Benefits of Cast Iron

  • Cast iron cookware is durable. It’s not uncommon to find people using the pans they inherited from their granny.
  • Many are made in the USA (Lodge brand)
  • It distributes heat evenly. And you can (and should) cook on lower heat using cast iron.  Lower heat = lower energy bills.
  • It can help add iron to your diet.
  • It cooks food beautifully. Roasted veggies and cornbread are 100% better when cooked in cast iron than something else. FACT.
  • It can go from stovetop to oven, to a campfire if necessary.
  • Once properly seasoned, you don’t REALLY have to wash cast iron. 

Removing Rust From Cast Iron

If you’ve ever passed over a rusty skillet at a thrift shop or garage sale, STOP! Those pans are not beyond repair and with a little elbow grease, they can become a family heirloom.

before and after photos showing how to remove rust from a cast iron skillet

Step One: 

Clean the skillet with soap and water. In my humble opinion, this is one of the last times your skillet should need soap.

a rusty cast iron skillet to show cleaning a cast iron pan

Step Two:

Give it a 10-minute steam bath in a 350-degree oven.

a wet cast iron skillet to show cast iron rust prevention

Step Three:

When it is dry, carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour a puddle of high-heat oil (see list below) and a generous helping of kosher salt into the center.

a cast iron skillet with olive oil and salt to show how to remove rust from a cast iron skillet

Using a rag you don’t mind getting dirty, paper towels, or pieces of newspaper, work the oil and salt into all parts of the skillet.  Pay special attention to the rusty areas. 

a hand using a paper towel to scrub salt into a cast iron skillet to remove rust

A cast iron skillet that has been seasoned

Pro tip: you can also use a potato cut in half to scrub the salt into the skillet. Potatoes contain oxalic acid which is a natural rust remover. Steel wool can also be used for removing rust from cast iron.

Light rust is called profile rusting. If you have a more stubborn rust situation, we’ll talk about that below.

Step Four:

Put it on the stovetop on medium heat with a small amount of high-heat oil, and work it around with another rag. I use a pastry brush. Let it heat and “cure” for about 5 minutes. 

Carefully wipe out the extra oil from the skillet using paper towels. Using another paper towel, work any remaining oil around to cover the entire surface of the skillet. Lightly oil the outside and the handle.

Make sure to remove all excess oil from the pan. There should be no puddling or obvious pooling of oil. Pro tip: if you leave too much oil on the pan, during the seasoning process in step five your pan will likely develop a sticky residue.

Step Five:

Flip the pan upside down and place it on the top rack of your oven. Bake for 90 minutes at 350 degrees. Some people may recommend putting down a piece of foil or a baking sheet on the rack under the skillet while it bakes.

If you removed all the extra oil like advised, this isn’t necessary. But if it gives you peace of mind to keep your oven extra clean then totally do it.

Pro tip: this will create some smoke in your kitchen. Make sure to turn on your vent hood and maybe crack a window to help. My husband has asthma and the odor does bother him so I will only season cast iron when he is out of the house.

Allow it to cool in the oven and then repeat step four and five until the surface is non-stick (1-4 total cycles depending on the state of the skillet when you started).

After round one in the oven:

a skillet showing how to clean and season cast iron

After round two in the oven:

a cast iron skillet showing cast iron skillet care

What is the best oil to season a cast iron skillet?

You’ll need a high heat oil for seasoning cast iron. A few of the oils that are considered safe at temps over 300 degrees F are:

  • Almond
  • Avocado
  • Canola
  • Coconut
  • Grapeseed
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Vegetable

Depending on your dietary needs (specifically, AIP, paleo, and Whole30), some of these oils may not be considered a good choice.

How to Remove Excessive Rust From Cast Iron

Option 1: If the rust is REALLY stubborn, put the skillet in the oven on the self-clean cycle. This will strip everything from the pan and give you a blank slate to reseason.

Then wash with hot soapy water and follow steps four and five.

Option 2: You can also submerge it in a sink with 50% water and 50% white vinegar. Soak for 1-8 hours. Then wash with hot soapy water and follow steps four and five.

Option 3: Fill the skillet with regular Coke and let it sit overnight. Then wash with hot soapy water and follow steps four and five.

How to Cook In Cast Iron

Cast iron can be used for most dishes, but acidic foods such as vinegar and tomatoes should be avoided as they can eat away at your careful seasoning.

Never put food in a cold cast iron skillet. You’ll always want to preheat your cast iron over medium-low heat for a few minutes.

Before adding food you’ll need to brush some sort of fat (oil, butter, bacon grease, etc.,) on the cooking surface to help keep the pan non-stick. 

One of the amazing benefits of cast iron is that you can start it on a burner and then pop it in the oven. We use that method for our Whole30 + Paleo Frittata. Cast iron is the ultimate tool for one-pan meals.

a potato, salt, and olive oil with three cast iron skillets that have been seasoned

Cleaning a Cast Iron Pan After Use

After your delicious meal of Blistered Shishito Peppers, you can simply let the pan cool a bit and then wipe out any leftover oil with a paper towel. That’s right – no need to scrub, rinse or wash the skillet with soap and water. 

You worked really hard to season your skillet. Soap will remove the careful seasoning and is not necessary. Never soak your cast iron or god forbid put it in the dishwasher!

I don’t think I have to explain to you how amazing it is to have one less dish to wash! Imagine whipping up a batch of Whole30 Skillet Fried Potatoes for brunch knowing that you don’t have to wash that dish.

Occasionally, the cooking process will leave some stuck on food that can’t be removed by gentle wiping. In that case, rinse the skillet under water and gently scrub it with a soap-free brush.

Lodge even makes a handy little chainmail wire scrubber specifically made for cleaning cast iron.

If you have to clean cast iron with water you’ll want to thoroughly dry your skillet and then quickly reseason it. This can be as simple as wiping a bit of oil into the pan and putting it on a warm burner for 10 minutes.

If your oven is still warm/hot from cooking, pop it in there after adding some oil and let it sit until the oven has cooled.

Routine Cast Iron Skillet Care

If you notice that your skillet is becoming less non-stick, follow steps 4 and 5 above to create an extra layer of seasoning on the cooking surface.

To save time and money, this is best done right after you’ve used the oven for cooking a meal. Or even while you’re using your oven for something else like baking bacon in the oven.

Example: you just made a batch Simple Shepherds Pie With Turkey. Once the food has been dished up, wipe the skillet out with a paper towel or clean kitchen rag. Apply a small amount of high heat oil to the skillet and buff it into the cooking surface with a clean paper towel.

Pop the skillet back into the still-warm oven and keep it there until it fully cooled. Routine cast iron skillet care and upkeep like this will keep your skillet in prime fighting shape. Or, you know, cooking shape.

Cast Iron Rust Prevention

Cast iron can be prone to rusting if stored improperly or put away before it is fully dried. Certain climates (coastal conditions and humidity) may require you to repeat steps 1-5 occasionally if profile rusting develops.

Storage: if you stack skillets in your cupboard, place a paper towel or piece of newspaper between each skillet. This prevents chipping and rust spots developing from skillet to skillet contact. 

When To Throw Out Cast Iron

As durable as cast iron is, there are some pieces of cookware so mistreated that they are beyond repair and unsafe to use. Your cast iron should be tossed if there is deep pitting on the cooking surface, or there are cracks or chips in the pan.

Cast Iron Skillet Recipes

Now that you have a gorgeous seasoned skillet, let’s get cooking!

3 stacked cast iron skillets with onion, salt, and a potato

Making this recipe or others?

Post a photo on my Facebook page, share it on Instagram, or save it to Pinterest with the tag #sustainablecooks. I can't wait to see your take on it!

a cast iron skillet with a heart drawn in salt
Print
5 from 27 votes
Removing Rust From Cast Iron {How to Season Cast Iron}
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
4 hrs
Total Time
4 hrs 15 mins
 

Learn the secrets to Removing Rust From Cast Iron without chemicals or harsh treatments. You'll also learn how to clean and season cast iron and love cast iron.

Course: How To
Cuisine: How To
Keyword: How to remove rust from cast iron, How to season cast iron
Ingredients
  • 1 cast iron skillet
  • 1 high heat oil
  • 1 kosher salt
  • paper towels or newspapers
Instructions
  1. Clean the skillet with soap and water.

  2. Give it a 10-minute steam bath in a 350-degree oven.

  3. When it is dry, carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour a puddle of high-heat oil (see list below) and a generous helping of kosher salt into the center.

  4. Using a rag you don't mind getting dirty, paper towels, or pieces of newspaper, work the oil and salt into all parts of the skillet.  Pay special attention to the rusty areas. 

  5. Put it on the stovetop on medium heat with a small amount of high-heat oil, and work it around with another rag. I use a pastry brush. Let it heat and "cure" for about 5 minutes. 

  6. Carefully wipe out the extra oil from the skillet using paper towels. Using another paper towel, work any remaining oil around to cover the entire surface of the skillet. Lightly oil the outside and the handle.

  7. Make sure to remove all excess oil from the pan. There should be no puddling or obvious pooling of oil. Pro tip: if you leave too much oil on the pan, during the seasoning process in step five your pan will likely develop a sticky residue.

  8. Flip the pan upside down and place it on the top rack of your oven. Bake for 90 minutes at 350 degrees. Some people may recommend putting down a piece of foil or a baking sheet on the rack under the skillet while it bakes.

  9. If you removed all the extra oil like advised, this isn't necessary. But if it gives you peace of mind to keep your oven extra clean then totally do it. Pro tip: this will create some smoke in your kitchen. Make sure to turn on your vent hood and maybe crack a window to help.

  10. Allow it to cool in the oven and then repeat step four and five until the surface is non-stick (1-4 total cycles depending on the state of the skillet when you started).

Recipe Notes

You can also use a potato cut in half to scrub the salt into the skillet. Potatoes contain oxalic acid which is a natural rust remover. Steel wool can also be used for removing rust from cast iron.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Recipes Mentioned In This Post:

Whole30 + Paleo Frittata {Dairy-Free, GF, Keto}
An easy and healthy one-pan dish, this Paleo Frittata is dairy-free, Whole30 compliant, and keto-friendly. A baked frittata is great for fast meals.
Check out this recipe
a paleo frittata in a cast iron skillet with greens and onion
Blistered Shishito Peppers {Whole30, Paleo, Vegan}
Addicting and so poppable, Blistered Shishito Peppers are a cult favorite snack/appetizer. So simple to make, you'll fall hard for these peppers.
Check out this recipe
a bowl of roasted shishito peppers with a bowl of dipping sauce
Whole30 Potatoes - Skillet Fried Potatoes {Whole30, GF, Veg}
One of the best side dishes ever, Whole30 Potatoes are sure to be a family favorite. Great for breakfast or as a side for meals, these Whole30 skillet potatoes are vegan and gluten-free.
Check out this recipe
skillet fried potatoes in a cast iron skillet with rosemary and ketchup
How to Bake Bacon
Learn how to bake bacon in this easy tutorial. Stop standing over a hot stove dodging hot oil and covering your kitchen in grease.
Check out this recipe
bacon in a mason jar
Simple Shepherds Pie With Turkey (Whole30, GF, DF)
A healthier version of a classic comfort food - Simple Shepherds Pie With Turkey is a delicious and hearty recipe. Perfect for Thanksgiving leftovers!
Check out this recipe
a plate of simple shepherd's pie on a green cloth with a fork and rosemary
Baked Cauliflower Patties {Whole30, Paleo, GF, DF}
Healthy, crispy, and delicious, these Baked Cauliflower Patties are a Whole30 compliant, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, and low carb delight. 
Check out this recipe
a bowl of arugula with three cauliflower patties and pickled vegetables
Jalapeno Poppers Dip (Dairy-Free, Whole30, Paleo)
This healthy Jalapeno Poppers Dip is the best dairy-free, Whole30, and Paleo appetizer ever! Easy to make and made with no mayo and lots of bacon.
Check out this recipe
a cast iron skillet with jalapeno poppers dip on a grey cloth
Crispy Butternut Squash {Oven Roasted Butternut Squash}
Make the best Crispy Butternut Squash you've ever eaten! An oven roasted butternut squash dish that's paleo, Whole30 compliant, and dairy-free.
Check out this recipe
a bowl of oven-roasted butternut squash with a dish of chimichurri
Paleo Salmon Cakes {Whole30, Paleo, Keto, GF}
These healthy and freezer-friendly Paleo Salmon Cakes are outrageously tasty! Using canned wild salmon, you'll love these speedy Whole30 salmon cakes.
Check out this recipe
a platter of paleo salmon cakes with cilantro and chimichurri
Whole30 Quiche {Dairy-Free Quiche}
Whole30 Quiche is delicious for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner. Packed with veggies and dairy-free, this dairy-free quiche is also Whole30 compliant.
Check out this recipe
A slice of quiche with hash brown crust in a cast iron pan
Whole30 Breakfast Sausage (Whole30, Paleo)
Whole30 Breakfast Sausage is so simple and delicious. You can't beat the flavor or quality of making breakfast sausage yourself. 
Check out this recipe
Three sausage patties on a plate with strawberries and herbs in the background
Fried Cabbage With Bacon {Whole30, Paleo, Keto}
A 10-minute low-carb dish, Fried Cabbage With Bacon is a stir-fry recipe that everyone will love! This delicious side dish is Keto, Paleo, and Whole30 compliant.
Check out this recipe
a blue skillet with fried cabbage with bacon

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

84 comments on “Removing Rust From Cast Iron {How to Use and Love Cast Iron}”

  1. This was very helpful. I have a ten-inch Lodge skillet. Nicely seasoned still in the cooking area of the skillet. But there’s something of a spot on the outside bottom area. Not quite rust, but not nicely seasoned either. What is it? It does have a bit of an orange tone to it.

    • Mark, any chance you could email me a photo of it? sarah@sustainablecooks.com

      And let me know if the skillet was purchased new or used.

      • Yes, I absolutely will take a picture of it and email to you.:) I purchased it new and it’s only about two to three years old.:) I’ve been oiling it periodical but the mostly on the cooking area. Every so often I’d wipe the entire skillet with oil. I just got done doing a seasoning last night and the area in question is still visible. Gimme some time and Ill get pics to you.:) Thank you!:)

  2. Pingback: Cowboy Cooking and Cast Iron Care - Sunday Supper Movement

  3. I use bacon drippings for cooking my eggs in cast iron. They never stick and I wipe out my pan with paper towels when the pan is warm, not hot….usually right after we’re through eating. I even use the drippings for seasoning.
    I season all of my cast iron really well about once a year.

  4. I love this post! I use my cast iron skillet regularly, but it was already in good shape and I’ve been intimidated to buy other sizes of cast iron skillets at the thrift store. I agree, it’s a fact that cornbread in a cast iron skillet is better. Heading to Goodwill asap!

  5. Love love love cast iron!  In the south that’s what we use! 

  6. I love this. I am a bad cast iron skillet owner and don’t take as good care of them as I should. But I LOVE them. I need to get them all cleaned up before our next move, so good timing on this!

    I have a request (because I’m needy and lazy). Could you make this as a printable checklist kinda thing so I can tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet? You know, in all your free time?

    Oh, and that picture of the three skillets laid out with the potato (I love the idea of using a potato), oil, and salt is gorgeous and makes me happy. I’m weird, I know. And is that backdrop in the skillet with a heart picture new? It’s also gorgeous!

    • It will be so nice to pack away a clean and seasoned skillet!

      What kind of info do you want on the checklist?

      Awwww I’m so glad you liked it! For the backdrop do you mean the wooden boards? That is the first real backdrop I ever got but I don’t use it too often anymore. It’s too dark for the mood I want most of my photos to have. But the white board I use was washing out the cast iron too much.

  7. Unfortunately I don’t use mine bc we have a glass top stove and they aren’t supposed to be used on one bc they can damage the stove. I’ll have a gas stove some day

    • I used ours on a glass top stove for years. It was already cracked from the previous tenant. But you could always use it in the oven still.

  8. So Emma was just reading over my shoulder and laughed at this “a great seat of knives.” She’s the grammar police. 🙂

  9. I have a small 8” cast iron fry pan. I’ve used it for over 20 years. I love my pan. I had chemo brain a few months ago and left it on a burner after cooking my burger for dinner. Unfortunately the burner was left on low. Hours later my neighbor knocked on my door and I realized what I had done. Not only did the residue of dinner burn but 20+ years of oil and seasoning bubbled up black, lumpy and crusty. I’ve tried baking soda paste several times but I still cannot get it clean. Do you know of anything that might bring it back to a usable condition? 

    • I am so sorry about the loss of your pan. And the chemo!

      But yes, I do have a way to bring it back! Do you have a self-cleaning oven? Put it in there during a cleaning cycle and it will strip everything off. And I mean everything; even the outside sheen of the pan.

      It’s going to take a lot more seasoning to get it back to normal but it’s totally possible.

  10. My client has iron skellits and needs the out side cleaned . Looks like stuff is caked on

  11. Ok… so I had a go at this today. Not a charity shop find but rather two bloody great big camp style Dutch ovens . Now.. these were neglected..I’ve had them from new but was derelict in my ‘seasoning’ duty when they were new. So… after about 6 years of ( Mis) use on Scout camps, I got them out for a proper clean and season.
    I didn’t follow your instructions exactly..for a few reasons, the main one being these bad boys are humongous and o can only fit one in my oven at a time..and my oven eats electricity and that stuff ant cheap.. AND the pots have little feet on them, which is grand if you’re sitting on a campfire but bleeding useless on an electric induction hob. 
    But I cleaned( soap and water) , heated/steamed , scrubbed down with salt and oil, baked, oiled, baked , oiled…roughly ten mins in a very hot oven per ‘piece’.. pots and lids, and I’m really pleased with how they now look.
    Going to be filling with beef and ale stew over the weekend, after I have made a few of your communion leaves to go along side.

  12. I’m kind of confused. It says to put salt and oil in the pan then rinse then scrub the pan with the salt and oil. So do I scrub it and then rinse? Can you please clarify? I have three pans that need to be re-seasoned, which I’ve tried to do from a different persons instructions and they didn’t work. Please help!

  13. Hi Sarah,

    So it is not so much the restoration that baffles me but rather, the “clean up” or lack thereof. What do you do after you’ve cooked your eggs? Just wipe the skillet off with a paper towel?

    • There are multiple options depending on what kind of mess you’ve made. 🙂 In most instances, a simple paper towel wipe is all you need. For some food that may have gotten stuck on the skillet, I’ll do a quick rinse and scrub in plain water (no soap!) while it is still warm. I put it back on the burner to dry, and then add a bit of butter to re-season it. We love cooking with cast iron, because we know there are fewer dishes to deal with!

  14. My mom would buy very crustfied cast iron skillets at garage sales and put them in the oven and turn the oven to self-clean. They come out all cleaned up, but you have to re-season them. I have also cleaned my barbecue’s grates and lava rocks several times using this method.

  15. I really really want to get comfortable using cast iron and get rid of my non-sticks. I see cast iron at thrift stores but figured if it was rusty that was the end of it. I am going to do this for sure! Wow that cleaned up beautifully! Thanks for the tutorial!

  16. It sounds like cast iron skillets are the ultimate frugal cookware item… I’ll have to try this on the rusty one that’s in my basement!

  17. I found my answer…..

    “removing rust with a potato involves no magic. It involves oxalic acid, a natural rust remover. Potatoes can be used to remove rust from cast iron, baking pans, nuts and bolts, and other household items. If you really want to impress important people in your life, take a rusty knife and insert it in the potato. Let it set for a while. Remove it. Voila! No rust.”

  18. Hi,
    Is there some chemistry behind using salt to rid the rust??
    I have two iron skillets I have been putting off restoring because I thought I was going to have to go at it with the steel wool and elbow grease forever.
    The salt way looks too easy–I don’t get it? Chemistry?
    -Heather

  19. I followed your directions and now I have a sticky film in my pans. What did I do wrong? I didn’t have liquid oil, only Crisco. Was this bad to use?

  20. I love cast iron too. A local iconic restaurant closed down last week and I was in there for a last meal. I saw a bunch of cast iron pans of all sizes hanging on the wall by wires. Since they were closing shop in an hour, I asked the owner if she would be interested in selling some of the pans. To my delight, she said yes. So I picked out 2 8″ pans and 2 10″ pans. Made sure they had the smooth interior and bought all 4 pans for $20. Yes! Score!!! They were very well used and a little cleaning up I have pans that I can hand down to my kids. Woot!

  21. I want to give you a shoutout for sharing this method, because not only did it restore my garage-sale-treasure cast iron skillet and Dutch oven to their original glory, but it also made a recent camping trip a breeze.

    My boyfriend and I embarked on a week-long camping trip in the Smokies…in my Saturn…pulling a teardrop trailer. Obviously space was of utmost value. We planned meals accordingly, and utilized my cast iron skillet to the max. I’m talking breakfast and dinner, nightly for a week. What a time and space saver!

    I absolutely NEVER let soap touch my cast iron; I prefer warm water and kosher salt to scour away debris and swoosh of olive oil after it’s dry to maintain the seasoning. It was so easy to clean up after meals, and (bonus!) we didn’t have to waste a bunch of water to wash dishes, which is even nicer considering that we had to haul it ourselves.

    Thanks for all of your awesome ideas and this whole blog in general! I look forward to it weekly! Keep on keepin on sistafrand!

  22. You gave me hope for my old broiler. It was my great grandmothers…not used in at least a generation but my father insisted that I needed to take it home with me. Thanks. I love your blog:)

  23. I bought a cast iron skillet a few years ago with good intentions and after several misuses it was put in the garage in a slightly rusty state. I’m going to try this today! Quick question, why not cooking spray on the skillet? Would a spray of plain olive oil or other oil work?

    • Do it Sarah, and let me know how it turns out!

      I don’t like cooking spray because the oils that you can find in the store are gross (canola, vegetable, etc.) if you want to use veggie spray on cast iron, you can, but I just don’t like eating them.

      We have a Misto which allows us to turn olive oil in to cooking spray. That I like!

  24. Two pans baking in the oven right now. Thank you for such simple directions! I tried to season one of these before and failed and then got scared/pissed off. (That method required putting the oven on cleaning mode and it took the pan back to “beauty zero” and burned off all the seasoning it ever had.) I wasn’t about to use oven cleaner in our apartment. Just saw the can of coke method above, that might have been an option.

    You renewed my courage! Thank you. Hopefully these will come out ready for action. 🙂

  25. I just found your blog today via a friend on Facebook. Lots of good stuff here!

    The last time we needed to rescue a rusty, food-and-carbon-coated cast iron pan we used a liter of Coke, the real stuff, not diet. We let it sit in the pan overnight and the next day all the crap just peeled off in hunks. We then finished the cleaning with a green scrubby and did the oil thing. It cleaned up and seasoned perfectly.

    Cast iron is the best! I had always loved it but fell into using teflon pans by accident. We got a parrot and found out right away how toxic teflon is and threw them all away. The parrot is no more (we still miss him more than I can say) but cast iron remains as the main way to cook pretty much everything that doesn’t need water. I will say it’s worth buying the older pans even if they cost more money- the finish on them is much smoother than the modern pans. Seasoning will help this in the long run but the pans I inherited from my Mom as almost as smooth as glass even without seasoning.