How to Clean Carbon Steel Pan Rust

No, your pan isn’t ruined! Carbon steel pan rust is easy to remove 

Given the negative association between rust and cookware, it’s totally normal to be a little freaked out when you first see those brown rust spots on your pan.

But fear not! Removing a rust stain from a carbon steel pan is easy and your pan will perform just as good (if not better!) after the rust has been removed.

If you are wondering how to remove rust from steel, we are here to help. In this article, you’ll learn about carbon steel rust and how to get a rusted carbon steel pan performing good as new! 

Unfortunately, it's going take more than a little dish soap to clean rust. If surface rust has developed on your carbon steel pans, you're going to need the right tools and a little elbow grease to get your cookware as good as new. Luckily with a few tips, you'll be able to not only clean rust but also prevent rust from forming. By following these tips, you'll be able to get your carbon steel cookware in tip-top shape. 

Does carbon steel rust? 

When it comes to learning how to remove rust from pans, it's important you know what kind of material you are working with. Unlike stainless steel cookware, carbon steel is capable of rusting if left in a moist environment for an extended period of time. This is due to the presence of oxidizable iron in carbon steel’s alloy, which is what also allows cast iron to rust.

When does carbon steel rust?

Most carbon steel pan owners will only have to worry about their cookware rusting after it’s been exposed to water for an extended period of time. Extensive rust commonly occurs after a cleaning.

For the purpose of preventing stubborn rust, it is strongly advised that you do the following after every cleaning you do that incorporates the use of water:

  1. Dry the pan by hand.
  2. Put the pan on your stove.
  3. Heat dry the pan over low heat until all remaining water has evaporated.
  4. Lightly coat the inside of the hot pan with a high smoke point cooking oil to form a very thin layer.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pan to cool.
  6. Wipe away excess oil (if any) and store.

A protective coating of oil can make all the difference when it comes to prevent stubborn rust. If you live in a particularly humid area and/or are using your carbon steel pan outdoors, there is an additional risk of your pan rusting. In cases such as these, you’ll need to take extra precautions to shield your pan from this environmental moisture. For example, seasoning the exterior of your pan to decrease the amount of surface iron will help prevent a rust stain from developing.

Already have a rusted area on your pan? No worries! Let’s get into how to remove it with just a little effort and elbow grease!

How to clean carbon steel rust 

There are a number of ways to remove rust from your carbon steel pan. Here are two of the most popular methods:

The salt scrub method 

The least invasive rust removal method, this process uses coarse salt and oil to scour away surface rust from anywhere on a pan. This method is most commonly used for a small to medium sized rust spot, but it also works on larger rust areas as well.

  1. Pour some coarse salt on the rust as well as vegetable oil (or any cooking oil).
  2. Scrub the salt and oil into the rust with a paper towel or soft cloth using a small circular motion until the rust has been removed.
  3. Reseason the pan (unless the issue was minor, in which case clean, dry, and store pan using the method mentioned above).

The scouring method

This method involves using a coarse scrubber such as a scouring pad, steel wool, an abrasive sponge, or fine grit sandpaper to forcibly remove rust from your pan’s surface. It’s great for removing rust from anywhere on the pan, including the pesky bottom of the pan. Once you have scrubbed and rinse, be sure to fully dry your cast iron or carbon steel with a dry cloth.

  1. Using a small circular motion, scrub at the rust with your coarse scrubber or steel wool until removed.
  2. Rinse the pan with hot soapy water.
  3. Reseason the pan. 

The vinegar method

For interior heavy rust that just won’t go away, this method should do the trick and help prevent rust in the future. A reseasoning is required after this method as the vinegar will strip away your pan’s built up seasoning.

  1. Bring equal parts water and vinegar to a boil over medium heat (we've noticed rice vinegar seems to work best).
  2. Pour out the mixture.
  3. Scrub the pan with soap and hot water.
  4. Reseason the pan.

Why you reseason carbon steel after removing rust 

Because removing heavy rust from carbon steel also results in the removal of some of your pan’s built up seasoning, it’s important to season the pan again afterwards. Made In offers Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax that is great as a seasoning starter. For advice on how to reseason a pan, check out our blog on seasoning carbon steel!

If you’re looking for a brand new carbon steel pan, browse our Carbon Steel collection or carbon steel frying pans and carbon steel sets!

carbon steel pan

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  • George

    Just got my carbon Steele pan, what kind of tool can i use in the pan?

  • Made In Customer Support

    @Deborah – Yes it can!
    @Margarita – The vinegar method will reverse seasoning and get you back to square one before you reseason, but carbon steel is built to change colors as it gets used. If it’s merely a color issue, all is good!
    @Grace – Any of the methods mentioned in this article will do the trick!
    @Veena – This is normal! These scratches in your patina will fill in as you continue cooking. Wooden spatulas will prevent these scratches from happening, but aren’t necessary since the scratches just fill in anyways and won’t impact performance.
    @Tom & Frances – Yes, we do carry made-in-USA non stick frying pans! You can find them on our website.

  • Tom & Frances Mosby

    Do you have any non-stick frying pans.. strongly prefer made in USA.

  • Nancy

    I use a light layer of wax after each use and cleaning. I don’t know how I lived before my 10” carbon steel wonder pan!

  • Veena Raj

    There are spots on the pan where the black coating is Gone and you can see the like stainless steel ? Or like steel surface ? What do I do ? Do I have to use wooden spatulas for this pan

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