How to Clean Rust Off Your Carbon Steel Pan

Your pan isn't ruined. With some white vinegar and some care it can be as good as new.

By Team Made In
Mar 10, 2021
carbon steel frying pan on stove
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Rust and Cookware don't go together well. And so it's totally normal to panic when you first see some appearing on your Carbon Steel Pan.

But don't worry, removing a rust stain from a Carbon Steel Pan is easy, and it'll perform just as well (if not better) after you've removed the rust.

It does takes a little more than dish soap and a sponge to clean rust, But, with a few tips you'll soon be able to not only clean rust, but prevent it from forming ever again. Here's how to get your Carbon Steel Cookware looking brand new.

Why Does Carbon Steel Rust?

Unlike Stainless Steel Cookware, Carbon Steel may rust when left in a moist environment for an extended period of time. This happens due to the presence of oxidizable iron in carbon steel’s alloy (which is what also causes Cast Iron to rust).

The good news is that 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 (like after letting it soak in the sink, which we don't recommend). Extensive rust most commonly occurs after a cleaning.

To prevent stubborn rust, we strongly advise doing the following after every cleaning that incorporates water:

  1. Dry the pan by hand.

  1. Put the pan on your stove.

  1. Heat dry the pan over low heat until all remaining water has evaporated.

  1. Lightly coat the inside of the hot pan with a high smoke point cooking oil to form a very thin layer.

  1. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool.

  1. Wipe away excess oil (if any) and store.

A protective coating of oil can make all the difference when it comes to preventing stubborn rust.

If you live in a particularly humid area, or are using your Carbon Steel pan outdoors, there's an additional risk of your pan rusting due to the added moisture in the air. If this applies to you, you’ll need to take some extra precautions to shield your pan from environmental moisture and rust—like seasoning the exterior of your pan to decrease the amount of surface iron.

Already have a rusted area on your pan? Don't panic yet—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. Below are three of the most popular methods—follow along with our video or read on for step by step tips.

The Salt Scrub Method

The least invasive rust removal method, this process uses coarse salt and oil to scour surface rust off of 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 and cooking oil (like vegetable oil) onto the rust spot.

  1. 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.

  1. Reseason the pan (unless the rust spot was minor, in which case you can clean, dry, and store the 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.

This is an effective method for removing rust from anywhere on the pan, including the bottom of the pan—which can sneakily develop rust without you realizing it.

  1. Using a small circular motion, scrub at the rust with your coarse scrubber or steel wool until removed.

  1. Rinse the pan with hot soapy water.

  1. Reseason the pan.

Once you have scrubbed and rinsed your pan, be sure to fully dry your pan with a dry cloth before storing it for your next meal.

The Vinegar Method

For interior heavy rust that just won’t go away, this method should do the trick and help prevent rust from developing in the future. Note that a reseasoning is required after this method, as the acidity of 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 that rice vinegar works the best).

  1. Pour out the mixture.

  1. Scrub the pan with soap and hot water.

  1. Reseason the pan.

Why You Should Reseason Carbon Steel After Removing Rust

Because removing heavy rust from carbon steel also results in the removal of some or all of your pan’s built up seasoning, it’s important to season the pan again afterwards. This ensures the surface of your pan builds up a non stick coating, or patina, over time. Made In offers Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax that is great as a seasoning starter to begin building up that patina.

For advice on how to reseason a pan, check out our blog on seasoning carbon steel or our video below 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.