Rust can strike fear in the heart of any home cook or professional chef. While you might think that the pan is ruined, you can take a few steps to bring it back to life. When rust develops on carbon steel, all you need is a little white vinegar and some care. You will be back to using this pan to create some fantastic dishes in no time. Plus, it will perform as well as new (or even better). Here are a few tips to get rid of rust from your carbon steel. 

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Removing Carbon Steel Pan Rust

When it comes time to clean, you might think that a bit of soap can help to remove those rust stains. However, it will take something more substantial to remove those stains. With the right tools and little elbow grease, you can get these carbon steel pieces looking as good as new. Not only will you remove existing rust, but you can prevent your carbon steel cookware from rusting in the future. 

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Seasoning


Methods Cleaning Carbon Steel Rust

Rust On Pans


Vinegar Method

Finally, if you have interior rust that is stubborn, consider the vinegar method. This method can remove existing rust and help prevent any additional build-up in the future. You need to bring equal parts of vinegar and water to a boil over medium heat. Rice vinegar often works the best for this job. Pour the mixture into the pan and then scrub. You will want to rinse with hot water and soap. Unfortunately, vinegar will strip away all of that build-up seasoning on your carbon steel, so you must re-season the pan. 

Below are the simple steps you need to take to remove rust from a carbon steel skillet when using vinegar.


  1. Fill your sink with 50% water and 50% distilled vinegar
  2. Soak your carbon steel skillet for one hour. If necessary, you can soak the pan for five hours.
  3. After letting the skillet soak, sprinkle it with baking soda to neutralize the acid.
  4. Next, aggressively scrub the pan with a metal scouring pad. 
  5. Once done, rinse the pan with warm water until the rust is gone.
  6. If rust is still on the pan, let it soak in the 50/50 solution for another hour and scrub it more with the metal scouring pad.
  7. Lastly, dry the pan with a paper towel when the rust is gone.


Now, you’re not done yet! Next, you want to place the carbon steel skillet on high flame for five minutes to completely dried the pan. Another option is to place the carbon steel skillet in the oven for five to ten minutes at 350 degrees.


If you still notice some small rust spots, it’s normal. You can wipe it with oil to help the rest of the rust come off. But don’t just use any oil. Carbon steel becomes soft, wears down, and tears more easily when lubricated with vegetable oil and shortening.


Instead, you want to use 100% pure flax seed oil. First, ensure the flax seed oil is not mixed with any other cooking oil; it has to be 100% pure.


Yes, it is a low-smoke point oil, but it’s also a drying oil. The low smoke point allows the seasoning to polymerize within the cast iron. 


This molecular bonding occurs during polymerization for seasoning to adhere to the skillet. Also, the oil protects the carbon steel surface, making it smooth and hard.

There are several ways to remove rust from those carbon steel pans. Let's look at the three most popular ways to get rid of those rusty stains. 

Related: The Best Pots & Pans and What To Do With Them


Salt Scrub Method

If you are searching for the least invasive way for rust removal, think about the salt scrub method. This process uses oil and coarse salt to gently scour any surface rust from the pan. Many people use this method for small- or medium-sized rust spots, but it can also be effective against those more prominent areas. 

You have to place coarse salt on the rust and use some cooking or vegetable oil. Scrub the salt and oil into the rust with a soft cloth or paper towel. Use a small circular motion to remove any traces of rust. After that, you will want to re-season the pan. However, if the rust was a minor problem, you can just clean, dry, and store the cookware.

Salt used to scrub off rust

Scouring Method

The scouring method uses a coarser scrubber, like a scouring pad, abrasive sponge, or steel wool, to forcibly remove rust from the pan's surface. With a small circular motion, use the scrubber to scrub at the rust until it is fully removed. You can use these methods to remove rust from anywhere on the cookware, including those bottom surfaces. Don't forget to rinse the pan with hot, soapy water. 

Once you have scrubbed off the rust, make sure to fully dry your carbon steel with a soft, dry cloth. If you have removed some of the seasoning, you might have to re-season the cookware. 

How to Season a Carbon Steel Skillet?

After you remove the rust and oil it down, you want to reseason the pan to help restore it to its former glory. Follow these steps below to season your carbon steel skillet:

  1. First, wipe the pan down with a paper towel. 
  2. Then, add a tablespoon of flaxseed oil. Be sure to coat the whole pan; this includes the walls, sides, handle, and bottom.
  3. Now, take a fresh paper towel and rub the extra amount of oil off.
  4. Upside-down, place the carbon steel skillet in the oven. 
  5. Turn the oven on at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and let the pan stay there for an hour.
  6. Once done, let the skillet cool off inside the oven.


It should take an hour for the pan to cool off fully; you should be able to reach in and grab the pan with your bare hands. You should repeat the process if you want good seasoning for your pan. For perfect seasoning, you can do the cycle three more times.


But, why would you want to do it this many times? A good seasoning will keep your skillet in top-notch shape for years to come. Also, it’ll give the pan nonstick qualities, making cooking a breeze when you use it.


Related Blog: Carbon Steel Seasoning Instructions

Do You Need To Re-season?

When you need to remove heavy rust from the carbon steel, it will also remove some seasoning. If you want your pan to perform its best, you will have to re-season it. Just follow those steps to create a new layer of seasoning and get back to cooking. 

Related: Stainless Steel VS Copper Cookware 

Preventing Rust on Carbon Steel

When it comes to carbon steel, it can rust if the cookware is left in a moist environment, especially for an extended amount of time. Due to the presence of iron in the carbon steel's alloy, the oxidation process leaves rust on the cookware. Fortunately, most carbon steel cookware owners don't have to worry about rust unless exposed to water for a long time. After that exposure, you might find rust on the pot or pan

To prevent rust from forming, take precautions with your cookware. After you use the pan, make sure to remove any traces of water from the cookware. You can accomplish this by either drying the pan by hand or putting the pan on the stove. When placing the pan in the oven, always do that over low heat. Keep it in the oven until all of the remaining water has evaporated.

Lightly coat the hot pan with cooking oil to create a very thin layer if you want to season the pan. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool. After that, wipe away any excess oil and store it until you are ready to use it. With that protective oil coating, it can make a difference in preventing rust

The above preventive steps don't always stop the development of rust on the pan, especially if it is humid or used outdoors. Under those conditions, you might need to take a few extra steps to protect it from any environmental moisture. Remember that when you season your pan, it can decrease the amount of surface iron that could rust. 

Now that you know how to prevent rust on your pans, what can you do for existing rust? If you already have rust on your pans, don't worry. You can easily remove rust from your carbon steel cookware with some elbow grease. 


Final Word

Rust can make your pans look unsightly. In addition to that, you don't want to cook with rusty cookware. Removing carbon steel pan rust is a job that you can easily accomplish at home with a few ingredients. After a few steps, you can get your cookware looking and performing at its best.

Perfectly clean Carbon Steel pan

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