How To Restore Cast Iron

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I lost this Dutch Oven and finally found it about 5 years later.  It was sitting there rusting to death on a pile of dirt underneath a shelf.  No wonder I couldn’t find it.  I have no idea why it was placed there, but I’m glad I finally found it.  The moisture in the dirt caused severe rusting so I decided to try and save it.

The Process

Normally, you can get mild surface rust off with steel wool or something like that, but this pot was too badly damaged.  I took a putty knife to it at first and chipped off all the looser stuff.  Clearly this was not going to be enough so I stepped up to power tools

Look at this caked on rust from years of neglect.

 

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I tried my orbital sander with a 50 grit disk and it barely touched the layers of rust.  I sanded for about 10 minutes to no avail.  So I decided to get a bit more aggressive and get out my belt sander.  Belt sanders are very aggressive and this turned out to be just right for this project.  It took a while but the sander removed layer after layer of built up rust.  When I could see mostly shiny metal, I decided to stop.  

There was so much rust I had to take a belt sander to remove it

 

Seasoning

The next step was to take my blowgun and remove all of the loose debris, wash it thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then dry it out on the gas stove.  Only after it was clean did I proceed to the seasoning stage.    Seasoning is not hard at all.  All you need to do is take some vegetable oil to your clean pan and apply a few tablespoons with a paper towel. Coat every surface then wipe off any excess.  Place the cast iron in the oven and bake for at least an hour.  That oil will harden over time into a non stick coating that can’t be beat.

After 2 or 3 seasonings, the pot was restored

 

Maintenance

Now that the pan is fully restored and seasoned, it needs to be maintained so that it doesn’t ever rust again and has that unmistakable non stick surface.  No matter if your cast iron is new or not, all you need to do is fully clean it after use, then apply oil.  

Cleaning

Most of the time you can wipe the pan clean, but if you have any stuck on foods, scrubbing with a bit of coarse Kosher salt in your still warm pan will effectively clean the surface.  Rinse with hot water when you are done, then immediately place on the stove to dry.  I like gas the best but have used every type of cooking stove imaginable to dry my pans.  When dry and cool enough to the touch, apply more oil and rub into every surface.  Wipe off any excess with a paper towel and you are ready to go for the next time.

Summary

So to sum up, try restoring first before you throw out that old rusted cast iron pan.  I thought mine was a gonner, but was pleasantly surprised to see it restored to functioning order.  It took some elbow grease and ultimately power tools, but I think it was worth the effort.

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