It can be a serious chore to strip a gun down and clean it thoroughly. For serious shooters, coming back from a long day at the range can mean a lengthy process involving disassembling and carefully cleaning multiple firearms.
Even if you’ve drilled in field-stripping and cleaning obsessively, it can still take you hours to get done. But, if you have a lot of firearms to clean and you’re shooting frequently, there’s a potential timesaver that might be worth considering: an ultrasonic gun cleaning kit.
The reality is, these units are generally for enthusiasts who have the cash on hand, and who find themselves spending as much or more time cleaning than they do shooting. If you only have a couple of firearms and you’re shooting infrequently, your money will probably be better spent on learning to reload or buying other useful equipment.
But if you’re seriously into the sport of shooting, or you aspire to own a large collection of guns, you may want to consider ultrasonic cleaning equipment at some point.
Best Ultrasonic Cleaners for Beginners
Ultrasonic cleaning devices work on a simple principle. You have a tub fitted with an ultrasonic transducer that you fill with a liquid cleaning solution. Once you turn on the unit, whatever you’re cleaning is bombarded with vibrations that creates “ultrasonic cavitation”—basically small bubbles that pop with great force—carried through the liquid, removing debris, dirt, oil, and other grime in the process.
Here’s a video showing you the process. Trust us, you probably will want to mute it. The sound can get on your nerves, but it’s good to know ahead of your purchase!
The vibration and bubbles do the cleaning for you, saving time and elbow grease. Ultrasonic cleaners are commonly used to clean jewelry, watches, coins, and lenses, among many other things.
Units designed for use with firearms range in price from a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars–so obviously we want to make sure you get an ultrasonic cleaner that is the best for you and fits your budget. After all, there’s no reason to blow a grand on something when the cheaper one works just fine for you.
Let’s take a look at a few options and what you should be looking for, based on your needs.
Hornady Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner 2L
The Hornady Lock-N-Load is an entry-level ultrasonic cleaner that can handle brass and small gun parts. The 2-liter version of this unit can accommodate a bit more than the smaller version by the same name, making it slightly more effective.
The tank measures 7.25″ x 6″ x 3″ and isn’t meant for larger parts.
You can definitely clean anything you can fit in it, including parts that stick out of the top but be sure gun parts aren’t touching when you place them in the tank. That goes for all ultrasonic cleaners, unless the manufacturer specifically advises you otherwise.
The unit is primarily intended to clean brass cases for reloading, but can also be used for metal gun parts and other metal objects. It includes a heater for this purpose, as well as three sonic transducers (the Hot Tub version includes four, just FYI).
Hornady recommends that you don’t use the heater when cleaning your cases, though, as it may tarnish them.
Be careful and follow all manufacturer recommendations, including using the appropriate cleaning solution for the object you’re cleaning, because this unit can reportedly remove paint from some parts if you put the wrong stuff in. For example, don’t use the brass cleaning solution on anything but brass, as it might affect the finish.
If you follow the instructions, though, and do your research on what you want to clean, you should be fine.
Hornady also makes a larger 9-liter unit, the Hot Tub Sonic Cleaner, to accommodate larger parts. It costs substantially more, around $450, but if you really want to clean long-gun components, this might be worth a look.
Lyman Turbo Sonic 6000 Case Cleaner
The Sonic 6000 has a 6-quart tank with tub dimensions of 12.8″ x 8″ x 3.9″ and is designed to clean both brass and handgun components with two ultrasonic transducers and a heater.
We think it has some nice ease-of-use features, including a tank with a built-in drain and hose for changing out your solution (which you should do after each use).
The included plastic basket also has handles and can accommodate multiple components at a time. It also features a degassing function, which reportedly helps remove air bubbles from the solution and improve efficiency.
This is a pricier unit with a few more features than some competitors. Lyman makes a case-cleaning solution, as well as a metal and gun parts solution, so be sure to use the correct one for your application. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer.
Be sure to read the company’s thorough instructions, and follow them if you go with this unit. As with this and all other ultrasonic cleaners, you’ll do well to check twice before making a mistake and ruining an expensive part. Measure twice, cut once and all that.
Ultrasonic Cleaning Don’ts
Hold your horses! Before you go and dump your guns into a shiny new ultrasonic cleaner, let’s go over some critical points. You’ll be glad you did (and your guns will be too)!
Don’t clean wood, ivory, or other exotic materials.
These are absorbent, and really don’t belong in an ultrasonic cleaner. The process can be intense, and you might warp your parts if you try this.
Don’t use flammable solvents in an ultrasonic cleaner, ever.
This should be obvious. You’re creating a heated environment where vapors can be hazardous, and you might start a fire.
There are units specifically designed to handle these solvents, and if you know what you’re doing, well, do what you know.
But if you’re reading this article and are learning anything new here, it’s a safe bet to say you should stay away from anything flammable when using ultrasonic cleaners.
Don’t use the wrong cleaning agent.
Check the bottle, and check with your manufacturer. Some types of cleaning agents and detergents can strip certain finishes. This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you’ll have to do your research before you begin, and if in doubt, ask first.
Don’t neglect your ultrasonic cleaner.
Just as your firearms need care and upkeep, so does your cleaning system.
Make sure to thoroughly rinse your baskets or tub after each use, especially if you’re using copper-cleaning products that may harm other types of metal finishes. As always, follow your manufacturer’s recommendations.
Don’t use water to clean your gun parts.
You can use distilled water to clean some objects, but not firearm parts. Guns aren’t meant to be in water. Just because it works for something else doesn’t mean you should risk your guns to save a buck.
Go with the cleaning agents from your unit’s manufacturer.
Don’t use vinegar to clean your guns.
I’ve read reports that vinegar can remove bluing, for example, though I’ve never tested it myself. Unless you know what you’re doing, stick with the manufacturer’s cleaning agents.
Don’t try to clean brass and gun parts at the same time.
These generally require different cleaning agents. I wouldn’t risk it. You can’t be in that big a hurry.
Don’t forget to dry and lube all components thoroughly after use.
Some units do offer lubrication features, but unless you know how these work, be sure to remove all liquid from your firearms and apply appropriate lubrication, for obvious reasons.
Yes, ultrasonic gun cleaners can work well to thoroughly clean your firearms. Just be sure you know what you’re doing, and consider your needs before making a purchase.
If you’re a serious shooter, there are worse ways you could spend your money, for sure, and you may save yourself a ton of time in the long run. Ultrasonic cleaners aren’t for everyone, but if you are dedicated to shooting and reloading, it makes quite a bit of sense to invest and protect your firearm collection.
Do you use an ultrasonic cleaner? Which one? Do you want to get one? Let us know in the comments! Need the tools to clean your gun? Check out the Best Gun Cleaning Kits, too!