If you own a high-quality cast iron skillet, you know that these bad lads are strong as an ox and last a long time. However, you may also have a cast iron pan or another appliance that has started to corrode or rust. Often, you notice this issue when buying old season cast iron from years past. However, even a newer cast iron skillet may experience many of these issues and impact your investment.
Thankfully, it is possible to restore cast iron skillet designs and make them almost as good as new. Cast iron may be prone to rust and other types of decay, but it is also strong enough to restore and return to a great look and style. When you work to restore your cast iron cookware, you need to understand the information below to ensure that you get the most satisfaction from this process.
First, you need to know why cast iron gets damaged. Next, you need to know how to restore an iron skillet. Then, you will learn how to clean a rusty cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. And you'll also learn more about how seasoning helps your old cast iron pan and the varying tools you can use to get your pan back into great shape. If you follow our tips, you should have no difficulty with your cookware.
Common Ways to Damage a Cast Iron Pan
A strong cast iron skillet should hold up well against most types of damage. However, even the best iron pan is not perfect and may end up experiencing rust and other types of expected damage. Some of these issues occur due to an excessive use of various items, like an improper seasoning with vegetable oil or canola oil. Others may experience problems connected to these issues:
- Rust – Your cast iron cookware should last you a lifetime if you properly season them. However, insufficient seasoning or inappropriate use of a wire brush or steel wool could cause rust. Thankfully, restoring your pan should help to get it back into shape for a further round of seasoning.
- Overheating – Standard cast iron cookware can withstand very high temperatures, sometimes as much as 500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, that doesn't mean that this heat may not cause some damage. Too-high temperatures may trigger a brittle nature to your pan that leads to cracks and other issues.
- Improper Cleaning Methods – A cast iron pan must be cleaned properly using a balanced amount of dish soap, non-aggressive paper towel brands, and a minimal amount of steel wool or wire brush models. If you fail to follow these steps, your cast iron pot could quickly get damaged.
- Failure to Clean – If you let your cast iron pot get too dirty over the years without regular cleaning, you could expose it to severe damage. Likewise, you need to keep your pan clean before seasoning and handle that process smoothly to cut back on the risk of various types of problematic damage.
If your cast iron cookware has been damaged in this way, you may feel very frustrated and unable to deal with the problem. That reaction is understandable but shouldn't be given into too much here. That's because you can restore your cast iron skillet with just a little work and some elbow grease.
Understanding the process for restoring a cast iron pan will help make it easier to get the results you need. But, just as significantly, this process can help to cut back on any other complications, such as damaging your pan through poor cleaning or seasoning, issues that may both occur if you're not careful.
How to Restore a Cast Iron Pan
Cooking on rusty cast iron is not a good idea because it can cause various health conditions, such as lockjaw. Thankfully, you can quickly restore bare and enameled cast iron using a simple restoration process. You may need items like vinegar and an oven before you begin restoring your iron pan. Thankfully, most people should be able to handle this process with relative ease:
- Clean Your Cast Iron Pan – Start by placing your pan in a fire and letting it burn for about 15 minutes. Doing so helps to break apart much of the rust on the cooking surface. Make sure to place the pan on aluminum foil to keep it safe. Alternatively, you put it on an oven or use baking soda and a scrub brush as a rust eraser, using a little elbow grease on the old cast iron to break apart rust.
- Use a Little Steel Wool – Some owners may then use steel wool to scrub the cooking area of the cast iron pot to break apart any remaining rust. This option is good if the rust is thick on your iron pain and rusty cast iron that just won't get clean. Consider oven cleaner for this process but make sure you clean your pan carefully before using it for cooking anything on your oven or stovetop.
- Wash Your Pan – You should have a majority of the rust off of your pan at this point. However, you'll probably need to clean the surface of various types of debris. Please do so by washing it under warm water without soap. You should only use mild dish soap when cleaning your pan just before seasoning. Otherwise, you may end up damaging it and needing to start over again.
- Dry the Pan in Your Oven – Turn your oven on to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While you wait for it to warm, dry your pan with a soft paper towel. Then, place your pan inside of the oven and let it dry for several minutes. Once you see smoke coming off of the pan, you know it is drying properly. Next, remove the pan from the oven with mitts and place it on a hot pad to cool down.
- Seasoning – After your cast iron skillet has cooled down, carefully pour a few teaspoons of seasoning oil, like olive oil, into the pan and rub it across the whole pan. You need to scrub every surface of the pan and not just the interior. Instead of using your hand, use a paper towel that will minimize the risk of bubbling or other issues with your cast iron pan's surface. Cook in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour to thoroughly season the pan.
What about steps like a lye bath with Kosher or coarse salt? You can replace the first step in this process with lye or salt if rust is too dense and thick on your pan. Make sure that you wear thick and protective gloves if you decide to work with lye. It can be corrosive on the skin if mishandled. You'll need to decrease its potency with a little warm water to get the best results.
Getting the Best Results for Your Cookware
As you can see, it is possible to clean a rusted cast iron skillet with mild dish soap, a scrub pad, and a high-quality seasoning process. You can also use items like Kosher salt, a lye bath, a vinegar soak, and more to clean cast iron and restore your old pain. Salt should only be used sparingly on iron cookware, however. Coarse salt is good for breaking apart rust but may also open it up to rust.
It is also essential to make sure that you use a minimal amount of cooking oil when seasoning and pay attention to its effects on your iron cookware. And don't forget that seasoning cast iron after you are done restoring will help protect it from recurring rust issues. You'll be able to get your old pan looking almost like vintage cast iron again with just a few simple steps.
If you ever feel uncertain about this process, feel free to reach out to a cast iron restoration company. These professionals will take many of the steps mentioned above to get your cast iron back into shape. However, they'll do it with a more delicate hand and more skill, minimizing any issues. That said, there's no reason that you can't handle these steps if you feel confident doing so. Just make sure you find a seasoning oil after you restore your pan to its best look.