Many people are surprised to learn that stainless steel can rust. They know it resists corrosion but does not understand why or how it could rust. Stainless steel is steel with a minimum of 10.5% chromium by mass.
It is highly resistant to chemical attack and corrosion, hence its popularity in cooking utensils, stainless steel table legs, food storage, and other applications where it is directly in contact with food or drink.
The Rusting process
For instance, a stainless steel pan can rust if it is of a low grade of stainless steel, particularly if an acidic substance such as tomato sauce has been cooked using the utensil.
It will take a while for a stainless steel pan to rust but once started, and the process is accelerated by being in contact with water or using the utensil for another purpose.
For example, using the pan to fry something or putting it under running water without first removing the substance that caused the rusting to start.
The rust treatment process
Many stainless steel rusted utensils are discarded rather than being returned to their manufacturer for repair or reprocessing.
It can create a disposal problem if the utensil is part of a set or is expensive to buy in the first place – it may be cheaper to replace them rather than repair them.
How can rust be removed?
The best way is to remove the rust with a scouring pad, then wash it through several times in steel wool soap before cleaning it thoroughly.
Avoid using bleach or abrasive cleaners, as these can scratch the surface of stainless steel. Wipe away any soap or water residue and dry the equipment naturally (a hairdryer on low heat can be used to speed up this process) before replacing it on the wall mounts.
How does rust form?
In brief, rust forms when iron reacts with oxygen and water or hydrogen sulfide produces a red/brown solution called an Iron (III) Hydroxide. Rust is flaky in appearance and can vary from yellow to orange to red.
When exposed to more water, iron forms iron hydroxide, which, in turn, produces more reddish-colored rust. The more oxygen the material is exposed to and begins to form rust, the darker and thicker the rust becomes. If left untreated for too long, rust can corrode stainless steel utensils beyond repair.
As previously mentioned, stainless steel utensils are often in direct contact with food or drink. These products must be cleaned regularly to prevent rust from forming. By no means do all stainless steel utensils need to be discarded if they rust due to carelessness. They can be cleaned and treated depending on the severity of the rust.
There are many ways that you can prevent rust from forming on your stainless steel utensils. By using the proper cleaning procedure, you can extend the life of your products.
For example, an effective way to remove rust is with a scouring pad and water. It is ideal for removing surface rust; however, it will not work on rust that has gotten worse or formed deeper within the utensil.
If rust starts to form, you should use only gentle cleaning products and avoid putting your utensils in dishwashers. Detergents used in dishwashers are not suitable for stainless steel products. Always store your equipment correctly if it will not be used for an extended time.