How To Clean Brass Casings
Do you need to clean your brass casings before reloading it?
The answer is always YES! And here’s the reason. When you fire the trigger and the brass hits the ground (or even if you have one of those nifty brass traps attached to your semi-automatic rifle), it has a strong potential to catch tiny grains of grit and sand. This grit and sand are much harder than the tool steel your reloading mold is made of. If you don’t remove this from your brass, the sand will inevitably scratch the mold. And once a die is scratched, the scratch will forever transfer to every part of the brass it comes into contact with. In other words, every brief moment of laziness causes the matrix to break down. So, the goal in cleaning brass is to completely remove the potential for mold damage.
Then comes the second question, “How clean do I need to get the brass?” The quick answer is, “Clean enough to remove grit from brass.” Don’t confuse clean with POLISHED. You may have pure brass that is visually a bit dull. However, you can also make your brass clean and polished however you like. And, that’s the point of this discussion.
Okay, first things first. You should know that cleaning brass is not just for cosmetic purposes. Brass that is cleaned properly is also important for your safety.
For gun lovers reloading brass ammo, cleaning is a highly recommended and often debated process. After each firing, a small amount of residue remains, which accumulates on the inside and outside of the case. Generally, most of the residue builds up in the neck area and often the wrap looks dull.
Experts recommend cleaning the brass sleeve to prevent dirt and debris from building up in your mold. In addition, cleaning the brass coils also helps prevent scratches to the mold. In some cases, accumulated debris can spread and contaminate the load. Finally, a very important reason for cleaning brass is to identify potential problems with the case.
Best Ways to Clean Brass Cases
Dry Cleaning (Vibratory Tumbling)
This is one of the oldest and most commonly used methods for cleaning brass. The vibrating drum unit consists of a tub and an electric motor. The electric motor makes the tub vibrate and move in small circular motions. The brass housing in the tub rotates, vibrates, and collides with each other, thereby cleaning the dirt on the brass housing. The result is clean and shiny brass.
If you ask 100 reloaders how they clean brass, an estimated 87% of them will tell you that they use a vibrating tumbler.
Dry media turns to dust with repeated use when it vibrates and hits the brass. Also, removing dust and dry media from brass is a pain as it gets stuck everywhere.
One way to deal with this problem is to pour in a few teaspoons of regular paint thinner, this will help hold the dust and will also polish the brass.
Don’t expect drying to heal corroded parts or clean the primer bag. The vibrating drum works well for a smooth finish and a hint of shimmer which works well on most reloading machines.
Quick Tip 1: Never use a polishing agent that contains ammonia. Ammonia makes weapon brass brittle, causing it to crack.
Quick Tip 2: The more casings in the tumbler, the longer it will take to clean.
The best Vibratory tumbler I can recommend is the Frankford Arsenal Vibratory Case Tumbler.
It is the standard media separator for reloading.
Rotary/Wet Tumbling + stainless steel media
This is honestly the best way to clean spent brass. Although wet tumbling is not new, the use of stainless steel media in conjunction with wet tumbling has grown in popularity over the last decade.
Big manufacturers like Frankford have been producing some great and affordable Rotary tumblers in recent times.
With the popularity of online shopping, wet tumblers are readily available to everyone.
Working Capabilities of The Rotary Tumbler
In plain English, a wet tumbler is a sealed plastic or metal waterproof drum that rotates on a motorized base. Dirty brass is fed into the drum along with cleaning fluid and stainless steel (sometimes varnish or wax). As the drum rotates, the mixture cleans the casing both chemically and mechanically.
Unlike slide cleaning, wet rolling works on a molecular level, removing stubborn stains and corrosion.
Wet Tumbling With SS
The combination of the chemical reaction and the hard abrasive SS medium running through the brass ensures that even the dirtiest and most rusty brass casings look brand new.
While slightly more expensive than vibrating jars, the savings from not having to refill the jars certainly add up to significant long-term savings.
Wet Tumbling Without SS
It’s not always necessary to use a media pin unless you’re feeling lazy or the brass case isn’t too dirty. This purification process is like that of the media. Just use hot water, Dawn, and a pinch of Lemi Shine and you’re good to go.
The brass case comes out clean and ready to refill. You can use a wax cleaner instead of Dawn because the wax coating lasts longer.
Last, but not least. Ultrasonic cleaners are for experienced users. Ultrasound is truly one of the best ways to clean brass.
The best thing you love about them is the way they clean primer and rust.
Plus, you can even clean parts of your weapon and your wife’s jewelry. So, all in all a multi-purpose product.
How Does It Work?
- It’s all about bubbles
- Ultrasonic waves create millions of powerful microscopic bubbles every second
- These bubbles then explode, releasing a large amount of vacuum energy, which in turn creates heat and high pressure
- This heat and pressure result in the cleaning of the brass case
- The pressure wave easily washes away oil and breaks up dirt particles
Quick Tip: Preheat the water if possible. This results in better and faster cleaning.
While ultrasonic cleaning is proving to be the best way to clean brass cases, wet tumbling + SS media is a game-winning winner. The long-term savings over near-permanent media make it my go-to.
What do you like? Let me know in the comments below!