How to Easily Clean a Rusty Grill and Get That New Grill Feeling Again

rusty grill grate

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There’s nothing worse than popping the lid of your grill come springtime to discover a forest of red rust starting back at you.

It’s not hygienic, it’s not appetizing, and it’s really not good for your grill grate. 

The good news is that getting rid of the rust is relatively easy, and can be done with just a few household items. We’ll show you how.

What you’ll need to clean your grill

The simplest way to clean a rusty grill is with salt and vinegar. That’s right; standard chip seasoning will get your grill backing in working order. 

Before you get started, it’s best to assemble everything you need for the cleaning. Once you get cleaning, it’s going get very messy indeed, and the last thing you want is to be leaving rusty handprints all over the kitchen cupboards.

Vinegar, salt, disposable cloth and garbage bag on a wooden table

To clean your grill with salt and vinegar, you will need: 

  • 1 cup of regular table salt
  • 2 cups of white vinegar
  • 1 heavy-duty garbage bag
  • Disposable cloths or rags

The given amounts of salt and vinegar are for cleaning one reasonably standard grill grate, so if you are doing more than one, just add the same amounts again per additional grate.

How to clean your grill with salt and vinegar

Once you’ve assembled your ingredients, it’s time to get rid of that rust. This method works for all grill types, so it doesn’t matter if you are cleaning a gas or charcoal grill.

1. Mix one cup salt with two cups vinegar

The first thing you’ll need to do is mix the salt with the vinegar. The salt will increase the natural acidity of the vinegar to the point where it can dissolve the already oxidized metal.

However, it won’t damage the metal around and underneath it. The salt also acts as an abrasive when it comes time to start scrubbing.

2. Place grates in a garbage bag

You’re going to need to soak your rusty grill grates overnight, which is where that sturdy garage bag comes in.

Double up on the garbage bags if a single one isn’t sturdy enough.  You don’t want a mixture of salt, vinegar, and dissolved rust leaking out everywhere.

3. Add vinegar mixture to bag

Once your grates are in the bag, pour the vinegar and salt mixture into the container and jostle it around to make sure it covers the entirety of your grate.

4. Lay flat and allow to soak overnight

You’re going to want to keep as much of the salt and vinegar mixture in constant with your rusty grill as possible, so find somewhere to lay the bag down flat and leave it to soak overnight.

5. Remove the remaining rust with cloth or old rag

The salt and vinegar mixture will have done its job overnight and dissolved most of the rust, but you will need to get in there with some rags and give your grill grate a good rub down.

Remember to make use of the remaining salt to work as an abrasive and help you shift any rust that’s left.

Depending on how rusty your grill was to start with, it might need a few trips through the salt and vinegar bath to get rid of it all.

If salt and vinegar aren’t an option for you, there are a few other methods you can use.

Other methods to clean a rusty grill

Soap and water 

If you only have a few very minor spots of rust and want to get your grill working as soon as possible, you can use soap, water, and some old fashioned elbow grease. 

A stiff-bristled brush nylon brush will be the best tool in your arsenal here as it’s stiff enough to shift the rust but won’t damage your grill grate like a wire or brass brush would.

Lemon juice and powdered detergent

Lemon juice and powdered detergent work in a similar manner to salt and vinegar, by creating an acid solution that dissolves the rust. It’s a little less effective than salt and vinegar, and the lemon juice can result in things getting a little sticky, but it works just fine on smaller patches of rust.

Vinegar and baking soda

If you have rust spots in hard to scrub places, then making a paste of white vinegar and baking soda can help to get rid of it. Mix up a 2-1 ratio of baking soda to vinegar into a thick paste and apply it quickly. 

The acid in the vinegar will eat away the rust while the baking soda will react with the acid, causing it foam, which helps it get into all the gaps.

Safe rust removers

There are plenty of rust removing chemicals on the market but, unfortunately,  a lot of them use some somewhat hazardous chemicals. Since you’re cleaning a cooking appliance, you’ll want to look for something that is safe and non-toxic. 

Brands like Evapo-Rust and Rust Remover are water-based, non-toxic, and, in the case of Evapo-Rust, biodegradable, and are therefore safe to use on your grill.

The best offense is a good defense

The best way to get rid of rust is to avoid it building up in the first place.

There are a couple of easy steps you can take to make sure that your gill doesn’t oxidize when it’s not being used.

Clean your grill directly after each use

We know it’s a pain, and you’d rather listen to the siren call of beer and hot dogs, but cleaning your grill of grease and burnt-on food directly after use is both hygienic and an excellent way to stop rust forming. 

If you have a stainless steel grill, avoid using a wire brush to clean it as this will strip the coating off the steel and leave it vulnerable to corrosion. 

Oil your cast iron grill grates

Your cast iron grill grates need oiling just like your cast iron pans do. If you’d like to know more about how to look after your cast iron, you can check out our article on the subject.

Buy ceramic

Not only are ceramic coated grill grates non-stick, but the coating also stops water from getting to the metal underneath, preventing it from rusting.

We have an article that explains the pros and cons of each type of grill material if you would like to learn more.

Get a weatherproof cover

Keeping the water off your grill or smoker is paramount to avoiding rust and investing a weatherproof cover now is going to save you a lot of time, money, and scrubbing later.

Wrapping it all up

Rust can literally eat your grill out from under you if you let it. Still, it’s a situation quickly remedied with a little hard work and some readily available household products. Just remember, once the rust is gone, you’ll need to take steps to make sure it doesn’t come back.

If you’ve got a sure-fire way of removing rust, or a great way to avoid grill grates rusting in the first place, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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