Best Brass Cleaner Tools for Reloaded Brass

Obsolete Arms and Ammo
By Bob Shell

Brass Cleaner
Top Five Cleaning Accessories for Reloaded Brass
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Apache Junction, AZ –-( Cleaning brass is something most reloaders do for cosmetic purposes. But there are a couple of important reasons to clean your shot brass.

When brass is fired through your firearm several things can happen which requires them to be discarded. The most common is a split which can occur either at the mouth or along the body.  A split along the body will cause a fatal flaw and the case should be destroyed and discarded. A small split at the mouth can sometimes be fixed in some circumstances, such a 357 which can be trimmed back to a 38 and reused.

A split brass case will feel too easy to size.
A split along the body will cause a fatal flaw and the case should be destroyed and discarded.

If you have a gun with a bad chamber, the brass case will bulge when fired. With clean brass, it is easier to see this bulge which can potentially be dangerous if ignored. Sometimes excess pressure signs can be spotted with clean brass, that may not show up with dirty brass.

If you see a shiny extractor mark on the head that usually indicated that the load is a little too warm and you should back down.

A ring about 3/8” up from the back can indicate excess head space in your firearm and clean brass may help detect those types of problems early.

Comments on Black Powder & Clean Brass

If you shoot black powder ammo it is important to clean the brass as soon as possible. Black powder is hydroscopic and corrosive and over a period of time, the cases will be ruined. Since many of those cases are expensive and hard to get, cleaning is all the more important. I use a universal decapper then wash the cases with dish soap and water. A few minutes of agitation and all of the black powder residue is gone.

While clean they don’t look that good, so after they dry you can clean in the usual way. It takes some more time but the results are good and as always you can inspect for any defects.  Keep an eye on the flash holes as some gunk can get in there and block it.

A product known first as Clean Shot and now American Pioneer Powder is a black powder substitute. While not corrosive, it leaves a lot of residue in the cases as well as the guns. It sticks to the inside wall of the case, much the same as black powder, so you will see a lot of residue coming out of the cases.

Sizing the case will loosen the residue which I prefer to do before I put in the regular media, to avoid having all of that stuff in my cleaning media. The media will always wear out over time but all of that gunk will hasten the process. The Walnut Media ( ) will smooth out after some use and will lose it cleaning ability so it will behoove you to keep some extra around.

A good selection of cleaning equipment is exists on the market today so you should be able to find something will fit your budget.

For a very small amount of brass buffing by hand with medium steel wool does fine but it is extremely slow. If you are handy, you might be able to make your own tumbler, which will save you some money. Many tumblers are expensive so shopping will help out there.

Vibratory Brass Case Cleaners

In order to clean brass you need a tumbler of some sort. The first and most common is the vibrater type, like the RCBS Vibratory Case Cleaner & Medai Sifter ( ) .  When I clean brass, I use a vibrater type most of the time. Several companies make them in various sizes depending on how much brass you want to clean.  The newer models known as sonic models, like the Lyman Turbo Sonic Ultrasonic Case Cleaner ( ) have timers and some use heat to help with the cleaning.

Some models that vibrate tend to be noisy but if it is put on a good base that will help to reduce he noise level. Cleaning takes two to three hours depending on model and condition of brass.

RCBS Vibratory Case Cleaner & Medai Sifter
RCBS Vibratory Case Cleaner & Medai Sifter :

Rotary Tumblers

The other type is the rotary like the RCBS Sidewinder Case Tumbler ( ) . The rotary tumbler is used with liquids, as it won’t leak if properly sealed. It is also used with steel pins, as they need liquid to work. You can use it with walnut or corncob media but it is slower in my experience. For polishing loaded ammo, it really works. I tear up strips of newspaper and tumble for about ½ hour and if the brass was clean to begin with the finished product will look like new ammo.

Some time ago I was told that there would be some changes in the ammo performance as the powder would be vibrated and the coating would be removed. Of course that is nonsense and I did a pretty comprehensive test to dispel that rumor.

RCBS Sidewinder Case Tumbler
RCBS Sidewinder Case Tumbler :

Brass Case Cleaning Liquids

There are various liquids used to enhance cleaning, like the IOSSO Case Cleaner Kit ( ). Some liquids are meant for the rotary tumblers. The rotary tumblers use a liquid made by various companies mixed with water. They have a way of sealing to prevent spoilage. The vibrater types use a paste type mixed with crushed walnut or corncob media.  Like everything else, there is a good selection so you can experiment and see what works best in your situation.

The reloading market is ever expanding and new products are coming out almost daily. It is difficult to keep up with all of the new developments. 

IOSSO Case Cleaner Kit
IOSSO Case Cleaner Kit :

Tumbling Media

There are various types of Tumbling Media for case cleaners. They include crushed walnut hulls and corncob. Lyman for one, offers a variety called Turbo Case Cleaning Media ( ).

I use a vibratory cleaner with the walnut hulls and a cleaner, usually Dillons, which does what I need done. In about 2 hours, the cases look pretty good depending on how they looked originally. If you decap the cases prior to tumbling the media will get into the flash hole so you need to keep that in mind. If the brass is really bad looking this method will not completely clean it or may take more time. If you put in some BB’s, the Daisy air gun type, that may help as they are more abrasive. Corncob media is better for polishing at least in my experience, as it isn’t as abrasive a walnut. The rotary tumbler can be used but it takes longer.

Brass Cleaning Media
Lyman Turbo Case Cleaning Media :

Stainless Steel Pins

Personally, I would use the rotary tumbler with stainless steel pins ( ) and a thin liquid.

Using stainless steel pins is is a fairly new way to clean brass. They are put in a vibratory tumbler with some water and solution. It does a great job but there are some downsides. It is more expensive to get started and there are more steps involved.

Many reloaders decap their cases without sizing them. While that enables the primer pocket to be well cleaned you will have to size the case later. In addition, when cleaning with chemical cleaning liquids the case has to be washed off with water then dried. Leaving any solution on a cleaned case will result it tarnishing which would defeat the purpose of cleaning them.

If you like really clean brass and don’t mind the cost or time needed the Stainless Steel Pins might be your solution.

Like all other aspects of reloading, some experimentation may be required to obtain the desired results with your equipment and methods.

The fun part of brass reloading is the experimenting and developing your own techniques.

About Bob Shell
A Custom Reloader of Obsolete and Antique Ammo, Bob Shell, writes about the subject of Guns, Ammo, Shooting and Related Subjects. Visit:

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Don Donoho

Black powder is hygroscopic. Hydroscopic is a device for underwater viewing. Just sayin..

Bill K.

I have heard of the use of rice for a cleaning medium. Any thoughts?

chris bowen

i have used corncob & crushed walnut shells to tumble clean brass cases, have not used ultrasonic yet..