How to clean iron furniture, décor and cookware

Wrought iron, as defined by the process used in working the metal, is not produced any more except for restorations. (Real wrought iron is worked white hot, then hammered and twisted into shape.) Today the term is often used, incorrectly, to include decorative iron, "mild steel" or cast iron.

How to clean iron furniture, décor and cookware

1. Indoor iron pieces

  • Items such as bed frames, lamps and chandeliers are dust magnets. If your piece has a black-satin finish, you might as well be shining a spotlight on the dust — everyone will see it.
  • The easiest and quickest way to clean indoor pieces is with compressed air. It just blows the dust away and is especially good for all the edges, corners and crevices of detailed iron.
  • You can also dust that intricate ornamentation with an unused, soft-bristled paintbrush.
  • To clean a smooth piece of wrought iron, wipe first with a soft cotton rag, to remove dust, and then wipe with any furniture polish sprayed onto a clean section of the rag.
  • If there's dirt stuck to the wrought iron, the furniture polish may help lubricate and remove it.
  • Water isn't recommended. It will collect in areas that can't be reached by a drying cloth, leading to rust.
  • Furniture polish, on the other hand, provides a protective coating that repels water and resists dust.

2. Outdoor furniture

  • For tables or chairs that have a rust look or patina, let the item reach the desired rusty brown before you clean.
  • Wipe off loose rust, dust or dirt with a rag.
  • Then coat the piece with a clear lacquer paint (available from hardware stores) to protect it from the elements and to prevent further rusting.
  • Outdoor furniture that isn't supposed to rust needs to be cleaned only when it looks dirty or has mud or grime caked on it.
  • Remove dirt by spraying with a garden hose.
  • Periodically check the piece for rust, which may start around areas such as bolts. If you do see minor oxidation, gently apply a dry wire brush to remove the rust.
  • Wipe off any dust particles you create.
  • Before applying touch-up paint to the surface, wipe the area clean with acetone or paint thinner on a cotton cloth. This will make the paint adhere better by removing oils that got on the iron from your hands. It will also dissolve any remaining paint in the rusty area.
  • Let the paint thinner dry before painting.
  • Wear gloves and goggles, as acetone and paint thinner can be quite harsh to the skin and eyes.

3. Cast iron

  • To clean the stuff poured into a mould at a foundry use the same cleaning methods as for wrought iron.
  • Cast-iron items typically include doorknobs, railings and fences.
  • Hose down such an item and then inspect it for rust.
  • If you find rust, clean it with a wire brush.
  • Wipe away any dust your cleaning produced.
  • A rust-preventive paint (check out products at your hardware or paint store) comes in many colours and is great for touch ups — indoors and outdoors.

4. Well-seasoned iron cookware

  • Generally, all that's required is a little boiling water, some light scraping with a wooden spoon and a quick wipe with a clean cloth.
  • Dry thoroughly and lightly oil again.
  • For badly burned-on food, use a copper-wool scouring pad.
  • For extreme cases of burned-on food and grease, use any common oven cleaner according to the package instructions.
  • Rinse well.
  • Then re-season the item as if it were a new piece.
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