If your favorite cookware item has become rusty, don’t be quick to throw it away. Although its appearance may not suggest it, there’s still a lot of life left in it. You can effectively remove rust from pots and pans using a few simple methods. What’s more, most of these solutions are 100% DIY.
Why Do Pots and Pans Get Rusty?
When iron and iron alloys are exposed to water and oxygen for prolonged periods, they oxidize. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that leads to the formation of iron oxide. Also known as Fe²O³, this type of oxide is commonly referred to as rust.
Usually, pots and pans turn rusty when they are regularly left to air-dry. For the most part, it can take months or even years before such cookware items are affected by oxidation. However, this process can also be much faster if the exposure to water and oxygen is too high.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Rusty Pots and Pans
While a rusty cookware item may seem like a simple aesthetic problem, it is not. Using rusty pots and pans is a bad idea for at least three reasons.
For starters, rust can sometimes be dangerous for your health. Oxidized iron offers excellent living and breeding conditions to Clostridium tetani. These are bacteria that cause the bacterial infection tetanus. The good news, however, is that unless you keep your cooking gear outdoors, this scenario would be quite unlikely. Check this article to find out what happens if you consume rust.
Another problem with using rusty pots and pans is they will spoil the taste of your food. Even if you have impressive cooking skills, your meals will get a metal-like flavor. Furthermore, their appearance may become discolored.
Also, rust can damage the structure of the affected cookware. For example, overexposure to water and oxygen may crack your favorite cooking pot. That, in turn, may lead to the formation of holes in it.
Best Methods for Removing Rust From Pots and Pans
Nowadays, you can easily find plenty of rust removal tips online that you can use on your pots and pans. Unfortunately, not all these recommendations get the job done.
For instance, many websites claim that Coke can clean rust off cookware in under a minute. Indeed, this drink can dissolve iron oxides since it is carbonated and acidic. However, it only works when you soak the pan or pot for several hours or even days. Furthermore, this rust removal method is only effective for mild cases of rust.
Luckily, this article will present you only with rust removal methods that are tried and trusted. The order in which they will appear is based on how aggressive they are.
- Severity of rust problem: Very low
- Advantages: Quick, easy and cheap
- Disadvantages: Suitable only on smaller surfaces that are easy to clean
- Time it takes to work: Instant
As surprising as it may sound, potatoes have excellent rust removal properties. These vegetables, especially sweet potatoes, are high in oxalic acid. Since this organic compound has the power to dissolve iron oxide, it’s often an active ingredient in various cleaning products.
While this method is simple and affordable, it only works on the mildest of rust problems. So, it is only effective for pots and pans that have slight rust stains.
Start by slicing a potato in two halves. Then, put some dish soap on the flat side of the cut potato to remove any leftover grease. Start rubbing the rust until it disappears. Once you’re happy with the results, rinse the pot or the pan thoroughly and towel-dry it.
2. Baking Soda
- Severity of rust problem: Low
- Advantages: Affordable and suitable for thin-metal items
- Disadvantages: Requires extra physical effort
- Time it takes to work: At least one hour
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) has mild abrasive properties. As a result, it can remove slight rust from cookware items, including thin-metal ones.
For this rust removal method, you will need to make a paste from baking soda and water. So, put some sodium bicarbonate in a bowl and add H2O. Mix everything until you get a paste and then apply it on the rusty spots. Make sure you let it sit for a while.
After 1–2 hours, scrub off the paste using a wire brush or a steel scrubber. However, keep in mind that this process will take some elbow grease. Therefore, be patient and meticulous. When it’s ready, rinse your pot or pan with water. Don’t forget to towel-dry it.
3. Lemon and Salt
- Severity of rust problem: Medium
- Advantages: Not too abrasive or harsh
- Disadvantages: Requires some heavy scrubbing
- Time it takes to work: 2–3 hours
Even if you’re not a tequila fan, you’re likely to have a lemon and some salt in your home. Like baking soda, salt is quite abrasive. When combined with acidic ingredients such as lemons or limes, it can remove moderate rust stains. Still, it will take hours and some heavy scrubbing before you get the desired results.
To remove rust from your pots and pans, thoroughly cover the rusted areas with salt. Squeeze some lime or lemon juice over the salt and let it sit for 2–3 hours. Next, you’ll need to scrub everything off with a lemon rind. Don’t use a wire brush to remove the salt because, in this case, this may scratch your cookware items.
Finally, rinse and towel-dry your pot or pan. It should be almost as good as new.
- Severity of rust problem: High
- Advantages: Almost hands-free to do
- Disadvantages: A lengthy process that can be damaging for non-metal surfaces
- Time it takes to work: Twelve hours or more
Apple cider vinegar and white vinegar have high acidity. So, you can rely on either one of these two ingredients to deal with more severe rust stains. The best thing about this method is that it’s hands-free since you just let the vinegar do its magic. However, it may take hours or even days before you get any results.
Start by fully submerging the rusty pot or pan in vinegar and let it sit for at least twelve hours. Once you take the cookware item out of the acidic solution, scrub it with a steel wool or a brush. If that doesn’t remove the rust, soak the pan or pot in vinegar for a few more hours. Last but not least, wash the item with water and dish soap before you towel-dry it. Check out this article for more information.
5. Citric Acid
- Severity of rust problem: Very high
- Advantages: Highly effective and hands-free to do
- Disadvantages: Too harsh for some surfaces
- Time it takes to work: Twelve hours or more
Be extra careful when you use the citric acid rust removal method. This organic acid will remove not only significant rust buildup but also coatings like paint. Therefore, citric acid may damage cooking utensils that have non-sticking surfaces or anti-slip silicone handles, for example. Rely on this method only for classic cookware items that are entirely made of metal.
If you don’t have citric acid at home, you can purchase it from your local supermarket or online. Mix a few tablespoons of it with some water and submerge the rusty pots and pans in the solution. Let them sit in it for twelve hours or more. If there are any remaining rust spots and flakes after that, loosen them with a toothbrush.
Once again, wash the items with water and dish soap and then pat them with a towel.
6. Cookware Rust Remover
- Severity of rust problem: Varies
- Advantages: Lasting anti-rust properties
- Disadvantages: Expensive compared to DIY methods
- Time it takes to work: Just a few minutes
Sometimes even the best DIY solution fails to be effective. If you are dealing with a stubborn rust situation, you may need to buy a cookware rust remover. While it is the most expensive solution on this list, this product works like magic. Moreover, you will get great results in a matter of minutes.
Best of all, most rust removers have anti-rust and anti-corrosion properties. So, when you apply it on your favorite pan, this cleaner will form a protective layer.
However, make sure you invest in an organic product that is 100% chemical-free. After all, pots and pans are used for cooking. The last thing you would want when you prep your meal is to expose your food to aggressive chemicals.
Also, pick a non-abrasive rust remover that will not scratch the surface of your cookware items.
When Is It Not Worth Dealing With Rust?
Sometimes there is no point in trying to remove rust from pots and pans. Certain cases can be utterly hopeless.
For example, if the rusty cookware item is cracked, you should just toss it in the trash. Even if you manage to remove the rust from its surface, it will still be cracked. The same goes for pots and pans that are warped or covered in tiny holes. Practically, they are already unusable.
If you are dealing with non-stick cookware with rust marks, be careful. While you may be able to remove the rust, you may end up damaging the item’s non-stick coating. Therefore, always check your manual for any specific use and care instructions.
Use the methods in this article to effectively remove rust from pots and pans. It may take some elbow grease and a potato or two to restore the shiny appearance of your cooking gear. In the end, however, the effort will be worth it.