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View Poll Results: What method of brass case cleaning do you use?
Tumbler 39 81.25%
Water / Soap etc. 7 14.58%
Ultrasonic 1 2.08%
Other 2 4.17%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 48. You may not vote on this poll

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Old November 17, 2009, 09:15 PM   #1
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Cleaning Cartridge Cases / Brass

From what I can tell, tumblers don't really clean the inside of cases but just clean/shine the outside, plus the lead residue just ends up in the dusty media.

I was researching different methods and will probably just wash the rifle brass in boiling water (with some type of low sud soap).

Funny thing, I just ran across ultrasonic cleaning equipment on Amazon the other day and think this is the way to go...guess what just showed up on the redesigned Hornady ultrasonic case cleaner!

Any ideas anyone?
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Old November 17, 2009, 09:57 PM   #2
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tumblers clean the inside of the cases fine, and the media lasts for tens of thousands of cases.
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Old November 17, 2009, 10:00 PM   #3
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tumbler is the way to go... there are better things to do in my life then scrub cases in dish washing detergent and bake them in the over (as I have read)
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Old November 17, 2009, 10:35 PM   #4
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The Case For Ultrasonic, Vinegar and Dishsoap

I don't believe tumblers clean the inside of cases as it does not seem mechanically possible for media to enter the case and churn inside (see pictures of the insides of brass in article below). The churn happens on the outside but there is nothing to continue the process on the inside of the case. I don't really care how shiny the brass is, I just want to eliminate powder residue, reload and go shoot. When I want the shine, I'll get a bench mounted buffer (or handheld mini) and buff each round (nothing beats manually buffing from what I can tell).

I've read a few articles on other sites, mostly the long distance and benchrest shooters as they need the ultimate perfection of any method.

One of the best articles on cleaning experience I found:

Ultrasonic Cartridge Case Cleaning Made Easy
by Jason Baney

Many things in my reloading routine changed after becoming involved with 1000-yard Benchrest. Before long I decided to give up tumbling with standard corn cob and walnut media due to some bad experiences with buildup in the cases. I had even tried rice as a tumbling medium, and it works great, but will also leave a nasty residue after a while. With all the media I used, I was also not happy with the dust that was left over. I didn’t particularly care to see if this dust or buildup would cause me problems, so it was just easier to stop tumbling all together. This may not have helped quantitatively, but mentally it was a step in the right direction. (Click HERE to ZOOM Photo.)

Up until a few months ago, I never gave a second thought to using an ultrasonic cleaner to clean cases. But after seeing several posts on various shooting forums, I got curious and had to try one for myself. It took me a while to find the right procedure and the best "cocktail" of cleaners, but the end result was great. I've concluded that, if you're fussy about your brass, ultrasonic cleaning is well worth the effort.

continue reading at....

More resources...Tumblers don't clean inside cases:

...The long standing tradition of case cleaning involves the use of a case tumbler and treated corn cob or walnut shell media. Unfortunately, a case tumbler is only able to clean the outside of the case and doesn’t remove any residue inside the case or the primer pocket. Another downside to case tumbling is that it is fairly common for the media to become lodged in the case and flash hole and it is imperative that it be removed. In addition, case tumbling takes far longer and accomplishes considerably less than ultrasonic cleaning. Although ultrasonic cleaners are more costly, their numerous benefits make them cost effective for the professional or casual shooter...

(Changed my mind. The Brownells article is one of the best!)

Last edited by miykael; November 18, 2009 at 02:26 AM.
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Old November 17, 2009, 10:50 PM   #5
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I voted for ultrasonic...

...because I'm a newcomer to reloading and don't have a tumbler, but I do have a small but industrial-strength (Crest) ultrasonic cleaner I bought about three years ago. Yeah, it may take a while with such a small unit- about 1/2 gallon or so- but at least I already have it in stock!
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Old November 17, 2009, 11:09 PM   #6
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I don't believe tumblers clean the inside of cases as it does not seem mechanically possible for media to enter the case and churn inside (see pictures of the insides of brass in article below). The churn happens on the outside but there is nothing to continue the process on the inside of the case.
I disagree. Unless You're tumbling assembled cartridges, the Media fills the case and acts on the same action as the rest of the media. Each case I pull out of my tumbler has to be tapped 'til it's empty of media.

I do believe, however, that the powder leaves a stain on the inside because that's where the powder is burning (obviously). The exterior of the case stays clean because it's pressed against the walls of the chamber, which, again, is why the exterior of the case neck eventually gets stained...the case neck is at the site of the action, upon ignition.

My cases come out Fantastic, with plain, Treated Corn Cob Media. They're not shiny inside but they're clean. The media DOES clean inside. It's "mechanics" are that it's (media) small enough to work it's way into the case, and everything in the Tumbler vibrates, and quite aggresively so.
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Old November 17, 2009, 11:17 PM   #7
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Really dirty range brass will get a light douche and shake in warm water, and maybe a little soap.

Once the dirt is no longer an issue, I only tumble.
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Old November 18, 2009, 02:08 AM   #8
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Tumbler & Media

Christchild, I agree that the media goes inside the cases, but at this point don't think it circulates and cleans once in. You've got a point with the vibration but the media that goes in doesn't continuously circulate--it stay inside. Maybe it does vibrate enough to clean? The writers of the articles that I linked too don't think so. I'm not convinced that it does anything either but it does create another market for the manufacturers. Plus the media dust will stay inside too and coat the outside (microscopic) and contaminate the dies (unless you clean the brass)?

The ultrasonic seems to clean for sure.

How clean does the inside have to be or free from burned powder? Does a little powder residue make that much difference?
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Old November 18, 2009, 03:58 AM   #9
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all my brass is cleaned fine inside, just some staining from burning powder.

and the media does move in and out of the cases, i can tell because when i add a couple of caps of mineral spirits to my media to "freshen" it up, the media in the cases gets wet as well. this would not happen if the media did not move in and out.

also i recently had a few pistol cases jammed togeather, when pried apart where the brass walls were in contact was still dirty, but inside the cases where the media was trapped was nice and clean.
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Old November 18, 2009, 11:12 AM   #10
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1, I 2nd what Troy Mclure said, as I've "made the mistake" of tumbling BottleNeck cases with Straight-Walled cases (.45/70) and the interior section of the .45/70's that were contacting the "Now Gripped" BottleNeck cases were dirty, in the joint where they were connected, but the rest of the interior of the .45/70's were clean.

2, I wipe each case exterior when they come out of the Tumbler to remove the dust, and use Pipe Cleaners (case neck/bore brushes work fine) to remove dust from the inside of the case necks, as well. I've often thought about ways to manually get inside cases to "better" clean, but have not pursued it. I figure Pipe Cleaners "folded" in half (folded in half to "hide" the exposed steel wire core of pipe cleaners), or Q-Tips, could probably get most of any remaining powder residue from the greater percentage of the case interior. Now, I know there is a LITTLE residue left inside, because the pipe cleaners I use for the inside of the case necks get slightly darkened, but I firmly believe that minute percentage makes No Difference. The only thing Residue Build Up would alter is Case Capacity, therefor changing (increasing, usually) Case Pressure, since it would decrease Case Capacity, but my cases get just as clean after tumbling, after the first firing AND after the 4th or 5th firing. I wouldn't spend the extra money on the UltraSonic Unit. I'd get a good tumbler and media, and use the extra cash to buy more components!

IMHO, once they're Tumbled, they're clean and ready. I just wipe the outside and clean the case necks, as I stated above. I also believe that You should use the UltraSonic method, if You see fit, and can swing the cost. Me, I'm a fan of "Integrity to Spare". Some folks call it "OverKill". If the UltraSonic method is what You want to do, then that's what You should do.

If You would, try both. Tumbled cases and cases cleaned with the UltraSonic. Loaded the same, same Barrel Condition (cleanliness), and report Your findings here.

Me personally, I'm thoroughly pleased with Tumbling, and won't change it. My loads shoot like a Dream. But, I think I'd speak for quite a few of us here at TFL, in saying we'd like to know Your findings, whether they shoot better when they're "perfectly" clean, as opposed to Tumbled Clean...and is it worth the cost...

Since You're pursuing the method, please post Your findings, Bro!

Last edited by Christchild; November 18, 2009 at 11:19 AM.
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Old November 18, 2009, 11:32 AM   #11
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Tumbler for me, it is easy and quick and woks for me.
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Old November 18, 2009, 12:20 PM   #12
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For me it is a cost vs. benefit decision. A $400 ultrasonic cleaner is way more than I want to spend to clean cases, when I can get a $50-$80 tumbler and $10 media, plus $3 for dish detergent and vinegar.

However, I have thought it would be nice to have a ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning small, intricate machine parts for firearms, cars, small engines, etc. If I buy an ultrasonic cleaner it would be for general parts cleaning use, and then used for brass cleaning as an additional benefit. But I can't see for my purpose spending $400 for a cleaning device just for brass.
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Old November 18, 2009, 12:34 PM   #13
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As I am new to the wonderful world of reloading I just tumble the brass. It was always the "start-up" cost that kept me from getting into reloading when I was younger. I know I need to get into the cost of factory ammo v. reloaded ammo was just sticker shock to me.
I have one hard and fast rule about "gear" : never skimp on gear! So I wanted to be sure that I was going to get good gear. I think it would be great to get an ultrasonic cleaning unit but still think it would be used more for my weapons than for the brass but...who knows.
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Old November 18, 2009, 01:48 PM   #14
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How clean does the inside have to be or free from burned powder? Does a little powder residue make that much difference?
Now that's really the bottom line isn't it?! I my opinion, NO! And again my opinion it does NOT "build up", at least not as long as we're talking smokeless powder. Now black powder, that's an entirely different subject.

If the bench rester's worry about powder residue INSIDE cases, I guess I'll never get involved with them!!!

Now as to the ultrasonic debate; I have one, and it didn't cost $400.00! Harbor freight has one that is under 100 bucks! That's the one I bought.

Those are .223 cases that went through 16 minutes in the cleaner with shooters choice Aqua clean solution it it. Every bit of stain AND primer residue was removed. HOWEVER a caution I received when I ran this as a thread on here or on THR from someone that said one of the ingrediants of aqua clean attacks the zinc in cartridge brass. I verified that by soaking some junk '06 cases in it for days. I leached the brass nice and pink, meaning the zinc was nearly gone. The cases crumbled like they were made of unbaked ceramic.

You linked article uses some acid IIRC. It too can leach zinc from the cases.

I voted for tumblers, since I can start the tumbler with the brass I want to load before breakfast, check email after eating, then go load those freshly cleaned cases. Try that with any wet method.

Oh, the ultra sonic cleaner is the cat's meow for cleaning gun parts. Like the entire lower of my glock M-22 without disassembley, came clean as a whistle. Same for a cruddy trigger group for a rem shotgun, the list is endless. The aqua clean is NOT cheap, but man does it work!
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Old November 18, 2009, 11:16 PM   #15
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Thanks Troy, Child and Snuffy (et al) for the insightful comments. For those who mentioned cost, I never expected an expensive Ultrasonic but the cheaper models. Thanks snuffy for the brand you mentioned--I saw discounts on Amazon too and now Hornady has one for $134 (website price).

I'm not a benchrest shooter and don't find that appealing...yet. I shoot a .308 Savage 10FP LE version with a bipod. I love the AccuTrigger by the way.

You guys made some good points but for the $100 cost, if I do bite the bullet and get a Ultrasonic I will post the findings. Since rifle reloading has so much prep anyway, I don't mind cleaning 100 at a time. Maybe when I get into the multi-100's range I'll move on up.
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Old November 19, 2009, 12:14 AM   #16
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I have always been happy using a tumbler. One pass through the walnut media seems to clean my cases just fine, and is much easier than washing them, or multiple runs thru differing types of media.....which is good, cause I am lazy. I don't get picky with mine.....don't care how shiney they are, I just want the crud (mud, dust, rough spots from tarnishing/corosion) off the outside of the case before I load it, then shoot it again, upon which, we start the vicious cycle all over.
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:13 PM   #17
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Bought an Ultrasonic Cleaner and like it


List Price: $179.99
Price: $87.90
You Save: $92.09 (51%)
Ships from and sold by Shining Image.

I jut bought an ultrasonic on Amazon and thinks it's great. I haven't got the cleaning solution down yet. After cycling through, I just put the brass on foil in the oven set at 220 F. Works great for me. No matter what method you use, there are drawbacks.


1. Don't CLEAN the inside of cases (Proven by article links I previously provided).
2. You need to tumble for hours, outside the house is best because they are dirty and loud.
3. Brass comes out looking GREAT...BUT...once you lube the cases to re-size, none of that matters. This is probably the biggest issue I have. I want clean cases more that I want the shine BUT I love the shine
4. Dusty and dirty to work with.


1. Cases are CLEANED on the inside
2. No nice shine on the outside
3. Have to dump water (but better than tumbler media)
4. Have to dry cases (I use the oven, works great)
5. If you tumble for 4 hours, then US is faster. Only needs a couple 1-2 hours in the oven (probably no even that muc, I just go over).
6. Need to buff the case after everything is done, if you want the shine.

Hornady jumped on the Ultrasonic bandwagon. The "brand" I bought was a Kendal but I think someone in China makes them and other people just put their names on it The user guide had no manufacturers name on it. They're great for cleaning other things too.

Last edited by miykael; January 20, 2010 at 10:49 PM. Reason: update it
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:23 PM   #18
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About the dust, I didn't go through each response with a comb, so if I'm repeating someone else, sorry. I just throw a dryer sheet in there (ripped in half) every couple times I use my tumbler. I'll kinda mess up the rotation while its in there but it sucks up the dust really well and then I pull it out and tumble em again (I've got time).
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Last edited by semi_problomatic; January 20, 2010 at 10:28 PM.
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Old January 20, 2010, 11:44 PM   #19
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I use an ultra sonic cleaner myself. All that is left inside is the darkened surface due to the heat from the powder charge. Then I tumble for the shinny look everyone likes.

Last edited by Leadman; January 20, 2010 at 11:50 PM.
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Old January 20, 2010, 11:51 PM   #20
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Hello gentlemen, I have found a pretty good way to clean the inside of my rifle cases. I am an aricraft mechanic. We have a process which we use to clean aluminum aloys in order for adhesives to bond to. It is an acid/etchant(pasa-gel 105) which I dilute with DI water(water+sodium dicromate)at 140 degrees. First I soak in a soap/water solution at 140 degrees for 20 min, rinse and mix a 20 to 1 (DI to pasa-gel) drop the cases in for about 20 seconds then rinse and the cases look like they were just made. All measurements are spot on, no loss of brass due to the etchant, or deformation due to heat.
I'm not sure the DI water has alot to do with it as much as the warm water.
I am trying some other cleaners that can be purchaced anywhere and will post results later.
I will also try to post some pics of my cleaned brass tomorrow.

I've also wondered if anyone has tried something to the effect of an oven cleaner? Probably too corrosive but it is just a thought.
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Old January 21, 2010, 12:07 AM   #21
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If you're just interested in cleaning parts (bolt, trigger group, etc) These work great :

Just about the right size for most action parts, and they are super inexpensive.
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Old January 21, 2010, 01:54 AM   #22
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Sounds great. Where can we get it? Ace Hardware is out, for sure. Even tried Aircraft Spruce.

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Old January 21, 2010, 02:28 AM   #23
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Brass tumblers

Physics wise and logically wise the inside of cases wont get as clean as the out side in tumblers regardless of the type of media used. But; when you look for the most bang for your buck compare a hundred dollar operation to a four hundred dollar investment…if you can afford it then go for it and the best of luck to you.
The simplest method is to clean your media as you tumble it, that way it takes a long time before it truly gets dirty and there will never be that dusty cloud when you open the tumbler.
When the weather gets better I will be studying on ways to clean up media and make it last even longer. I have several ideas and will post my results.
What I do is use disposable latex gloves while working with my brass. The gloves keep my hands clean and protected from any residue.
As far as the inside of the brass, I don't really care if it shines or not.
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Old January 21, 2010, 08:45 AM   #24
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Tumbling takes time and effort, having to clean the media residue from each case and primer pocket. Hot water, vinegar, dishwashing soap and salt 20 minute bath and quick rinse, the brass comes out very nice. Lay out to dry in the sun, you're done. Cheap, too.
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Old January 21, 2010, 02:52 PM   #25
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Tumble them...jeez sometimes folks make this way, way harder than it needs to be. There is no need to make them spic and span. Has zero effect on the accuracy of the round. Maybe you could tell a difference at 600M. Doubt it. Tumble for an hour and take em out. Hornady One Shot lube then and continue forward. No need to re-tumble them if your lube is not petroleum based. One Shot is evaporates almost before you can resize 50 cases. By the time you even think of adding powder it's long gone.

Why do you think it necessary to clean the inside of a fired case???? Ridiculouos really....
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cleaning brass cases

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