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Ultrasonic Cleaning Of Brass

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by PCCUSNRET, Mar 6, 2010.


    PCCUSNRET Well-Known Member

    Okay, now that everyone has purchased a Harbor Freight Ultrasonic Cleaner (I didn't even know we had a HF locally until I read this thread and now I know where I can get 25lb boxes of walnut for under a buck a pound) what are you putting in them to clean the brass? I have tried dish washing liquid and 409, but after 40 minutes the brass isn't all that clean and it sure isn't as shiny as it is when it comes out of my tumbler. I did a search of the web and found that Brownell's recommend a product called M-Pro 7 ($80 a gallon) and I also read that vinegar may cause damage to brass. Please let us know what cleaning solvents you use that doesn't harm the brass, cleans it and also makes it shine like new. Thank you!
  2. counterclockwise

    counterclockwise Well-Known Member

    Trichlorethylene (banned substance), Freon (banned substance), Varsol (banned??)are great ultrasonic cleaners, degreaser solutions. Also, you may need adjust the mass of the charge (pieces of brass) and depth of liquid to fine tune the ultrasonic cavity and obtain maximum transfer of energy to the surfaces through the liquid.

    Dilluted vinegar, as an acid, can dissolve the zinc off the surface layer, and give the brass a pink cast. Usually a final tumbler treatment will remove the pink cast. An acid bath with ultrasonic agitation would be an agressive cleaner and should be monitored carefully. It is important to give the vinegar treated brass a final hot water bath before drying.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2010
  3. Crashbox

    Crashbox Well-Known Member

    Kafko Oil Eater at a 3:64 (six oz./gallon) dilution works great for me, I run 'em at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes but it may work with less time...? YMMV.

    I think Costco still sells the stuff.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2010
  4. rjbishop

    rjbishop Active Member

    I picked up the Harbor Freight US cleaner yesterday. Frankly, I'm not impressed at all. This thing just doesn't have any power. They claim 160 watts- I say bull- most of that is devoted to the heater. I'm guessing the transducer is around 35 watts- enough to do jewelry at best.

    I tried Vinegar, Lemishine, dishsoap, etc. The best performance I got was 50/50 Vinegar and water in a BABY FOOD JAR, with just 20 .223 cases. This did a great job of getting the cases clean inside and out, as well as the primer pocket. I've never seen brass so clean, especially inside the case and the primer pocket. But 20 at a time??? Any more brass just sucks the energy right out of the water. And there is no way this method of cleaning is going to give the brass a "shine"- it looks stained and dull. Back into the tumbler to get that shine back.

    I put my 9MM slide in today- it took a LONG LONG time (2 hours) to clean the gunk, and I had to reposition it each cycle to 'focus' the wave motion on the right part of the slide. This cleaner only has somewhat decent power right dead center- everywhere else there's very little power left.

    For those that have these- let me ask you something. Put nothing but the tray in a half filled tank, and fire it up. Do you see just a slight hump of agitating water in the center? Now dump 50 .223 or Pistol cases in- see any waves on the top of the water?

    I guess I should have known... typical Harbor Freight sub-par performance.

    PCCUSNRET Well-Known Member

    Pretty much sums up my feelings about this machine. Fortunately I can use it at mine at the store to clean ink from fountain pens and it did make my wife's wedding ring shine ;-)
  6. lykoris

    lykoris Well-Known Member

  7. Afy

    Afy Well-Known Member

    While I dont use the HBF ultrasound cleaner, mine does clean the brass wonderfully. Doesnt shine though...
  8. Davandron

    Davandron Well-Known Member

    Ultrasonics can not remove an oxided layer with mechanical energy, so shiny brass will require a chemical agent (acid) to remove the oxidation.

    I, too, have been underwhelmed by the Harbor Freight but I see promise. Cleaned 100 still-primed 38spl cases in an 8-minute cycle. With about 200 cases of 9mm (~1/5 of my ~1000rd bag), the 8 minute cycle cleaned half of them. Going to try TSP instead of dish washer soap next time. Also think that need to reposition them mouth up to ensure bubbles are released.

    RJBishop: It sounds like you machine is not setup correctly; there shouldn't be a wave in the center. There is a test you can do with aluminum foil to ensure it's working correctly. The first thing to adjust is the fluid level.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  9. flashhole

    flashhole Well-Known Member

    "....The best performance I got was 50/50 Vinegar and water in a BABY FOOD JAR, with just 20 .223 cases. This did a great job of getting the cases clean inside and out, as well as the primer pocket. I've never seen brass so clean, especially inside the case and the primer pocket. But 20 at a time??? ...."

    Same here but I use a tupperware container and do between 50-100 223 cases at a time. I shake them around by hand for about 10 minutes, then a hot water rinse and 10 minutes in a low heat oven. If they start out reasonably shinny they come out a bit shinnier than when they went in but they are very clean.
  10. snuffy

    snuffy Well-Known Member

    Something is wrong with your set-up or the cleaner used. A very strong, soapy solution is needed for it to work.

    I've shown these pics before, but one more time won't hurt.
    Here's 30 .223 done at one time simply tossed into the basket.



    Those were once fired Lapua new brass. It was cleaned with shooters choice Aqua clean. I have since come to understand that Aqua clean has a chemical that eats zinc. So using it for cartridge brass is not a good thing.

    I also used formula 409 cleaner full strength in it for brass, it worked, but not as well. The Aqua clean was diluted 50/50 for my use.

    I also cleaned a remington shotgun trigger group, a glock M-22, and a SA 1911 45 WITHOUT disassembling, all grease, crud, caked carbon, and OIL was removed, in two 8 minute cycles.

    I also bought some of the HF US cleaner, it's a white powder. Mixed according to directions, it did almost nothing to clean brass. It didn't even feel soapy. I'm going to try it using a higher concentration to see if it's worth keeping around.
  11. kelbro

    kelbro Well-Known Member

    I use two mason jars with about 20-25 pieces of 223 in each sitting on the little plastic tray. I fill those with the cleaning solution to just over the tops of the standing up brass. I have used the mixes on the 6mmBR site, Birchwood Casey and RCBS cleaners and mine come out spotless and shiny.

    The reservoir fluid level should only be slightly higher than the level of the fluid in your containers. Your containers should be thin glass or metal. Soft plastic absorbs the sound waves and does not allow the US Cleaner to do a very good job of cleaning.

    It's not as simple as throwing the brass in and turning it on but once you do it correctly, you may find that it cleans brass better than anything else.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  12. KHughes

    KHughes Member

    I use the small US cleaner from Harbor Freight. Hot water and a little Iosso brass cleaner and 9 minutes later I've got clean brass. Rinse with hot water, hang in a mesh bag to air dry. Straight Iosso takes about 3 minutes. If you want shiny you have to use a combo of Iosso and RCBS Sidewinder or do a second pass with straight sidewinder.

  13. BrokenWheel

    BrokenWheel Well-Known Member

    Parker51 and rjBishop-

    I bought the same US cleaner from HF. Here are the tricks to optimize the cleaner power -

    1. Use hot water !!! I usually heat some water up to about 130-140 degrees (using a braun tea water heater). The hotter the better. I've tried to put warm water from the tap in there and use the internal heater unit in the US machine but that doesn't get the water hot enough. I'm not sure why hot water is better...

    2. Use something with a bit of acid in it. Sure you could try the homemade mixtures but I use Lemishine dishwasher detergent and it works really well.

    3. Make sure that there arent any air bubbles in the solution, especially in the brass! - they tend to "soak" up the US wave action.

    4. I position the brass in one direction and NO more than 12-15 per 380 second cycle (one cycle will clean them to the max!) . Any more brass and you are overpowering the transducer. Seriously, after about 50 cartridges the solution is so dark that I cant see the brass at the bottom....

    Try the Al foil trick it does work but usually in HOT solution!
  14. Davandron

    Davandron Well-Known Member

    I made a series of important discoveries today, from this manufacture of professional ultrasonic cleaners.

    1) How much brass should be placed in the cleaner: the answer was related to the surface area of the item being cleaned. For the harbor freight unit, it can handle up to 140 sq inches. This equates to 50 pieces of 38 Spl or 45 ACP, and 75 pieces of 9mm. With the correct amount of brass in the unit, cleaning times should be very short.

    2) How much power is needed to clean (is the HF underpowered?): I was kinda surprised at this answer; only 50 to 100 watts per gallon. The HF unit is 2.4 quarts (0.6 gallons) and so it only needs 30 to 60 watts. That seems plausible in the HF unit.

    3) What to clean with: they explain the best results are from very warm liquids (80% of boil temp), that have a surfactant (soap) to improve cavitation, and a source of ions (acidic or alkaline) to break up the grease and carbon. They also stress rinsing is very important, and my personal experience with a carburetor echos that; the ultrasonic made it so the gunk would wipe off but didn't come off all by itself. Also they stress the importance of either filtering the cleaning fluid or replacing it frequently.
  15. Afy

    Afy Well-Known Member

    Snuffy: More info on the cleaning of the pistols please.

    I want to try and clean my BP handguns ... wonder if it would work.
  16. rattletrap1970

    rattletrap1970 Well-Known Member

    I bought a 3 Liter Eumax ultrasonic cleaner on Ebay. It is all digital (time and heat). Comes with a sample of cleaner, and several trays and a basket. I find it does a great job cleaning cases. Someone on another website did a test with various cleaning solutions and the best one was 50% Water, 50% White Vinegar (with one drop of Dawn dish detergent for every 8oz of liquid used).
    I usually put decapped and resized brass in the cleaner for about 30 minutes once the water is up to 150°F or so. When the brass is done I take it out and rinse it well in water. Then dump the brass in a pant-leg of an old pair of jeans and tie the ends closed with rope, then dry in my clothes drier.
    When it comes out of the drier I tumble in treated corn cob media overnight. Comes out like mirrors inside and out.
  17. rattletrap1970

    rattletrap1970 Well-Known Member

  18. snuffy

    snuffy Well-Known Member

    Afy, that's an interesting question. I don't shoot BP in a handgun, so I couldn't try it. I'd bet it would do a great job though, since BP and it's substitutes are water soluble. Any carbon would be blasted loose as well.

    As for the Glock, and 1911 45, I simply separated the the slide from the receiver, then took the grips off the handle, cleaned the slide and lower assy separately. No disassembley needed. Every nook and cranny was clean. For the 1911, I put it in a warm oven for ½ hour. The glock was simply rinsed in hot tap water, allowed to flash dry then lubed with synthetic eezox oil.

    Here's the aqua clean on the midway site;


    Smaller quantities are available, but for US cleaning, the gallon jug is needed to make the 50% solution.

  19. RB98SS

    RB98SS Well-Known Member

  20. Afy

    Afy Well-Known Member


    I guess I need to try it with my BP stuff and see what happens.
    Also am going to dump my P-22 in and see the result. Should be able to get all the gunk that builds up in the .22 quickly.

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