Tired of cleaning your small gun parts by hand? Or tumbling brass cases for hours?
It could be time to upgrade to an ultrasonic cleaner.
I clean some spent casings first and then also some stubborn (and super dirty) pistol barrels and BCGs.
By the end you’ll know if ultrasonic cleaners are for you. And if they are…the best model for your specific needs.
Who Are Ultrasonic Cleaners For?
Most likely not for beginners in the reloading or gun cleaning world.
It takes a couple hours, is kind of noisy, and you probably want to hold your breath as you use the bingo machine separator.
But it’s great for capacity and gives you decently clean brass.
Ultrasonic cleaning is when you are looking for meticulously clean brass in smaller quantities.
Or you don’t want to deal with the extended noise and potentially airborne lead particles.
How about you gun cleaners out there?
If you’re new…check out our 4 Best Gun Cleaning Kits.
It’s a great place to start and even if you go the ultrasonic route…you probably still need a decent cleaning kit.
But…ultrasonic cleaners do let you have some sort of “set it and forget it” aspect.
And thanks to the creation of millions of tiny bubbles per second…ultrasonic cleaners can clean even the smallest of spaces your Q-Tip can’t reach.
Still sound good?
Ultrasonic Brass Case Cleaning
I chose 40 once-fired .223 casings and 10 9mm casings. All from the same range session, same ammo lot, and same gun.
And chose Lyman Sonic Case Cleaner (make sure it’s not for dry tumbling).
I combined 40 oz of distilled water with 2 oz of the case cleaner in each, following their recipe for medium to heavy duty jobs.
You want to use distilled as much as possible since tap water can have a lot of soluble particles that stain or corrode your brass afterwards.
Both models have heating features that bring the solution to around 150 degrees. It took about the same 40 minutes for each.
I also shook the trays as much as possible to get air out of the casings.
First off…it’s pretty loud and annoying if you don’t use the cover. Check out a quick video of me turning them both on (warning: loud buzzing sounds).
With the cover it’s much more manageable…but I still wouldn’t want to be in the same room doing work requiring concentration.
All in all…pretty anti-climactic. Some buzzing sounds and steam from the heat. No crazy bubbles consuming everything (darn).
As for time?
I chose a total amount of 24 minutes cleaning based on my research. I could easily set it on the Hornady but for the larger Lyman the max was 8 minutes (480 seconds).
So I took that opportunity of resetting the Lyman every 8 minutes to do snapshots of the process.
A little dirtier in both…but much more easily seen in the Lyman since it’s a lighter plastic color.
Some more at ~16 minutes.
And at the finished 24 minutes you can see some ever more slight dirt discoloration in the liquid.
Here’s how it is with everything removed.
Now let’s see the results after I rinsed with some distilled water…
The .223 casings were very clean except for some necks…but very comparable to around 3 hours of dry tumbling for me.
Let’s look at the 9mm casings since you can get a peek all the way down in there…
Outside is comparable…like the .223, but it’s the inside where ultrasonic cleaning “shines.”
I’m still getting used to ultrasonic cleaning so one big tip is to make sure all the air is gone from the casings. Otherwise you end up with a hodgepodge of super-clean and dirty interiors like above.
I’m going to give both the Hornady and Lyman a tie since when they are clean…they are very clean.
And before you veteran reloaders screech…I tend not to remove spent primers before cleaning casings intended for plinking.
Putting dirty casings into my progressive reloading press (check out my favorite ones) can scratch up the dies. And I’m too lazy to use a single stage press with a universal decapping die for plinking ammo.
But if you decap…get ready for some super clean primer pockets!
Now…let’s see how the cleaners fare with gun parts!
Ultrasonic Cleaning Gun Parts
Does using the Lyman or Hornady cut down on stinky cleaners, dirty hands, and tons of time?
I chose two comparatively same round-count BCGs and two Glock Barrels. And tossed a quarter to see which went where.
Here’s the Lyman…
Here’s the Hornady…
Let’s take a closer look at the barrels…yes, the right sided Lyman one is much dirtier.
And the bolts of the BCGs…especially the carbon buildup areas. Pretty even chunks near the gas rings.
Same procedure, I used 40 oz of distilled water and 2 oz of Lyman Sonic gun parts cleaner (note the blue color).
I let everything warm up for 40 minutes and set the Hornady to 24 minutes and the Lyman to 480 seconds.
You can already see a lot of gunk getting into the liquid.
With more at the 16 minute mark.
And even more at the finish of 24 minutes.
How clean did the parts get?
Remarkably clean for me simply breaking down the parts and dropping them in…
Let’s start with the BCG bolts…the carbon is almost completely off of both bolts. And that’s the stubborn kind that I usually need to scrub/scrape away!
Here’s a closeup of the barrel…
The dirtier one in the Lyman is about half cleaned. It started off much dirtier and would probably fare better with a little more time.
Normal dirty parts like the firing pings cleaned up really easily, with only a little bit of residue at the bottom of the “thumbtack” area that was wiped away when drying.
Speaking of drying…make sure you use some compressed air or a hairdryer after rinsing off the dirty soap juice with some distilled water.
This is where having a brass dryer like the Frankford Armory one would have helped a lot.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
I lubed all the parts together with my favorite gun oil…and voila!
Good as new.
Note: I’ve read that you shouldn’t put in aluminum gun parts since ultrasonic cleaners might cause microscopic cavities in the metal. And many people are fine popping in polymer frames…but I’m not at the moment.
Now…let’s get into the nitty gritty of each ultrasonic cleaner to see which is the best for you.
Things to Consider
So which is the best? Lyman or Hornady?
If you’re cleaning a lot of brass, the Lyman gets the win by default since it is 2.5L compared to the Hornady’s 2L.
Descriptions list the Lyman at 900 9mm cases and the Hornady at 300 .223 or 150 .308 cases. Thanks non-exchangeable units!
Both reached about the same temperature (with my scientific finger test) in about the same time of 40 minutes. Of course it will vary with your distilled water temperature and elevation.
The Hornady lets you set cleaning times in increments of 5 minutes, and then finessing the time by pressing the down key.
Example: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 24 for the tested routine.
The Lyman only lets you max out at 480 seconds at a time. Ok if you’re cleaning jewelry…but sucks when you are cleaning brass or stubborn gun parts.
Both cleaned the brass very well (as long as I correctly submersed the brass completely).
The Lyman got the wrong end of the coin toss with the dirtier barrel. But I think with more time it would have been fine.
BCGs were cleaned equally.
The Hornady gives you a “de-gas” feature which is more useful in a science lab than part/brass cleaning. It’s not for getting rid of the big air bubbles in your brass.
The Lyman has a slightly smaller slotted basket so your tiny parts don’t go missing. But neither were small enough for the bolt extractor pin.
As of writing, the Lyman was $99 and the Hornady at $109.
Best Ultrasonic Gun & Case Cleaner
If I had to choose one…
Lyman Turbo Sonic Case Cleaner
I would choose the Lyman since it’s slightly cheaper and has a larger capacity. And I like to wait until I have a lot of brass to clean.
It’s inability to go above 8 minutes of cleaning time without checking in and resetting kills it.
Hornady Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner II
I’m looking for a set it and forget it method where I can leave the room and avoid the buzzing sound.
So I’ve got to give it to Hornady even though it’s a few bucks more and slightly reduced in volume.
After all this…are ultrasonic cleaners for you?
If you want your brass to be super clean with minimal time and effort compared to dry-tumbling…yes.
If you want to set it and forget it for gun parts…yes.
Again, my personal recommendation is the Hornady because of the timing issue with the Lyman.
If you do go with ultrasonic cleaning…make sure you grab the other essentials.
I’m pretty new to the world of ultrasonic cleaners. Any tips for our fellow beginners from you veteran brass cleaners? Also check out our Best Places to Buy Reloading Components and Beginner’s Guide to Reloading.