Proven Ways to Clean Rusty BBQ Grills

how to clean rusty bbq grill
If you own a BBQ grill, you know that even a small amount of moisture can lead to rusting. The good news is that there are some relatively simple ways in which you can clean rusty BBQ grill grates using tools and ingredients you likely have at home. 

What is the Best Way to Clean Rust from a Grill?

There are several methods that work well to remove rust from a BBQ. The best method will depend on how bad the rust is and the type of grill you have.

To get started, determine if you have any of the following items already at home. Depending on what you have on hand, you can select a cleaning method.

Supplies List:

  • White vinegar
  • Dish Soap
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Vegetable oil
  • Baking soda
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire brush/scraper/brush with bristles/steel wool
  • Cloth or old rag
  • Paper towels
  • Commercial rust remover

Cleaning Methods for BBQ Grill Grates: Charcoal Grill or Gas Grill

The remedies below are intended for minor to regular buildup. Whether you have a gas or charcoal grill, the following solutions will help you eradicate rust.

Soap and Water

Using water and dish soap to clean your grill can be an effective method of getting rid of rust if your grill only has minor rust.

After using soap and water to coat the grill, use steel wool or a scraper to remove minor rust stains from the grates. This may require a bit of elbow grease.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a household item that has a number of uses, including removing rust. Stainless steel grills are particularly well suited to being cleaned with baking soda.

  1. To remove as much rust as possible, scrub the grill with a soft-bristled brush.
  2. Next, sprinkle baking soda generously over the grates of the barbecue.
  3. The barbecue should then be turned on. This will assist in producing the heat needed to cause the powder to bubble. This process eliminates rust.
  4. After you witness the powder bubbling, the grill should then be turned off and allowed to cool.
  5. Use the soft-bristled brush to clean the grates again and remove any residue left behind by the baking soda.

It’s that simple. You now have a clean, rust-free grill that is ready to be used again.

Salt and Vinegar Method

By using a distilled white vinegar and salt mixture, oxidized metal is dissolved so you can scrub it away.

  1. Add distilled white vinegar and regular table salt to a large utility sink or plastic tub in a 1:2 ratio.
  2. To soak grates, I prefer to use a shallow Rubbermaid container that is just a little larger than the grates.
  3. Soak the grates in the mixture overnight.
  4. You will find that most of the rust has been dissolving by morning. Any remaining rust can be removed with steel wool or leftover salt.
  5. The grates should then be cleaned with warm, soapy water and allowed to fully dry. 

Lemon Juice and Powdered Detergent

Citric acid, which is present in lemon juice, has excellent anti-rust properties. It produces even better results when combined with a powder-type dishwashing detergent.

  1. Combine the detergent with the lemon juice to form a thick paste.
  2. The paste should be applied to the grates and allowed to sit overnight.
  3. By the following day, most of the rust will have been removed from your grates, and you can now wash them with warm water and a soft sponge or cloth.
  4. Rinse your grill with warm water and allow it to dry.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Rust can be effectively removed with a vinegar-baking soda paste, which is the original DIY grime-buster. The combination of these two components produces carbonic acid. Due to its slightly acidic and highly abrasive nature, this substance will dissolve and break up grease so it can be easily scrubbed away.

  1. In a 1:2 ratio, combine baking soda and distilled white vinegar until a thick, spreadable paste is formed and apply to grill grates.
  2. Allow the paste to sit for 15 minutes on the grill grates.
  3. Scrub the grates with steel wool, a stiff-bristled brush, or an abrasive scrubber.
  4. Allow it to fully dry after washing with warm, soapy water.
Tools for cleaning rusty bbq grills including a sponge, steel wool, and cloth
Cleaning supplies including a sponge, steel wool, and dish cloth.

Cast Iron Grates: What You Need to Know

If properly maintained, cast iron grills are known for their durability, and they can even outlast most other types of grills. As a result of continuous use, they may become non-stick, similar to cast iron pans.

In addition to leaving beautiful grill marks on our meat, they are capable of retaining a high degree of heat. To maintain their quality, they must be cleaned, oiled, and maintained on a regular basis.

In the absence of proper cleaning and storage with moisture inside, a cast iron grate will rust.

Therefore, the best way to avoid the formation of rust is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

However, let’s assume your cast iron grate is covered in rust.

  1. One of the best methods is to turn your grill on using high heat (over 350 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. Once the grates are piping hot, use a grill brush to scrape off the rust.
  3. It may require some serious elbow grease to get stubborn rust off cast iron grates.
  4. If the grill is still hot after cleaning, apply vegetable oil to a clean cloth and wipe it over the grill – not too much, just enough to thinly coat it.
  5. If the grill has already cooled off after cleaning, turn it back on to high heat. Cast iron requires a high temperature to polymerize the oil.

‘Seasoning’ refers to the process of applying vegetable oil to the grill. The oil is used to fill in the tiny pits naturally present in the cast iron, preventing it from rusting.

Extreme Rust Removal for Grill Grates

If the rust on your grill is more extreme, you will have to try one of the methods below to eradicate it.

Use a Wire Brush to Remove Rust

Wire brushes are often used to remove the rust from a rusty grill.

  1. Place the grill grate on a flat surface, such as a driveway or concrete patio.
  2. Remove the rust with your wire brush by sliding it across the grate. Be sure to scrape down both sides of the grate.
  3. To remove any remaining rust, wipe the grate with an old towel or rag.

This method should not be used frequently as it may damage your grates over time.

Wire brush tool used for cleaning rust off of a BBQ grill.
Wire brush tool laying on the ground with rust flecks on the bristles.

Rust Removal with Sandpaper

For grates with a great deal of stubborn rust, you should consider using sandpaper.

  1. Slide a section of sandpaper up and down the rust-ridden rungs of your grates.
  2. This should be done as gently as possible.
  3. To eliminate stubborn rust, repeat this procedure for each rung.

Keep in mind that sandpaper comes in different grit types and the higher the grit number, the smoother the finish. Take care to not damage the grill itself when using sandpaper.

The Use of Commercial Rust Removers

The final resort if the rust on your grill does not disappear with the non-chemical cleaning methods described above is to purchase a commercial rust remover.

Keep the following tips in mind when purchasing and using commercial rust removers.

  1. Watch out for rust removers that contain hazardous chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid (HF).
  2. As a result of using such products, toxic chemicals may be left behind on your grill and may pose a health risk to you.
  3. Ensure that your chosen rust remover is water-based and non-toxic.
  4. Follow the cleaning instructions on the bottle for optimal results.

Why Grill Grates Keep Rusting

It is important to remember that grease and oil are two different substances. Rust is caused by grease left on grill grates – oiling them prevents rust from forming.

Grease is an inevitable byproduct of grilling and rust will eventually form. However, by removing food particles and grease regularly, cleaning the grill properly, and keeping it lightly oiled, you will prevent most rust formation.

Proven Ways of Preventing Rust

BBQ Grill Grates Should Be Kept Free of Rust

It is possible for rust to develop on any part of your grilling unit. It is bad to have rust anywhere, but you do not want it on your grates.

Preventing rust on your grill is easy if you regularly maintain it.

Every Time You Use Your Grill, Make Sure it is Clean

Cleaning your grill after every use is one of the easiest ways to prevent rust from forming. The purpose is not only to maintain hygienic conditions but also to remove foods that would otherwise lead to the formation of rust.

As soon as your grates have been cleaned, apply vegetable oil to them (especially if your grill is made from cast iron, which is prone to rust). This natural water repellent will prevent rust from forming.

Prevent Exposure to Moisture

A grill mat can help prevent your grill from rusting. A grill mat has a non-stick surface and acts as a barrier between the grill and your food so debris is not left behind on your grates. For rust-free grilling, get a mat that properly fits your grill.

Another option is to cover your entire grill with a waterproof vinyl or nylon cover to keep out rain and moisture.

You may also consider moving your grill indoors into a covered shed or garage when not in use.

Get Yourself a Rust-free Grill

Getting a grill that does not rust would be the best way to prevent your grill from rusting. Ceramic-coated grills are a good choice as they prevent water and moisture from getting to your grates and corroding the surface.

The ceramic surface also makes the grates non-stick for an easy cooking experience.

Is it Okay to Grill on Rusted Grates?

There is no major risk associated with using a rusty grill to cook food. However, it is not advisable to make it a habit to cook with a grill containing excess rust because it can get loose during cooking, mix with your food, and negatively impact its taste.

You may be able to use an old rusted grill if you are short on time, but avoid making this a habit.


Florida native, home to the Sunday all-day poolside grilling party. When I’m not working, I’m either on the water, minding the grill, or trying to devote some time to help keep our oceans clean.

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