Remove rust from cast iron

Restore cast iron skillet-4 ways to do it

We all love cast iron skillets. But repairing and caring for old cast iron cookware can be a time-consuming task. Luckily, with a little bit of care, your iron skillet will give you back those delicious, crispy browned edges for years to come.

Can you restore a badly rusted cast iron skillet? Is it worth the effort?

Older skillets from famous quality manufacturers are often worth restoring to their former glory because they were well cast and well machined. To restore a cast iron skillet, follow one of the following methods:

1) The scrubbing method :

  1. First ground the cast iron skillet surface with an abrasive disc until it’s smooth as glass. It took a lot of effort but it’s worth it
  2. Then scrub it with a stainless-steel scouring pad and soap to prepare it for seasoning
  3. Dry it thoroughly and then apply a very thin coat of flaxseed oil and put it in a 450 F oven, upside down, for two hours
  4. Let it cool within the oven for an hour
  5. Repeat the last two steps, three more times.

2) The sealed bag method :

  1. Clean the cast iron skillet as best as you can with a new scotchbrite pad in soap and water
  2. Coat the skillet heavily with oven cleaner (wear rubber gloves) and put into a sealed garbage bag overnight. This gets rid of any burnt bits
  3. Wash it off again with the scotchbrite and let it dry
  4. Coat the skillet with oil (flaxseed oil preferred, but corn/canola works too).
  5. Put the oiled skillet upside down on the rack with foil underneath and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the skillet and re-coat. You can do it while it is hot, or let it cool so it’s easier and less smoky.
  7. Repeat one more time.(You can skip 5 and 6 but once you have everything going, extra coats are pretty easy and fast).

3) The electrolysis method:

You will  need for this cast iron skillet restoring method : a plastic tub, a battery charger, some scrap metal, a box of washing soda (aka sodium carbonate).

  1. First add 10 gallons of water into the tub and 10 tablespoons of washing soda mixed in.
  2. An old piece of scrap metal you have laying around will serve as an anode – it attracts the rust from the rusted cast iron skillet once hooked up to the charger.
  3. Submerge the skillet in the tub, hook the negative clip from the charger to it, and hook the positive clip to the scrap metal (keep this clip above water). Turn on the charger and wait about 12 hours.

4) The charcoal fire method

  1. Get rid of any remaining crud, that means dirt, cobwebs, burned on grease and the old seasoning. You can do this with a wire brush or by putting it on a charcoal fire and burning all the crap off it.
  2. A light sanding to get rid of any remaining roughness and wipe it clean.
  3. Oil it very lightly, you want an extremely thin layer of cooking oil over all of the skillet.
  4. Put it in the oven at about 400 degrees for a couple of hours then turn the oven off and let it all cool down. You should have a thin layer of carbonised oil. It is more like baked enamel paint than anything else.
  5. Repeat this up to 3 times to build up a strong layer.

Note: Regular mild dish soaps and plastic scouring pads usually will not harm a well seasoned pan, but if you overheat the skillet and burn the seasoning off or scrub the seasoning off with steel wool you will have to season the skillet again.

Over time, as you use it, the seasoning should become harder, slightly thicker, smoother, and more nonstick.

What’s the best way to take care of cast iron skillets?

This depends on if it’s an older used one or a new unseasoned one. If it’s new, then you have to season it, put it on the stove, get it quite warm and add a bunch of salt.

This will help in pulling any moisture out of the barrel metal. At this stage do not get it too hot as this will cook the dry salt and it will release chlorine gas.

After you let it rest for a few minutes remove the salt and add some Crisco. Allow it to melt and coat the whole inner surface leaving an honest layer within the bottom.

Place it within the oven at around 350 and let it bake for an hour approximately . This will allow the grease to be absorbed by the metal and start to carbonise on the surface.

Take it out and wipe the inner side again with what’s left and allow it to cool. You can also wipe this on the external surface. When it cools, wipe the rest out and there you go.

If it’s an older piece of cast iron,, there could also be tons of build up. You can use a grinder to clean it up inside and out.

Or if it’s pretty clean, warm it up, add a little oil, let sit for a few minutes and wipe excess out. They are ready to go.

To clean, never use soap. If something burns on the bottom, add water to a boil and most will just lift off during the boiling.

Wipe it out and add a little oil on it.

In the old days they would just put it in a campfire and do the same. Yes you can do that. It will not melt or deform ;)

Additional Questions

What is the best way to restore a cast iron skillet?

Restoring a cast iron skillet involves a careful process of cleaning it with warm soapy water and then scrubbing it using a scouring pad or steel wool to remove any traces of former seasoning and rust. Once cleaned, it’s important to dry the skillet properly. I recommend placing it in an oven set at 200 degrees for about 5 to 10 minutes which allows for thorough drying. Finally, to season the skillet again, apply an extremely thin layer of extra virgin coconut oil or flaxseed oil, making sure you cover all the sides of the skillet, including the handle and bottom side. As a professional chef, I can attest that this method works wonders in restoring cast iron skillets and giving them that impressive ‘new’ look.

How do I make my cast iron pan look new again?

Bringing your cast iron pan back to its former glory requires some diligent cleaning and reseasoning. Start with washing the pan with hot soapy water, then using a scouring pad or steel wool to scrub off any residual rust and seasoning. To dry completely, put it into a 200-degree oven for around 5-10 minutes. This will ensure every bit of moisture is out. Then, reseason the pan by applying a thin layer of extra virgin coconut oil or flaxseed oil on all surfaces of the pan. With my years of experience with cast iron cookware, I can assure you that this technique brings out the fresh look in a pan.

How do you bring old cast iron back to life?

Revitalizing old cast iron is all about a proper cleaning and reseasoning process. Initially, scrub the iron with hot soapy water using a scouring pad or steel wool to get rid of any rust and old seasoning. Then dry it carefully, I suggest placing it in a 200-degree oven for between 5 to 10 minutes for thorough drying. To end the process, a reseasoning is done using a thinly spread layer of extra virgin coconut oil or flaxseed oil over the entire skillet. Trust me, this is a method I’ve recommended countless times as a chef and the results are always successful.

How do you strip and Reseason a cast iron pan?

To strip and reseason a cast iron pan effectively, first get rid of all existing rust and seasoning by scrubbing the pan thoroughly using hot soapy water and either a scouring pad or steel wool. Once clean, place it into a 200-degree oven for about 5-10 minutes to dry it completely. Finish off by reseasoning the pan with a thin coat of extra virgin coconut oil or flaxseed oil on all areas of the skillet. Over my career in the culinary field, I’ve restored many a cast iron pans using this method and it never fails to bring them back to their pristine state.