How to Remove Rust from a Cast Iron Skillet

​Let’s remove rust from a cast iron skillet using natural ingredients!

Rehabing Rusty Cast Iron

I was lucky enough to get some beautiful albeit rusty cast iron cookware from a local country consignment auction. They were a good price, but these cast-iron pans had a lot of wear and plenty of rust on the surface of the pan.

I have heard about folks using oven cleaner to strip cast iron, but I really didn’t want to use anything with harsh chemicals. The good news is there are a few non-chemical options you can use to clean cast iron so it looks good as new. All it takes is a little elbow grease! This method will work whether it is a skillet, dutch oven, or even a pot.

Tools and Supplies

  • Steel Wool
  • Dish Soap
  • White Vinegar
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • Fine Grit Sand Paper (Optional)
  • Carbon Steel Brush (Optional)
  • Coarse Salt (Optional)
  • Scraper (spoon, dull knife, etc)
rust removal supplies

Cleaning the Cast Iron

Follow these simple steps to clean your entire pan and you will have cast-iron cookware that looks brand new!


Begin by giving your cast iron a good rinse and even a scrub. Make sure you are using a sponge you don’t care about much because it will likely be pretty rusty/greasy when you are done with it. This step is to remove any surface crud so the vinegar can really go to work on the rust.


Step two is to soak the cast iron in vinegar. In my case, my pan was over 15 inches across and I had nowhere I could easily fit it. Rather than soak it in the sink or another container, I simply filled the pan up to the brim with vinegar. My second pan didn’t have quite as much rust so I poured a thin layer of vinegar over that too.


The hardest part here is waiting. If you wait too long, the vinegar can start to break down the cast iron and cause more issues. How long this takes will vary depending on how severe rust is on the pan. I let mine sit for an hour. It probably would have been fine to sit for another hour. Don’t let it soak for more than 3-4 hours as this will start to cause more harm than good.

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Pour the vinegar out of the pan or remove the pan from the vinegar solution. Using steel wool or a carbon steel brush, scrub the snot out of the pan until the rust comes away. You might need to utilize a scraping tool (I ended up using a broken pair of garden snips) to remove all the rust and grease build-up. 

Scrub for a bit, then rinse the pan in cool water. If necessary, you can return the pan to the vinegar and let it soak longer. Then repeat the process of scrubbing and rinsing.

Some folks like to use coarse salt for this process as well. I did not use salt, but I think I would give it a try next time. 


Once you have the rust cleaned away from your pan, it is time to give it a good old fashioned bath. Use a scrub brush or sponge and give the pan a good washing in hot water. Yes, you can use dish soap. After washing, rinse the pan in cold water and dry very thoroughly with a kitchen towel.

Now it’s time to re-season it!

How to ReSeason a Cast Iron Pan

This is a pretty simple process but folks go about it in many different ways. For this step you will need paper towel and an oil. Let’s talk about your best options.

Select an Oil

There is a lot about this I could dive into, but in short it has to do with the way different fats break down and polymerize. Basically the fats become a liquid layer and create the non-stick barrier with the cast-iron. Some oils are better at this than others. 

Oils for Re-Seasoning Cast Iron and their Smoke Point

  • Vegetable Oil – 360 degrees F
  • Vegetable Shortening – 360 F
  • Canola- 425 F
  • Safflower- 500 F
  • Grapeseed- 420 F

Not as ideal but what you might already have in your kitchen…

  • Olive Oil – 375 F
  • Coconut Oil- 350 F
greased skillet rough and tumble farmhouse

Oil the Pan

Once you have chosen your oil for re-seasoning, coat the pan thoroughly in the oil. The inside, outside, bottom, handle, every nook and cranny should be well-oiled. This is also a good time to start pre-heating your oven to whatever smoke point your oil of choice has. 

It doesn’t need to be dripping in the oil but should be greased up pretty well.

Heat to Smoke Point

Next we need to polymerize the oil in your pan. The temperature you need to pre-heat your oven too will depend.

Some oils have a very high smoke point in the 500 degrees Fahrenheit range. Others can polymerize at low heat around 250 F. Whatever oil you choose, heat your oven to that specific smoke point. 

Once the oven is preheated, place your iron skillets upside down in the oven. Let them sit in there for one hour.

I’d also recommend running your kitchen fan during this process as your oven will be a little smokey.  After the hour is up, turn off your oven and let the iron cool down in there completely.

Wipe Clean

​Use a clean paper towel to wipe away the excess oil from the pans. Ta-da! You now have a beautifully reseasoned cast iron skillet! 

How to Prevent Rust on Cast Iron 

A little bit of care and attention to your pan will prevent rust from forming in the future.

  1. Clean any stuck on food bits. Scrape, wash in hot water without soap unless necessary.

2. Dry Thoroughly. Remove all water from your cast iron.

3. Oil. Us your oil of choice to coat the inside of your pan. You typically don’t need to reoil the outside of the pan as it doesn’t get scrubbed as much.

4. Heat. Heat your stovetop until the oil smokes then turn off the heat.

5. Repeat after each use.

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