Cast iron has been used for utilizing different materials for thousands of years. It’s a durable material that with time became widely used as people learned more about it and managed to produce it for a cheap amount of funds. The best part about it was that it was hard which allowed products made out of it to last for years and even decades. Now, cast iron items are quite valuable, but the cast iron likely caught rust which decreases its value.
Although cast iron is super-strong, and has great durability, you need to take good care of the items that are made out of it. Because, if you don’t, the environment and time will do their job and cause the cast iron items to rust.
Once they catch rust, cast iron items will become particularly useless, and the more rust accumulates on the items, the less valuable and less likely to save they’ll become. People tend to throw away items made of cast iron that are rusted, as they deem them completely useless, but that is wrong.
You may not know that, but cleaning the rust off antique cast iron is surprisingly easy and shouldn’t take too much time off your daily schedule. More importantly, it’s an important practice as it will preserve the old antique furniture or objects that can tell us more about the lifestyle of our ancestors.
Whether you discovered an antique furniture piece that has cast iron on it, or a set of dishes that have rusted completely, we have good news. You don’t have to throw them away. Continue reading this article to learn more about cast iron and how to clean it.
It’s possible to clean cast iron using natural methods, although in some cases you may have to resort to chemical solutions. We’ll also help you prevent your antique furniture from rusting in the future with detailed yet straightforward methods.
How Severe is the Rust on Antique Cast Iron?
A little rust on your antique cast iron is okay because it means that those who’ve used the skillet, iron, or some other objects have taken good care of them. However, it is always worth cleaning it properly and ensuring that the rust won’t come back.
But first, before we get to clean it, it’s important to determine how severe it is. If there’s only a small superficial amount of rust over the pan or some other object as you run your hand through it, chances are that you’ll be able to clean them using vinegar or some other natural ingredient that you already have at home.
If the rust has penetrated the deeper layers of cast iron, it’s still quite possible to clean the object with nothing but natural ingredients that you already have at home, in your pantry, or some other location, but it’s safe to say that you might have to involve some chemical solutions in order to take care of the rust properly.
Editor’s notes: Always carefully examine the cast iron to be sure how much rust there is. Flip the object to see if the rust completely ate up the iron and it’d be best if you do that under the sun where there’s a lot of natural light which can shed more light on how much of the cast iron is destroyed and how much can be recovered.
Natural Remedies from Removing Rust from Cast Iron
If there’s not too much rust and it hasn’t spread into the inner layers of the cast iron, it’s time to use some natural remedies to take care of the rust. Luckily, most of these ingredients are available in your home, but they can easily be obtained from local shops, so it won’t take too much time to fetch these things.
Lemon Juice & Salt
Lemon juice and salt are one of those materials that you definitely have at home. Mixing them, and scrubbing the iron pan or some other object will help you take care of the rust in no time. You can also mix the lemon juice with water if you need more of it. Make sure to use your own lemon and not the lemon juice from the store. Squeeze the juice from one or two lemons and mix it with salt.
Editor’s notes: You can use a paper towel to rub the solution into the cast iron. Do so in circular movements and repeat to scrub off all the rust from the furniture. But, it’s super-important to wear rubber gloves and some other type of protection. Rust can be sharp and getting scratched on it means you’d have to visit a doctor for a tetanus shot.
Vinegar & Baking Soda
Both vinegar and baking soda have similar properties to lemon and salt and represent one of the most popular solutions for cleaning the rust from antique cast iron. Just like with the lemon solution, you can either use pure white vinegar or mix it with a little bit of water.
It’d be best to clean the dishes by soaking the solution into them and letting them warm up in the oven for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you’re trying to clean the dust off a smaller piece of furniture, you can place it in a large aluminum pan and let it wash off the rust for one hour inside.
Editor’s notes: It’d be also good to invest in a brush with stiff or hard bristles which can help you scrub the cast-off. If the dish has been sitting in vinegar and baking soda for an hour, you can test with the brush whether the rust started taking off. Also, don’t forget to use gloves!
Potatoes & Dish Soap
Did you know that potatoes are some of the best natural remedies for cleaning rust off cast iron as well as other metals that tend to rust? That’s because potatoes are equipped with naturally-occurring oxalic acid which breaks down rust.
Cut a raw potato crosswise and dip it in dish soap and or baking soda. Both options work, and even better, you can use them together. It’s great for scrubbing smaller pieces of furniture without having to dip them in an aluminum pan or somewhere else. It’s also good for cleaning smaller pieces of antique furniture and kitchen equipment like knives, forks, and spoons.
Editor’s notes: Once you’re done, don’t forget to rinse it with vinegar or lemon juice, although the water released by the potato should be enough. Also, don’t forget the gloves, your antique cast iron will look as good as new.
Chemical-based Solutions for Cleaning Antique Cast Iron
In case the rust has penetrated a bit deeper and created smaller to moderate pits, you’ll have to clean it using chemical-based solutions. We’re going to detail them all below. All you have to do is follow the steps until your antique cast iron is clean and as good as new.
Although the aforementioned ingredients are considered natural rust dissolvers, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes you will need help from a chemical-based product. There is plenty of dust-removing products on the market.
They are specifically designed to get rid of different shapes of corrosion and rust from any type of metal that corrodes. In a chemical reaction with rust, they dissolve it and prevent more damage to the piece of cast iron you’re trying to clean.
Editor’s notes: There are many different rust removers on the market. They also come in different shapes, some are gel and in a liquid state, while some are in a powder state. Our choice for removing rust from cast iron is CRC Evapo-Rust Gel Rust Remover which is not only helpful for cast iron rust but also other types of metals too.
Wire Brushes & Sandpaper
Whether you’re using wire brushes or sandpaper alone or with some other chemical solution, it’s worth mentioning that they’re quite helpful in taking care of the rust on cast iron. In addition to that, wire brushes work on any kind of metal.
There are various types of wire brushes. The most popular one is a brass wire brush because it’s suitable for any kind of metal and won’t damage it. However, if you’re working with cast iron, it’d be more effective to use a carbon steel wire brush.
Editor’s notes: If you’re struggling to find the right wire brush for cleaning the rust off antique cast iron, check this selection of sandpapers that are ideal for cleaning rust. Alternatively, this Maxman wire brush will take care of any rust, including the one on cast iron.
Rust removers may sometimes be too strong for some types of furniture, especially if it’s antique furniture that is more delicate than new ones. In that case, metal polish is a liquid that can easily clean corrosion and rust over metal, as well as damage to the plastic. It’s ideal for taking care of antique cast iron furniture.
Editor’s notes: Flitz Multipurpose Polish is an ideal liquid solution to use for small pieces of furniture like knives, skillets, and others. It also works with other furniture made out of cast iron.
Professional Treatment Options for Antique Cast Iron
Unfortunately, natural and chemical solutions can’t always fix a rusty pan or another piece of furniture. Luckily, some professional treatment options may help. We listed them below. When contacting the companies that provide service for this type of furniture, always describe the furniture you need help with, so they can ensure the conditions necessary to clean it.
Sandblasting is one of the most popular methods for cleaning rust off antique cast iron, as well as other metals. It’s commonly used to remove rust, paint, and residue that occurred as a result of corrosion on materials such as metal, cast iron included. It can also remove scratches and other signs of wear and tear, leaving your furniture in an almost new condition.
Editor’s notes: Keep in mind that some types of materials for sandblasting are banned. According to CDC, there’s a risk of silicosis in workers who perform the sandblasting process. It’s quite difficult to control the hazard that the use of these materials may cause.
That being said, silica sand and other solutions that have more than 1% of crystalline silica are banned. Always use materials that are safe for you and those around you.
If you’re worried because the natural remedies for cleaning rust off the antique cast iron didn’t work, don’t be spooked because electrolysis will clean your furniture like magic. In simple terms, electrolysis is a simple method that removes rust that appeared as a result of corrosion.
The piece of furniture is submerged in an electrolyte solution, and then, a small amount of electrical charge is passed through the solution from a battery. The current passes through the rusty metal which results in an exchange of ions that remove the rust from the metal.
Welding is a process that may not leave your cast iron furniture in the best condition but it works. It’s a process that includes the use of welding rods and a large electrode that passes the electricity through metal.
The most commonly used welding rod is made of materials that include manganese or silicon because the slag they create is powerful enough to push the rust off the surface. More importantly, it’s necessary to polish the cast iron in acetone and attach it to a large electrode with the aforementioned properties, usually the 7018.
Ways to Protect Antique Cast Iron from Rusting
Cleaning the rust off your antique cast iron is usually not enough. You have to ensure that the furniture is preserved and it won’t come back. Here’s how.
- Proper Storage – To confirm that your furniture won’t catch rust again, it’s necessary to leave it in a dry condition and never submerge it in the water, as that’s where cast iron will rust the most. If your cast iron is a skillet or a pan, don’t leave it sitting in the sink for hours before cleaning it. Clean it immediately, and put it away so it wouldn’t corrode over time.
- Regular Cleaning & Maintenance – It’s important to keep the cast iron clean and maintained to prevent it from rusting. You can either use the natural remedies that we listed above or some polish or gel that is chemical-based. Lastly, it’ll extend the lifespan of your furniture.
- Use of Protective Coatings – Protective coatings will guard the metal against reacting with oxygen which causes rust. Some of them use aluminum alloy or other materials to ensure maximum protection. Rust-Oleum is one such product and it does a great job.
If your antique kitchen appliances and equipment have caught rust, there are plenty of ways to remove them and ensure that they’ll never rust again. Some of the most common ways to fix a problem with rust are by using natural remedies, but chemical solutions are quite helpful too. The last thing you can do is to take your cast iron furniture to a professional service for treatment. Don’t forget to maintain your cast iron regularly afterward, so it wouldn’t catch on rust again!