How to Clean Rusty Grill Grates

Nicole Austin

Your rusty grill is unsanitary and makes your food taste worse. Here's how to clean it.

I love grilled foods.

The rich, flavorful char that a grill provides is unmatched, and makes everything taste so much better, from the typical grilled meats and veggies to more unique offerings like summer desserts and even grilled pizza.

The downside to grills, like many things, is maintenance.

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A grill that is stored outside is going to be exposed to the elements and therefore is at a higher risk for developing rust.

Beyond being ugly to look at, rusty grill grates can cause foods to stick, which can also create fires in your grill, and rusty grates can even be potentially dangerous to eat from.

Rust, technically called iron oxide, is the chemical formation on the surface of iron or alloys that is created when the iron reacts to oxygen and water.

Rust is typically reddish-brown and is soft, porous, and crumbly.

The USDA recommends not eating any food contaminated with flakes of rust as it isn't food safe.

While it is probably not going to cause you great harm, it’s still good practice to keep your grill grates clean and free of debris.

So, if the ship has already sailed for keeping your grill rust-free and you’re wondering how to clean grill grates or how to fix a rusted grill bottom, we’re here to help!

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Methods for Cleaning Rusty Grill Grates

There are several different ways to clean grill grates, from natural cleaners to the magic of baking soda bubbles.

You can use these easy methods to remove a little bit of surface rust or seemingly impenetrable rust spots.

Some people use a wire brush regularly between use to help remove debris and rust from the surface of the grill grate.

There are several dangers associated with wire brushes, however.

This is also not a suitable solution for stainless steel, as it can harm the finish and create more problems.

Grill owners should try the gentlest methods first before proceeding to harsher methods in order to preserve the life of their grill.

The following household items are listed below in our recommendations for cleaning your grill, depending on the approach you choose (or need):

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Vinegar and Salt Method

Non-toxic and environmentally friendly, vinegar and salt can be used to clean a grate.

Both edible substances, vinegar and salt can remove residue, debris, and rust.

I love cleaning with vinegar because it is so simple, effective, safe, and inexpensive.

Follow these steps:

  1. Mix two cups white vinegar and one cup salt in a bowl, stirring well.
  2. Place rusty grates into a heavy duty large garbage bag.
  3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the bag and tie it shut tightly.
  4. Lay the bag on a flat surface and allow it to soak overnight.
  5. The next day after soaking, wipe with a cleaning rag.
  6. Lightly scrub in areas where rust or grime is stubborn.

Vegetable Oil Method

Grills can be seasoned, and cooked off, like an iron skillet.

Over time, the fat accumulated from a proper seasoning will help meat stick less, and also prevent rust from forming.

Use this method to try to burn off any rust, and then continue implementing between uses for prevention.

  1. Coat grate generously with vegetable cooking oil.
  2. (Optional) Heat grill up to a medium temperature to season.
  3. Use as usual, or turn off.

SAFETY WARNING: Never use aerosol products on or near your grill. Aerosol cans can explode near flames.

Baking Soda Method

Using the naturally abrasive baking soda can help scour away tough grease and rust.

  1. Brush the grill grate with a soft brush to remove any loose flakes or rust.
  2. Put the grate on the barbeque and sprinkle generously with baking soda.
  3. Turn the barbeque on and monitor the baking soda. It will bubble and remove rust.
  4. Turn off the grill and let it cool.
  5. Brush again with soft brush.
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Wire Brush Method

The wire brush method is a fast way to remove rust on grill grates.

Many people brush their grills between uses to help keep them clean and prevent any issues.

A wire grill brush can be a dangerous option.

Wire bristles can come loose with vigorous cleaning or over time.

Sometimes, these displaced bristles will stay on the grates and transfer to food items.

These sharp metal bristles can get lodged in the soft tissues of your throat, or can cause bowel obstructions and perforations if swallowed.

This may be especially dangerous with small children.

While this is not common, it is a possibility — therefore, it is recommended to thoroughly and regularly examine your wire grill brush, and to wipe down your grate after use.

Another option some people swear by is using a ball of aluminum foil to scrape up any stubborn rust.

You'd be surprised how much of a difference a wad of aluminum foil can often make, similar to steel wool, on your cooking grates.

  1. Here is how to effectively use a wire brush on your grill:
  2. Remove the grate from the grill and place it flat on a concrete patio or paved driveway.
  3. Brush the rust off with the stiff wire brush, scraping if needed.
  4. Flip it over and repeat on the other side.
  5. Stand the grate on its side and brush between each metal rung/bar.
  6. Wipe off the grate with an old rag.

Sandpaper Method

You can clean stubborn grill rust using sandpaper.

This is considered a last resort method to help clean thoroughly rusty grates, as it can cause damage by scratching the grate’s surface.

  1. Wrap a piece of sandpaper around each rung of the rusty grill grate, one at a time.
  2. Rub the sandpaper firmly up and down, removing any rust flakes.

Commercial Rust Remover Method

There are tons of commercial rust removers on the market.

Some are specialty removers that can be safely used on utensils, grills, and other food-related hardware.

These are called non-toxic rust removers.

Carefully check the packaging and specifications of chemical rust removers to be certain that they are safe for use on your grill.

For this method, you will follow the instructions that are on the container, which may vary between brands.

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How to Keep a Grill from Rusting

Now that you know how to remove the rust from your grill, your next step will be preserving your results!

Or, maybe you’re here just in time and will be able to stop or slow damage to your outdoor grill.

Either way, the fastest way to clean rust is preventative, proper care on a regular basis.

We have some excellent storage and usage tips that will prevent future rust on your outdoor grill to keep you enjoying your favorite foods for years to come!

Keep your grill covered:

A grill cover is an inexpensive way to prevent rain, snow, and other adverse weather conditions from impacting your grill.

Choose a cover that properly fits your specific grill. You can refer to the manual, which is likely also online in case you have misplaced it, to determine the exact measurements of the grill.

Clean after each use:

Cleaning grill grates between use, especially while they are still warm, is an excellent way to prevent buildup of rust and residue on your grill.

It’s easier to clean as a preventative than to try to catch up on a grill that’s been left unattended.

A small amount of work between each use will save you more significant effort later.

Coat grates with vegetable oil:

After cleaning between uses, brush vegetable oil over the grates of your grill.

For safety reasons, never use aerosol oil to spray your grill — these are combustible, and can cause serious injury or even death.

Inspect your grill regularly:

Check your grill in seasons where it is used infrequently, or simply stored.

Staying on top of cleaning during colder seasons will help make the grill faster and easier to use when warm weather rolls around again.

Remove rust as it appears:

With regular cleaning, rust will be easier to remove and the desired results will be achieved much faster.

Dry grates after cleaning:

Drying your grates after cleaning will help prevent the formation of rust by removing moisture from the metal.

Cleaning your grill is an easy process to preserve the longevity of your investment.

When done regularly, grill cleaning remains an easy method for maintenance.

Good news — now you're ready to fire up some hot dogs! And you're all set to keep your BBQ grill in good shape for next time without using any harsh chemicals and without too much elbow grease, either.

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Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.

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