This article was last updated on October 31st, 2020
Two words most people do not want to hear in one sentence are the words cast iron and rust. Others among us do not really understand if Dutch ovens do rust. So do Dutch ovens rust?
Unfortunately, yes, they can rust because they are constructed of cast-iron. Despite valiant efforts by inventors and innovators to mitigate this problem, the harsh reality is that Dutch ovens do rust and the onus is ultimately on you the owner to maintain or restore the cast-iron cooker once nature has intervened.
Researching this topic inspired me to bring to your attention the “fact” that with simple care and maintenance you can prevent rust from appearing on your cast-iron.
This means you will not have to carry out time-consuming cast-iron restorative methods to be able to use your Dutch oven.
Furthermore, you will be able to pull out your cast-iron without fear of discovering rust that will not allow you to use it whenever you desire.
3 Simple Steps to Prevent Cast-Iron From Rusting
This is as simple as cleaning your Dutch oven as soon as you have finished using it. By leaving food particles, caramelized or burnt pieces to dry out on the iron it is harder to remove.
Use a tool to scrape particles off. Boil water inside to remove difficult pieces. Rinse with water and continue scraping until all grime is removed.
Intervening early prevents more work.
After use care, clean as above if required. Use a scourer and warm to hot water scrub clean and rinse.
Dry thoroughly, it is imperative that you do not leave cast-iron with any moisture on it. After hand drying you can place the iron on low heat to dry it completely – then store safely.
Maintenance required for cast-iron cooking pots, pans, skillets, and any other cast-iron is it to season it as soon as the seasoning starts to break down.
You will know when this is happing because your food will start to stick. So light scrubbing and regular reseasoning will save you from a full cast-iron restoration “DAY”.
How to Restore Your Rusty Dutch oven
Several options are available for restoring a rusty Dutch oven and I will do my best to thrash some of them out comprehensively in this article.
All of the methods we cover will be useful for people who want to remove rust and grime from their Dutch ovens.
More often than not you cannot do one without the other. You will need to remove grime before you can deal with the rust on your cast-iron oven.
Sometimes you can do both at the same time but the results are not always outstanding when you do that. Rather follow the natural order or steps.
1. Putting a Rusty Dutch Oven in a Grill
A common, relatively easy, and useful technique is that of putting your old and rusted cast-iron Dutch oven into a grill, to help restore it and make it look and feel brand new.
The first port of call would be to heat the grill in question up to something in the region of 500 degrees. Subsequent to that, you can then put the rusty Dutch oven into that grill for at least two hours.
Just to be clear, the cleaning hasn’t actually started yet.
Once you have had the rusty Dutch oven in your grill for about two hours, you will allow it to briefly cool down before you start to clean it.
Among the things you will need to start the cleaning are:
- Cleaning Vinegar
- Steel Wool (or any other abrasive scrubbing material)
Initially, it really is as straightforward as pouring some of the cleaning vinegar onto the Dutch oven surface and then scrubbing it with your steel wool.
It would probably be prudent to start with something like the lid or the outside of the Dutch oven.
Depending on the severity of the rust on your cast-iron, you could find yourself at it for any time from a few minutes and several hours. The important thing is to be as thorough as possible.
The last thing you need is to do some more restoration work within a matter of weeks or months. Which is what will happen if you do not remove all the rust.
So, scrub until you are convinced that you have removed all of that rust. It should be quite apparent when you are done.
Once it looks like you have removed the rust from your Dutch oven, you will start something called the seasoning process of this Dutch oven restoration.
First and foremost, you should take your Dutch oven to a sink or put it under a tap somewhere on your property and start to wash it down with water only (no soap).
Make sure there is no loose rust left on the Dutch oven and even dry it off properly before you start with the seasoning process.
Once it is dry, you can wipe the Dutch oven down with some cleaning vinegar once again, before putting it back into the grill.
This time you should set that grill at something in the region of 350 degrees. Ideally, you will have your oven on the grill for about 15 to 20 minutes.
The whole point of this exercise will be to remove any moisture that might still be found on the Dutch oven, following the initial cleaning.
When all is said and done, exposure to moisture is what contributes to the rust of a cast-iron product. So failure to eliminate any moisture before seasoning will be counterproductive.
Take the most recent step of this process seriously.
Right, now you can use any type of edible oil to season the Dutch oven with several light coats. When you apply one coat, you will put the Dutch oven back into the grill, at about 350 degrees for the greater part of two hours.
Oil for seasoning Dutch ovens – great article I wrote here
The key is to take note of when the Dutch oven has stopped smoking. That is when you should take it out of the grill.
Depending on how you want the finish to be, you can keep repeating the process until you are completely satisfied with the outcome.
Make sure the coats are light and do not rush the process. Being heavy-handed with this will ultimately be counterproductive. The Dutch oven will never stop smoking if you rush and the coat will run.
If you rush you are wasting your time and the outcome will not be satisfactory for future meal preparation.
2. Using Lye Solution to Deal With Grime and Rust on Your Dutch Oven
In addition to rust, the other aspect which has an adverse impact on the performance of your Dutch oven is the build-up of grime. Both usually manifest themselves after years of use or even after years of neglect.
Critically, grime normally masks the amount of rust that you have on your Dutch oven. So, failure to remove the grime will limit your capacity to deal with the rust that has settled and spread on your oven.
The satisfying thing about the purchase of a Dutch oven though, is that the cast iron product is durable and can be used through several generations. All that is required is a little cleaning and restoration.
Lye Solution Method
The first thing you can do to deal with the grime build-up on your Dutch oven is to fill up a plastic tub with the lye solution. It is as simple as placing your cast iron pans in that solution.
Depending on how much grime build-up there is on your Dutch oven, you could have the cast iron pans in the lye solution for anything up to three days, it probably won’t be less than two days though.
Leave the Dutch oven in the solution until you feel you are satisfied that all of the grime has been removed. The lye solution will dissolve all the grime if you give it enough time.
That is actually a popular method but if you are not comfortable about the huge tub of caustic base solution that you now need to get rid of, there is another option available.
Electric Oven Method
What you can also do is use an electric oven to remove the grime from your Dutch oven. So, if you do have an electric oven, the method would be to put your cast iron pan into the oven.
I would advise that you put something such as a paper lining or an old tray underneath it to catch the grime that falls off it while in the oven. It is similar to the grilling technique we mentioned earlier in this article.
The one drawback of this method is that it will have an adverse effect on the aesthetic appeal of the Dutch oven.
It will look bare, rusty, and even dirtier than with the grime on. There will be a brown and dry tinge to the color of the cast iron pan. So, while the grime would have been burnt off pretty efficiently, you will be left with a rather rusty looking pan that needs to be dealt with further.
If you do not mind doing the extra work on this, then the method is for you. However, if you do have some time constraints, then we would suggest exploring the next option.
Oven Cleaner Method
The third popular option for removing grime is to use oven cleaner. The one fear that does emerge from this method is that you could have the oven cleaner work its way into the pores of your Dutch oven and that you will never be able to remove it from your pan.
There is, however, slender evidence to suggest that a cast iron pan will absorb something like oven cleaner to a degree significant enough to have an impact on its performance or your cooking.
In addition to that, the oven cleaner will wash clean most of the time. Once you have dealt with your fears about the oven cleaner, you should then shift your focus to scraping off as much of the loose grime as you can.
A putty knife should be more than suitable to perform this task. Anything harder and stiffer than that will likely damage the Dutch oven. That is the last thing that you want.
Take care to only scrape off whatever you think you can get. Anything beyond that is forcing the issue and potentially damaging to your Dutch oven.
More often than not, what you will find when you have removed the grime from the Dutch oven, is that there is tremendous rust underneath, as I mentioned earlier in this article.
The thing about the heavy build-up of grime on a Dutch oven is that there is a tremendous amount of moisture that will get trapped behind that and as we all already know, moisture will contribute to rust.
Another critical piece of information here is that while outstanding when taking grime off, the oven cleaner is not going to cut it when removing the rust from the Dutch oven.
Nevertheless, let us take one step backward for a moment and focus on how you would go about using the oven cleaner to remove the remaining crud on the Dutch oven – the grime that you were not able to remove with the putty knife.
So, two things upfront!
You will need a small abrasive brush of some kind, which will help when trying to clean all of the tight edges and you will need a plastic bag, in which you can fit your cast iron pan. A bin bag normally works for this kind of thing.
You will then spray the oven cleaner down thoroughly on all sides of the Dutch oven.
For the sake of your health, you should not spray this on while the cast iron is hot. If you do, there will be fumes and the prospects of you coughing or even choking will increase significantly. So, spray it on while the cast iron is cold.
Once you have sprayed the oven cleaner onto the cast iron – and I mean the whole pan here – you will grab the plastic bag of which we spoke earlier. You will then take the Dutch oven and put it into the bag and seal as much of it as possible.
The whole point of the bag is to keep the oven cleaner from drying out. You would ordinarily allow the cast iron pan to sit like that for about four or five hours.
After that, you will likely be in a good position to judge whether the Dutch oven needs another application of this or whether you can continue with your process.
Following a short scrub with some steel wool and even the toothbrush, you will then remove the remaining grime on the cast iron pan. Then rinse thoroughly.
About That Rust on the Dutch Oven
Trying to simply scrub the rust off a cast iron pan can be an enormous undertaking, unlikely to yield any positive results.
Some people might be able to remove a considerable amount of that rust but you are highly unlikely to have all of it removed.
Failure to remove all of it effectively places you back at square one because the rust will undoubtedly become an issue once again after that. It spreads and it spreads quickly when left unattended.
Earlier in this article, I touched on the use of cleaning vinegar. In that instance, the method was to use the vinegar with an abrasive brush or steel wool and clean as if you were washing dishes in the kitchen.
Another – probably better – option would be to actually soak the cast iron in vinegar for three or four days. What we did not talk about is that the vinegar option does carry with it a drawback or two.
For example, if the surface of your Dutch oven has a very smooth finish, the vinegar will actually etch that surface. That is to say, the surface will be corroded.
The whole point of cast iron Dutch ovens is the fine finish that comes with the territory when you purchase one. You can lose that when you soak the cast iron in vinegar for a few days. So, try to err on the side of caution.
Electrolysis to Deal With Rust on Your Dutch Oven
Electrolysis is “a technique that uses a direct electric current (DC) to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction.”
Incidentally, the process we are about to explore can also be used to remove grime from a cast iron pan and not just the rust.
However, more often than not you will actually find that using this as a single-step process will take a little longer than putting the cast iron through the oven cleaner process first and then using electrolysis for the rust only.
Nevertheless, let us just deal with the rust on the Dutch oven for the moment – as that is kind of the more important aspect of this discussion.
It is quite important that you understand how to set up an electrolysis tank before pursuing this option and there are videos available online. You can find a suitable one here on YouTube.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Never use electrolysis on cast iron that has been chrome or nickel-plated.
- Never use electrolysis on stainless steel because that contains both chrome and nickel.
If you can adhere to those two principles then this process should be entirely safe for you. When your tank is full of water. You can then use some washing powder as an electrolyte solution.
A few tablespoons of that should be sufficient. Dunk that in the tank. Stir the solution and make sure it is well mixed.
It would also be prudent to use something non-conductive for a cross piece when putting the cast iron pan into the solution. That process does not take a considerable period to complete.
We would say something in the region of four hours should do it. If done right, this will be the most effective technique to remove rust from cast iron. The results are outstanding.
Once done, you will then go about seasoning your cast iron. Refer to the earlier steps about cast-iron restoration in this article.
Conclusion – Do Dutch Ovens Rust? 3 Simple Steps to Stop Rust!
Invariably a cast iron product will succumb to some form of rust. Some cases of it are worse than others.
However, the last thing you want to do is to part ways with the cast iron pan. You certainly do not want to throw it away.
Even if and when you spot that there is some form of rust, you should be able to rest well in the knowledge that this product can still be used for cooking and not just to make the kitchen look pretty.
When rust sets in, your cast iron pan can be restored but it is critical that you do a comprehensive job while restoring and seasoning it.
All it really takes is a few hours out of your week occasionally. Even the more complicated methods, like electrolysis, are pretty safe granted you take all the necessary precautions and follow all of the instructions to the T.
Clean your Dutch oven as soon as you have finished cooking – it is the best way to maintain cast-iron – check it out here
The way you store your Dutch oven also is a factor as to whether rust arrives or stays away – check out these storage tips here
One-Pot Cooking Rocks