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This week’s question comes from the inside: Craftzine Managing Editor Shawn Connally asks:
I got out my loaf pans to make banana bread this afternoon and one of the pans had rust in it. I scrubbed it well, but the rust is still on there, or at least the color of rust is on there. Can I still use the pan, or is it dangerous and should be used to store loose screws or something like that?
First off, if your pan is nonstick or coated with any sort of flaky chemical coating, toss it. Shawn’s pan, pictured above, isn’t coated, so it’s just metal we’re dealing with, not harmful disintegrating nastiness that’s going to leech into your baked goods. If it’s not coated, you can deal with the rust and save your pan. A little bit of rust, like above, especially if cleaned as much as you can get it clean, isn’t going to hurt you. Grease your pan well and bake on. You can also line your pan with parchment paper to prevent rust contact. If it bothers you or is worse than above, keep reading.
Using an abrasive pad and some pumice cleaner like Bon Ami or Comet, scrub out the rust. If that gets it all, skip to the seasoning step. If not…
Get some wet/dry sandpaper in a few different grits (available at the hardware store, it’s usually dark gray in color). Wet the pan and sand away the rust. This takes a bit of elbow grease! If your sandpaper gets clogged with rust, rinse the whole operation and keep going. Keep in mind that sandpaper wears out after a bit, too, so switch to a new piece if your working piece feels too smooth. Start with larger grits (lower numbers), and proceed to finer grits (higher numbers). Wash the pan with soap and water.
Now it’s time to keep the rust from coming back. You’ll need to keep moisture and oxygen from getting at the bare metal at the same time, because they react with iron (which is a major component of steel), creating rust. That means if it’s wet, there shouldn’t be any air getting to it, and if there’s air getting to it, it should be dry. Considering humidity and the fact that baked good start out as moisture-rich batters and doughs, seasoning the pan is necessary. This involves coating the pan with a thin layer of fat or oil to keep out moisture and air. Conveniently, you usually have to grease your pan anyway before baking to help release the substance after baking. Shortening will do — just rub it over the surface with a paper towel. After baking, clean the pan and grease it again, very lightly. Store the pan in the cabinet, covering it with a dish/paper towel to keep out the dust.
Rust on the Inside vs. Outside
What if the rust is on the outside of the pan? Sand it off as much as you can, but it’s not practical to keep the outside of the pan greasy. Just do what you can to extend the life of the pan by keeping the rust at bay. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t stack that rusty pan on top of another one of the same size! Rust is a contagious reaction, and will easy infect the inside of the stacked pan.
When all else fails, consider switching to Pyrex.
What’s your rusty bakeware advice? Share with us in the comments.