I have been a smart money saver throughout my life. And when it comes to cutting costs in ammo, I’ve been reloading for well over a decade. Back when I was 12, I used to help my father in cleaning the brass casings. I remember how I used to rinse them in hot water and detergent till my fingers got wrinkled and pruney!
Luckily, I discovered vibratory (dry) cleaning and things became better, but not much.
And now here I am in 2020, still reloading every other possible piece out there but first cleaning it in the best possible way!
Don’t let the snowflakes fool you though, for telling a staunch fan of dry tumbling that wet tumbling with SS media is better is just like telling a Hillary voter that she didn’t win.
If you still want to know more ways to clean brass cases before reloading, keep reading.
Why Clean Brass Before Reloading?
Alright, first things first. You should know that cleaning brass isn’t just for cosmetic purposes. A well-cleaned brass is important for your safety too.
You can discard the potentially dangerous cases as with a clean brass case you can easily detect those splits and bulges.
Top 4 Ways To Clean Brass Casings:
Dry cleaning (Vibratory Tumbling):
One of the oldest and most used brass cleaning methods out there.
A vibratory tumbler setup consists of a tub and an electric motor.
The electric motor makes the tub vibrate and move in small circular motion.
The media, brass casings in the tub swirl, vibrate and collide against each other hence cleaning the dirt on the brass casings.
The result is clean and shiny brass.
Best Vibratory Tumbler:
If you’d ask a 100 reloaders how they clean the brass, my guess is 80% of them will tell you that they use a vibratory tumbler from manufacturers like Frankford Arsenal.
Reloaders out there use various types of media. The commonly used ones are:
Walnut Shell and Ground Corn Cobs.
The dry media turns into dust over multiple uses since it vibrates and hits against the brass.
Moreover, cleaning the dust and dry media from the brass is a pain for me since it sticks everywhere.
One way to solve this problem is to pour some teaspoons of plain paint thinner, this helps to keep the dust down and polishes the brass as well.
Never use a polishing agent containing ammonia. Ammonia makes firearm brass brittle, hence making it crack.
Vibratory tumblers are available in different sizes and capacity.
You will notice that the capacities are described as “600 9mm” or “350 .223 cases”.
These references help a lot since it provides a more practical approach to know how much it can clean.
Don’t expect dry tumbling to cure the corroded portion or clean the primer pockets. Vibratory tumblers work well to get a smooth finish and a bit of shine which will do good for most of the reloaders out there.
- Low Initial cost.
- Media selection.
- Minimum cleanup.
- Less effective.
- Loaded with lead dust.
- Regularly replace media.
Rotary Tumbling (Wet Tumbling) + Stainless Steel Media:
This is what I currently do to clean my brass casings. Honestly, this is the best way to clean brass casings as of today.
Though wet tumbling isn’t something new, but the use of stainless steel media along with wet tumbling has seen a sharp increase in popularity in the last decade.
Major manufacturers like Frankford have manufactured some good quality and affordable tumblers recently.
With the popularity of online shopping, wet tumblers have been easily available to the masses.
In simple English, a wet tumbler is a sealed watertight drum made of plastic or metal that spins on top of a motorized base.
The dirty brass is loaded in the drum along with cleaning fluid and SS media (some polish or wax occasionally).
The spinning action of the drum causes the mixture to both chemically and mechanically clean the casings.
- Amazingly effective.
- No lead exposure.
- Can be used indoors.
- Long term savings.
- High initial cost.
- Need to dry the cases.
- Media separation.
A 7 litre capacity tumbler from Frankford can clean up to 1,000 .223 brass cases at a time.
The combo of chemical reaction and hard abrasive SS media taking place inside the tumbler ensures that even the filthiest and most corroded brass cases come out looking factory new.
Though it’s a bit expensive than vibratory tumbler but the savings from not having to replenish the media surely helps in substantial long-term savings.
Wet Tumbling Without SS:
It isn’t always necessary to use media pins if you’re feeling lazy or the brass cases aren’t much dirty.
The process with this cleaning is similar to the media one.
Just use some hot water, dawn and a pinch of lemishine and you’re good to go.
The brass cases come out shiny clean, ready for reloading.
You can use wax cleaner instead of Dawn, as the wax coating resists tarnishing longer.
Ultrasonic cleaners are for power users.
Moreover, you can even clean your gun parts ( I clean my Glock in this) and your wife’s jewelry! (justify your investments ;)).
So, all in all, its a multipurpose product.
How Does it Work?
It’s all about bubbles.
The ultrasonic waves produce millions of powerful microscopic bubbles every second.
These bubbles then implode and exhibit a huge amount of vacuum energy which in turn generate heat and high pressure.
This heat and pressure result in the cleaning of the brass casings.
The pressure waves easily clean off the oil breaks up the dirt particles.
Ultrasonic is indeed one of the best ways to clean brass.
An average ultrasonic cleaner (2500 ml capacity) can clean up to 900 9 mm cases under 15 minutes.
I own a 9 litre Hornday Ultrasonic Cleaner and this thing cleans the parts I wouldn’t have ever reached with some other method.
Moreover, it can clean my 16 inch AR upper easily.
Combined with a good cleaning solution like Hornday Brass Cleaner the result will be way better than vibratory and dry tumbling.
Though Ultrasonic Cleaning proves to be the best brass cleaning methods as of now but Wet Tumbling + SS media is the one that wins the game.
The long term savings in addition to virtually everlasting media makes it my go to choice.
What do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!
Over and Out!