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Removing Rust Stains from Wood-burning Stoves

I lived in Appalachia in the late 80s and most of the 90s, where the houses were built in the 30s and 40s when electricity in the mountains and hollows was not yet available. Homeowners heated their homes and cooked with wood-burning stoves, and later added wood-and-coal-burning stoves. When I first lived in Kentucky, the home we occupied had three stoves—a heating stove in both the living room and kitchen and an electric stove with burners in the kitchen. We made the distinction between the wood stoves and electric cook range by calling the wood stove a heating stove and the electric range a cook stove. Before the electric range was installed into the house at the advent of electricity in the valley, the heating stove in the kitchen had been used as a cook stove.

Unlike a fireplace, a wood-burning stove has a closed firebox, stands away from the wall, uses stove pipes to vent the smoke to the chimney, and is made of cast iron. If you've ever cooked with a cast iron skillet, you have experienced the rust associated with the accumulation of moisture and long periods of non-use. During non-use, wood-burning stoves can rust badly. Left unchecked, rust can deteriorate the iron and render the stove unsafe for use. Follow these tips for removing rust from your wood-burning stove at the end of each season:

  • For surface rust that is simply powdery, use a fine-grade steel wool (such as #00 or #000) to scour the stains away.
  • If you've severe, scaled rust, scour the stain with steel wool first. Then, use a wire brush to brush away the scale and a finer grade of steel wool to reveal the base metal.
  • For stubborn rust, use a drill-mounted wire brush to remove the rust and reveal bare metal.

Once you've removed all of the rust stains and scale, and can see bare metal, go over the entire stove with steel wool, and then rub down with a soft cloth to remove residue. Next, you need to apply a stove polish to protect, cure, and seal the surface of the iron. Fire the stove, allowing the heat to cure it. Never try to remove rust from stovepipes for reuse, as the metal is thin and will become thinner during use, creating a fire hazard. Always replace rusty stovepipes at the beginning of each season.

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