Rescue Your Cast Iron from Rust with Vinegar

Can you clean cast iron with vinegar?

No matter how thoroughly you follow your cast iron cleaning, rust removal procedures, at some point, you’ll have to deal with a whole load of rust on your pans! One of the best ways to get rid of rust is by cleaning cast iron with vinegar.


2. Lemon or Lime Juice

Have salt? Check. Lime? Check.

Bad news: you’re one ingredient shy of a margarita. Good news: you have the ingredients to a great rust remover! 

To remove rust using this technique, start by vigorously rubbing salt on the rusted object. Once coated with salt, place the object into a shallow container. Next, squeeze the lemon or lime juice onto the salted object and let it rest for several hours. Do not throw away the lemons/limes, as the will come in handy later!

RELATED ARTICLE: The Care and Preservation of Antique Wooden Furniture

After the object has soaked for a few hours, it will need to be scrubbed clean. To mitigate additional damage to the object, first try to remove the rust by using the rinds of the lemon/lime. It’s coarse enough to gently remove the rust without scuffing-up the remaining good metal.

Depending on the depth of corrosion, you may need something coarser. If so, try using a scouring pad or fine steel wool. If a few stubborn spots remain; and as a last resort, grab a wood chisel!  A wood chisel is much softer than a metal chisel, allowing you to chip away at the rust without causing damage to the good metal.

The ingredients needed to remove rust from small i

The ingredients needed to remove rust from small iron objects.

Warning: Much like the vinegar method, after the citric acid has removed the rust, it will begin to eat good metal. Check the status of the object frequently!

Once the rust has been removed and the object wiped clean, you’re just a few steps away from a fully restored iron antique. More on that later… I promise.

How Do You Keep Cast Iron Trivets from Rusting?

To prevent your trivet from rusting, you should follow these tips for proper maintenance.

  1. It’s best to store your trivets when clean and dry. Please keep them in a clean, cool, and dry location with low humidity. Any excess moisture that may get into contact with the stand can cause rust.  
  2. Use your trivet often; storing it for long periods with less air circulation can cause rust.
  3. Season the trivet before initial and re-season before storage. The seasoning procedure is as follows;
  4. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  5. Apply some thin layer of oil on the trivet surfaces. Ensure the trivet is clean before applying and it’s dry.
  6. Let the oil stay on the trivet for 15 minutes, then wipe off the excess.
  7. Ensure enough air circulation in the room as there may be a baking odor from the trivet.
  8. Remember to cover the oven racks with an aluminum foil or baking sheet. Then, place the cast iron trivet in the oven.
  9. Bake for one hour.
  10. Remove the trivet and let it cool on a baking rack.

Step 3: Dry

We’ll be driving this one home later, but it’s very important to thoroughly dry your cast iron with a dish cloth or lint-free paper towel when you’re done soaping and scrubbing.

Season Your Grates

After that last step of applying a coat of vegetable oil, you’ve got a nice opportunity to season your cast iron grates.  It’s important here to understand what exactly your grates are made of – are they pure cast iron or porcelain enameled cast iron?

If you’re working with porcelain enameled cast iron grates, it’s not vital that you season your grates as the porcelain enamel finish accomplishes much of the benefits you’d gain with a seasoning.

If your grates are pure cast iron, it’s a good idea to season frequently, as the positive effect of seasoning compounds over time to form an easy release, non-stick, anti-rust cooking surface for you to work with over time.

If your grill is still hot after cleaning, you should be good to go.  If it’s cooled off, to properly season you should run the temperature back up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to get the heat to a level where it will polymerize the oil.

How long should I soak cast iron in vinegar?

  1. The maximum amount of time you should leave your cast iron soaking in vinegar is 8 hours. Any longer than this could be detrimental to the long-term health of the cast iron.
  2. You should keep checking back on your cast iron as it soaks, though, because the length of time you need it submerged in vinegar will vary. It depends on how much rust there is to clean. The more rust there is, the longer the soaking time.
  3. A minimum of 1 hour is typically needed for an average rusty pan, and you should see the rust starting to fall away from the iron surface after this.
  4. Once you take the pan out of the vinegar solution, give it a good scrub with a nylon brush. This will remove any leftover flakes of rust that have been loosened by the vinegar. If large chunks of rust continue to cling to the iron, you will need to soak the pan in vinegar for longer.

How To Prevent Rust From Cast Iron Gates?

It is important that we clean the grates after use. How are we cleaning your cast iron grill grates?

To clean rust off the grates after use:

  • Simply allow the heat left inside the grill to burn off the excess food and sauces that are stuck in the grate

After that, 

  • Use a wire grill brush to scrape and clean the grates

Use The Secret Weapon

  • Apply a thin coat of vegetable oil or cooking oil.

If the grill is still hot after cleaning, drop some vegetable oil on a clean cloth and wipe the grill with it—not too heavy, just enough to thinly coat it.

If the grill is already cooled-off after cleaning, turn it on and run it until the temperature reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

It needs to reach high heat for the oil to polymerize into the cast iron.

Applying vegetable oil to the grill is called ‘seasoning’. It is a process where the oil is used to bake the pores of the cast iron, therefore preventing it from rusting.

So, now that we have learned that prevention is better than the cure, let’s get back to our main problem: how to remove the rust from our cast iron grates.

Read More: How To Grill Frozen Burgers (3 Quick St

Read More: How To Grill Frozen Burgers (3 Quick Steps)

The Seasoning

After the pan has been declared rust free, you must re-season it. This is something that often gets overlooked with cast iron skillets but is very important. Seasoning the skillet will bring back all of its non-stick goodness, its sheen, and provide a layer of protection to prevent rust from happening in the future.

The first step to re-seasoning your skillet is to scrub it thoroughly with hot water and a cast iron friendly scrubber. Once it is washed you can then dry it with a towel of your choice. Melt and spread a fine layer of vegetable oil all over the skillet and bake it in an oven at 375 degrees for one hour, facing upside down.

It is important to place some sort of catch tray or aluminum foil underneath it to catch any of the oil drips. This prevents burning as well as a huge mess that no one should have to clean up. After the hour has passed you should leave the cast iron skillet in the oven for at least 45 minutes to cool down before you use or store it.

In the future, after your pan is finished its cooking duties and has been cleaned, spread another thin layer of vegetable oil on the cooking surface. Over time, this protective layer will build up making it stronger and a more efficient cooking surface.

Store your newly seasoned pan in a cool dry place so that moisture doesn’t cause any new rust to form. If you are storing it with other pots and pans, separate it from the others with a rag or paper towel.

See also:How to season a ceramic frying pan.

Step 1: Soak

Before you get started, assess the damage: If the amount of rust on your cast iron pan is minimal you should skip this vinegar soak step entirely. Vinegar is pretty hard on cast iron—if you leave your pan soaking too long in the stuff, you’ll have bigger problems than rust. That said, the pros at Southern Cast Iron tell us that vinegar is remarkably good at breaking up surface rust and minimizing the amount of elbow grease you have to put into the job. If the condition of your pan calls for a vinegar soak, simply fill a sink or a bucket with a solution of equal parts distilled white vinegar and warm water and submerge the pan in it; check on the pan frequently and remove it from the solution as soon as you notice the rust can be easily banished with gentle abrasion. (Note: You definitely don’t want your pan soaking in the stuff for more than a couple of hours.) 

Using Salt to Clear Minor Rusting of your Cast Iron Pans

You should start by sprinkling a liberal amount of salt on the cast iron pan. The amount of salt that you might need will vary from pan to pan, depending on its size.

You should continue to sprinkle the salt until the entire main surface of the cast iron pan is completely covered in a thick layer.

As a general rule, you may use about half a cup of salt for a cast iron pan that is one foot in diameter.

If it’s a very large pan and 2 feet in total, then you will have to use a full cup of salt and so on.

Scrub the Iron Pan Vigorously with a Potato

For this purpose, you will have to take a large potato and cut it in half. The raw potato is usually course enough to effectively rub away all that rust as you use it to rub the table salt into the rusty iron. You will have to place it on the rusty side of the cast iron pan (cut side down) and proceed to scrub away at the salt. If you do this long enough, it will remove the rust pretty effectively.

  • You will have to exert a great deal of pressure because the more the pressure the faster will you be able to scrape off all the rust
  • You should rub the potato in a constant circular motion
  • Don’t forget to scrub the sides and bottom of the pan. This is necessary to ensure that the rust does not come back

Rinse and Carefully Dry the Pan

Once you have finally managed to scrape away the rust, the last thing you want is for it to come back again. This is why you should rinse your cast iron pan under the faucet. This way you will be able to get rid of all residual traces of not just the rust, but also the salt and potato as well. After that, you should proceed to pat dry the pan with a moisture absorbing paper towel. You should do this as soon as possible. Finally, you should place the iron pan on your stove on the low heat setting. This will eliminate any lingering moisture content on the surface of the pan.

Here, it is extremely important to understand that you must dry the pan off immediately. This is because water is one of the biggest causes of rust. If you leave the cast iron pan wet, your efforts and hard work will be wasted since it will just get rusty, all over again.


Regardless of which rust removal technique you employ, you will need to follow it up with a two-step preservation process.

Step 1: Rust Converter

Once the object has completely dried, I lightly spray the surface with a rust converter. This conceals the existence of any small pockets of rust and prevents future corrosion.

Step 2: Hot Wax

For iron objects that will be displayed versus being used (like tools), I follow up the rust converter treatment with a “hot wax” coating, using a dark brown Briwax.

To open the pores in the metal and to force trapped moisture to the surface, place the object underneath a heat lamp. Once the object becomes heated, simply apply the wax to the warm iron. The wax will melt on contact, and seep deep into the pores of the metal. Once cooled, the wax acts as a shield against moisture and oxygen.

I prefer my iron antiques to a have a smooth shine, so I brush/buff the waxed surface with a shoeshine brush, followed by a soft terry cloth.

The ingredients needed to preserve restored iron o

The ingredients needed to preserve restored iron objects.

So there you have it! Three tried-and-true rust removal techniques for iron antiques!


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