Editor’s Note: As we continue to develop our “Reloading Press” newsletter we want to focus some of our articles on subjects that will be of use to beginning reloaders. This article focuses on cleaning your brass after firing. We welcome any contribution on this basic subject that you would like to make. This task is one that many reloaders have developed their own “perfect” process.
After firing your brass, the first task is to clean the cartridges. Residue from firing collects on the outside of the case. Some residue may be present along the body but most of it is concentrated in the neck and shoulder area. Heavy residue on the case body is an indication that the neck is not sealing fast enough or not sealing properly. Improper sealing can be due to a light powder charge or powder with an incorrect burning rate.
There are several reasons to clean your cases. One reason is to keep the debris and grit from building up in your dies and decreasing their life. Cleaning your cases also avoids scratching or galling the brass in the dies. The accumulation of debris in the interior of the cases can flake off and potentially contaminate your load. Also, you don’t want to put dirty cases back in your chamber after you just finished cleaning the chamber! Finally, cleaning the cases allows you to inspect them easily and spot any potential problems. There are several alternative methods for cleaning cases; most of them are relatively simple.
The most common method of cleaning a large batch of cases is to use a case tumbler. Tumblers work exceptionally well and require no complicated procedures to use them. Your cases will clean up faster and better if they are cleaned as soon as possible after firing because the carbon soot left on the cases will take a set over time and become harder and harder to remove. When you return from the range, dump the fired brass in your tumbler as soon as you can. To achieve the best results, change your media periodically. Media additives can be used to rejuvenate media and to help control the dusty film left on the cases. Some handloaders tumble their brass with a treated media first and then tumble them for a shorter time in a batch of untreated media to remove the polishing residue. A good brass/media separator like the RCBS Separator makes short work of removing most of the media from the interior of the cases. I use tumblers on most of my high volume brass and recently have preferred to use treated walnut hull media. Treated corn cob also works well and is not quite as aggressive as the walnut hull media.
I prefer to keep my cases separated into cartridge boxes of 50 or 100 for lot number control, accessibility, and ease in carrying. Even though I may have several boxes of brass that are from the same lot, once they go into a box they will stay with their companion cases for the rest of their useful life. Therefore, when I tumble brass I may only tumble 50 or a 100 at a time, even though my tumbler capacity is 300 to 400 cases.
If you de-prime your cases in a separate de-priming operation prior to cleaning them, make sure you carefully inspect the cases after they have been tumbled. Some of your cases will have the flash holes plugged with finer media granules. These will have to be picked out with a dental pick or paper clip or blown out with compressed air. I prefer to tumble my cases with the spent primers left in and rarely have media stick in the flash hole.
If the necks of your cases (inside and out) are not clean enough for your liking, follow up with any of the hand cleaning methods detailed below.
The most common complaints about tumbling are the noise, the dust, and the polishing rouge left on the cases. For me it is a lot less labor intensive and the least expensive with the exception of cleaning cases by hand.
Besides the traditional corn cob and walnut hull media, other reloaders have experimented with everything from kitty litter, small ceramic media, plastic beads, etc.
Another case cleaning process that some handloaders favor is to use a chemical cleaner such as Iosso Case Cleaner. Cases are placed in a mesh bag and then immersed into a container of cleaning solution. The cases are allowed to soak for a short time and are then rinsed off with hot water and left to air dry. This procedure works well and is fast except for the dry time. The cases come out “squeaky” clean but not as highly polished as a tumbler will produce. The plus side is that they won’t have any residue that you get from the polishing rouge found in some of the treated media. If you want a cleaner “looking” appearance, throw the cases into a tumbler of untreated media after they dry. It will only take a few minutes to polish them up a bit. Iosso is a cleaner that is environmentally friendly; when it becomes too dirty it can be disposed of in a household sink. Birchwood Casey also makes a brass cleaning solution but I haven’t had a chance to use it.
Cleaning cases by hand has one major benefit; you can easily inspect the cases while you are handling them. If you are going to hand clean your cases, begin with the inside of the case neck. Insert the appropriate size case neck cleaning brush into the case neck, retract it and then tap out any loosened residue. Most case neck cleaning brushes can be chucked into a power drill and used under low RPMs or use the Sinclair Neck Brush Adapter in a power screwdriver. If you are using a brush by hand, the spiral twist in the brush will normally work well by simply pushing the brush straight in and pulling it back out.
The outside of the case, especially the case neck, can be cleaned with all types of products. We commonly use a chunk of “0000” steel wool. The steel wool leaves very little or no residue on the outside of the case. Another product reloaders will use is Nevr-Dull ™, a “wadding” impregnated with a cleaning compound that works very well in cleaning cases. We sell it or you can sometimes find it at your local hardware stores. Nevr-Dull ™ does leave a little residue on the cases, but the cases can be easily wiped clean with a paper towel. Krazy Kloth is another commercial brass cleaning product that works well for removing stubborn powder residue. It is a reusable cloth impregnated with a cleaning compound.
Cleaning cases in an ultrasonic cleaner is a favorite of a few shooters. There are several ultrasonic cleaners on the market with enough capacity to do enough cases. You can spend under $100 on ultrasonic cleaners from places like Harbor Freight or several hundred dollars on larger and higher quality models. Cleaning solutions vary from vinegar/soap/water mixtures to specific solutions designed specifically for carbon and brass.
I personally have tried using an ultrasonic cleaner and it seemed like a lot of work to me. I just had a small unit and experimented with some different cleaners. By the time I cleaned them, rinsed them, and then let them dry I was ready to go back to just chucking them in the tumbler and walking away. The plus side to the cases that I cleaned using the ultrasonic cleaner is that the cases were clean inside and out. I did like not having to wipe off cleaning rouge residue from the tumbling media.
I have inserted a link to a more in-depth article written by one of the Brownells staff who is a reloader. The article regards his experimentation and methodology in using a handgun ultrasonic cleaner to clean brass. Click here to read the article.
President - Sinclair International, Inc.