Cleaning brass

In the comments Sendarius asks:

When you say “clean”, how do you do that?

Vibratory tumbler with dry media?
Rotating tumbler with wet media?
Power drill with a Brasso-soaked rag? /jk

I have been using a Lyman tumbler with walnut shell dry media for years, and I am considering switching to wet solution with those tiny stainless steel rods.
Others at my club have made that switch, and their brass looks amazing.

Any thoughts?

I first sort the brass using a set of these (Amazon also has them for $10 more):


This is how the brass ended up in a five gallon bucket.

There is a similar product available for less money but I have not had my hands on them so I can’t compare the quality:


Amazon sells it for the same price.

I then put the brass in an ultrasonic cleaner (I bought mine from Harbor Freight several years ago but Harbor Freight is slightly more than Amazon for what appears to be the same product):


I use Hornady One Shot Sonic Cleaner Ultrasonic Case Cleaning Solution. I tried a homemade recipe using vinegar and Dawn dishwashing detergent but this works much better. I run the cleaner for at least 24 minutes (three cycles of 480 seconds each).

After the cleaning the brass may not look that great. But most of the remaining dirt/tarnish will come off in the rinse.

I then dump the brass and cleaning solution into a colander:


I stir the brass with a gloved hand to remove most of the liquid.

I then rinse the brass in tap water:


Again I stir the brass with my hand.

I drain and rinse two more times. The final rinse is done with distilled water from my dehumidifier.

After the final draining I put the brass on a rack above my dehumidifier. I built the rack from PVC pipe, a plastic screen, and transparent duct tape:


The dehumidifier puts out warm dry air. I usually let it run for about eight hours and I may stir the brass a time or two.

When cleaning rifle brass I may remove the primers before cleaning. This will result in clean primer pockets as well as a clean interior and exterior.

If I want really shiny brass I will first run it through the vibratory cleaner with the usual corn cob or walnut shell media and a brass cleaner additive. I then follow up with the ultrasonic cleaning.

For many years I just used the vibrating cleaner with the corncob or walnut shell media but the ultrasonic cleaner gave me a faster throughput and the cases are cleaned on the inside as well as the outside.

I considered buying a wet, stainless steel pin, type cleaner but I decided what I had worked well enough.


14 thoughts on “Cleaning brass

  1. By the way, the cheapest source of ground walnut shells for media is pet stores, where it’s sold as lizard bedding.

    • I bought crushed walnut at pet stores for the longest time. The last buy i made was a 25# box of course grit walnut abrasive media from Harbor Freight for 20.00 or 25.00. it doesn’t get clogged in 5.56 or pistol cases like a lot of the corn cob media does; a little dusty but somewhat aggressive. i’m happy with it.

  2. Newbie question: I understand wanting brass to be clean enough that no significant residues are left inside, and that the outside is smooth enough to chamber properly. But why is “very shiny” brass worth getting?

  3. I was coming also to mention the walnut media from pet stores. I do add two spoonfuls of Brasso, let it mix for about 5-10 minutes and then dump the brass in the tumbler.
    They come out shiny as if new.

  4. Steel pin tumbler, detergent, and Lemi-Shine with a distilled water rinse gives me brass clean enough for bragging rights.

  5. I used to use a vibratory tumbler with walnut shell, but have recently come around to using rice with a dab of Lyman case polish. Primers still in.

  6. I have pretty much the same equipment. Except I do have a steel media wet tumbler. It gets the brass VERY clean. Even the primer hole will shine in most cases. You can clean a large quantity of brass all at once. The only downside is some of the pins will degauss after a while and the magnet won’t pick them up any longer. So I end up having to pick a few out of my utility sink after I dump the brass. After I dry the brass from the wet process, I’ll run it through the same tumbler with some dry media with some car polish to shine them up a bit and so they will stay shiny.

  7. I happened to already have a rotary ball mill so that’s what I use for cleaning brass.

    1) have child sort brass and then de-prime it. The cost of me taking her shooting.
    2) Run in rotary ball/mill aka web tumbler with stainless steel pins, small amount of Dawn dish detergent. Normally let it run for an hour or so.
    3) Rinse with tap water till runs clean. If water was nasty, run for another 1/2 time with more Dawn. (If 2 hour initial run, 1 hr second run.)
    4) Rinse and do a 1/2 hour run with Lemi-Shine.
    Note: All of the above steps are “free” as it happens while I’m working with child doing most of the work.
    5) place brass in food dehumidifier on high for 20 to 30 minutes.
    6) Find beautiful brass in dehumidifier. Let cool.

    Note, if you don’t de-prime first, you’ll have a filthy mess of water and it will likely take a couple of extra runs.
    Note the second: This will remove nickle plating and turn your water yucky.
    Note the third: Make sure you shake out, remove all the pins. They sometimes hide in the brass.
    Note the last: Don’t tumble mixed brass. The brass will sometimes get stuck inside each other and the pins act like wonderful little levers and wedges.

Comments are closed.