Is it safe to cook in a rusty cast iron pan? Have you ever worried if the rust on your old pan is going to cause some health concern?
In this article, I will teach you everything you need to know about using a rusty cast iron pan, whether it’s safe and the potential dangers in different scenarios.
What is rust?
The rust on a cast iron skillet is caused by the metal oxidizing, or undergoing reaction with oxygen. In this case, water, salt and other food particles can speed up the oxidation process.
It’s typically a brown colour, but it could also be black, depending on the type of iron and how long the pan has been exposed to water.
Rust is essentially a form of corrosion that can make cast iron pots and pans unsafe to cook in.
Is rust dangerous to ingest?
Yes, it is. Rust can harbor bacteria and other pathogens, mainly when it harbors in corners of the cast iron pot. When using a cast iron pan for cooking food, be careful about storing the pan. Ensure that there are no chips or cracks on the pan’s surface that could allow micro-organisms to infect the food.
The USDA has stated thatrust is not a food-safe material, so you should assume it’s dangerous.
What should I do if I have rusty cast iron cookware?
Cast iron is not as porous as other pans, which means that it heats up quickly and remains hot long after the heat source has been removed. You can cook with a rusty cast iron skillet, but you should make sure to clean it first. If the pan is really rusty and has crusted-on bits, scrub the skillet with a stiff brush or steel wool and hot water. Rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Let the skillet dry completely before you start cooking in it again, so that any remaining rust doesn’t get on your food.
The main risk from using a rusty cast iron pan is ingesting rust particles, which can cause stomach upset. However, if you clean the pan thoroughly before using it again and avoid cooking with acidic foods like tomatoes or vinegar (which will react with the iron), you shouldn’t get any rust in your food.
If a cast iron pan is really rusty, it could affect the pan’s structural integrity, in this instance, you’ll need to throw it away. You can normally tell if your cast iron cookware is affected too much by rust just by looking at it, if it’s only surface rust then the structural integrity won’t be affected, however if it’s deep rust then it’s quite possible it has been affected and should not be cooked with.
How to properly clean rust off cast iron cookware
It would be best if you didn’t clean rust off of your cast iron cookware in your kitchen sink as the water may penetrate the rust and make it harder to remove. Instead, it would help if you used a heavy-duty stainless steel wire sponge.
These sponges come in hundreds of designs with different shapes, but most are round with extra long wires. They will make it easier for you to clean rust off of your cast iron cookware in all the corners.
You do not have to use one of those sponges. However, a small scrub pad with coarse cornstarch can also work well if you don’t have one of those wire sponge sponges.
Whichever product you choose to clean the rust, start scrubbing the rust off with it while the cast iron pan is dry. Using this method should help with removing all the rust.
If you still have any stubborn rust leftover, try soaking it in white vinegar for 30 minutes and then scrubbing it again as the acid from the vinegar should soften the rust.
What should I do after I’ve cleaned the rust off?
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned it, you’ll need to season your cast iron pan again. The seasoning will add a protective barrier and prevent further rust from forming.
After you’ve seasoned your pan, make sure you take preventative measures to stop rust from coming back. Such as storing it in a dry environment, thoroughly drying it after washing, and not leaving it to soak in liquids.
How to restore a rusty cast skillet
Cast iron skillets are typically made of molecules that have been ‘bonded’ together to form a metal. This type of bonding is called carbon steel, and it makes the skillet more durable and durable than other materials.
Some of the ways that a cast iron pan can become rusty is through exposure to water, oil or food.
A rust-free skillet requires some maintenance on a regular basis, but it is completely possible to restore a rusty cast iron skillet.
The most basic way of restoring the rust on a cast iron pan is by using steel wool or sandpaper and then washing the pan with soap and water.
Another way to restore a rusty cast iron skillet is by using a product called ‘Flitz’, which you can purchase online or at any hardware store.
Flitz is a paste that you rub onto the rust with a rag which will then remove the rust. After you have removed all of the rust from your cast iron skillet, it is recommended to coat it with oil and bake it at 350 degrees for an hour or so.
After it has cooled, the pan will be restored to its original condition.
Why do cast iron skillets become rusty?
Cast iron skillets are made from cast iron as the name suggests, which is a type of metal. Metal can become rusty if it comes in contact with water and the air has oxygen in it. When water comes in contact with air, a chemical reaction occurs that breaks down the metal and creates rust. This process is called oxidation.
Rust can also form when cast iron skillets are left to sit for long periods of time without being used. This is called “seasoning rust.”
Preventing rust on cast iron pans
To prevent a cast iron skillet from becoming rusty, it’s important to season the pan with cooking oil and then store it in an area that is dry and has little to no oxygen such as a cupboard. This will reduce the amount of oxidation and the seasoning will create a protective barrier. Using these two strategies correctly, your cast iron pans will last a lifetime without rust.
How fast do cast iron skillets rust?
Cast iron pans are great for cooking because they have a long-lasting nonstick coating (seasoning) and do not require as much oil to cook with. However, the surface of these skillets is vulnerable to rust once the seasoning starts to wear off.
Cast iron cookware can rust extremely quickly, in a matter of days if it’s not cared for. Even leaving a cast iron pan wet after washing it overnight will cause rust to form.
However, It takes a long time for cast iron skillets to rust when they are properly cared for by seasoning them before use, drying them thoroughly, and storing them appropriately.
Can you get tetanus from a rusty cast iron skillet?
The chances of getting tetanus from a rusty cast iron skillet is low. Tetanus is caused by bacterium called Clostridium tetani, and this bacterium is most commonly found in soil, dust and manure.
So considering your cast iron cookware will be in the kitchen, it’s unlikely it will have the bacterium known to cause tetanus.
However, some cast iron cookware such as Dutch ovens, are commonly used outside, especially when camping. Therefor if your cast iron cookware has been left outside and has developed rust, it’s best to avoid using it.
Can you cook on a rusty cast iron grill?
Again the same applies, if your cast iron grill is in your kitchen, then it will be ok to cook on it providing the rust hasn’t penetrated too deeply and affected the structural integrity of the grill.
However, if the grill is outside such as a barbeque, then I would strongly advise cleaning the rust off before using it as the bacterium which causes tetanus thrives in the rust and not the cast iron itself.
Also, cooking on a rusty cast iron grill will affect the flavor of your food as it will be absorbed into the food.
Is it safe to cook in a rusted cast iron pan? ›
In fact, with a few simple tools and a little elbow grease, there are plenty of ways to thoroughly remove rust from cast iron. Experts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agree that a little bit of rust on cookware isn't likely to harm you. (Even rust in drinking water isn't considered a health hazard.)Is it OK to cook in a rusty pan? ›
Rust is not a food safe material so it should not be ingested. If you see rust on the surface of a utensil such as a cast-iron skillet or knife, remove all the rust before using it.What is the fastest way to remove rust from a cast iron pan? ›
The easiest way to remove rust from cast iron is to soak the pan in a 1:1 vinegar and water solution. Then scrub the rust off with a scrubby sponge, scrub brush, or steel wool.How do you get the rusty taste out of cast iron? ›
- Wash new cookware with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush.
- Rinse and dry completely.
- Apply a thin coat of melted vegetable shortening or oil to the entire surface (including lid if applicable). ...
- Place pan over a medium flame for 10 minutes.
- Turn burner off and let cookware cool.
Cast iron can be pretty resilient, and even very rusty, damaged pans can be rehabilitated—and in most cases, the rust they're facing is pretty minor. It's important to note that you shouldn't use your skillet while it still has rust on it.What are the side effects of eating rust? ›
What are the side effects of eating rust? Digesting rust will do you absolutely no damage at all. The chemical composition of rust is Fe2O3, iron and oxygen, nothing harmful.Can rust make you sick? ›
Rust isn't inherently harmful to human beings. In particular, touching rust or getting it on your skin isn't associated with any health risks. While you can get tetanus from a wound caused by a rusty object, it's not the rust that causes tetanus. Instead, it's caused by a type of bacteria that may be on the object.Can you bake in a pan with a little rust? ›
A little bit of rust, like above, especially if cleaned as much as you can get it clean, isn't going to hurt you. Grease your pan well and bake on. You can also line your pan with parchment paper to prevent rust contact.What are the black marks on my cast iron skillet? ›
They are most likely carbon deposits. This happens due to overheating of fats and oils. Using an oil with a low smoke point will carbonize at high temperatures and cause residue from the pores of your pan to rub off onto your food.Can you use Dawn to clean cast iron pan? ›
Will soap ruin cast iron? Using soap will not ruin your pan. It is totally fine on enameled cast iron, and on plain cast iron, too. It's not going to destroy your seasoning.
Can I use Dawn on cast iron pan? ›
But stay away from Dawn. It will remove your seasoning and make it harder to keep your pans in good shape. So, bottom line, never use Dawn on your cast iron pan. You might think your getting your pan cleaner, but in fact, you're making it harder to create and maintain your seasoning.Why does my cast iron pan keep getting rusty? ›
Rust forms when the cookware is exposed to moisture for extended periods of time and is not harmful in any way. If cast iron is left in the sink to soak, put in the dishwasher, or allowed to air dry, it will rust.
Is black residue on cast iron skillet harmful? The black residue on a cast iron skillet isn't harmful; it's just a part of cooking with a cast iron pan. A black seasoned coating shouldn't rub off easily or affect the food, as it should form a useful non-stick surface for cooking.Does baking soda remove rust from cast iron? ›
For mild rust, try scrubbing with baking soda.
Stir the baking soda with the water to make a rough paste, then use a rag to scrub the paste into the rusty spots of the pan. Once you've scrubbed the rusty areas, let the paste sit for a few minutes, then rinse it off with tap water.
The vinegar solution will dissolve the rust, but once that's gone, it can penetrate further and start eating away at the original cast surface of the pan, the ultimate death sentence for your skillet. If that happens, retire it to a piece of farmhouse-chic kitchen decor.Is the brown on my cast iron rust? ›
Newly seasoned cast iron may have a brownish tint to it. It's not rust, it's just the initial patina baking in. It can take a few coats of seasoning and some use to get a black finish. Don't worry about the brownish colour - go right ahead and use the pan.How do you remove rust from pans? ›
- Take the rusty pan and rinse with water.
- Cover the pan with baking soda.
- Let the baking soda sit for an hour or more on the pan.
- Use a scouring pad to rub the rust off.
- Wash the pan and dry with a towel.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ingesting rust in small amounts will not harm your health (unless you have a rare disease called hemochromatosis, which causes your internal organs to retain iron).Can you get tetanus from a rusty pan? ›
Does Rust Cause Tetanus? Rust does not cause tetanus.Is rust a carcinogen? ›
Rust In Chromium Alloy In Pipes Can React With Water Chemicals To Cause Cancer.
Can smelling rust harm you? ›
When rust gets into the air, it can irritate the eyes, similar to the way dust does. It can also lead to stomach irritation if ingested accidentally. Inhaling rust particles is particularly concerning, since long-term exposure can lead to siderosis, a condition in which iron deposits build up in the lungs.Can you get bacteria from rust? ›
Old houses, cars or other discarded items left in nature for long enough will rust (if they're metal) and collect bacteria like Clostridium tetani, but the relationship between rust and tetanus-causing bacteria is purely correlative, not causative.Are rust fumes toxic? ›
* Iron Oxide can affect you when breathed in. * Exposure to Iron Oxide fumes can cause metal fume fever. This is a flu-like illness with symptoms of metallic taste, fever and chills, aches, chest tightness and cough. * Prolonged or repeated contact can discolor the eyes causing permanent Iron staining.Why has my pan gone rusty? ›
Without the protective layer of carbonized oil called seasoning, cast iron is susceptible to rust. Even a well-seasoned pan can rust if it's left in the sink to soak, put in the dishwasher, allowed to air dry, or stored in a moisture-prone environment.How do you remove rust from kitchen utensils? ›
To tackle items with significant corrosion, submerge your rusty tools or knives in a bowl of white vinegar and let them sit overnight or as long as 24 hours. Once they have had a good soak, remove them from the vinegar and scrub the rust off with steel wool, a scouring pad, or a wire brush.What removes rust? ›
- Vinegar bath. Best used on items that are all steel or on tools with significant rust, a vinegar bath takes very little elbow grease to work away the rust once soaked. ...
- Potato and soap. ...
- Lemon and salt. ...
- Baking soda. ...
- Citric acid.
- All other highly acidic foods.
- Delicate Fish.
- Sticky Desserts (Unless your pan is very well-seasoned)
Can I use steel wool or a metal scrubber to clean my cast iron pan? No! We recommend using a pan scraper or the Lodge Chainmail Scrubber to remove any stuck-on residue.What is the best oil to season cast iron? ›
All cooking oils and fats can be used for seasoning cast iron, but based on availability, affordability, effectiveness, and having a high smoke point, Lodge recommends vegetable oil, melted shortening, or canola oil, like our Seasoning Spray.Should you clean cast iron after every use? ›
Clean cast-iron skillet after every use
Wipe interior surface of still-warm skillet with paper towels to remove any excess food and oil. Rinse under hot running water, scrubbing with nonmetal brush or nonabrasive scrub pad to remove any traces of food. (Use small amount of soap if you like; rinse well.)
What should you not clean with cast iron? ›
Before you cook with your cast iron skillet, there are a few "don'ts" to know about cleaning it - don't use soap, don't use steel wool, and don't put it in the dishwasher. These things could take off the pan's seasoning and could cause it to rust (more about that later).Can you use SOS pads on cast iron? ›
Here's another kitchen no-no: Don't use steel wool cleaning pads on your cast iron cookware. If you use cast iron a lot, you probably know how important its protective seasoning is, and so does John Bedford, founder and editor of Viva Flavor, a food company that also specializes in cookware maintenance.Can you get too much iron from cast iron pans? ›
Cast iron pans can leach a sizeable amount of iron into your food, exceeding dietary intake in some cases. Acidic foods will contribute to much more leaching while an old, heavily-seasoned pan will leach much less iron than a newer one.How can you tell if cast iron is safe? ›
If a crack appears in your cast iron pan, it's time to ditch it. Even a hairline crack will expand and contract when heated and cooled, and ultimately the pan will split—a potentially dangerous situation if it happens during cooking! Plus, cracks are difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria and rust.How long does it take cast iron to corrode? ›
Any exposure to moisture, whether it's a drop of water, condensation, dew or a humid day, is enough to start oxidation. You will see a significant change in color and texture within 24 hours of exposure. Salt – Certain substances accelerate the moisture around the metal, making it rust more quickly.Can bacteria live on cast iron? ›
Cast iron pans are sanitary if cared for properly. After each use, wipe or rinse out the skillet. Then, heat it on the stovetop or in the oven for three to five minutes to kill bacteria. Pre-heating cast iron pans to 160 degrees or greater prior to cooking will also kill bacteria and viruses.Will vinegar destroy cast iron? ›
Don't fill your cast-iron cookware with wine or vinegar. A splash for sauce or deglazing is OK, but tossing a significant amount straight into the pan undiluted will ruin your cookware, and your health.What should you not do to a cast iron pan? ›
- Avoid cooking in it. Cast iron cookware improves with use. ...
- Let it soak in the sink. “Avoid cooking acidic food in your cast iron” is a bad rumor that many cooks have heard. ...
- Scrub it with a scouring pad. ...
- Store it in the oven. ...
- Store it completely empty. ...
- Baby it.
Season a cast-iron skillet regularly, and you've got a kitchen workhorse for a lifetime. Every time you use your cast-iron skillet, you're wearing some of the seasoning down, and eventually it won't function as well. So season it again whenever you see dull spots.Can you get sick from cast iron pans? ›
Can cast iron cause iron toxicity? Only people with hemochromatosis are at risk of iron toxicity from cast iron cookware. Even then, the risk is low, since a new, well-seasoned cast iron pan only leaches about five milligrams of iron per cup of food. Older pans will leach less cast iron.
When should you throw away a cast iron pan? ›
If a crack appears in your cast iron pan, it's time to ditch it. Even a hairline crack will expand and contract when heated and cooled, and ultimately the pan will split—a potentially dangerous situation if it happens during cooking! Plus, cracks are difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria and rust.Is black residue on cast iron skillet harmful? ›
First, the black specks you see coming off into your food are not harmful. They are most likely carbon deposits. This happens due to overheating of fats and oils. Using an oil with a low smoke point will carbonize at high temperatures and cause residue from the pores of your pan to rub off onto your food.Should I throw away rusted pans? ›
In addition to posing a potential health risk, rust on your cookware can negatively affect the flavor of your food. Using rusted cookware is not a good idea, especially if it's a pot or pan that you use very frequently. With all of this in mind, it's best to play it safe when you're dealing with rust.Why is my cast iron pan rusting? ›
The Cause: Rust forms when the cookware is exposed to moisture for extended periods of time and is not harmful in any way. If cast iron is left in the sink to soak, put in the dishwasher, or allowed to air dry, it will rust.Is cast iron toxic to cook with? ›
Although Enamel-covered cast iron ware can be very expensive (Le Creuset, for example), it does not react with any food; therefore, it is totally non-toxic. It lasts many years and holds the heat well because it is so heavy.Why can't you cook eggs in cast iron? ›
Eggs fall into the category of sticky foods that are not ideal for cast iron skillets that haven't built up their seasoning yet. While cast iron can become non-stick with sufficient use over time, a newer skillet will almost certainly cause your eggs to stick to its porous surface.Do I oil cast iron after every use? ›
After each use, to get the most out of your cast-iron skillet, it is best practice to apply a thin layer of oil on the surface. Regularly oiling your cast iron skillet will provide a protective layer to the surface and help keep it from rusting.Can I use olive oil to season cast iron? ›
Olive oil is a great option for seasoning your cast iron skillet because it is affordable and easy to find. It also has a high smoke point, which means it can withstand high temperatures without burning.What is the best oil to use on cast iron? ›
All cooking oils and fats can be used for seasoning cast iron, but based on availability, affordability, effectiveness, and having a high smoke point, Lodge recommends vegetable oil, melted shortening, or canola oil, like our Seasoning Spray.