Do Woks Rust? (Which Woks Rust And Which Don’t?)

Image of a wok kept in kitchen

If you are an expert in Asian cooking, you most likely have a wok. Woks are very handy kitchenware for anyone who does a lot of Chinese and Asian cooking. They are durable, versatile, and low maintenance. However, one problem that you may be concerned about is whether your wok will rust. So, do woks rust?

Yes, some woks do rust. A cast iron or carbon steel wok can rust. However, an aluminum or stainless steel will not rust. Mild steel and cast iron are affected by rust when exposed to heat and moisture. However, you can prevent a wok from rusting by keeping it well-oiled and seasoned all the time.

Okay! But the question is, why do they rust?

Why Do Woks Rust?

Traditional woks are made of steel or iron. These materials are porous and prone to rust. If you do not take good care of them, they will go rusty.

Rust forms when a metallic surface is exposed to moisture. When you do not properly dry off a wok after washing, the moisture on the surface will interact with the exposed metal and form rust.

You can get rid of small amounts of rust. However, if you ignore it, rust will spread across the metal surface. It can completely damage the wok and make it unfit for use. So, you should promptly get rid of any rust as soon as it forms to save your wok.

Now, the good news is that you can prevent rust from forming if you know what the wok is made of. Let us explore this in closer detail.

Do Cast Iron Woks Rust?

Cast iron is a porous material. When you expose this metal to water, moisture will seep into the metal and produce rust. Fortunately, you can prevent moisture from entering the metal by properly seasoning the wok.

To season a wok means to coat it with a layer of oil. This thin film of oil will keep moisture away from the metal surface. If you season your wok regularly, it will reduce the chances of rusting.

Here’s how to season a cast iron wok:

  • Coat the wok with oil and spread it over the entire surface.
  • Then, place the wok on the stove and heat it.
  • Do not wait until the oil smokes. Turn off the heat before it becomes too hot.
  • Store it as usual.

Every time you use a wok, take care to wash and clean it thoroughly. Dry it well and leave no moisture behind. Then, apply a layer of oil over the surface. This will keep it well-seasoned and prevent rusting.

A well-seasoned wok will develop a natural non-sticking quality. Not only does this make cooking and cleaning easy, but it also produces a special flavor that other types of pans fail to generate.

Do Carbon Steel Woks Rust?

Carbon steel is also a popular choice since it is traditionally used to construct woks. Carbon steel woks are perfect for cooking at high temperatures, and they impart a characteristic smoky flavor to ingredients.

However, carbon steel is porous. So, it will rust if you do not season it properly. You can season a carbon steel wok in the same way as a cast iron wok.

Proper care and careful handling will extend the life of these woks. They will be a valuable addition to your kitchen and serve you well for decades.

Related Further Reading:

Why Don’t Non-Stick And Stainless Steel Woks Rust?

Now, if you do not want to worry about seasoning your wok or meticulously drying it after each use, choose non-stick or stainless steel woks.

Non-stick woks have a protective Teflon coating that protects the underlying metal surface. This coating is non-porous. So, the wok will not be affected even when exposed to moisture or water. In the case of stainless steel, this material is inert. It does not react with water and retains its shiny, lustrous appearance.

Being unaffected by moisture enhances the appeal of non-stick and stainless steel woks. Nonetheless, these woks do not produce “wok hei” or the characteristic smoky flavor that defines traditional Asian recipes.

If you desire this authentic Asian flavor, invest in a cast iron or carbon steel wok. Woks made of other materials cannot deliver this flavor.

Is It Safe To Use A Rusted Wok?

In technical terms, rust is iron oxide. Although it is not a food substance, it is not too toxic. Small amounts will not affect the body. So, you do not have to throw away a rusted wok. Just get rid of the rust, and you can continue to use it.

However, you should always tackle rust as soon as you notice it to prevent it from spreading. Rust can eat into a metallic surface. It can create holes that ruin the appearance and spoil the smooth surface of the wok.

If your wok has a small amount of rust, you can remove it. However, take proper care of the wok in the future to prevent rust from forming again.

Interesting Further Reading:

How To Remove Rust From A Wok?

To remove rust from a wok, you will need a steel wool pad. Apply dish soap to the steel wool pad and run it over the rusted area continuously. Newly formed rust will come off in a few minutes. However, if the surface is extensively affected, you will need more elbow grease.

Once the wok surface becomes smooth, and there is no trace of rust, run a fine sandpaper over the area. This will smoothen it out.

Next, wash the wok thoroughly with hot soapy water and get rid of all the rust residue. Then, dry it thoroughly. Remember that water is the main culprit behind rust formation. So, ensure that no moisture remains on the wok. If you are unable to thoroughly dry it with a dishcloth, you can heat the wok to get rid of any residual moisture.

When the wok dries completely, season the surface with oil. It will seal the pores and protect your wok from moisture in the environment. It will also improve the quality of your wok and create a natural non-stick protective layer over time.

In the future, take care to clean your wok soon after you cook in it. Traditional woks are not dishwasher safe. So, wait till the wok cools down before washing it. Some modern non-stick or stainless steel woks are dishwasher safe. Nonetheless, we recommend handwashing these woks as well to prolong their lifespan.

When cleaning a wok, avoid using abrasive scrubbers. Use warm water and a mild dishwashing solution instead and clean the surface thoroughly. If leftover food clings to the surface, soak it in warm water for a few minutes. The water will soften the food particles and make it easier to dislodge. However, we do not advise soaking the wok for too long. Water can penetrate beneath the surface and cause it to rust.

If your wok has stubborn food residues, you may have to use a steel scrubber. Cast iron and carbon steel woks are not affected by rigorous scrubbing. However, never use abrasive scrubbers on non-stick woks as they can damage the protective coating. Promptly clean and maintain your wok after use to keep it in top condition. With good care, your wok will be a valuable kitchen asset for a very long time.