Effective Ways to Remove Rust from Your Cast Iron Skillet

If you’re a fan of cast iron cookware, chances are you’ve encountered rust on your skillet at some point. Whether you’ve inherited a rusty pan or left one sitting in the sink for too long, rust can be unsightly and even affect the quality of your food. But fear not – removing rust from your cast iron skillet is easier than you might think. In this article, we’ll go over several methods to get your skillet looking good as new.

Why Cast Iron Rusts

First, let’s talk about why cast iron skillets are prone to rust in the first place. Cast iron is made primarily of iron, which is reactive to moisture. When exposed to air and water, iron will start to oxidize, forming rust. Cast iron skillets are also generally not coated with any protective layer, unlike non-stick or enamel-coated cookware.

The good news is that rust doesn’t mean the end of your skillet. With the right techniques and a little elbow grease, you can remove rust and restore your cast iron to its former glory.

Method 1: Scrubbing with Salt and Oil

This method is one of the simplest and most popular ways to remove rust from a cast iron skillet. Start by heating your skillet on the stove over medium heat. This will help loosen any rust or food particles stuck to the surface. Be sure to use a heat-resistant glove or kitchen towel to handle the hot skillet.

Once the skillet is heated, pour coarse salt onto the surface. Use a spatula or a ball of crumpled up aluminum foil to scrub the rust away. The salt acts as an abrasive to help remove the rust, while the oil helps re-season the skillet.

After scrubbing, wipe away the salt and any loose rust with a paper towel or a clean cloth. Then, add a thin layer of oil to the skillet and use a clean cloth to distribute it evenly over the surface. You can use any kind of oil, such as vegetable oil, flaxseed oil, or even bacon grease. Place the skillet in the oven at 350°F for about an hour to let the oil season the skillet. Then, let it cool in the oven before taking it out.

Method 2: Soaking in Vinegar

If your cast iron skillet has more stubborn rust, you can try soaking it in vinegar. Vinegar is acidic, which makes it effective at breaking down rust. Start by filling a container that can fit your skillet with a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar. Place your skillet in the container and let it soak for a few hours to overnight, depending on the severity of the rust.

After the skillet has soaked, use a scrub brush or steel wool to remove any remaining rust. Rinse the skillet thoroughly with water and dry it with a clean cloth. Remember to immediately oil the skillet after drying to prevent it from rusting again.

Method 3: Electrolysis

Electrolysis is a more involved but effective method for removing rust from a cast iron skillet. It involves using an electric current to separate the rust from the metal surface. You’ll need a few materials for this method, including a battery charger, a container large enough for your skillet, washing soda, and a sacrificial piece of metal, such as a steel rod or a piece of rebar.

To start, mix a tablespoon of washing soda with a gallon of water in the container. Submerge the skillet in the solution, making sure it’s completely covered by the water. Attach the negative cable from the battery charger to the skillet, and the positive cable to the sacrificial metal. Turn on the charger and let it run for a few hours to overnight, depending on the severity of the rust.

After the electrolysis process, remove the skillet from the solution and rinse it thoroughly with water. Use a scrub brush or steel wool to remove any remaining rust. Dry the skillet with a clean cloth and immediately oil it to prevent rust from forming.


Rust may seem like a daunting problem, but with these methods, you can easily remove it from your cast iron skillet. Remember to always oil your skillet after cleaning to prevent rust from forming again. Cast iron skillets are durable and versatile cookware that can last a lifetime with proper care. By removing rust and re-seasoning your skillet, you can continue to enjoy cooking with it for years to come.

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