Cleaning brass without a tumbler?


December 23, 2003, 03:40 PM
Do any of you use something other than a case tumbler or vibrator to clean your brass? I just bought a large bag of .40 S&W and it's pretty dirty. I do have about 300 rnds already sized and primed. Would there be any harm in tumbling this as well?

Thanks all

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Corey ACP
December 23, 2003, 04:48 PM
Don't tumble any brass that has been reprimed. The little kernals of grit will get stuck in the flash hole and could cause misfires or worse, a hangfire. If they are that bad, throw them in the tumbler and treat them like regular fired brass. Of course it means you will have wasted the 300 or so live primers, but real dirty brass will damage the insides of your reloading dies. IMO it is cheap insurance.

December 23, 2003, 05:02 PM
Load and shoot the primed brass, then worry about it.

The fired brass can be cleaned in some hot water and Tide laundry soap, just soak for a bit and swirl around occasionally, you can stir it in a bucket with a toilet brush and it will help clean a little faster. Rinse in HOT water a couple times, then pour the water out and then spread the brass on a towel to dry for a couple days. If you need it ASAP you can put some in the oven at 200* for an hour.

Standing Wolf
December 23, 2003, 05:02 PM
I wouldn't tumble primed brass for the reasons Thrash1982 mentioned; I do, however, occasionally tumble finished rounds, and have been doing so for years without problem.

It's possible to soak dirty brass in soapy water for a day or two, then wash it just like dishes, then rinse it well, then let it dry another day or two. I met a guy years ago who was too cheap to buy a tumbler, so he washed it by hand. His brass looked all right, but I don't know how clean the insides of the cases were.

Dave R
December 23, 2003, 07:40 PM
You can clean it by hand...wipe it with a cloth. I wouldn't add anything to the cloth for fear of contaminating the primers. That'll get off most of the crud which would otherwise abrade your dies or your chamber.

I just bought a tumbler for $6.

OK, it was an old electric ice cream maker. But take out the "blades", lay it on its side, and it'll do the job.

I am one cheap guy.

BTW, they're right, don't tumble primed brass.

December 23, 2003, 09:30 PM
Thanks for the responses guys. I decided to go with the bucket, laundry detergent and toilet brush idea. Worked pretty good. The outsides are much better and while the insides aren't spottless they are quite a bit cleaner. Once they dry I'll get em loaded up. As you say I will leave the primed brass alone and clean it next time.

Thanks again guys

December 24, 2003, 05:03 AM
Birchwood-Casey makes a chemical solution for cleaning cases. You mix 2 cups with 2 quarts of hot water. Then you let the cases (unprimed of course) soak for 3 minutes. Then you take out the cases, rinse them off & dry them.
Much mre convenient (at least for me) than operating a tumbler. & it'll do a much better job of cleaning your cases than detergent. & the cool part is the mixture is reusable. I bought a bottle about a year ago & I'm still not half way through it. BTW, they run around $8 a bottle.

I use it after I size, that way I get all the sizing lube off the bottleneck cases, but straight walled cases like the .40 I might use before I size if they're that dirty.

Just ask about it wherever you pick up your reloading gear. They should have some. If it comes down to it though, I believe Midway & Brownell's carries it.

For the already primed cases, I'd just take a paper towel & wipe 'em down real good. 'Fraid that's all you can do with the primer in the case.

One word of caution though - if the cases are real dirty always wipe them down inside & out before you put them through your sizer. Odds are slim that a hunk of dirt will score your die but better to take a few minutes & be certain than to tell your friends about how a small piece of rock damaged your die cause you didn't wipe out your cases.

December 24, 2003, 10:59 AM
I put dirty range brass in boiling soapy water & stir , stir , stir ......

Then rinse , rinse , rinse .............

Then let dry .

God bless

December 24, 2003, 12:06 PM
Publicola, are you reading the Birchwood-Casey cleaning solution directions correctly?

Mine (super concentrated) says 2 oz. to one quart of water. I'm just checking to give you a heads up, if needed if you are truly using 2 cups of B-C. It might be another form of B-C solution although I haven't seen another.

Although I like B-C solution because it doesn't leave a greasy or waxy film like Frankford Arsenal added to tumbler mix (which should be wiped off before going to the die) you will want to tumble brass soaked in B-C IF the brass is really, really dirty and IF you want a shinier case.

Although I'm confidant that the B-C solution by itself gets rid of die damaging grit and dirt I prefer to tumble my cases afterwards. I can see any cracks, etc. in the brass if it's shiny versus a dull brass appearance.

The B-C solution is cheap...around $7 a 16 oz. bottle around here but I find it pays for itself because the solution can continue to be used on subsequent batches if the solution is not too dirty.

Also using the B-C before tumbling extends the life of the tumbler medium keeping it from becoming dusty and dirty from abrasion with gritty material.

50 Shooter
December 24, 2003, 01:19 PM
Iosso also makes case cleaning products.

December 24, 2003, 04:06 PM
50 Shooter,

Thanks for the link. I noticed they also have boat cleaning products,!!!!!!!

I'll have to check 'em out.

December 24, 2003, 06:34 PM
You are correct. I should have type 2 oz. instead of 2 cups & I should have typed 1 quart of hot water instead of 2. I really gotta stop typing when people are cooking in my house. lol

But I have always gotten good results from just using the B-C mix w/o tumbling. The cases come out nice & shiney & I never felt the need for them to be any more shiney. The main thing I'm concerned with is getting all the powder residue out of the inside & any dirt off the outside.

But thanks for the correction as I would have missed it.

December 25, 2003, 09:10 AM

You're right...B-C is some good chit, man.

It's concentrated, goes a long way, inexpensive, easy to use, no dangerous or caustic chemicals, cuts down on the need for case wiping and reusable (to a certain extent).

I think, at some point, I've used almost every method and make I can think of and I keep coming back to B-C.

December 26, 2003, 01:37 AM
Here's a recipe I got from a 1957 NRA article.

1 Pint water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon dish detergent

Deprime cases first, wash in this solution for about 10 min. Rinse 10 minutes. Dry well in sun, oven etc. This works well, I used it for years until I bought a tumbler. If you ever go over to the dark side and load black powder it works well for cleaning cases used with it too.

Ala Dan
December 26, 2003, 01:12 PM
Aw yes, there's a less expensive way! :uhoh:

Take an old Folger's coffee can, fill half way or so with
corn cob media; and dump in approximately 150-200
spent brass casings. Replace the lid securely
and turn the work over to any tiny tot's in the house. (LOL)

After they get through playing with it for about a week,
you should have some very clean brass.

Best Wishes,
Ala Dan, N.R.A. Life Member

December 26, 2003, 02:42 PM
For those interested, the attached pic is one of 225 Sig .357 cases I just did with the Birchwood-Casey and a three hour tumble with Lyman's impregnated with jeweler's rouge.

BTW: the cases WERE fairly dirty and blackened.

December 26, 2003, 04:50 PM
I always de-prime before I tumble, that way the flashhole gets cleaned too.

Before I had a "real" trumbler, dad stole my gemstone tumbler.. burned out the motor and you could only do 20 or so 30-06 shells at a time, he then rigged a belt and pully onto my tumbler, with a new motor... before we discovered Midway etc sold large volume tumblers.

Kind of like one of those, rubber tumbler body, watertight seal.

Wipe 'em off, load 'em, shoot 'em.

Don't be in such a rush next time.

December 26, 2003, 05:40 PM
I just cleaned about 600 pieces of .45 ACP brass in dishwater, drying them in a 200 degree oven for about 12 minutes. They are quite a bit cleaner. They didn't completely dry though, so I'm letting them air dry for awhile before I proceed with depriming them.

Thanks all for the tip. I was going to wait to start reloading them until I could afford a tumbler. Now I can start reloading some rounds until I can save enough for that tumbler.


December 26, 2003, 06:31 PM
Ala Dan, reminded me...
Old farmer kept and saved Pecan hulls , toss this media with brass into a big coffee can or such, secure lid, and let it vibrate on the tractors, combines and such. It actually works! [ Just had to ask one day why all the equipment had these "containers". He finally got a tumbler...still kept using the old method as well...Harvest time...

Ala Dan
December 26, 2003, 08:15 PM
Hey-Hey-Hey sm,

that just goes too show us "baby boomer's" that
you just can't beat common sense, Garrett's snuff,
Liberty overall's, and grandpa's old rusty, but trusty
thirty-thirty! :D

Best Wishes,
Ala Dan, N.R.A. Life Member

December 26, 2003, 08:44 PM
Yep, Hill's Bro's coffee cans, John Deere Combines and Ford Tractors...Tuff Nutt too...thutty thutty and old model 12 ( for the stuff that flushes ya know ;) ) Now that explains why I have to get away from the city and visit my farm friends...Humm...gotta a bunch of 45ACP brass sitting here...might have to it give a go myself...not much planned for the next couple of days...been saving my pecan and walnut hulls...:)

December 28, 2003, 07:58 PM
May sound weird but I did this for a while until I got a tumbler. Bought a garment bag and threw in about 300-500 rounds of fired 45 ACP cases. Did them with the regular wash so they wouldn't get dented. Took the bag out and put it in a sunny window until the cases were dry. Cases were clean and shiny but still stained. No dents.

Did my wife mind? No. Half the rounds were hers.

December 28, 2003, 10:54 PM
You can clean stained and dirty range brass with KOOL-AID, use the small packet in about 2 qts of hot water ,no sugar, put a lid on it and shake, let sit for a couple of hours if not so dirty ,much longer if much dirtier. It's the CITRIC ACID in the KOOL-AID that does the work. I have dried the brass in the electric cloths dryer using a "shoe drying attachment on the door of the dryer" with the brass in disposable aluminium pans.

December 28, 2003, 11:18 PM
I thought I was cheap, but some of you guys are in a whole new league. I'm tempted to try the ice cream maker, but how does the ice cream taste afterwards?

December 29, 2003, 01:03 AM
I'm so glad my wife bought me a vibratory cleaner! :D

I was cleaning brass one by one with a drill and some green scrour pads, they were good on the outside, not so good on the inside... but heck, I made it through a pretty good amount of brass this way!

Smokey Joe
January 2, 2004, 04:10 AM
I'm a cheapskate myself, and I thought for years I was saving money by hand-cleaning the brass. Then I broke down and got a tumbler. Geez, guys, they aren't that expensive! And BOY does it beat screwing around washing, wiping, and drying cases, scrubbing at stains, etc. My time is worth the extra $$ for the tumbler thank you very much. My reloads come out looking factory new!

BTW, if you persist in drying cases in the oven, be very careful you don't anneal the brass. It doesn't take much heat nor time. 200ยก will do it I believe. Once I accidentally produced a real pretty colorful lot. Called the Sierra help line 1-800-223-8799 and they suggested that I'd altered the hardness of the brass which would affect such things as headspace, neck expansion, and how it'd behave the next trip through the resizing die. They thought it would be usable, but I opted for prudence and declared that lot of brass scrap.

January 4, 2004, 06:45 PM

I tried cat litter and bon-ami in a coffee can, sock full of brass in the washing machine, and some other wild ideas.

Got a kit from Midway (vibratory cleaner, media, separator, etc) on sale. Clean brass, minimum time and trouble. Happy guy.

January 6, 2004, 08:35 PM
Save all your brass for the whole year, throw it and about forty pounds of fine sand in the cement mixer. Run it a few hours. Dump it on a tarp and pay the neighbor's kids a few bucks to sort it all out into coffee cans. I've seen a three year old do amazingly well. Its a big game to kids.


January 6, 2004, 08:56 PM
I have loads of brass still caked with Petaluma mud...I think they need a wash before they hit the tumbler. What about Simple Green? Any danger that it might etch or embrittle brass? Great cleaner, that Simple Green...

Diluted, of course

January 8, 2004, 07:12 PM
What about Simple Green? Any danger that it might etch or embrittle brass? Great cleaner, that Simple Green... I was wondering, too. So I asked 'em, and here's their reply:

Dear Mr. Gwalchmai:

Thanks for your inquiry. We don't recommend soaking brass in Simple Green for much more than 10 minutes - not because of embrittlement, but because of tarnishing and the possibility of electrolysis.

The best way to clean those brass cartridge casings with Simple Green would be by use of ultrasonic equipment. The Simple Green should be diluted 1:1 with water. Simple Green works really well on carbon residues, so there should not be a lengthy soak time necessary - 10 minutes max should do it. After cleaning, a water rinse will be necessary. You may get tarnishing. This could be removed by tumbling the casings.

With regard to electrolysis, you also want to limit the time the casings soak in any sort of water-based cleaner so that lead residues do not plate onto the brass, and make sure that there are no other types of metal in the cleaning fluid used to clean the casings (not before or during the cleaning process.) Simple Green can chelate softer metals into solution which can then plate onto stronger metals, such as brass.

I hope that this information is helpful to you. Thanks again for contacting us and for choosing Simple Green.


Carol Chapin
Environmental & Regulatory Coordinator
(800) 228-0709

January 8, 2004, 08:15 PM
on the last range trip the ground was a bit soft, so most of the brass was filled with mud....

toss it all in an old pillow case, capfull of detergent, and set washer to permenent press....

let air dry, then tumble...:eek:

January 8, 2004, 08:49 PM
Excellent, thank you again

January 10, 2004, 11:00 PM
joy dish soap works well also.

January 10, 2004, 11:27 PM
I soaked some .223 brass in straight vinegar for about 30 minutes tonight just to see how it cleaned (the wife cleans everything with vinegar and newspaper). When I first drained them and wiped a couple off, I was quite pleased with myself. But then I got busy with something else, came back just a few minutes later, and all of the brass was bright green and ugly. I'm still checking thrift stores for an ice cream maker.

January 13, 2004, 04:03 PM
I soaked some brass in a 1:1 Simple Green/water solution for about ten minutes and they came out very clean. Serviceable, I'd say, though not as shiny as with a tumbler. Just for fun, I left a couple of cases in the solution overnight. Not recommended! They came out all tarnished black. Yuck!

December 18, 2011, 02:57 AM
Hello all... Ive been lurking these forums for quite a while, So I had to join to mention my experiance with a Ice Cream Maker for brass cleaning. Well i have this old ice cream maker that did not sell at my last garage sale a while ago. I decided to give it a try with water, detergent and a little vinager. Ran it for 15 minutes and Am I pleased. Brass is almost like new, inside and out. Only real issue is having to let dry but since I live in the desert they will be dry by morning.

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