Is Rust on Cast Iron Dangerous? How Much Rust Is Too Much?

Culinary skills are essential for all of us to learn, but you shouldn’t overlook the importance of taking care of your kitchen equipment. This usually isn’t too difficult, but maintaining cast iron pans, skillets, and pots doesn’t come without their challenges.

A little bit of rust in your cast iron cookware won’t harm you if consumed. However, letting the cast iron accumulate large amounts of rust and not properly cleaning it can be very dangerous.

This article will cover health concerns related to rust, how to take care of your cast iron, and ways to clean and preserve it.

A little bit of rust in your cast iron cookware won’t harm you if consumed.

How Dangerous is Rust on Cast Iron?

Any item used for a prolonged period will eventually start to deteriorate and collect dust — or, in this case, rust. It’s important to notice when your kitchenware needs a change or a deeper scrub in the wash since your and your family’s health is on the line.

Cast iron cookware is meant to last forever. However, they will eventually rust. As I stated above, a little bit of rust isn’t harmful. A little bit of rust in water is also safe for consumption.

However, rust does carry bacteria, especially around the corners, which are usually more challenging to clean.

Moreover, if you or any of your family members suffer from a disease, then please consult a doctor before using rusty cast iron in cooking. This caution shouldn’t be limited to food, as even inhaling large amounts of rust can cause respiratory problems.

Why Cast Iron Rust Isn’t Likely to Give You Tetanus

When you were a kid playing outside and accidentally cut yourself on a rusty barbwire or a loose, poorly placed rusty screw, I’m sure someone in your vicinity claimed you needed to get a tetanus shot. The reason is that tetanus is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

Bacteria forming on contaminated items after tearing into the skin can potentially cause several infections and diseases. Tetanus (Clostridium tetani) is one of the more dangerous ones. It is, however, caused by bacteria and contamination and not by rust itself.

Your cast iron kitchenware is indoors, so the likelihood of that happening is minimal—but not impossible. Still, if you keep your kitchenware clean and remove rust spots, you can rest assured that eating off them will be safe. However, if you’re uncertain about the cleanliness of your cast iron and cannot clean them properly, it’s advised to throw them away and get new ones.

When to Throw Away a Rusty Cast Iron

Cast iron becomes susceptible to rust when the seasoning (the protective layer) is removed. This can be due to many factors, but the most prominent one is when the cast iron is either kept in water or not properly dried. Here’s a video that discusses the dangers of rust on cast iron:

If your cast iron cookware has deteriorated to the point of being wobbly, it’s best to throw it away. You run the risk of toppling over or spilling hot food, which can cause serious injuries.

Another reason for throwing it away would be if it is cracked or has any holes. Too much use and heat can sometimes cause the cast iron to crack. Moreover, too much rust can cause the iron to have holes. Both these things will make the cast iron unsafe for use.

How To Keep Cast Iron Rust-Free

Contrary to other kitchen items, cleaning cast iron with water is not ideal, as more water will seep through and enhance the rust. You can’t throw cast iron into a dishwasher either. It should thoroughly be washed by hand.

A better solution would be to use a steel wire sponge, as it can spread to the corners that are usually hard to reach. Another solution is a scrub pad with coarse cornstarch.

It’s preferable to scrub while dry, but if that doesn’t clean it all up, soak the iron in water mixed with white vinegar for 30 minutes and then try scrubbing again. Be sure not to leave the vinegar in for too long — otherwise, it will ruin the cast iron.

A few more advisable ways to clean would be to use steel wool, lemon juice, salt, and baking soda. However, if the iron is too rusty and you need to put in too much time and effort to clean it, it’s advisable to throw it away.

Prevent Your Cast Iron From Rusting

The most helpful thing to do would be to dry the iron well after washing and store it in a dry place. You can also use coarse salt or sandpaper to remove any excess seasoning.

Despite cast iron cookware eventually rusting and having food stick to it more stubbornly, it’s better than non-stick cookware. If you can put the time and effort into taking care of your cast irons, you should definitely stick to them. 

After cleaning, you can reseason it and coat the surface lightly with cooking oil.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron

As mentioned above, cast iron can technically last forever if you properly take care of it. One of the best ways to do that is to season it. Here’s a video that demonstrates how:

After cleaning the cast iron well (scrubbing, drying, and doing the whole process), coat it with oil using a paper towel. Cover the entire thing — front, back, and handle. Then wipe it off with another paper towel. It’s okay if you must repeat this more than once.

Then place it in the oven at a temperature of 500 °F (260 °C) for one hour. Leave it to cool off and be careful not to touch it to avoid severe burns. It should take around an hour and a half to cool.

Repeat this process as often as you’d like until you’re satisfied with your cast iron kitchenware. This process will also help with food not sticking to the cast iron.

Final Thoughts

Although consuming a little rust is not fatal, keeping your cast iron clean is vital. Taking care of cast iron is no easy feat, but if you put the right effort into it, you can ensure the safety of yourself and your family while enjoying all the benefits of this fantastic type of kitchenware.

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