How to keep a cast iron skillet from rusting

Cast iron skillets are famous for being able to rust very quickly. Sometimes in a matter of hours. This can happen easily, like cooking outside and forgetting to bring in the pan after, or through unintentional misuse in the kitchen over days or even weeks.

This will happen to every new cast iron owner at least once, and it will happen to veteran cast iron lovers now and then as well. We’re going to talk a bit about preventing rust in the first place, then we’ll cover some damage control and recovery if it happens to your pan.

The best defense against rust: seasoning

The seasoning on your cast iron cookware is what keeps it rust-free, and what keeps that food sliding around and stick-free: the seasoning. The seasoning on your cast iron consists of layer after layer of oil that has been heated to its smoke point, breaking its molecular chains and carbonizing it on the surface of the pan in an ultra-thin layer. This builds up after each seasoning cycle and creates a near mirror finish that prevents the intrusion of water into the pores of the metal.

While you can buy cast iron that is “pre-seasoned” it is always a good idea to personally season your pans, so that you know it was done completely and correctly, ensuring you get the best results from your new pan. It may take a few hours, but it will be well worth it when you have a seasoning layer that will be the foundation of years of versatile cooking.

To season your new cast iron cookware, the best way is in your oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch the drips. Start by scrubbing the pan in hot soapy water, and dry it completely. Cover the pan in a thin layer of your preferred oil or shortening, and place it upside down in the oven at 375, bake for an hour, or until the smoke point is reached, then allow to cool completely in the oven. Repeat this process several times to ensure a solid base seasoning.

Proper cleaning will keep the rust away

Make sure to properly clean your skillet after each use. Improper cleaning can damage the seasoning and thus rust can appear.

Go over the main suggestions:

  • Do not use the dishwasher. Ever. No loopholes, no workarounds. Don’t do it.

  • Do not use strong soaps. These will strip the seasoning off quickly.

  • Do not leave it submerged in water for long periods.

  • Often water and a soft sponge or rag are all that’s needed to clean it.

  • After washing put it on the hot stove until the water evaporates. This ensures you aren’t putting away a pan that is in a condition to rust.

  • Use your cast iron often! The more often you use it, the less likely it will be to develop rust.

  • If you will not be using it for some time, coat it with a layer of vegetable oil before placing it in storage.

Removing rust from your cast iron skillet

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it might be possible for rust to develop on your cast iron skillet. In this case, you have several options for removing it. There is the standard salt method and a lesser-known vinegar method. Here’s how to do each one.

Using Vinegar

Start with some white vinegar, water, and an abrasive sponge. Mix your vinegar and water in a 1:1 mix, and soak the pan in it for up to six hours, depending on how badly it has rusted. Gently scrub the rust spots with your sponge or copper pad. Do your best to remove all the rust possible, so your seasoning can give you the optimal protection.

Using Salt

This method is well-known for removing rust from even the most corroded and rotted pans. Gab a potato, some oil, and some coarse salt, and go somewhere you don’t mind making a mess. Generously add around a half cup of your salt to the pan.

Cut your potato in half, and use it to scrub the salt into the pan, scraping the rust off. Work your spud in circles, pressing hard to make that salt earn its keep. Get the whole pan, even the bottom, sides, and handle. If your salt gets too dirty, dump it out and refresh with new salt, then keep scrubbing.

Once your salt isn’t coming out as dirty, you can rinse your pan out with water, and dry it thoroughly by heating it on the stove. You are now at a good point to season your pan heavily to prevent this rust from coming back.