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Professional cast iron cookware cleaners generally use electrolysis to clean cast iron, but you can use common household ingredients and do an equally good job. To clean gunk off, I use oven cleaner, after heating the iron in an oven to about 200 degrees and letting it cool to where I can handle it reasonably, and then place the iron in a plastic garbage bag to soak for a couple of days - usually have to repeat once or twice, rinsing and scrubbing between times.

I generally use a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water to remove rust from iron, letting it sit until the rust dissolves, usually a few hours. If the rust is embedded, I have used a course pot scrubber and/or a small coarse wire wheel brush mounted in a drill to remove the worst of it, then follow with a fine wire wheel brush, again soak it in the vinegar and water bath, rinse it, spray it with oven cleaner to neutralize the acid in the vinegar, place it back in the plastic bag for a few hours, rinse the oven cleaner off with a green scrubbing pad, go over the piece with an SOS pad, wash it in hot water and dishwater detergent, dry it with a towel and place it in an oven at 300 degrees for 15 minutes to finish drying, then turn the oven off and let it cool inside the oven. Citric acid crystals in water can also be used and do a faster job. Never heat the acidic solutions on a stove, as doing so very rapidly accelerates the process - I learned the hard way. As previously mentioned, professional cleaners generally use electrolysis to remove rust - See the links at this site for more information: Never try to clean cast iron in a hot fire:

Most of this is redundant from a thread on another board and pretty straight forward and simple, but it works pretty well. Here are some before and after photos of a badly rusted skillet I cleaned using the above household ingredient methods without any specialized equipment or chemicals:


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