How To Restore Cast Iron With Vinegar and Copper

Once again, my girlfriend’s grandmother Ruth has gifted us another few pieces of cast iron cookware she had in the garage. These ones are very old and very used, and are, subsequently, very awesome. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of rust all over the surfaces, but it is primarily superficial. Seldom do you find a vintage piece of cookware that doesn’t have rust on it, unless you find some mint condition Griswold on eBay. These are way overpriced and are aimed toward the collectors of vintage cookware, which has become the latest fad. It’s cool that people are taking a liking to vintage cookware, but sucks for people actually trying to find a quality pieces to USE for cooking.

In a previous article, I talked about mechanically removing chunks of rust or cooked over rust from a piece. While you can do this all the time, it takes a good deal of patience and time to complete. On the other hand, you can use chemical or manual methods to remove rust and gunk from your skillets or crocks.

This time around, I’m going to show you how I use apple cider vinegar and a copper scrubbing dish sponge to remove surface rust from these old skillets. Its a much easier method that doesn’t require any tools, except a sponge and jug of vinegar.

To start, clean off the entire skillet with a damp paper towel. You might need a couple, you’ll see that all sorts of gunk comes off spanning decades of use.

Find a plastic tub, bucket, or some sort of vessel that the skillet will fit into. Bigger is not always better, as you’ll need to add more vinegar to cover the skillet.Restoring Cast Iron With Vinegar - Bin

That being said, the next step is to add apple cider vinegar to the tub so that it completely covers the skillet. The picture below is about half full.

Let it soak for about 8 hours and check on it. Using a damp cloth, wipe away some of the rust effected areas and see if more rust remains. If so, continue soaking.

I’d limit the soak time to 24 hours max, any longer and the rust will start attacking the iron itself.

Once the pans have been soaked, much of the rust will have been removed or at least softened immensely.  Look for the vinegar to have gone rusty, or when you wipe your skillet, it comes away rusty as well.

If there is still surface rust or crud visible on the the surfaces of the pan, use a fine gauge steel wool 00 to buff out the rust. You can use a courser gauge steel wool or, in this case, a copper scrubber sponge to really get at larger amounts of rust. Go easy here, as the copper will start scoring the pan itself if you go to crazy.

You’ll notice that the copper wire does a great job at pulling off the old seasoning on the skillet. This is okay, especially if there is significant amounts of rust on the piece (most of the seasoning comes off with the rust). Check out how the surface actually takes on a slightly copper colored sheen!

Use an air gun or your lungs to blow off any wool shavings into the trash. Wipe clean with dry cloth. Rinse off again with water, wipe with dry.

If its warm, set it to dry in the sun. Or better yet, in the oven at about 200 degrees. This will dry out all the excess water that is lurking inside the pores of the iron’s surface.

Rub the whole thing with vegetable oil, Crisco, lard, or bacon grease.

Roast the skillet in the oven or on the grill until it smokes. Repeat a lot.

Start cooking.


Restoring Cast Iron With Vinegar - After Seasoning
Those black spots go away with a quick rub – they are just there from the seasoning process
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