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How to clean grill grates for optimal summer grilling

Get your grill sparkling before the first barbecue of the season.

Several burgers cooking on a grill, shot from the side, with a pair of tongs holding a patty. Credit: Reviewed / Getty / Giang Nguyen

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You’re preparing for your first barbecue of the grilling season. You’ve got ice in the coolers, your grilling essentials are at the ready, and you know which mistakes not to make when the big day comes.

But, is your actual grill in good shape? If it’s been sitting untouched for months, whether it was stored properly or not, chances are the grates have developed some rust and are in need of a deep cleaning.

To keep from serving your guests some dangerous burgers, you’ll need to clean rusty grill grates before cooking anything. (And along those lines, we recommend avoiding any wire brush, as those have been known to fall off in food and lead to health complications when swallowed.)

Don’t fret—cleaning your gas or charcoal grills is a simple process that only takes about an hour and a half—soaking included.

Here’s how to clean a grill.

What You’ll Need:

Here's how to clean grill grates

1. Remove excess rust

Hand scrubbing a gas grill with a brush.

Scrubbing loose rust off first will save you time—and keep from muddying your water.

First things first: Scrub off as much loose rust as possible with a grill cleaning brush. Before you take the grates off of the grill, use a brush to scrub them, trying to remove as much rust as possible. There’s a chance that the rust isn’t set very deep, and scrubbing will solve your problem. If you're working with stainless steel grates, avoid using steel bristles or wool, as they could scratch them.

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2. Remove the grill grates

Carefully remove the grates and set them aside. If you’re worried about getting rust or debris on yours hands, you can wear work gloves here.

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3. Prepare the cleaning mixture

Fill the trash can or large, shallow bucket with 1 cup dish soap and ¼ cup baking soda. A trash can or large bucket will work best here, but a large, sturdy garbage bag works in a pinch—just be careful not to spill all over yourself.

4. Submerge the grates

Place the grill grates inside, and fill with hot water until grates are submerged. Don’t overfill with water, or the baking soda will be less effective.

5. Soak and scrub the grates

A close-up of a grill grate sitting in cleaning liquid as a brush scrubs it.
Credit: Getty / SKatzenberger

These ingredients are cheaper and better for the environment than commercial rust remover. You can also try swapping in salt or vinegar for the baking soda and dish soap.

Soak the grates for one hour, and then scrub them clean with the soapy water mixture. This part could get messy—use the same grill brush or the scratchy side of a sponge to scrub off any remaining rust.

6. Return the grates to the grill

Rinse the cleaned grates with cold water, dry them thoroughly, and place them back on the grill. Be sure to dry the grates completely to prevent more rusting.

7. Season and heat the grill

Like a cast iron pan, grill grates are going to become more nonstick, more resistant to rust, and better all around the more you season them. Dip some paper towels in a cooking oil (like canola or vegetable oil) and rub on your heated grill grates to season them. Let cool before cooking again.

8. Enjoy grilling!

Two people grilling outdoors with a pool and backyard in the background.
Credit: Getty / recep-bg

Make sure to keep your grills seasoned and clean all summer long.

Your grill is now ready for your first barbecue of the season. To prevent future rust, make sure to fully clean your grill after each use, reseason when possible, and cover and store during any bad weather to keep those grates clean. (Take extra care to clean and dry cast iron grill grates each time!)

Cleaning not enough to salvage your grill? Check out our roundup of the best grills on the market.

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