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Alcohol as degreaser

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing and Repairs' started by YZ, Feb 21, 2013.

  1. YZ

    YZ member

    I have always wondered why not use alcohol to remove dirt from the barrel or even the action. Looked it up everywhere. Could not find any definitive statements in the mainstream literature. Now for the blogs... Below is a brief summary of why people NOT use alcohol on their guns, with my comments.

    "Absolute alcohol is hygroscopic, attracts water". True, if you let it stay. But it also evaporates quickly. Whether it leaves any meaningful amount of water behind is debatable, but in any case it must be followed by oiling. Like any degreaser.

    "Alcohol solutions contain water". Of course they do. So does the air we breathe. A brief controlled exposure followed by oiling is nothing compared to the constant and inevitable exposure to water vapor during storage, let alone hunting trips or rain on the range.

    "Alcohol destroys bluing". That I am not sure about. So I would limit my alcohol wiping to the bore and chamber or receiver. Not blued finish - or wood.

    "Alcohol makes metal brittle". In this application, no, it does not.

    "Why bother with alcohol, we have solvents". Because alcohol is better for you. No pun intended. Inhaling alcohol vapor is harmless. Not so with industrial solvents. Read the labels. The non-toxic ones are proprietary formula soaps (quite possibly just soaps), ten times more expensive than rubbing alcohol (M-Pro), or some say bad for aluminum finishes (Simple Green).

    In short, nobody and nothing has convinced me so far that alcohol is to be avoided for cleaning guns. I have college level chemistry but no experience in metal corrosion and such. If you have professional knowledge, please tell me where I am wrong.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  2. joecil

    joecil Well-Known Member

    I soak new guns in rubbing alcohol as soon as I bring them home. I then let them air dry (takes a few minutes only) then lube, grease and ready to shoot. I've never had it effect the finish on any gun including painted spots such as sights, marks on safety etc. It does flat cut grease though. I might add it is also great for unfreezing pad locks when they freeze up and sure cheaper than the stuff in a the little spray cans.
  3. YZ

    YZ member

    Just new guns, or any time after shooting?
  4. CZguy

    CZguy Well-Known Member

    I've used rubbing alcohol as a degreaser for decades. I wasn't aware that there were any reasons not to.
  5. C.F. Plinker

    C.F. Plinker Well-Known Member

    What are the practical differences, if any, between rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol, isopropol alcohol, and ethanol? I assume that you want the strongest (i.e. 91% rather than 70%) if there is a choice of strenght.
  6. icanthitabarn

    icanthitabarn Well-Known Member

    I like brake cleaner and lots of it. Only on metal thou. The biggest problem is the overspray getting on things and discoloring them.
  7. VA27

    VA27 Well-Known Member

    I use 190 proof everclear. It has other uses, too.
  8. YZ

    YZ member

    I've used rubbing alcohol as a degreaser for decades. I wasn't aware that there were any reasons not to.
    Real experience counts - thank you. Many people don't trust alcohol for their guns possibly because the military and LE don't issue or endorse it, for obvious reasons.

    Plinker - Sure it makes sense to use stronger alcohol. Distilled ethanol is drinking alcohol, whereas isopropanol aka isopropyl alcohol is not. For technical or medicinal purposes, both are called rubbing alcohol, because they are intentionally produced with bad odor and sometimes green dye to discourage injestion.

    I too have used a lot of brake cleaner like Gun Scrubber. It works but remains toxic and does leave annoying stains.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  9. Joe Z

    Joe Z New Member

    I use gas line anti freeze for little jobs. Its close to 100% Methanol.
  10. Sport45

    Sport45 Well-Known Member

    Rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are the same thing.
    Denatured alcohol is ethanol with a little bit of something added to "denature" it, or make it un-drinkable. Methanol is often added for this.

    I use denatured alcohol for degreasing and drying.
  11. rodregier

    rodregier Well-Known Member

    I use isopropanol as my general degreaser and carbon fouling cleaner for firearms. Since it is flammable you have to be careful not to get stupid about handling it. I use that along with Ballistol as a lube and JB paste, Kroil and as a copper removal system for indoor firearm cleaning. These products tend to be much less problematic than some of the other solvents in a low-ventilation environment. (Not everyone has the time or opportunity to clean at the range or even outdoors).

    You best value on isopropanol is the 99% stuff sold in drug stores and end-user medical supply vendors. 100% isopropanol quickly pulls moisture out of the air, so 99% is much easier to produce and sell without elaborate packaging/processing.
  12. 481

    481 Well-Known Member

    Many of the commercially available polymer-safe degreasers use isopropyl alcohol as a degreaser and water displacer. Birchwood Casey Polymer-Safe Gunscrubber and Shooters Choice Polymer-Safe Degreaser are two such such examples.
  13. BigBore44

    BigBore44 Well-Known Member

    Find a better degreaser than diesel. Ever seen an old school mechanic that has parts laying in a tub filled with liquid? 99% chance it was diesel. Of course you don't get want to get it on the stock or anything. But you want to clean a gunked up, gummed up pistol, rifle or shotgun? Try it. First hand knowledge. It flat works. And way cheaper than other degreasers.
  14. RTR_RTR

    RTR_RTR Well-Known Member

    Additionally, denatured alcohol can get above 95% ethanol (ethanol/water mixtures cannot), and you save money (can't drink it = cheaper, avoids bureaucracy).

    As far as isopropanol vs ethanol, isopropanol is probably a better solvent for degreasing (without getting into the nitty gritty, it's more similar to the compounds in grease, which makes it "pick it up" better).
  15. icanthitabarn

    icanthitabarn Well-Known Member

    The red Heet drygas is 99% ISO or so and the yellow Heet bottle is methyl alcohol.
  16. mcdonl

    mcdonl Well-Known Member

    I have used it as a social lubricant before.
  17. joecil

    joecil Well-Known Member

    Yes I mix it with perioxide and Murphy's oil soap for clean my black powder guns. I use Gun Scrubber on my non black powder but would us it for that too but just easy with the spray.
  18. YZ

    YZ member

    Good reminder. I'd like to be able to soak the dirt out of bolt faces and extractors without further disassembly. Not sure if the tritium and f/o sights will be safe in diesel. or just painted sights
  19. 243winxb

    243winxb Well-Known Member

    Rinse bronze brushs in 91% isopropyl alcohol after use. They last longer.
  20. jimmyraythomason

    jimmyraythomason Well-Known Member

    Actually(and I speak as an old school diesel mechanic,retired) that bucket most likely contained mineral spirits. Diesel fuel is a poor degreaser compared to mineral spirits and none of the shops I worked in used it as such. I often used denatured alcohol to remove the oil film in oil sight glasses that other cleaner/degreasers couldn't remove.

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