How to Keep Cast Iron From Rusting

Whether you inherited vintage cast iron covered in rust or have a new skillet forming rust spots, we’ll discuss everything you need to know on How to Keep Cast Iron From Rusting. This even includes some information on why rust forms in the first place and tips for removing rust once it forms!

Properly Seasoning Cast Iron can be a bit tricky the first time around, but after some patience and practice the whole process begins to flow a lot more smoothly. Check out these blog posts if you’re interested in learning even more about cast iron: 3 Reasons Food Sticks to Cast Iron, Tips for Baking in Cast Iron, Properly Storing Cast Iron, and The Health Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron.

What Causes Cast Iron to Rust

First things first, let’s talk about the general reason cast iron can rust.

Cast iron cookware is made of a mix of pig iron, steel, and alloys. These metals rust because of a chemical reaction known as oxidation. When iron is exposed to moisture or oxygen, oxidation occurs. During this chemical reaction, iron is converted into iron oxide. The iron oxide typically has a reddish, flaky appearance that becomes progressively worse over time.

Without the protective layer of carbonized oil called seasoning, cast iron is susceptible to rust. Even a well-seasoned pan can rust if it’s stored in improper conditions or poorly maintained.  

How to Keep Cast Iron From Rusting

Cast iron covered in rust or have a new skillet forming rust spots? We'll discuss everything about How to Keep Cast Iron From Rusting.

1. Avoid Leaving Cast Iron in the Sink to Soak

Cast Iron isn’t designed to sit in water for much time at all. The shorter the exposer the better when it comes to this type of metal!

Contrary to what some might preach about cast iron, it can, in fact, get wet. There’s nothing wrong with washing these pans in water (I do suggest avoiding the use of soap as it can wash away your hard earned seasoning), but a quick washing is quite a bit different than a submersion!

So how does one clean a cast iron skillet that has food stuck all over it?

First of all, let me encourage you to read this post: Why Food Sticks to Cast Iron. This may help you in avoiding this problem in the future!

Anyway, back to cleaning this type of sticky mess. I suggest boiling an inch or so of water for 3-5 minutes in the skillet that needs to be cleaned. This boiling hot water will aid in the removal of the food residue. After the 3-5 minutes are up, pour the water out, and begin scrubbing while the pan is still hot (careful on to burn yourself!). Once the pan comes clean, re-season the skillet using this method: How to Season Cast Iron.

2. Don’t Put Cast Iron in the Dishwasher

This point is pretty simple…a dishwasher is a very moist environment. Even if you aim to unload the dishwasher shortly after it’s cycle is over, that cast iron has still been a very damp place for quite some time. I highly suggest sticking to hand washing all cast iron products as this seems to be a better method for avoiding rust.

3. Avoid Letting Cast Iron Air Dry

While an occasional air dry may not be detrimental to your cast iron, it should be noted that air drying could be the cause of your rusting problems if nothing else seems to be the culprit.

It is best to dry cast iron pretty quickly after washing it since longer exposers to water increases the chances of rust. I prefer to heat my skillets up on the stovetop directly after washing them off, coating them in a layer of oil to Maintain the Seasoning, and putting them in their storage spots after they’ve cooled down. This quick heating ensures that all remaining water evaporates from the pan.

4. Don’t Store in a Moisture Prone Environment

Think about those spots in the kitchen that can tend to be a bit more damp than others. For example, a cabinet near or under the kitchen sink probably isn’t the best place to store your cast iron.

I prefer to leave my cast iron skillet either out on the stovetop (we use it frequently enough that it’s earned a permanent spot there) or in the drawer at the bottom of my oven. Both of these storage spaces are very dry and pretty unlikely to get wet.

Is Rusted Cast Iron Ruined?

Not at all! There’s no need to throw away a cast iron skillet that’s a little (or a lot) rusty. In fact, the next time you stumble upon some rusty pots and pans at an antique store or flea market, imagine the potential! I personally do not have expertise in this area, but there are plenty of resources out there that explain exactly how to restore a rusted cast iron pan.

Cast iron covered in rust or have a new skillet forming rust spots? We'll discuss everything about How to Keep Cast Iron From Rusting.

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