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

In this article, you’ll learn about carbon steel rust and how to get a rusted carbon steel pan performing good as new! 

Does carbon steel rust? 

Unlike stainless steel, 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. This most commonly occurs after a cleaning.

For the purpose of preventing 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.

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.

Already have rust on your pan? No worries! Let’s get into how to remove it!

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 small to medium sized rust issues and spot cleaning, but it also works for larger issues.

  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 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.

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

The vinegar method

For interior rust that just won’t go away, this method should do the trick. 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 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. 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!

carbon steel pan

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  • Grace Miranda

    How do I clean off the black char after cooking something that burnt to the pan. I’m still learning.

  • Margarita Arango

    I have a new pan. I seasoned it following your exact instructions but now looks stained…like destroyed and quite ugly. How can I reverse that?

  • Deborah Anjum

    Your non-stick cookware, can that be used on my new ceramic stovetop?

  • Humarock

    I was soooo nervous about seasoning my new 12.5" Blue Carbon Steel workhorse, so excited to use it, decided to wait until the weekend to do it. So, early Sat. morning, I commenced. I did buy the MI wax trio. I don’t put pans in my oven, ever….the directions mentioned smoke?Yeah, I was nervous. I wake up, 5/10/20 and it’s snowed out, about 4+" on the ground, that’s right…smh…But I preheated the oven, I warmed up the pan as instructed….I got out my tongs, I greased up the paper towel, I oiled the pan in and out and viola, put it in the oven upside down as instructed, then I sat down to watch A Star is Born(the one with Kris and Babs, the best one)and viola, it was done, I thought: that was easy, let’s let it cool, and then I thought, let’s add another layer, repeat and VIOLA…this workhorse is ready to go! Tonight I will attempt searing meat, it’s like Christmas AND I have snow! :) Thanks Made In…I’m a fan. Oh, and to those thinking it’s alot of ‘work’, heck no and it’s not scary…just get ’er done!

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