Cast iron pans are great for everything from breakfast to baking, but the downside is that they do require a little more maintenance than your average pot or pan. We’ve discussed several ways to season cast iron here at Lifehacker (including some that go against the “accepted wisdom”), but what if your roomie let your cast iron soak in water overnight, or heaven forbid, put it in the dishwasher? Grab an abrasive pad and some white vinegar. With a little work, your cast iron will be as good as new.
First of all, if you have an oven with a self-cleaning setting, that’s a great way to remove rust and “reset” your cast iron pans. If you don’t, Bon Appétit points out that all you need is some white vinegar, some water, and an abrasive scrubber to make your rusted, damaged cast iron gleam like new.
Here’s what you need to do: Mix equal parts water and vinegar, and let the pan soak in the mixture for between one and eight hours, depending on how bad the rust is. Keep checking it, because leaving the pan in vinegar too long — once the rust has been loosened — will start to damage the cast iron itself.
Once the soak is complete, gently scrub the rust away from the cast iron pan with your scrubber. You can use a copper pad, or consider employing our trusty salt scrub method to remove any rust and debris as well. Whatever you do, make sure you’re thorough, and remove as much of the rust as possible.
Once the core of the pan is clean and the rust is all gone, it’s time to re-season it. There are any number of different methods for doing this. but our own writer A.A. Newton favours the following: To season on the stovetop, get a clean pan hot — but not smoking — over medium heat. Use a Crisco-soaked rag to apply a thin layer all over the inside of the pan, then cut the heat. Let the pan cool for 10-15 minutes and wipe off excess oil with another rag.
To season pans in the oven, wipe them with a Crisco rag, park them in a 190 degrees Celsius oven for 5 minutes, remove, and quickly wipe off the excess oil. Return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it cool.
At this point though, you can season however you choose — the key is using the vinegar and abrasive scrubbing pad to clean off the rust and save your cast iron.
This story was originally published in 2012 and was updated on March 1, 2021 to revise outdated links and provide more detailed information.