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Thread: Citric acid brass cleaner

  1. #1
    Boolit Master sagacious's Avatar
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    Citric acid brass cleaner

    I've been getting fantastic results with a home-made brass cleaner that uses citric acid as the cleaning agent. You can find citric acid sold inexpensively at health-food stores, and some drug stores, farm-supply stores, etc.

    The citric acid powder is mixed 2 teaspoons to a quart of water. The exact concentration does not matter too much. A half-ounce in a gallon of water also works. High concentrations are not needed. Citric acid is the active ingredient in home-made brass cleaners that use lemon juice. Same stuff.

    To use, pour enough boiling-hot water into a large glass (or non-metal) bowl to cover your dirty brass. Add the citric acid and give it a quick stir with a non-metal spoon. Then dump in your brass, and stir or swirl the container for a couple seconds. You will see the tarnish and dirt being removed almost instantly. Usually takes only a few seconds to a minute or so, and it's done-- there is no need to soak for a long time. The brass will look almost like-new, cleaned inside and out. Rinse the brass with clean hot water, and set aside to dry. You can tumble to polish the cases after drying, and brass treated with this solution polishes quickly. To reuse the solution later, just reheat it.

    The advantage of citric acid is that it will not penetrate or damage the brass like ammonia-based brass cleaners will, and it works even faster. Also, citric acid passivates the brass, which means that after washing in the hot solution, the brass is actually made more corrosion-resistant. If you store brass for long periods, that's great news.

    Below is a photo of piece of dirty, tarnished 50BMG brass that I dipped in the citric acid wash for only a few seconds. It cleans like magic. Give it a try.

    Thought this might be of help to someone. And hey, why don't we have a forum on BRASS?
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    Last edited by sagacious; 08-30-2010 at 06:31 AM. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
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    DLCTEX's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting this. I've been using the lemon juice, vinegar, and dish washing detergent, but I'll give this one a try. I have been using distilled water due to our hard water.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master Ekalb2000's Avatar
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    The madness is spreading.
    I use 2 cups hot water, three drops of dawn, and 3-4 tblspoons of lemon juice.
    Where did you get your citric acid from?

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    Boolit Master rondog's Avatar
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    I've heard of this magic before, but I've never been able to find any citric acid. More details please.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master cheese1566's Avatar
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    You can find it at wine making supply places.
    http://www.midwestsupplies.com/citric-acid-1-lb.html

    Might have luck in the canning/jelly supplies aisle at the supermarket. Maybe the stuff that keeps cut fruit from turning brown.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master sagacious's Avatar
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    I purchased the citric acid at a local vitamin store. The brand is NOW Healthy Foods. They package citric acid in 4oz and 5lb quantities. I purchased 4ozs to try, and it cost me $4 and change-- but one can sometimes find citric acid for $5/lb. Here is a link to the product I purchased, and they have a store-locator on the homepage of the website: http://www.nowfoods.com/Products/Pro...atural%20Foods

    You can also find citric acid sold as "sour salt" in the kosher foods section of many grocery stores, and I'll probably buy it from a local grocery store next time as it's likely to be cheaper there. 'Sour salt' is pure citric acid. You may have to look carefully in your local grocery store, as the employees may not be familiar with it. It is also sold in bakery-supply or cake supply stores. Note that citric acid is not vitamin C. Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and I have no idea what ascorbic acid does to brass. If I recall correctly, it's ascorbic acid that prevents fruit from browning, and citric acid is what we're after.

    Thanks for the link Cheese, that's a great price.

    Hope this helps, good luck.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master RKJ's Avatar
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    Good old koolaid (or any of the cheap varieties) work well too, not as fast as shown on the 50 bmg shell but works good overnight. I get it for .10 a pack, but I may have to look for citric acid now.

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    Boolit Master TDB9901's Avatar
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    If you do any fruit canning, or freezing, I believe "Fruit Fresh" is mostly citric acid. Keeps peaches from turning brown during processing.

    Never thought of using it on brass though...... That's why I come here!!!

    Tom
    "When in the course of human events"......

  9. #9
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    Have used citric acid solution for awhile. First read about it in the NRA "Handloading" manual that was first published in the 80's, Their info was from from Frankford Arsenal. The cases are clean but not shiny bright. Interestingly they also mention a sulfuric acid dip, no thanks, and vinegar and salt solution. Have seen citric acid also at stores that sell wine making supplies.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TDB9901 View Post
    If you do any fruit canning, or freezing, I believe "Fruit Fresh" is mostly citric acid. Keeps peaches from turning brown during processing.

    Never thought of using it on brass though...... That's why I come here!!!

    Tom
    sagacious explained that, that's ascorbic acid that keeps stuff from turning brown.

    I just use the vinegar, lemon juice, dishsoap solution. Works very well, easy to find, cheap to buy.

    Phosphoric acid will clean brass too. 1/2 teaspoon to a gallon of water.

  11. #11
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    Nice post, starmetal, thanks. You can get about the same results with a spoonful of phosphoric acid in a gallon of warm water too. (Concentration and / or temperature is not at all critical.)

    You can buy phosphoric at any chemical supply company, and at most neighborhood chemical companies. Failing that, just buy some 'Naval Jelly" rust remover at your local hardware. It's just a thickened phosphoric solution. It's more expensive that way, but hey, at a spoonful at a time, it won't break anyone's budget.

    Phosphoric also has the advantage of very low toxicity: It's what gives most soda pop its tang. It is also much less reactive to organics (won't burn your skin) than most strong acids. Phosphoric is also used industrially to make metal surfaces corrosion resistant. Works for steel anyhow. Don't know about brass, but my cases in storage remain clean and untarnished year after year, so something good is going on.

    A quick way to dry the clean cases is to pour off any excess water, and then pile them up on a beach towel. Grab both ends to make a hammoc, and pour them back and forth a few times. This won't dry the insides, but residual heat will help them dry inside more quickly. If you need them in a hurry, set your oven for 'warm', or about 120 degrees. When it's up to temperature, turn it off and put the cases in. They'll be dry in about half an hour.

    I've used this for decades to keep my brass clean. Not shiny, but very obviously clean, just like you showed in your photo. Same basic technology, but different chemicals to do the job.
    Regards,

    Molly

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    Boolit Master TDB9901's Avatar
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    I was skimming the thread fast before heading for work, and didn't read that whole post....
    Had I thought a bit, I should have known that.....

    Thanks for catching me......
    Last edited by TDB9901; 05-09-2010 at 06:04 PM.
    "When in the course of human events"......

  13. #13
    Boolit Master sagacious's Avatar
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    I have used phosphoric acid to clean brass and copper for a long time. Birchwood-Casey sells a Liquid Brass Cleaner, which is a glycolic/phosphoric acid concentrate. It works very well.

    Reloaders should probably avoid commercially-formulated rust-removing phosphoric acid products. Some contain triethanolamines, and that can combine with humidity in the air to produce ammonia during storage of the brass, and ammonia can damage brass. Commercial phosphoric acid rust-removers may not provide the long-term corrosion protection that citric acid does, and may damage brass. The nice thing about citric acid is that it's easy to buy it in a pure form, with no additives. Citric acid also has the advantange of of being sold (and stored) as a solid powder, and is commonly available and very inexpensive, and actually helps protect brass.

    Citric acid will passivate stainless steel, and also copper. A 10% solution at 140* will passivate stainless steel tools/parts in one hour. I use citric acid to passivate stainless tools that will be used in a marine environment. Citric acid is also a very powerful rust remover. Soak rusty steel tools in a hot 10% solution and the rust will be removed and dissolved.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!
    Last edited by sagacious; 08-30-2010 at 06:35 AM. Reason: spelling

  14. #14
    Moderator Emeritus/Boolit Master in Heavens Range
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    Quote Originally Posted by sagacious View Post
    Reloaders should probably avoid commercially-formulated rust-removing phosphoric acid products. Some contain triethanolamines, and that can combine with humidity in the air to produce ammonia during storage of the brass, and ammonia can damage brass.
    Hmmm. Hadn't thought about that possibility when I suggested using Naval Jelly. As a chemist, I always had plenty of Phosphoric handy, and like you, I found it works very well indeed. I haven't tried citric, but it should be just as effective as Starmetal showed. I don't know which would be the cheapest way to go, but I don't think either will break anyones wallet.

    On further thought, I suspect that TEOA (and any derived derived ammonia) would become a phosphoric salt rather quickly, and should wash away when the cases are rinsed. Do you thnk this is a real problem?
    Regards,

    Molly

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    Alright you chemistry experts --- does this weak acid treatment reduce the oxidized brass
    so that you don't lose metal (basically turning the copper/zinc oxide into copper and zinc metal)
    or does it just etch off some material and possibly slightly damage the brass???


    Bill
    If it was easy, anybody could do it.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master cheese1566's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MtGun44 View Post
    Alright you chemistry experts --- does this weak acid treatment reduce the oxidized brass
    so that you don't lose metal (basically turning the copper/zinc oxide into copper and zinc metal)
    or does it just etch off some material and possibly slightly damage the brass???


    Bill
    Curious myself, especially for citric acid solutions as well as phosphoric acid mixtures.

    I have plenty of phos acid from parkerizing fun.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by cephas53 View Post
    Interestingly they also mention a sulfuric acid dip, no thanks, and vinegar and salt solution.
    Hmmmm...

    Vinegar is dilute acetic acid. Photographic stop bath is acetic acid. I'll have to try some Kodak Indicator Stop bath. As a plus, it turns a purpleish color when it's exhausted. Of course, when the brass no longer cleans up, I guess that would be just as good an indicator.

    I also have a good case dryer. With summer coming on, the air temp and low humidity will have a batch of cases dry in a half hour or less sitting in the sun.

    Regards,

    Stew
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  18. #18
    Boolit Master sagacious's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Molly View Post
    On further thought, I suspect that TEOA (and any derived derived ammonia) would become a phosphoric salt rather quickly, and should wash away when the cases are rinsed. Do you thnk this is a real problem?
    I do think that TEOA could present a real risk of brass degradation, especially in brass stored for long periods in airtight containers. It's just a guess, but I suspect that the TEOA in phosphoric acid rust removers may be buffered, or it might immediately react with phosphoric acid to produce ammonia salts within the product package.

    Ultimately, my thought is that any TEOA or amines that remain on the brass could eventually produce ammonia or ammonia salts during storage. You know how it is-- if there's a potential for disaster, someone will evenually find a way to run afoul of it. I'd just as soon suggest that any commercially-formulated rust removers not be used for brass cleaning, unless one knows for sure that it does not contain TEOA.

    If one could find pure phosphoric acid, such as at a chemical supplier as you mentioned, or as the Birchwood-Casey liquid brass cleaner, that would probably be the best way to buy it.

    Here's a link to the B-C liquid brass cleaner:
    http://www.trackofthewolf.com/Catego...Support=1&as=1
    Last edited by sagacious; 08-30-2010 at 06:36 AM. Reason: spelling

  19. #19
    Boolit Master sagacious's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MtGun44 View Post
    Alright you chemistry experts --- does this weak acid treatment reduce the oxidized brass so that you don't lose metal (basically turning the copper/zinc oxide into copper and zinc metal) or does it just etch off some material and possibly slightly damage the brass???


    Bill
    Yes, exactly-- it essentially reduces the metal back to pure form. It does not etch brass at all. It does not leave any residue that can damage brass.

    Neither phosphoric acid nor citric acid will damage brass when used as suggested, and one can even use up to a 10% solution. More concentrated will not hurt, but it will not help the process along much either. That's the great thing about both of these chemicals-- they actually help protect the brass during storage. The protective action is called passivation, and it means that the brass is made less prone to tarnish or corrode. Some industries use a citric acid wash on brass parts that will be stored for extended periods. It's about as safe as it gets.

    In this application, citric acid and phosphoric acid are 'self-limiting', which means that once the dirt/tarnish/corrosion is gone, the acid stops working. So, no worry about carefully timing the washing process. It works so fast you can actually see it cleaning, and when the brass is clean and the tarnish removed, nothing more happens.

    Note that citric acid is NOT self-limiting when used to remove rust from steel, and citric acid will etch steel if left soaking long enough.

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    While I was in the Navy they used phosphoric acid to clean the aluminum deck plates (there are in the engineering spaces) and also the stainless steel air casings on the boilers. This was back in the sail ship days boys!! Now they're either nuke or gas turbine powered from what I hear.

    I failed to mentioned an article about washing your phosphoric parts with a baking soda rinse. I believe that would kill any worries about losing metal off your cases. I when I use any of these mixtures I rinse my cases in a long water bath, preferably hot water, then drain them well, and dry them thoroughly in the kitchen oven. When dry I immediately put them in my vibrator cleaners for some really sparkling cases when finished.

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