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How To Clean Rusty Grill Grates (and prevent them!)

How To Clean Rusty Grill Grates (and prevent them!)

The burgers and hot dogs are ready, but your grill grate is rusty. Not sure how to get that rust off so you can showcase your grill-master prowess and keep your food delicious? 

Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to learn how to clean rusty grill grates using ingredients you probably have around the house. I’ve outlined a few of my favorite ways so you can find the one that works for your grill and your timeframe.

My Favorite Rust Cleaning Methods

You can use these methods on most common grill grate materials. After they’re applied, let them sit for the recommended amount of time and then clean them off with a rag or sponge.

Finding the most effective method for how to clean rusty grill grates that work best for you will vary based on how much rust and time you have.

Method #1 – Salt, Vinegar, and a Black Trash Bag

If you need to do a pre-season deep clean or have a very rusty grate, this is my favorite method. Low tech and effective this technique uses the acidity of the vinegar and abrasiveness of the salt to eat away at your grill grate rust. 

I suggest gathering all your ingredients together before you begin and setting up on a flat surface where you can lay your grill grate for 24 hours. 

Using a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to salt, mix your solution. For most grills, two cups of vinegar and one cup of salt should be enough to cover the whole grate. 

After you’ve mixed your solution, place your grill grate flat inside the black trash bag on the ground. Use a heavy-duty bag (or double up), or you could end up with a torn bag and a rusty puddle. 

After your grill grate is in the bag, pour the salt and vinegar solution over it. Keep the grate in contact with as much of the solution as possible. Tie the bag off and leave it alone for 24 hours.

When you open up the bag, use the rag to scrub off any rust still left on the grate. With a little elbow grease, you should get that grate clean and ready for grilling.

Method #2 – Lemon Juice and Powdered Detergent

If your grill only has a few rust spots, you don’t have to use the trash bag method. Instead, you can try out a solution of lemon juice and powdered detergent.

In this solution, the lemon juice provides acidity and detergent a bit of extra cleaning power, and grit.

Mix a powdered dish detergent with a cup of lemon juice until a paste forms. Spread the paste over the rusty spots on your grill and leave it overnight. Come back the next day and wipe the paste and rust off with a rag.

You might need to use a little brute strength for the deeper rust spots.

Method #3 – Vinegar and Baking Soda

If you need your grill ready for cooking quickly, you might want to try this solution. Slowly add baking soda to vinegar (it will foam) until you have a thick paste.

When your paste is ready spread it on the rusty spots of your grill grate. Wait 30 minutes, then use a clean rag or hardy sponge to scrub the rust and paste away.

The acidity of the vinegar and the cleaning properties of the baking soda should help the rust come off. Wipe down your grill to remove any last bits of paste and you’re ready to cook.

Method #4 – Baking Soda

You can skip the vinegar and apply the baking soda directly to the grill grate. First, run your grill brush over the grate to remove any large pieces of food or flaking rust. 

After you’ve removed the largest pieces, sprinkle baking soda on the problem areas until they’re covered, and turn on the grill.

The heat will react with the baking soda, and you should see the stains bubble off your grate. 

Method #5 – Soap and Water

Soap and water can work on rust stains. Without the acidity or graininess of some of my other techniques, you might be scrubbing harder for longer.

But it’s an easier option when you’re short on supplies!

Method #6 – Your Grill Brush!

You can scrub the rust off your grill grate with your brush. Remove the grate from your grill first and lay it on your driveway or another hard surface.

Scrape the brush hard against all the rust you can see on the top side, then flip it over and repeat.

After you’ve removed the rust from both sides, wipe it down with a clean cloth. 

Method #7 – Foodsafe Rust Removers

If my favorite “go-to” methods don’t work for you, there are commercial rust removers you can apply.

Use them with caution, however, and be certain they’re safe for food prep surfaces before spreading them over your grill grate. 

You don’t want to make friends or family sick with unsafe chemicals burned onto their burgers. 

How Do I Prevent Rust?

There are a handful of best practices that will help keep the rust off your grill. Additionally, there are a few methods for specific grate materials that you can try out.

All Grill Grates

I know it’s tempting to kick back and relax after cooking, but simple care will extend the lifetime of your grill. For all grills you should be scraping your grate after each use, removing food bits, and keeping it tidy. 

After it’s cooled you should also wipe it down with vegetable oil using a paper towel, cloth, or brush. The oil seals the grate and helps prevent rust from forming. Do not use an aerosol oil spray, as it could ignite. 

A weatherproof cover is also helpful to prevent rain or water from getting inside your grill. If possible, you should store your grill in a dry spot in the off-season, or when you’re not using it.

Specific Grate Material Care 

  • Stainless Steel: to help prevent rust you can put a piece of aluminum foil over the grate and turn the grill on for 10 minutes. The foil will concentrate the heat and help quickly burn off stuck-on food that could lead to rust.

  • Cast Iron: these grates are particularly hardy, except when it comes to water. Be sure to use a nylon brush after cooking to scrub the grate down and prevent water from sitting on it. Oil coatings are particularly important for these grates as well.

  • Enamel Coated: enamel coated surfaces guard against rust, but you have to keep the enamel intact. Harsh wire brushes, metal utensils, or hard contact (like dropping the grate) could fracture the enamel. If the enamel chips off your grate could start to rust. 

 If you’d like to read more about specific grate materials, take a look at this article from Weber

Can I Grill on the Rust?

Simply put – I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s unsanitary and potentially unhealthy.

It’ll also inhibit the grilling process, preventing those good grill marks from forming and cooking your food unevenly. 

It’s my strong suggestion that you use one of these rust removal techniques to spot or wholly clean your rusty grill grate before using it.

Cleaned Up and Cooking

Figuring out how to clean rusty grill grates and then doing it doesn’t have to be a long and arduous process. With a few household products, a little time, and some scrubbing your grate will look shiny and ready for whatever you’re cooking. 

My favorite rust removal method is ideal before grilling season begins and for stubborn rust, but any of the techniques are easy and effective.

Keeping your grill clean after each use can reduce and even prevent rust so you can spend less time cleaning rusty grates and more time grilling.

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