How to get rust off a cast iron skillet with vinegar

Published Categorized as Cookware, Cookware Advice, Guide

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Cast iron skillets are one of those pieces we just can’t seem to live without. Who can blame us? They are durable, can handle all kinds of cooking tasks, and look great while doing it.

There is something about their rustic no frills construction that even the most basic to advanced cooks can’t seem to ignore. Unfortunately, many of us are incredibly busy which can lead to not properly caring for a cast iron skillet.

Whether you accidentally let it soak overnight, threw it in the dishwasher, or loaned it to a friend who cooked something acidic in it, your pan is very susceptible to rust.

There is a ton of confusion surrounding how to clean a cast iron skillet in the first place. Many believe you can’t scrub it or use soap while others think you should simply wipe it out with salt and a rag.

Not one of these options is wrong. The fact of the matter is there are many ways to clean a cast iron skillet properly. If it’s been working for them, then it works. The first sign of rust on a cast iron skillet sends us into panic as most people have been led to believe that rust is the end to cast iron.

Fortunately, that is not the case. With a few simple steps, you can bring your cast iron skillet back to life. In this article we will go over the three basic steps you will need to follow to rid your cast iron skillet from rust and hopefully prevent it from happening in the future.

See also:

– Best Cast Iron Cookware Sets
– Best Skillets Review
– Best Cookware Sets Under 200
– Best Non-Stick Cookware Sets
– Best Induction Cookware Sets
– Best Ceramic Cookware Sets
– Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets

The Soak

The first step to bringing that cast iron skillet back to life is the vinegar soak. The vinegar soak is the tried and true method for cast iron skillets that have intense and what appears to be irreversible rust damage.

Mix 50% vinegar with 50% water and soak your pan in this mixture for one to eight hours. How long you soak the pan is entirely up to your discretion and how bad the rust damage is. However, it is incredibly important that you check on your pan every hour.

The vinegar solution could dissolve the rust within an hour and if you leave it submerged in the mixture after all the rust has been washed away, it could actually damage your pan in a way that would render it useless.

This soak should save most pans, but if yours is at the point where there are pits and other deep scars it is beyond repair and should not be used. Additionally, if your pan is only suffering from some surface rust, you might not even require a vinegar soak.

If that is the case for you, simply proceed with the scrub and skip the soak.

See also:
How to clean an enameled dutch oven

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

The Seasoning

After the pan has been declared rust free, you must re-season it. This is something that often gets overlooked with cast iron skillets but is very important. Seasoning the skillet will bring back all of its non-stick goodness, its sheen, and provide a layer of protection to prevent rust from happening in the future.

The first step to re-seasoning your skillet is to scrub it thoroughly with hot water and a cast iron friendly scrubber. Once it is washed you can then dry it with a towel of your choice. Melt and spread a fine layer of vegetable oil all over the skillet and bake it in an oven at 375 degrees for one hour, facing upside down.

It is important to place some sort of catch tray or aluminum foil underneath it to catch any of the oil drips. This prevents burning as well as a huge mess that no one should have to clean up. After the hour has passed you should leave the cast iron skillet in the oven for at least 45 minutes to cool down before you use or store it.

In the future, after your pan is finished its cooking duties and has been cleaned, spread another thin layer of vegetable oil on the cooking surface. Over time, this protective layer will build up making it stronger and a more efficient cooking surface.

Store your newly seasoned pan in a cool dry place so that moisture doesn’t cause any new rust to form. If you are storing it with other pots and pans, separate it from the others with a rag or paper towel.

See also:
How to season a ceramic frying pan.


While many of us can’t live without our cast iron skillets, there are some people who choose to avoid them because of their complicated care methods. However, so much of the complication comes from false information being tossed around and scaring people into not owning one of the incredible pieces of cookware.

Fortunately, it isn’t all that complicated and just requires a little extra time and care. We hope this article shed some light on how to bring a cast iron skillet back from rust. We aimed to show you how with a little extra time and care you can not only remove rust with these steps but also make your pan stronger and more efficient than ever before.