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Old 07-27-2007, 01:13 PM
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Cleaning brass with citric acid




After reading the koolaid thread here and on some other forums, I decided to try some citric acid to see what it would do. All my brass is range brass, some of it mine, some that I pick up that may have been out in the elements for a while.

I had some 9mm that I had tumbled with walnut/Dillon polish and then corn cob/Lyman additive. Most came out nice and shiny, but I picked out a few cases that still looked pretty funky. Now, all the brass was certainly clean enough to load. No problem as far as scratching dies, foreign matter in the case, etc. They just weren't shiny enough to suit me. Do I need presentation grade brass to kill plates at the range? Probably not, but I have too much time on my hands apparently. I just like shiny brass.

Anyway, I mixed about 1 ounce of citric acid powder in about a quart of water. There was a sharp acid smell, and it had to be a lot stronger than koolaid. I let the brass sit in the mixture for about 16-18 hours, stirring occasionally. I also threw in a handful of .45 that had not been cleaned at all, sort of as a control. They came out fairly clean as well, but not that "new" look I strive for.

The brass came out clean. It was hardly shiny, and little if any of the tarnish was removed. It may or may not have loosened it to the point that it would come off when tumbled. I haven't gotten it dry enough to try that yet.

The insides of the cases were probably cleaner than they normally get in tumbling. If that is a concern to you, the acid bath might be worthwhile. Bottom line here is that the citric acid bath will do a satisfactory job of cleaning, but doesn't seem to do much for the cosmetic aspect. I may try some more cases to see if I get any different result. Wonder if the cases could be wet tumbled and get any different result. Might try that as well.
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Old 07-27-2007, 02:51 PM
Unclez Unclez is offline
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Thanks for the update. I had been thinking of trying some as well but if it doesn't work that well then I won't waste my time.
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Old 07-27-2007, 03:38 PM
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Someone who has had a different result may chime in here and tell me I didn't do this right. Not really sure what concentration needs to be used and whether or not running the mix in the tumbler would make a difference. It DOES do a good job of getting powder residue out of the inside of the cases. Inside-the-case residue has never really been an issue to me, but that seems to bother some folks.
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Old 07-27-2007, 05:19 PM
stevekozak stevekozak is offline
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This may sound funny, but I dumped about 100 fired cases into a can with some old grapefruit juice from my fridge, and let it soak overnight, and then washed in in my washing machine in old socks. Came out pretty darn good. Not factory new shiney, but close. When you are poor like me, you learn to utilize what you have.
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Old 07-27-2007, 06:08 PM
RKJ RKJ is offline
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I read about the Kool-Aid trick on here or another forum, the original poster mentioned the Navy and how the Damage Control guys would use “Bug Juice” (Kool-Aid) to clean the deck drains. After I read that I thought how stupid of me not to remember that, as I retired from the Navy and should have recalled that.
The brass I had was WCC95 that had been sitting damp in an ammo can for about 10 years. It was serviceable but tarnished black. As to why it was sitting for so long wet, I got it after a qualification course in 97 and it was raining while we were shooting. We put the empties in an ammo can and there it sat until now. But anyway, here is what I did:
I used 1 pack of Kool-Aid (either real or generic worked fine, the brand didn’t seem to matter) and let them soak for approximately 2 days, (they might have been clean sooner but they weren’t in the way and I was in no big hurry) I then threw them into the tumbler for about a day. They came out like new, nice and shiny. The brass came out of the Kool-Aid, clean and fairly shiny but still showed spots (although they were cleaned up and no longer black). The tumbler polished them after the Kool-Aid cleaned them. The Kool-Aid removed the tarnish that the tumbler couldn't get off (believe me I tried). I don't know how long I actually would have had to run the tumbler as I throw it in and let it run (usually overnight).
Someone mentioned something about the ascorbic acid in the Kool-Aid, I don't know what is in it (I'm not sure I really want to know after drinking it all those years in the Navy and as a kid), but I do recall that the DCPO's used to use it on deck drain aboard ship and it took a nasty saltwater encrusted deck drain and made it look new. Hope this (long-winded post) helps. Joe
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Old 07-27-2007, 06:43 PM
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Maybe there is a difference in ascorbic acid vs citric acid? Do I understand correctly that this was a "precleaning" process and that you tumbled them after the acid bath to actually finish the process?
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Old 07-28-2007, 08:59 AM
RKJ RKJ is offline
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I suppose you could say it was a "precleaning process", the brass was so ugly that I didn't want to use it. Again it was servicable as I had already tumbled it for a long time. The kool-aid removed the tarnish and had them pretty shiny but still showed slight remains of the tarnish (kind of a dull pinkish color) so I threw them into the tumbler for finishing.
I got a packet of kool-Aid brand (Black Cherry) to read the ingredients and was surprised to see citric acid as the first ingredient, then others and ascorbic acid listed close to the end. It seems like the "Bug Juice" on the ship listed ascorbic acid as the main ingredient, but then again that was a while ago. I can't say why it works only that it did. One thing that I had done previously that I hadn't mentioned was I put an entire bottle (6-8 ozs) of Graf & Son's) media polish into the tumbler. A couple of capfuls didn't do anything and I was tired of seeing sit around my reloading area. The kool-aid was really the trick though, the tumbling made them nice and shiny again.
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