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How to get rust off a cast iron skillet with vinegar

How to Get Rust Off Cast Iron Skillet With Vinegar

Before you start this cleaning process, evaluate the rust damage on the cast iron cookware.

If the amount of rust on the skillet is minimal, consider skipping this vinegar cleaning process. 

You could use a conventional kitchen scrubber and some hot water to clean the pan.

However, if the rust damage on your skillet is extensive, consider using vinegar. That is because it’s safe for cast iron products. 

Vinegar is often highly acidic, and you have to be cautious when using it on your cookware.

Furthermore, it’s a product that companies extract using safe procedures like fermentation. 

Such properties make it notoriously reliable in relieving the elbow grease in cleaning cookware. The things to consider for this cleaning process include:

Items Required:

  • Vinegar
  • Water (warm and cold)
  • Containers or washing trough
  • Kitchen scrubbers
  • Seasoning
  • Gloves
  • Measuring cup
  • Dish soap
  • Towel
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cooking oil


Seasoning the skillet

Honestly, the hard part is over. Now we just need to get the skillet ready for cooking.

Seasoning, as it’s called, involves cooking a very light layer of fat or oil in the skillet for many hours. As the skillet heats up, the metal expands slightly and the iron basically absorbs the fat. Then as it cools, the oil sticks on the skillet and makes it shiny, smooth, and most importantly non-stick.

You can use vegetable oil for this, but honestly, bacon grease is the best thing for it. So assuming you’re not vegetarian, pull out some good fatty bacon.

Bacon is always good.
Bacon is always good.

Add the bacon to your cast iron skillet and put the skillet on very low heat. After about 20 minutes, most of the fat should have rendered out of the bacon.

You should end up with something like this!

You just need the grease.
You just need the grease.

8 Ways to Care for a Cast-Iron Pan

Follow the tips below to keep your cast-iron cookware looking as good as new each time.

  • Clean your cast iron-skillet immediately after use. Cleaning while it’s still warm will make it easier to remove stuck-on food.
  • Do not soak the pan. Prolonged exposure to water will increase the likelihood of rust.
  • Skimp on the soap. You don’t need to use soap to clean a cast-iron skillet, but a small amount of mild soap should not damage the seasoning.
  • Only use steel wool or metal scouring pads if you’re planning to re-season the pan. If your pan becomes rusted, remove the rust by scrubbing with steel wool. Rinse, dry, and re-season.
  • Use coarse kosher salt as a gentle abrasive scrub to remove stuck-on food. Just apply a small amount of salt to the pan, rub with a damp sponge, and rinse.
  • Thoroughly dry your cast iron pan after cleaning. Use either a dry cloth or paper towels or briefly heat on the stovetop over low heat, to prevent rust. It’s normal to see a dark residue on your cleaning cloth from the seasoning interacting with cooked food. This should disappear after a few rounds of rubbing with a clean, oiled towel, but isn’t harmful regardless.
  • Do not put your cast iron pan in the dishwasher. The moisture and detergent could damage the seasoning.
  • Consider the ingredients. While you can technically cook anything in a cast iron pan, it’s not the best vehicle for scrambled eggs; acidic dishes that contain a lot of tomato sauce, wine, or vinegar; or delicate fish filets.

Level 3: Major Service

Over the lifetime of a cast-iron skillet, you’ll usually just maintain or touch up its seasoning. But if the seasoning becomes very dull or damaged (seasoning flakes off) or if it badly rusts (can’t be scrubbed away), you’ll need to give it an overhaul by stripping and reseasoning the surface. If this happens, use these steps to strip a cast-iron skillet—that is, completely remove any residual seasoning on a cast-iron pan before reseasoning it. Easy-Off is a caustic alkali, so be sure to work outdoors, wear rubber gloves, and avoid spraying near your face or skin. The pan will rust instantly after the seasoning has been stripped, so immediately apply oil to the surface and proceed with oven repair after step 4.

  1. Working outdoors, place concrete block on ground and cover with heavy-duty kitchen trash bag, draping bag over block so that sides will be easy to grasp and pull up over the skillet. 

  2. Place skillet upside down on top of block. Wearing rubber gloves, spray skillet all over with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner [Buy On Amazon], being careful to keep the spray away from your face and exposed skin. Flip skillet over and spray inside. Pull plastic bag up and around skillet and tie to close. Leave outside (or in garage) for 24 hours. 

  3. Still wearing rubber gloves, remove plastic bag and scrub skillet all over with steel wool and hot soapy water to remove all residue. Rinse, repeat scrubbing, and rinse again. 

  4. Combine 2 cups each white distilled vinegar and water. Fill skillet with vinegar solution and let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Discard solution in skillet and use remaining solution to wipe outside of skillet. Rinse well and immediately apply oil to surface. 

  5. Follow our oven repair method in Level 2 section above, repeating it six times or until skillet has a smooth, dark black, semiglossy finish.

Brief Description On Seasoning The Cast Iron Skillet:

Hope you completely de-rust the skillet. Before seasoning, you just need to heat up ( at 325F- 375 F) the pan to make it moisture free. There are many types of oil may be present at your kitchen you can use it for seasoning.

Many culinary people like to use olive oil for seasoning.

But, I like to use the grape-seed, avocado oil for seasoning, it’s not a low smoke point oil.

Take one tablespoon of high smoke point vegetable oil & gently polish with paper towel; make sure each & every angle of the cast iron must be perfectly oil coated.

It will also, wipe out few rust elements from the pan.

Now take a new paper towel & wipe out everything, make sure only a thin layer of oil exist on the surface.

You can again add a tablespoon of oil & repeat the same process twice for better seasoning.

Finally insert the skillet into the oven, set the oven temperature between 400F to 450F, timer for 45 minutes.

After the time out left it for few hours; until the pan & oven temperature comes at room temperature.

Take out the pan. If you want very good seasoning must re-season it for at least two times.

 How do you Prevent a Cast Iron pan From Rusting?

  • Always keep the cast iron in a dry place.
  • Never clean up the food residues with hard scrubber & detergent. It’ damages the seasoning coating. Inundate the skillet into worm lite soapy water, left it for 5 to 10 minutes & use a paper towel instead of the scrubber.
  • Must heat up the pan after cleaning, for every time you use it.
  • If you use a cast-iron skillet on daily basis, must season it at least twice in a month.
  • Last but not in the list, never wash any cast iron kitchenware into your dishwasher.

How long should I soak cast iron in vinegar?

  1. The maximum amount of time you should leave your cast iron soaking in vinegar is 8 hours. Any longer than this could be detrimental to the long-term health of the cast iron.
  2. You should keep checking back on your cast iron as it soaks, though, because the length of time you need it submerged in vinegar will vary. It depends on how much rust there is to clean. The more rust there is, the longer the soaking time.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

3. The Vinegar Method

Last up is the vinegar method!

Vinegar is very acidic and does a fantastic job eating away at any oils on the surface of your skillet – which is also a reason that you shouldn't cook with it once your cast iron is seasoned.

Step 1: Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water and completely submerge your skillet into it.

Step 2: Let it soak for about an hour and then pull it out.

Step 3: Give it a good scrubbing under hot water and then re-submerge it back into the vinegar.

Step 4: Let it soak for another hour and then scrub it again.

Step 5: Repeat the process of soaking and washing 2 to 3 times.

Step 6: Towel dry and then stick in the oven or on the stovetop with low heat to help evaporate the remaining moisture.

If you don't have a sink big enough to soak your entire pan, pouring the water and vinegar mix straight into the pan also works.

Be very careful not to let your cast iron soak too long as vinegar can begin to eat away at the cast iron and cause something called "pitting."

If you are just trying to get rid of black residue, soaking your cast iron for 2-3 hours should be more than enough.

What Does It Mean to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet?

Cast iron corrodes easily, so it’s necessary to protect its surface by “seasoning,” or creating a barrier in which the fatty acid chains of the seasoning oil polymerize, or bond together, in the presence of heat and air, forming a glossy sheen.

Season your new cast iron at least once, prior to first use; continue seasoning as frequently or infrequently as you’d like. Every time you use your cast-iron pan, the cooking oil helps build up the protective, nonstick layer on the cooking surface, getting slicker over time. Unlike Teflon, a chemical coating that flakes off over time, cast iron remains intact, which is why cast-iron pans can become beloved heirlooms. Many new cast-iron pans are advertised as “pre-seasoned,” but even a pre-seasoned pan can benefit from additional seasoning at home.

The Scrub

After the soak, the scrub is the second most important step. There a few ways to do this and will all depend on what you either have on hand or are able to buy. Once the pan has been rid of all of its rust and its seasoning, you need to give it a wash and a scrub.

While you normally shouldn’t use any sort of soap with a seasoned pan, you can today because you have removed all of the seasonings from your pan. Furthermore, you should only use a mild or natural soap and warm water. Never use a dishwasher under any circumstances.

To start this process, simply submerge the skillet in warm water or a combination of warm water and mild soap. Scrub all of the leftover rust particles and debris with a semi-abrasive sponge or scrubber.

You can use a nylon brush, plastic brush, semi-abrasive sponge, steel wool, or salt scrub. Additionally, there are many cast iron specific scrubbers out there that would work just fine. It’s just important to not use anything that is really abrasive.

However, the salt scrub is a trusty method that has been used to clean cast iron skillets for years. It can even remove rust debris, making it one of the top choices in rust removal. Once it has been cleaned, you should wipe it down immediately with a towel.

This ensures that it doesn’t start to form any rust again. Additionally, you can put it in the oven to ensure that it is totally dry. Never leave it out to drip dry in the sink, that is a recipe for disaster.

See also:How to clean Stainless Steel Cookware


Need to know common questions that people ask about removing rust from cast iron skillet? See here.

Does Vinegar Hurt Cast Iron Pans?

Vinegar can hurt cast iron pans if you fail to use the correct measurements or specific vinegar product. 

In addition, highly acidic products such as white vinegar can lead to excessive pitting, which can be irreversible.

How Long Does it Take for Vinegar to Remove Rust?

The length of time vinegar takes to remove rust can be anything between 6 hours to 1 day. 

However, the efficiency of the process depends on the level of rust damage and the quality of vinegar.

Can Baking Soda and Vinegar Help to Clean Rust

Both these products are excellent cleaning agents for rust and dirt.

However, you have to be careful in measuring and using these products to ensure the best results.

What Type of Vinegar Can I Use to Clean a Cast Iron Pan?

You can use various types of vinegar to clean a pan. Ensure that you mix equal parts of vinegar and water for this process to work well. 

Vinegar in its raw form can easily cause damage to the structure of a cast iron pan, which tends to be delicate.

Why Does My Cast Iron Pan Catch Rust?

The pan can catch rust due to various reasons.

The common ones include poor storage, aging, poor quality cast iron material, and various other reasons. 

The best recommendation is to keep a close eye on your cookware to avoid such issues.

Next time you leave a cast-iron skillet unused, you should be aware that it might accumulate rust, which can be tough to remove. 

However, you can use traditional DIY products like vinegar and a scrubber to restore its functionality. 

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