old rusty charcoal grill grates

How to Remove Rust from a Barbecue Grill

Ways to Remove Rust from Grills

First the bad news. A dirty, rusty grill grate is unappetizing, unsanitary and will not impress your guests. It also can promote bacteria growth, attracts vermin to your outdoor kitchen and will shorten the life of your grill.

The good news is that bbq grill rust removal is simple and may be accomplished with with a few common home products.

The simplest approach to clean a rusted grill is to use salt and vinegar, which will restore your grill’s functionality and appearance.

It’s better to gather everything you’ll need for the cleaning before you begin. It’s going to get quite filthy once you start cleaning, and the last thing you want to do is leave rusty finger prints everywhere.

You’ll need the following items to clean your grill with salt and vinegar:

-1 cup coarse Kosher salt or plain table salt
-white vinegar, 2 cups
-1 garbage bag (heavy-duty)
-rags or disposable cloths
-If you’re cleaning more than one barbecue grate, just double the salt and vinegar amounts.

The following is our guide to remove rust.

How to Remove Rust and Clean Your Grill with Vinegar and Salt

After you’ve put your materials together, it’s time to get rid of the rust.

1. Combine one cup salt and two cups vinegar in a mixing bowl.
The first step is to combine the salt and vinegar in a bowl. The salt will raise the vinegar’s inherent acidity to the point in which it can dissolve the oxidized metal.

It will not, however, harm the metal surrounding and beneath it. When it comes time to scrub, the salt also works as an abrasive.

2. Put the grates in a trash bag.

Your rusted grill grates will need to soak overnight, which is where the tough garbage bag comes in in.

If a single garbage bag isn’t strong enough, double them. You don’t want a slurry of salt, vinegar, and disintegrated rust to splatter all over the place.

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the bag.
After you’ve placed the grates in the bag, pour the vinegar and salt mixture into the container and shake it around to make sure it covers the entire grate.

4. Allow it soak overnight on a level surface.
You’ll want to keep as much of the salt and vinegar mixture in contact with your rusted grill as possible, so find a flat surface to place the bag and soak it overnight.

5. Using a towel or an old rag, remove any leftover rust.
The salt and vinegar mixture should have dissolved the most of the rust overnight, but you’ll still need to get in there with some rags and give your grill grate a good scrub.

Remember to use the remaining salt as an abrasive to get rid of any lingering rust.

Depending on how rusted your grill was to begin with, it may require several journeys through the salt and vinegar bath to completely remove all of the rust.

Remember to use a soapy water solution when you have eliminated the rust to remove any lingering vinegar and salt solution.  Rinse thoroughly and dry.

Other Rust Removal Methods

There are a couple other options if salt and vinegar aren’t an option for you.

Other options for cleaning a rusted grill include:

Water and soap

In a bucket, combine dish soap and warm water. Using a soft cloth, clean the grill. Remove rust particles from grill grates with a nylon brush if the rust is obstinate. Anything too abrasive should be avoided.

The greatest tool in your armory here is a firm-bristled brush nylon brush, which is stiff enough to move the rust but won’t damage your grill grate like a wire or brass brush might.

Powdered detergent and lemon juice

Lemon juice and powdered detergent dissolve rust in the same way that salt and vinegar do, by forming an acidic solution. It’s not quite as powerful as salt and vinegar, and the lemon juice can make things a little sticky, but it’ll do the trick on little rust patches.

Baking soda with vinegar

If you have rust spots in difficult-to-scrub areas, a paste of white vinegar and baking soda can help you remove them. Make a thick paste with a 2-1 ratio of baking soda to vinegar and apply it right away.

The vinegar’s acid will eat away at the rust, while the baking soda will react with the acid and cause it to foam, allowing it to penetrate into all the cracks.

You can soak a lot of the rust away if you have a large pan that will fit your rusted grates. Soak the grates in vinegar for a few minutes to release the rust. Then, drain the pan and substitute a baking soda and water solution for the vinegar. Allow it to soak for a few hours. Remove the grate from the solution and dry it with a soft, clean cloth.

Lemon Juice

Combine lemon juice and powder detergent to form another rust-busting paste. It takes a little longer than vinegar and baking soda to work. Allow it to work its magic for the night.

Be Selective When It Comes to Rust Removers

There are many rust-removal products on the market, but regrettably, many of them contain substances that are potentially harmful. Because you’re cleaning a culinary appliance, you’ll want to find something non-toxic and safe.

Keep Rust from Taking Hold

The greatest method to avoid rust is to prevent it from forming in the first place.

When your gill isn’t being used, there are a few simple actions you can take to keep it from oxidizing.

Clean the Grill Right Away After Use

Cleaning your grill of oil and burnt-on food immediately after use is hygienic and prevents rust from accumulating.

If you have a stainless steel grill, avoid cleaning it with a wire brush because this can remove the coating and expose the steel to corrosion.

Oil Cast Iron Grates

Your cast iron grill grates, like your cast iron pans, require oiling.  We go more in depth on cast iron grill cleaning in this related article.

Ceramic Grates

Ceramic coated grill grates are not only non-stick, but they also prevent water from getting to the metal underneath, which prevents corrosion.  Consider investing in ceramic grates if you are concerned about rusting grates and maintenance.

Get a Weatherproof Cover

Keeping water off your grill or smoker is critical for preventing corrosion, and purchasing a weatherproof cover now will save you time, money, and scrubbing later.

If you let it, rust will actually eat your barbecue grill out from under you. Nonetheless, with a little hard work and some commonly available household goods, the issue can be rapidly fixed. Remember that once the rust is gone, you’ll need to take precautions to prevent it from reappearing.