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Understanding Cookware: Does Vinegar Remove Rust from Cast Iron?

June 15, 2020 4 min read

Understanding Cookware: Does Vinegar Remove Rust from Cast Iron?

Cast iron cookware is trusty and dependable, but it's well known that it takes a little more love and care than your average pans need to keep it in shipshape condition for regular cooking.

One of the biggest problems that cast iron enthusiasts have to deal with is rust. We're often asked if vinegar removes rust from cast iron. The quick answer is yes, and in today's article, we'll take a detailed look at how exactly you can use vinegar to remove rust. 

Is rusting on cast iron dangerous?

Cast iron cleaning is by no means simple. You have to worry about the seasoning on your pans. You're not supposed to use soap or detergent, and you definitely shouldn't put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher!

When iron reacts with water and oxygen, rust can start to form on your pan. Cleaning your cast iron cookware the wrong way, not seasoning it well enough, or accidentally leaving it in hot water overnight; these are all things that can lead to cast iron rusting.

If there's rust on your pans, then that rust is going to get transferred to your food when you cook. While rust itself isn't dangerous, it really does not taste good. Importantly, rust can also hold other bacteria, particularly on the bottom of the pan, where you're cooking. While the rust might be harmless, certain bacteria could prove to be more serious to your health.

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.

Here's the simple, step by step process for effective vinegar rust removal:

  1. Measure out equal parts of water and white vinegar.
  2. Mix together in a large bucket, washbowl, or in your sink (you'll need a plug).
  3. Place your cast iron cooking implements in the vinegar mix, so they are totally covered.
  4. Leave to soak for up to 8 hours.
  5. Remove your cast iron from the vinegar mix and scrub away any leftover rust.
  6. Clean and then re-season your cast iron pan.

How long should I soak cast iron for in vinegar?

The max amount of time you should leave your cast iron soaking in vinegar is 8 hours. Any longer than this shouldn't be necessary and could be detrimental to the long term health of the cast iron.

You should keep checking back on your cast iron as it soaks, though, because the length of time you need it submerged in vinegar for will vary. It depends on how much rust there is to clean. The more rust there is, the longer the soaking time.

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. 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.

Can I use baking soda too?

Baking soda is one way of cleaning cast iron pans, but it's not advised to remove rust with vinegar and baking soda together. In fact, baking soda is best used to remove stubborn food stains or black residue, rather than rust.

Simply boil a pot of hot water, fill your pan or skillet, then add in a few pinches of baking soda. Leave it to soak overnight, and you should find the stains have disappeared. Once you've then cleaned and dried your pan, you'll need to re-season it after using baking powder and hot water, or rust can start to appear.

How do I re-season my cast iron pans?

We've mentioned a few times that once you've cleaned off any rust from your cast iron, you'll need to re-season it. Seasoning is an essential element of caring for cast iron cooking equipment, as it gives the iron surface a protective layer. This protective layer is naturally nonstick, but most importantly, it stops rust from collecting.

A well-seasoned pan shouldn't rust, but cleaning your pan will remove that layer of seasoning. Once your cookware is dry, you need to rub the inside with a layer of oil. Preheat your oven to 350°F, then leave the oiled pan face down on the top shelf for one hour to bake. When it's heated, the oil reacts with the iron to create a protective, nonstick layer of seasoning.

Using vinegar mixed with water is one of the best iron cast cleaner methods you can employ to get rid of unwanted rusting on your pans. So, if you find yourself stuck with rust, pull out the vinegar and have it shining like new again in no time!

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