If you are learning how to reload your ammo, you must master the art of brass cleaning. Brass cleaning is one of the most critical steps of the ammo reloading process and if you don’t get it right, you could ruin your rounds.
It’s one of those things that you just need to take your time, and master until you are getting a consistent and clean result.
In this article, we go into detail about why brass cleaning is important, some different ways you can do it, and the pros and cons of each.
Why Brass Cleaning Is Important
Brass preparation and cleaning is an essential part of the reloading process. The tumbling (cleaning) removes contaminants from the outside and inside of the round, including flash holes and primer pockets.
There are multiple benefits to having clean brass including:
- Can easily seat primers to a consistent depth
- Protects reloading dyes from scratches
- Improves cycling of the reloads
Method 1: Vibratory (Dry) Tumbling
This is often referred to as ‘dry tumbling’ and is the most popular and inexpensive method for cleaning your brass.
Gear Needed: Vibratory tumbler, dry medium
Tumblers come in all shapes and sizes, so you can always find one that is a good fit, for the amount of reloading you do.
Dry tumblers require a dry medium to pour into the tumbler. Corn cob, walnut, or pecan are good (and popular) options. This is a specific product you would buy from an ammunition supply/reloading store, not something you prepare yourself from the relevant ingredients.
The dry medium usually has a polishing agent mixed in, to give the brass a decent shine, but can be bought without as well.
If you want your brass to have a polished shine, then make sure you get a dry medium with the polishing agent mixed in.
You can choose to decap, then size your brass, and then tumble it for cleaning. Or you can choose to tumble it first and then decap and size it. Regardless of which way you do it, you will need to briefly check for dry medium lodged in the primer pocket or flash hole.
The tumbling process takes between two and three hours to complete. We advise you to start small and keep your case counts low in the beginning, and slowly increase each batch. This way you will be able to get a sense of how many cases your tumbler can clean well in two to three hours.
Pros of Dry Tumbling
- Media and Cases Can Be Separated Easier
- Most Common
Cons of Dry Tumbling
- Media Lodging
- Media will wear out over time
- Diminishing cleaning performance
- Additives will need to be replaced periodically
- Very Dirty Brass will be difficult to clean
Method 2: Rotary (Wet) Tumbling
Rotary tumbling is a process where the rounds are placed inside a barrel, with stainless steel media and water and cleaning solution, and then spun repeatedly for 1-2 hours. You can wet tumble before or after resizing, it makes no difference.
- Spinning Cleaning Drum
- Stainless steel media
- Cleaning solution
Pros of Rotary Tumbling
- Short Cycle Time (half as long as dry tumbling)
- Media Does Not Wear out
- No Media Lodging
- Media Flows Through All Crevices
- Inside is cleaned better
- The tumbler can be used to clean other metal/brass things
- Gear and media are more expensive to buy
- Wet process and requires clean up
- Cases will need to be drier (dryer is added cost)
Method 3: Ultrasonic (Wet) Cleaning
This method uses an ultrasonic frequency, penetrating a heater water solution, with your casings in the water. It is one of the quicker methods, but you will need to dry the rounds afterward.
- Ultrasonic Cleaner
- Cleaning Solution
Pros of Ultrasonic Cleaning
- No Media Required
- No Media lodging
- Can be used to clean your other rifle parts
- Will clean well inside crevices and pockets
Cons of Ultrasonic Cleaning
- Wet process (cases will need to be dry)
- Units can be expensive
- Batch capacity will be lower than vibratory or rotary tumbling
The best cleaning method for you will ultimately depend on your specific situation and your preferences. A lot of people like to combine two methods for the best result.
For example, when picking up brass from the range, a lot of people are reluctant to put these shells straight into their dry mixture and like to wash them off first. Though it is an extra step in the process, you get a much better result, and all of your materials last a lot longer because they don’t need to do as much work.
If you search online, many people have found homegrown remedies, that can save a lot of money when used as a substitute for the different cleaning mediums. When you have the gear you will have the freedom and the time to try different things out until you find something that works well for you.