A few years ago, my sister-in-law and I did a weekly trip to local antique stores. One of my purchases was an old rusty cast iron kettle. The price was right (I wouldn’t have paid more than about $20) and so it/she came home with me.
The other day I was invited by a friend to join a cast iron group on Facebook and I introduced myself by posting a picture of this neglected piece—still rusty, as I really didn’t know what to do with it or if you could do anything with it. The members of the group were quick to tell me that I needed to clean her up!
Apparently the kettle is from the 1800’s (as indicated by the gate mark across the bottom, a line formed by pouring the metal). Well, that caught my attention. I definitely needed to honour her by cleaning her up.
And here is her maker’s mark
Step one in the clean-up was to spray it with the lye solution, oven cleaner. (Easy Off) Spray it, wrap it up in a garbage bag and let it sit overnight. (An alternative method is using a self-cleaning oven, which I do not have.)
This process removes any built up gunk from its past life.
With the gunk removed, the rust was the next battle to tackle.
Normally, to remove the rust you submerge the item in a 50:50 solution of vinegar and water. But, since my kettle had severe pit marks in the bottom, I was advised not to use vinegar as it would eat its way through the metal and I would be left with a sieve.
It was suggested that a molasses solution would be a gentler strategy, although the person had never used it himself. And so I did a little research to find out about this method.
1. You need feed-grade molasses, not molasses from the grocery store. The feed-grade molasses comes in a dry or liquid form. (My local feed store only carried the dry and I came home with a very large bag of dry molasses).
2. In a container large enough to submerge the item, mix the molasses with water. I chose to use hot water, to help dissolve the molasses. I don’t know if it helped or not. Most recommendations for the mixture was 1:10 but one site said 1:4 or 1:5, as this is faster. (Most information was found on car restoration sites).
For the container that I had, I mixed 24 cups of dry molasses with 128 cups of water. This is a 1:6 ratio. I stirred it up and sunk the kettle into it.
3. Cover the container but do not secure a lid to it. The molasses will start to ferment and that means bubbles of gasses—- so storage location is important. Along with the gasses will come the fermentation aroma – a double whammy. It’s advised to NOT do this in your kitchen or basement. Take it outside or in a garage.
The warmer the environment the better, apparently. Being in Canada, it would be a good idea to do this in the summer. Because my experiment was in the cooler fall weather, I opted for my porch. Opening doors and windows would have to be my ventilation strategy.
4. Everything I read said the process would take from a week to months. The general consensus was 2-4 weeks. But check on it daily. Once the molasses works its way through the rust it might (differing opinions here) start working on the metal. Some people thought that any damage that had occurred on pieces was due to other factors than the molasses. One person forgot an item and 6 months later it came out beautifully.
5. Check, wash, scrub, rinse, assess. After just one day I noticed a big difference in the kettle and after just two days the thick patches of rust scrubbed right off. The molasses was definitely working.
Oh … and I should add stir to the list. The dry molasses didn’t fully dissolve, so stirring it up each day is important.
And that brings us to “today”. The final outcome is yet to be seen, but the molasses strategy is definitely a success.
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Oh, and there IS a gardening component to this—I almost forgot. Don’t just toss out the molasses solution when the process is complete. It will injure the roots and kill of living creatures >>> and that means it is a weed-killer and grub-killer.
I wonder what it will do to patches of bindweed???!
-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)