East Texas Kitchen Care: Hacks to bring your rusty cast iron back to life

East Texas Kitchen Care: Hacks to bring your rusty cast iron back to life
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 9:34 PM CST|Updated: Sep. 13, 2023 at 3:34 PM CDT

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - So many times we see old cast iron pots and pans that have been allowed to turn into orange, rusty messes, and some folks think they can’t be saved, so they throw them out.

However, most of the time they can be brought back from their terrible state. I’ve done this a few times, and wanted to share the steps I used to do so. Let’s save your cast iron!

Here's what the rusty pan looked like before the vinegar treatment
Here's what the rusty pan looked like before the vinegar treatment(East Texas Kitchen/Mama Steph)

How to remove rust from cast iron cookware

First, get a plastic or disposable aluminum pan large enough and deep enough to hold whatever cast iron piece you need to restore. I used a cheap plastic bin, as I didn’t want to stain my sink with rust. Also, buy a lot of white vinegar. For me, a half-gallon bottle was enough. This will depend upon the size of your project.


  • Soak the rusty cast iron piece in a solution of one part vinegar and one part water.
  • Use a very stiff scrub brush or some steel wool, and test each piece after 30 minutes to an hour to see if the rust is coming off. It’s ok to use the scratchy brush or steel wool because at this point you don’t have a seasoned surface to worry about protecting.
  • If the rust isn’t coming off easily, soak for another 30 minutes, then scrub again to check. You might do this for two or three hours if the rust is heavy, but you may not need to. Don’t soak longer than necessary, though, as you don’t want it to eat away at the cast iron after it finishes eating away the rust.
  • Once you have scrubbed the skillet clean of rust, rinse it thoroughly with plain water. There shouldn’t be any scent of vinegar left, though you will likely smell that iron scent.
  • Dry skillet completely, dry as a bone, before beginning the process of re-seasoning.

Related: Make this delicious strawberry cobbler in your skillet

How to season cast iron cookware

To season a cast iron pan, whether brand new (even when the label says it’s pre-seasoned) or one that’s just been cleaned up, here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wipe a thin layer of cooking oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable oil, all over the entire pan, inside and out. Wipe off any excess oil (no drips) with a non-lint-producing cloth, and set the pan upside-down in the oven directly on the rack, with aluminum foil or a baking sheet on the bottom rack below it to catch any drips. (Here’s a chart of the various oils and their smoke points for use in seasoning cast iron.)

Turn off the oven after an hour and let the pan cool in the oven overnight. You can repeat this several times if needed. I did it three times when cleaning the pot pictured below as it was bare cast iron after the vinegar soak process. If it’s just a touch up of a pan I am currently using and it’s in fairly good shape, I just do it once.

How to do everyday cleaning after cooking with cast iron cookware

Every time you use your seasoned pan, wipe it clean or give it a gentle scrub with warm slightly soapy water, then immediately dry it thoroughly and coat it lightly with another layer of oil. These mini-seasonings will gradually build up the protective layers, making for a better cooking surface as well as guarding against future rust. Repeat the seasoning process once or twice a year for upkeep.

To clean your cast iron when something is really stuck on it, don’t soak it in water. Take it to the stovetop, then add enough water to cover the stuck-on mess. Put it over medium-high heat, and let it begin to simmer. Use a wooden or plastic utensil with a straight edge for scraping. Scrape the stuck-on food with the utensil while the water is simmering, and it will begin to come off as it gets hot and rehydrated. Let the water cool just a bit so you don’t scald yourself; take it back to the sink to pour it out, then dry the pan really well. Apply a light coat of oil to the pan.

This old pot was covered with rust when Jeff picked it, and was crying out for some attention....
This old pot was covered with rust when Jeff picked it, and was crying out for some attention. After I did the vinegar method and re-seasoned it a few times, it's good as new. (East Texas Kitchen/Mama Steph)