Did you know that unless you’ve got a specialized burner, it’s better to invest in a flat-bottomed wok instead of a commercial round-bottomed model? If you have one with a round bottom and use it on a regular burner, the food won’t cook as evenly.
A flat-bottomed wok, on the other hand, is an invaluable kitchen tool. Not only can you use it to create delicious stir-fries and vegetable dishes, it makes amazing popcorn!
But if you don’t use yours very often, there’s a chance that it could acquire some rust. In fact, there are several factors that could contribute to this, even if you use the equipment on a regular basis.
When you’ve finished reading, you’ll know how to clean a rusty wok in no time flat. Here are a few of the other details we’ll explore:
- Tips on proper cleaning and maintenance
- What tools and supplies you’ll need
- How to season the utensil (and other preventative measures)
- Reasons why it might be rusty in the first place
- Restoration and reseasoning options
- Alternative cleaning methods
- Safety concerns
Even though my wok is in heavy rotation, I’ve had to deal with rust from time to time. When this happens, I turn to reputable websites and forums to find out how other home chefs have handled the problem.
All of the advice I’ve received has been invaluable — enough so that I decided to share it.
I bought this wok in 1999.
Still going strong, 23 years later.
I’m proud that it’s lasted this long.
I remember Yan Can Cook on tv when I was a kid.
He said “Remember to oil your wok after using it, EVERY TIME. It will rust if you don’t.”
Chef Martin Yan, still helping me, now.👍 pic.twitter.com/9BkL1lcEn4
— Echo of the 80s B-Movie Age (@EchoLeeNumber2) January 29, 2022
Table of Contents
- 1. Why Is My Wok Rusty? →
- 2. My Wok Is Rusty — Is There Any Way to Restore It? →
- 3. Is It Safe to Cook Using a Rusty Wok? →
- 4. How to Season a Wok →
- 5. Cleaning a Wok →
- 6. How to Clean a Wok with Rust →
- 7. Alternative Methods →
- 8. Tips on Proper Wok Care →
- 9. Useful Resources →
How to Clean a Rusty Wok
Why Is My Wok Rusty?
If there’s rust on your wok’s surface, moisture is the culprit.
It’s imperative to dry the utensil thoroughly before putting it away. Rust comes about as a result of oxidization, during which iron reacts with oxygen and water to create hydrated iron oxide.
In layman’s terms, this means that the metal is reverting to an unrefined state. It’s up to you to coax it back toward its former glory.
Here, you’ll find another piece on unwanted moisture — this time on the surface of your peanut butter — and how you can work the problem.
My Wok Is Rusty — Is There Any Way to Restore It?
Yes, you can absolutely restore rusty woks — and get many more years of use out of them. Don’t let anyone tell you that rusty utensils need to be discarded. In most cases, all they require is a bit of time, effort, and elbow grease.
We’ll cover the best ways to clean rusty woks using various methods in the sections below. You can find out how to clean another popular kitchen utensil in this article.
Is It Safe to Cook Using a Rusty Wok?
No. While the metal itself will still be safe to use once you’ve removed all the rust, it’s not permissible to cook with a rusty pan or utensil of any type.
If you leave the rust on the surface long enough, it will begin to flake off due to its porous nature. That means the iron itself will crumble away. Therefore, it’s imperative to remove any rust as soon as you notice it.
Although the iron itself is food-safe, iron oxide — as rust is known scientifically — is not. Never attempt to prepare food in a rusty pan without first taking steps to remove the rust.
Take a look at this video to get an idea of the damage that rust can cause:
How to Season a Wok
Before you learn how to clean a rusty wok, you should know how to season it properly. This can help you avoid the issue in the first place.
When a kitchen utensil is made of rust-prone metal, it’s in your best interest to provide it with a protective layer that will help ward off moisture. That’s what seasoning is.
Here’s how you can season the utensil for its first use — or re-season one that’s had the patina stripped due to excess scrubbing.
First, you’ll need to set the wok on a burner over low heat. Add a tablespoon or so of unseasoned fat, such as lard or canola oil, and swirl it around to coat the interior. If you’re using a solid fat like lard, wait for it to melt before moving on.
Should you have any wok oil on hand, you might consider using that instead. In this article, you’ll learn more about this invaluable kitchen staple.
You might need more or less than a tablespoon of fat, depending on the size of the unit. There should be enough to evenly coat the interior surface without excess pooling. Use your best judgment here.
When the metal is thoroughly heated, let the fat cool, then rub it into the pan using paper towels. Wipe away any excess. There should be a thin patina of fat left behind on the metal.
If you’re re-seasoning the pan after scrubbing away the initial layer, it might take a few uses before it’s completely back to normal. Have patience — you’ll get there eventually.
Be aware, too, that the seasoning may eventually wear away over time. If you notice any bare patches appearing, it’s best to re-season the pan immediately. Otherwise, these bald spots will attract moisture — and therefore rust.
This example should illustrate the importance of a professional seasoning job:
Left: Brand new carbon steel wok. Still has its anti-rust coating on it. You cannot cook with this. It would burn, stink and possibly be harmful.
Right: Same wok. Scrubbed with HSW, 1st burn, scrubbed again with HSW. Coated w/ high smoke point oil (Canola here), 2nd burn. Done. pic.twitter.com/LuQdUkpncd
— Jim Campbell (@JustJimWillDo) October 4, 2020
Cleaning a Wok
Here’s what the folks at Taste of Home have to say on this subject:
First things first: Never use soap, harsh cleansers or metal scrubbers to clean your wok. Doing so will remove the patina.
You’ve worked hard to create that nonstick patina — harsh soaps will take you right back to square one.
Experts and novices alike can agree on this:
Remember to wash your wok after every time you use it, and never use soap. Dry it on the stove and add oil to ensure it doesn’t rust.
— Dr J (@FlassKnows) March 22, 2022
Likewise, it’s best to avoid metal scrubbers like steel wool. In some cases, you may have no choice but to apply steel wool, but if you do, re-seasoning will be in order.
Use a regular sponge or washcloth to remove debris from the wok’s surface. A wok brush or scouring pad, such as the type made by Scotch Brite, would also work, as long as they don’t remove the seasoning.
You can use these methods on other metal pans as well. In this article, you’ll learn more about fry pans and French skillets and how they differ from woks.
How to Clean a Wok with Rust
At tastylicious, the experts have this to say:
There are several methods to remove rust, but the most simple is vigorously scrubbing the area.
Cleaning a rusty pan isn’t all that different from removing caked-on food after each use. You can learn more about that here.
For optimum results, follow these steps.
1. Fill the wok with warm water and allow it to soak for about 5 minutes. This will loosen up the rust particles, making them easier to remove.
2. Apply a gentle sponge or cleaning pad to the affected areas. Scrub until the rust is gone, then rinse well.
3. You may need to repeat the process a few times in order to remove all of the rust.
4. For particularly severe cases, you can resort to steel wool or sandpaper in order to remove the rust. However, if you do this, you’ll need to re-season the surface, following the instructions we listed in the section above.
5. As always, make sure the utensil is completely dry before you put it back in the cupboard.
Still looking for tips? Check out this video tutorial:
You can also use a coarse salt, such as kosher or sea salt, to remove patches of rust from your wok’s surface.
Sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt onto the affected areas, then heat the pan for a minute or two over high heat. Use a spatula to spread the hot salt around the surface, then let the pan cool thoroughly before scrubbing it clean with a dish cloth. Re-season the pan and make sure it’s dry before storing it.
To create a seasoning effect at the same time, add a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil to the pan along with the salt. Heat for several minutes, then follow the same steps outlined above for cleaning and drying.
Baking soda offers another alternative, especially if you’re only dealing with a mild case of rust. Set the wok over high heat, then add a bit of water and a few tablespoons of baking soda. Let the mixture come to a boil, then turn off the heat.
When the pan is cool, scrub away at the rusty patches using a sponge or Scotch Brite pad. Rinse, pat dry, and put over medium heat until all the excess water has evaporated.
For more tips on how to rehabilitate an out-of-use pan, check out this tutorial:
Tips on Proper Wok Care
As soon as the surface is clean, wipe it dry with a clean kitchen towel. Then place it over a low burner until any visible droplets of water have dissipated.
Wipe out the interior thoroughly using a clean cloth or paper towels, taking care not to burn yourself. Woks need to be completely dry before they’re put away in order to prevent rusting.
If you have a glass top stove, take special care when shopping for the right wok. You’ll find more information in this article.
- How to Remove Burnt Smell From Food →
- Why You Shouldn’t Wash a Hot Pan in Cold Water →
- How to Substitute Baking Soda →
As surprised as I always am to find rust on any of my kitchen utensils, I know it’s bound to happen from time to time. Learning how to clean a rusty wok has been a valuable use of my time — and it’s sure to come in handy for you as well.
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