How to clean brass other than tumble?


February 6, 2003, 09:50 PM
I just got into reloading and so far it's a good way to pass time I would otherwise waste away. But there's one thing that really bugs me.

I don't want to use a vibratory cleaner(tumbler) because of the storage issue and noise and the lead poisoning! (read the lee loading manual for details, I can only reload in the backyard and the dust has to settle somewhere from the sifter)

But so far I found very few alternatives to the process.

* IOSSO liquid case cleaner, bought the kit, tried it, now I use the pail to store brass, 'nuff said. don't use it.

* use steel wool (scotch brite etc) on a lee zip trimmer, works but VERY time consuming and irritating because of the inefficiency.

Does anyone have any alternatives to these methods or am I stuck on a tumbler for good?

TIA. and oh yeah, I also migrated from TFL.

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February 6, 2003, 11:51 PM
Put them in a laundry sack and pop them in the washing mashine with a little soap.

Simple, but effective.


February 7, 2003, 11:20 AM
Put them in a laundry sack and pop them in the washing mashine with a little soap.

That's exactly what I do. It doesn't get the brass shiny new, but it cleans it well enough to run through carbide dies smoothly.


February 10, 2003, 10:08 AM
do you use your own washing machine? how was the noise level and is there any noticeable sign afterwards?


February 10, 2003, 10:56 AM
The noise isn't bad. It jingles like a bunch of change, but it's not terribly distracting. However, I've only done a few hundres 357mag and 38spec cases at a time.

I've not noticed any signs afterwards. I'm assuming you mean some sort of residue or stain. I usually set the water level a little higher than normal and only do this with dark clothes or the brass by itself. I also run a second cycle to make sure any contaminates are gone.


February 10, 2003, 11:12 AM
"I also run a second cycle to make sure any contaminates are gone."

Gone where? Aren't you dumping lead and mercury into the water supply by doing this? I don't claim to know much about water supply contamination, but this raises a red flag for me. Anyone know more than I do here?


February 10, 2003, 11:13 PM
Hmm... Since LEAD and MERCURY come from the ground I dont see what the issue is.

How much lead can come from tumbling brass cases ? Where's the mercury supposed to come from ? I understand that mercury is no longer used in primers.

I know that brass has lead in it, but then so do many types of steels. It seems to me that it might be more of a problem if you tumbled lead bullets, but we are talking brass here.

February 10, 2003, 11:40 PM
Brass has lead in it?

The lead from spent cases using modern primers is from the lead styphenate of the primers. Mercury fulminate hasn't been used in a while, at least in non-WARSAW pact countries.

So the dust from tumbling is part spent lead styphenate and carbon from the burnt powder. You could wear a mask and gloves while you sift the brass out of the media, or you can add a little water to the tumbler to keep the dust situation under control. As far as washing, wouldn't you contaminate your clothing with lead if you wash it with the cases?

You could try the Birchwood-Casey Liquid Brass Case Cleaner.

February 11, 2003, 01:30 AM
Keep this discussion rolling! Has anyone had any bad effects from washing in the washer? I would much prefer to do it in a plastic tub away from the clothes I am going to be wearing day in a day out. And when was the last time you machine washers have had a blood test for lead and such?

Frohickey: Where did you find that case cleaner? I am guessing it is just a soak and clean, followed by leaving the brass outside to dry, right?

Paul "Fitz" Jones
February 11, 2003, 01:44 AM
As a commercial reloader I have tried citric acid, tide soap, bleach and vinegar solutions, lots of chemicals and all work to a degree.

A District attorney friend made the first brass for the Automag a giant pistol if I remember correctly and he tumbled .308 brass in tide soap wet, dried the cases in an oven in his reloading room then sized them down to the needed size for that monstrous pistol.

Vinegar is cheap and has 5% acid and I read the labels on all the things marketed as brass cleaners as it is the law in case a child gets poisoned. The doctor needes to know how to treat the victim.

So see what the current cleaners are and find the main ingredient at a chemical supply house to try. It is best to decap the primers as if you don't dry the primer pockets completely the priming compound residue can cement the sided of the primers to the pocket and when you try to decap the primers only the top of the primer comes off and the sides stay in and the so called "Ringers" can jam the primer feeding system of my automated reloaders and "Ringers" are the bane of commercial reloaders like I was.

It is dangerous to have exotic chemicals around children.

When buying large lots of brass I never knew if any of it had gotten wet so I had to buy a very expensive case inspection machine to run them through first before they were allowed in my Autoload machines.

February 11, 2003, 02:06 AM
Funny, just read around the 'Net and read about using citric acid, vinegar, and regular dish soap... good timing "Fitz"!

At the Sierra bullets website:
"Brass Cleaning
by Tommy Todd

There are various ways of cleaning firearms brass after it has been fired. Some brass requires extensive care depending upon its condition. Brass that has been exposed to the elements for a long period of time can require either more time to clean than relatively clean once-fired brass or different methods to prepare it for final polish. Relatively clean brass can be either tumbled or vibrated in a media such as corncob or walnut shell to remove small amounts of dirt, residue, and tarnish. Another method of cleaning brass involves actually washing the brass in water and some form of cleaner. Mild soap works well, just be sure you use nothing that has an ammonia base to it that will attack the brass and weaken it. When washing cases you will have much better results if you agitate them after soaking for a while. Some words of caution are needed about drying the cases. NEVER put the cases in an oven to dry them, it is too easy to get the cases too hot and soften them. You cannot control the heat in an oven precisely enough to safely dry them. A better recommendation would be to spread the cases out on a cookie sheet and place them in the sun for a while. Another alternative would be to place them in front of a fan or furnace vent. If you have extremely dirty cases you can wash them to remove the bulk of the debris and then polish them in a tumbler to give them that like-new shine. A very labor intensive yet effective method of polishing cases is to use an abrasive such as steel wool and hand polish the cases one at a time. This is a very effective method, although slow."

I'm going to try some alternative methods before I shell out for the tumbler. If they all fail miserably, take too much elbow grease, or cause me to otherwise pass out from the fumes, I will get the tumbler. That birchwood casey cleaner is tempting, though I haven't found it yet... maybe I can make some secret concoction of "All of the above" :cool:

February 11, 2003, 04:15 AM
I dry cases in food dehydrator. works great. $3 at garage sale.

February 11, 2003, 05:30 AM
Mark: You know, I have a food dehydrator... but considering they go for around $25 on ebay, I might as well sell it and put the money toward a tumbler... but then again, I don't use it for anything else.

I love forums, so many good ideas floating around, just waiting to be plucked!

February 11, 2003, 05:58 PM
It is dangerous to have exotic chemicals around children.

What about exotic dancers? :D

February 11, 2003, 08:08 PM
And when was the last time you machine washers have had a blood test for lead and such?

Glad you mentioned a matter of fact, I had one back in September of last year. Working with lead and fabricating shielding for radioactive parts on occasion , I was given the opportunity to take one, complements of the company that I work for.

Actually, I dont use the washing machine to tumble bullets.I have a Midway tumbler thats about 6 months old. My other finally died after tumbling a gazillion rounds, I guess that it was fifteen years old or so. The motor in it finally burnt up.

I was more interested in the fact that I have been casting lead bullets for about 20 years or so and reloading at least that long. Although Ive taken precautions with the lead, (proper ventilation, gloves, saftey glasses and limited contact) I always wondered if I was screwing myself up by doing so.

I am happy to report that I tested "normal".

Well, as normal as Ive ever been anyway.

February 17, 2003, 07:26 AM
Cheaper Than Dirt in Ft. Worth has a Frankfort Arsnel tumbler for $35. Hard to beat, considering the alternatives.... I've been thinking about alternatives too, and saw a design for a homebuilt. HTTP://
I think I'll get the Frankfort Tumbler. Hopefully it will hold up OK. Anybody have any experience with that brand?

Paul "Fitz" Jones
February 17, 2003, 12:59 PM
At my home page there is a wealth of information on lead poisoning from my personal experience and the responses from men who have had it are very illuminating.

It reverses common opinions that bulletcasting is a major cause of lead poisoning.

.22 auto shooters in indoor ranges that never reloaded or cast bullets commonly get lead poisoning.

Also men who shoot wax bullets in their basements get it too.

Read the lead post archives at:

Paul Jones Author of:
"How To Live With And Love Your Progressive Reloader" $6 postpaid

February 17, 2003, 07:14 PM
Paul Fitz Jones...

I read you archives on lead. It pretty well matches what we've been told at work. Its not the large lead bits that one needs to worry about but the lead particulate matter floating around in the air that gets injested into the lungs that causes the problems.

When machining at work, we take pains not to make dust, preffering to keep and lead chips large enough to see. I mill, drill and lathe lead on occasion. So far so good. The painters on the other hand, must wear paper suits and respirators when dealing with any lead painted pipe or equipment. They generally test higher than average on their yearly tests.

One must exercise common sense when messing with the stuff.

Good info on your site.

Watchman, thanks for your nice note. You are welcome to tell your shooting and work friends who are on the internet about my lead information and for yourself and lead working friends get regular blood lead level tests. Knowledge and prevention pays. Paul

February 21, 2003, 10:55 AM
When I used to reload my 44Mag rounds, I had a mesh bag that I would put the brass into, then cycle the diswasher on 'pots-n-pans' cycle.

Should have seen the look on wfie's face when she opened dishwasher after I forgot to retrieve brass after cleaning once

:what: :what:

Guy B. Meredith
February 21, 2003, 08:22 PM
As our utilities people are always reminding us, it is best to put toxic chemicals down the drain rather than the street gutter as the first gets processed and the second goes straight to the environment.

I use a Thumbler tumbler, one brand of rock polishing tumbler. It is sold by Midway (I believe) and LockStockandBarrel. Less noise and you can use a liquid medium. The action in a vibratory cleaner is just inherently self damaging.

Alan Smithiee
February 21, 2003, 11:14 PM
I've had one of the Franklins for 2 years now, did have to repair the switch right out of the box,(normal for me) otherwise I've used it to clean about 5000 cases, not to mention things like spray paint and other things that need to be very well shaken. done good, pretty quiet. tried the Beechwood Casey (want to buy what I have left? I hated it).

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