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How To Clean Spent Brass for Reloading | The Best Way

Here is the best way to clean spent brass for reloading without a tumbler:

  1. Gather the necessary supplies.
  2. Add spent brass and hot water to a plastic container.
  3. Add cleaning ingredients to the plastic container.
  4. Stir all ingredients together and put a lid on the container.
  5. Regularly shake the mixture.
  6. After 30 minutes, remove spent brass from the container.
  7. Thoroughly rinse the cleaned brass.
  8. Hand dry the brass and lay it flat on a baking sheet.
  9. Dry the cleaned brass in an oven

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you in-depth on each of the above steps and answer some frequently asked brass cleaning questions. Additionally, I’ll touch on revising the above step-by-step to accommodate cleaning brass with a tumbler.

1. Gather the Necessary Supplies

Here are the nine supplies you’ll need to clean spent brass without a tumbler:

  1. Spent brass: This mixture will clean about a one-quart mason jar full of brass.
  2. A plastic container: If available, use one that has a lid.
  3. Hot water: You’ll need one quart.
  4. Vinegar: Use 1 cup (230 grams) of white vinegar.
  5. Salt. Sea salt is preferred. The mixture calls for one tablespoon (17.07 grams).
  6. Dish soap: You’ll need one tablespoon.
  7. A dishrag: Any kitchen dish rag will do.
  8. An oven: I use a toaster oven I got cheap from a thrift store.
  9. Baking sheet: Ensure your baking sheet fits comfortably in your chosen oven.
  10. Protective gloves: These are to protect your hands from the heat. Oven mitts will work fine, but you can also use welding gloves or a dry dish rag if you’re careful.
Spent brass on a wooden table
Empty plastic container with blue lid
Spoonful of Sea Salt
Bottle of Palmolive dish soap
A Bottle of White Distilled Vinegar on Carpet

Before moving forward, it’s important to note that, while we’re using common kitchen supplies, I don’t recommend using any supplies that you’ve used for cleaning brass for cooking afterward.

When you clean brass, harmful chemicals are washed off and left on your cleaning equipment. Items, like baking sheets, may retain chemicals that will find their way into your food and potentially cause serious health issues.

2. Add Spent Brass and Hot Water to a Plastic Container

Once you have your supplies, we can begin mixing things. Be sure to follow these instructions carefully, because the order you add ingredients is important.

The first ingredient you should add to your container is the spent brass. Then, add the hot water. Pour the water slowly into your container to cover the spent brass.

3. Add Cleaning Ingredients to the Plastic Container

With the non-cleaning ingredients in the container, we can start adding our cleaning substances. First, measure out a tablespoon of salt and drop it into your brass cleaning container. Next, add a tablespoon of dish soap, and follow that with a cup of vinegar.

4. Stir All Ingredients Together and Put a Lid on the Container

As soon as the vinegar is added to your mixture, you must combine the mixture thoroughly. You can use a spoon to stir your mixture. However, I prefer to snap a lid on my container and give the container a decent shake to ensure thorough mixing.

5. Regularly Shake the Mixture

Your shaking job isn’t over yet! You’ll need to shake the mixture regularly throughout the cleaning process, about every 10 minutes. Thankfully, this part of the cleaning process is fairly short –around 30 minutes– so this is only required of you 3 times and won’t wear out your shaking arm.

6. After 30 Minutes, Remove Spent Brass From the Container

After the brass has spent 30 minutes in the cleaning mixture, remove it from the container. It’s best to bring the container to a sink to do this, preferably a sink not in the kitchen to avoid potential food contamination.

Once at the sink, you have two options: 

  • Dump the entire mixture out and allow it to drain. 
  • Scoop the cleaned brass from the container and re-use the cleaning mixture for another batch of spent brass.

7. Thoroughly Rinse the Cleaned Brass

Rinse your brass thoroughly to ensure every piece of brass is free of all cleaning mixture. This is also a perfect opportunity to inspect each piece of brass for any dents or cracks.

Additionally, the rinsing process is a fantastic time to use primer cleaner, like this pocket cleaner found on Amazon. As someone with big hands, Lyman’s ergonomic grips help me greatly when working with small objects, like spent brass.

8. Hand Dry the Brass and Lay It Flat on a Baking Sheet

Your next task is to hand dry your spent brass with a dishrag. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to perfectly dry your casings with a dishrag. Hand drying them as much as possible using the rag, then place the brass flat on a baking sheet to continue drying for a while.

9. Dry the Cleaned Brass in an Oven

The drying process is finished in the oven. Follow these final steps to complete:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°Fahrenheit (93.3°C). Whenever you dry anything in the oven, it’s better to go low and slow than blast the heat.
  2. Place the tray of brass in the oven.
  3. Shake occasionally using some kind of protective hand equipment.
  4. After one to three hours, your brass should be dry and can be removed from the oven.

Be sure to let your casings cool before handling them again.

This video shows the process:

How To Clean Spent Brass With a Tumbler

Cleaning spent brass with a tumbler has a few key differences compared to without a tumbler, but most of the cleaning processes are the same.

Here is how to clean spent brass with a tumbler:

  1. Gather the necessary supplies.
  2. Fill your tumbler with brass, water, and cleaner.
  3. Tumble your brass.
  4. Follow steps 7 – 9 of the non-tumbler brass cleaning guide (above).

Gather the Necessary Supplies

The supplies are similar to the non-tumbler how-to guide, with a few changes:

  1. No vinegar: Cleaning brass with a tumbler is more effective than the previous method. Therefore, we don’t need vinegar to clean brass with a tumbler.
  2. No salt: For the same reason we don’t need vinegar; we don’t need salt.
  3. Larger supplies: Depending on the size of your tumbler, you may want a larger baking sheet and oven than the toaster oven size I recommended earlier.

With your supplies in order, we can get into the fun part! Tumbling the brass.

Fill Your Tumbler With Brass, Water, and Cleaner

Fill your tumbler with all the ingredients. As for the quantity of each ingredient, it depends on the size of your tumbler. Check your tumbler’s user manual for exact quantities.

A great rule of thumb I use with ratios is one to one brass to water. If you have one quart of brass, use one quart of water. Additionally, if you have a five-liter bucket of brass, use five liters of water.

I just add a splash of dish soap. I’ve never measured the amount, but I estimate it’s about one tablespoon.

Tumble Your Brass

You can turn on your tumbler and begin the process. Everyday Carry Concealed recommends tumbling for one to two hours for a load of fewer than 500 casings, and two to three hours if your load is above 500 casings.

Once your brass has been tumbled for an adequate amount of time, follow the final three steps of the non-tumbler guide, steps 7-9, as detailed above.

Can You Clean Burnt Brass?

You can clean burnt brass. However, cleaning may not remove residue completely, and your end product may still contain burn marks. Thankfully, the burn marks left after cleaning burnt brass shouldn’t have a noticeable effect.

What’s the Best Brass Polish for Reloading?

The best brass polish for reloading is Lemi Shine Dish Detergent Booster Powder. When it comes to getting shiny brass, you don’t need anything fancy. The reloading community proves Lemi Shine to be a gold standard for polishing brass.

If you don’t have any brass polish, I recommend picking up some of this type. I love how effective Lemi Shine is at polishing brass while also being cost-effective, as a little goes a long way.

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Clean Brass?

Apple cider vinegar does clean brass to similar cleaning results as white vinegar and most other kinds of vinegar. Ultimately, there’s no need to stress what type of vinegar you use to clean brass, as any type you have available will do.

Does Vinegar Harm Brass?

Vinegar can harm brass if you allow your reloading brass to soak in a vinegar mixture for an extended period. Vinegar’s potential to harm brass is why cleaning instructions only call for 30 minutes in the vinegar-based cleaning solution.

Three jars with apples floating while making homemade apple cider vinegar
Homemade apple cider vinegar

Final Thoughts

Reloading brass is a fun way to save a few bucks! Thankfully, the cleaning process of spent brass is also easy to follow. Whether you use a tumbler or not, cleaning your spent brass and reloading it for future uses is an exciting way to breathe new life into your shooting hobby.

For more, check out Cleaning Bullets | How To Do It Correctly.