Ultrasonic cleaning of loaded cartridges?

1fisher1fisher Member Posts: 1,012 ✭✭
edited May 2013 in Ask the Experts
I have not used an ultrasonic cleaner, but have read good things about them here for empty brass.

What do you think about using it to clean antique oxidized (loaded) cartridges??

I am building a cartridge collection, and you often get heavy oxidization of the lead bullet as well as the brass/copper cases. Obviously, I am not looking to shoot them, but I am thinking that some of the liquid might get inside the case if the bullet is a little loose? Might I be creating even more corrosion problems (from the inside out) by trying this?

Thanks for any input!


  • Tailgunner1954Tailgunner1954 Member Posts: 7,815
    edited November -1
    From a cartridge collectors point of view.
    Nothing will reduce the value of a collector cartridge (or coin, car, etc) as fast as a "good cleaning".

    If you are not a IAA member, it would be a good idea to join (and it's not expensive, either $35/yr), or re-ask your question on the IAA forum, where the real cartridge experts hang out.


    Edit for correct link
    From here http://cartridgecollectors.org/?page=guide#cleaning
    Cartridge Cleaning and Care

    Let's face it, if you have been collecting cartridges for any length of time, you have an investment to protect. The investment is both financial and cultural. It is hard to justify spending today's hard-earned dollars on your hobby if there isn't much chance of preserving that investment and, as collectors, we have a moral obligation to be caretakers for these small elements of our arms heritage.

    This section is intended to provide guidelines and suggestions for the preservation of your collection.

    First let's address a few taboos.

    Polishing and Lacquering: It is the position of most collectors that this is an unacceptable practice. As nice as a row of sparkling shiny brass tubes may appear in a drawer to the uninitiated, the act of polishing and lacquering has two distinct drawbacks:
    You will have reduced the desirability and sales value to some extent.
    You will have created a specimen which in no way resembles the round in its original state. Often critical markings or meaningful color tones are lost.
    Affixing Labels: Gummed labels, clear tape (especially the nonpermanent type) and the like have contributed to the deterioration of more cartridges than any collector action except the above noted polishing and lacquering. A safe method of affixing identification data to cartridges will be discussed in the following section.

    A few supplies are suggested for the collector:

    Bronze wool in fine and medium grades. This can be obtained from good hardware stores or ordered from Brownells, 200 S.Front St.. Montezuma, IA 50171.
    Sani-Wax liquid wax (available from grocery stores or good hardware stores or direct from the Sani-Wax Corp.*) (alternative liquid furniture waxes may also serve this purpose).
    Pilot Pens. Extra Fine Point Permanent Marker, SCAUF (available from office supply stores - make sure of the type; it should have the above exact designation.)
    Acetone, lacquer thinner or nail polish remover (no perfame, no oil type)
    Toluene or MEK solvent (available from good hardware store.1
    Acetic acid (available from drug stores) or white vinegar
    Coarse paper towels
    Cotton cosmetic puffs

    The following tips will discuss how these are used:

    In general all cleaning activities should start with the most gentle methods and proceed to the more extreme. Caution and patience are the watchwords. If there is any question as to whether to proceed to a more extreme step, it is best to stop. Soap and water are a good place to start. A water-pik may be used to concentrate cleansing action.
    Brass-cased cartridges can be cleaned with bronze wool (which is softer than brass). It is an amazing fact that nearly all corrosion can be removed from brass without affecting the underlying patina. Bronze wool should not be used on copper-cased cartridges. Never use steel wool on any cartridge. Try soaking the bronze wool in SaniWax for an even gentler scrubbing of brass. The wax will leave a pleasing glow to the patina and provide longer term protection.
    Lacquer can usually be removed by gently swabbing the cartridge with acetone or, more effectively, toluene but not around any areas of color. Caution - use these products in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, and wear rubber gloves! If polyurethane lacquer was used forget itl
    As noted above, never use identification labels on cartridges. At best they leave a gummy residue which is hard to remove and leaves unsightly marks and, at worst, may contain acid which will etch the case. It you wish to mark the cartridge, use the Pilot pen noted above. It will leave a clear impression which can be easily removed by wiping with acetone. Unfortunately excessive handling will also remove the pen markings. Alternatively, paper rings (of acid-free paper) may be made which will fit snugly around the case without adhesives being used.
    Cartridges stored in drawers should be cradled in acidfree corrugated paper which prevents rolling about. Rolling causes abrasions where the cartridge contacts the surface of the drawer.
    Storage of cartridges in some wooden drawers has been known to accelerate deterioration. This seems especially true with newly-built cabinets where the wood may have high degrees of tannin which is still viable. Oak seems to be one of the worst offenders. Older ones such as the ever-popular antique spool cabinets, are less likely to have the same effect. If you are storing in wood cabinets, it is well to check rounds occasionally, especially during periods of high humidity. If you see them frosting (developing a powdery coating) rub them down with coarse paper towels, burlap or fine bronze wool and coat them with Sani-Wax. If the problem persists, find another storage area.
    Split necks occur in highly-stressed brass for several reasons. Changes in temperature may cause progressive metal fatigue and result in neck (or occasionally shoulder or base) cracks. There is not much that can be done about this and certain types or calibers will almost inevitably crack with time. However, when green corrosion appears in the crack, there is another mechanism at work - a chemical reaction of the propellant with the cartridge case. This must be nipped in the bud, because, if allowed to be continued, it will destroy the round. If it is an easily replaced round, discard it and get another. If it is worth preserving, pull the bullet and flush the powder down the toilet. The case can be cleaned with bronze wool and the chemical action can be neutralized by soaking the case in alternate baths of dilute acetic acid (or white vinegar), and baking soda dissolved in water, flushing with hot water between baths and after the last bath. The bullet may then be reseated, being careful to reseat it to its original seating depth (it is a good idea to measure overall length first).
    A cartridge whose patina has been destroyed by cleaning can often be improved by carrying around in your pocket for a day or so, occasionally "*" it. The combination of natural oils in your skin and the gentle polishing action from the pocket lining should impart a soft
    patina. Make sure there are no hard objects such as change in the pocket.
    Copper-cased cartridges more often suffer from "grease corrosion" than any in-depth attacks to the metal. This is often best removed by scrubbing with a coarse paper towel. Save your old popsicle sticks as this wood is ideal for focused hard rubbing (with a bit of toweling wrapped around its end.) Sani-Wax can be used after cleaning.
    Fired brass shotshells are a problem unto themselves. They have often been stored for decades in moist environments without ever having been cleaned prior to storage and often have heavy encrustations of verdigris and black powder staining. These can be cleaned by boiling in dilute acetic acid and flushing in boiling water. Several treatments may be required. If stubborn, add a bit of salt to the water. Again, Sani-Wax is a good finish coat. Older paper shotshells are often found with dirt, oil, and other contaminates embedded in the paper. Many times this objectionable discoloration can be at least partially removed. Wet a paper towel with a light solvent, such as Coleman Fuel. Gently rub the dirty case with the solvent-soaked towel, and much of the contarnination will come off. Let the case dry, and then with finger tips rub a little neutral color shoe polish on the paper to replace the wax removed by the solvent. This will help prevent the case deteriorating any further.

    Finally, caution is the watchword. Proceed with caution. It is better to under clean than to over clean. Be sensitive to annealing colors, bullet tip and primer annulus colors, paperpatched bullets and other unique features. Future collectors will revere your efforts and your heirs will receive top-dollar from your collection.

    *Sani-Wax is a high quality liquid wax available from most good supermarkets.
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