Gear Review: Hornady Lock-N-Load Hot Tub Sonic Cleaner

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Welcome to my new favorite thing: the Hornady Lock-N-Load Hot Tub Sonic Cleaner. I’ve owned a small Hornady sonic cleaner for a while now, and I use it every week. If you reload, there’s just no reason not to have one.

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Not only does a sonic cleaner take care of your cases with less work, but it cleans them better than you would by to by hand, as it cleans both the inside and outside of the case. The job it does on a primer pocket is amazing.

But I shoot at least 500 rounds a week, and am less than fastidious about picking up my brass. That means that by the end of the month, I have 2,000 rounds of mixed brass lying in the dirt. Between cleaning brass, and cleaning gun parts, that little 2L cleaner just doesn’t cut it.

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Enter the 9L Hot Tub. The larger unit carries a heftier price tag, but is large enough to fit an entire 16″ AR-15 upper, or hundreds or rounds of brass, and anything in between. It’s also packed full of useful features.

And while it does a lot, the instructions are intuitive and easy to use. Seven buttons on the front toggle through the functions on a well laid out display. There were no “I wonder what this light means” moments working the machine.

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Along with the large capacity, the Hot Tub helps along the cleaning process with two handy features. First is the degassing feature. For those of  you familiar with the sonic cleaners, it’s helpful to run them a cycle or two before you really get going, and the results are noticeable.

The Hot Tub comes with a degassing feature pre-programmed that runs for 90 seconds, then kicks into your regular cleaning cycle. In addition, for many metals things go much faster with heated liquid. That usually means warming up your distilled water and adding it to the machine. The Hot Tub has a built in heater component that lets you choose between 100 and 140 degrees and keep the solution that temperature through 30 minutes of cycle time.

Yet another feature is the solution timer, which allows you to set a total time that one particular batch of solution can be used before notifying you to discard it. I just let it go until it looks cloudy, which isn’t long) but the reminder is helpful.

Particularly useful is the drain hose. When the cleaning solution becomes too fouled (or full of leaves and sticks and rocks like mine was) just turn the knob and drain the fluid into a nearby bucket for easy disposal. If your fluid is still good but you want to shelf the Hot Tub, just drain it into an empty plastic water jug and reuse it later. You may just throw it away though, because that fluid lasts a long time.  At a 40:1 water to cleaner ratio, I cleaned several thousand pieces of filthy brass and barely put a dent in the gallon jug.

Another huge plus is something particularly simple, the small parts tank.  Using this smaller tank inside the large one can serve two function. Most obviously, it allows you to just use a small amount of fluid and cleaner instead of filling up the whole Hot Tub. Even better, it allows you to use two solutions at once. Put your pistol parts in the small tank with the steel parts cleaner, and put your brass loose in the big tank with the brass cleaner. Ten minutes later they are both clean.

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So it’s easy to use and has lots of handy features, but how well does it really work? Exceptionally well.

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The Hot Tub allows me to be both lazy and meticulous. After filling buckets full of mixed brass from the ground, I poured a few hundred rounds into the tub. Then simply add distilled water and a little bit of cleaning fluid, toggle to 15 minutes, and walk away.

By the end of the cycle, I wiped leaves, sticks and scum from the bubbles on the top, and pulled out my basket of beautifully clean brass. Normally, you’d remove the primers first to get the pockets, but there’s no way I’m putting muddy and dirty brass into my dies. Instead, I do one run in the Hot Tub, then size and de-prime, and then another run through the Hot-Tub. And why not? It costs next to nothing to run again, and doesn’t take more than 10 minutes. The result is cases that are almost as clean as they were when they were new.

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What about gun parts? I’m doing a sight review right now using a GLOCK 19, and like many GLOCK owners, the owner of this gun rarely cleans it. Ten minutes in the cleaner and it emerges pristine. I’d still run a patch down the bore, but really, it’s already cleaner outside than you could get it by hand with a brush. And the bore is cleaner and shiner than any bore snake would get you.

Specifications: Hornady Lock-N-Load Hot Tub Sonic Cleaner

Hot Tub main tank dimensions:  (9 Liters / 2.3 Gallons) 25.5″ x 7.0″ x 4″
Internal Divider Tank dimensions: 6.7″ x 4.7″ x 3.2″ (1.6 Liters / 1.7 Quarts)
5 Temperature Settings
Cleans cartridge cases inside and out
Will accommodate a 16″ AR upper
Integrated Drain Pans
MSRP: $625.00 (found more than $200 cheaper online)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Overall * * * * *
I used to like cleaning guns. Then I spent a weekend at a course putting 1,000 rounds through a direct impingement suppressed AR15. That’s no fun to clean at all. With the Hot Tub, it’s a 20 minute bath, towel dry, and lube to get that whole upper as good as new.  I’m totally in love with the Hornady Hot Tub. An exceptional time saver that does a great job.

 

comments

  1. avatar Joe says:

    I have an ultrasonic cleaner and agree that they are FANTASTIC at cleaning brass and gun parts. For those that are budget minded and don’t mind a little less capacity, harbor freight has a good one for less than $35.

  2. avatar gunguy says:

    Be interested to read about how it cleans suppressor parts

    1. avatar Dave in VA says:

      This. It’s really the only reason I’d look at it myself. I don’t reload, but if it could clean baffles well I would consider it.

      1. avatar Anner says:

        Oh heck yeah. Hadn’t even thought of that.

  3. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    “Normally, you’d remove the primers first to get the pockets, but there’s no way I’m putting muddy and dirty brass into my dies. Instead, I do one run in the Hot Tub, then size and de-prime, and then another run through the Hot-Tub. And why not?”

    Well, you could buy a universal decapping die to remove the primers first. Which method is more time-consuming depends on the quantity of each caliber you’re dealing with, I suppose.

    This thing costs as much as a good rifle. So… will it make my handloads or my guns more reliable or more accurate? If not, then I’ll pass for now.

  4. avatar OODAloop says:

    Gotta tell you, if you want to clean 1000 pieces of brass at a time, you can’t beat a stainless steel pin tumbler. The Frankford Arsenal Platinum Series Rotary Tumbler 7L absolutely cannot be beat. for $165 it’ll clean even the worse silencer-fired brass to pristine absolutely brand-new quality (inside and out) in the space of 2-3 hours. While sonic cleaners are awesome (especially for all the little niggly parts on pistols) pin tumblers are the cat’s meow for cleaning brass.

    1. avatar TruthTellers says:

      Agree. For large quantities in the hundreds of cases, rotary tumblers like the Frankford are the best for cleaning brass. For small quantities between 100 and 200 cases, an Ultrasonic cleaner is better and quite versatile.

      Walnut media tumblers are just meh. They’re a dirtier process, cost about the same as a small ultrasonic, and are LOUD.

      1. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

        For me, UltraSonic has not been a good method for pistol brass. I don’t want to Deprime/UltraSonic/Reload. It just adds unnecessary time to my process. I have used 2 different UltraSonics, and have never gotten good results with any reasonable quantity of brass (say 100 pistol cases). I have tried hornady/lyman cleaning solutions, as well as some home gamer vinegar/soap solutions. One time I left the vinegar solution in my cleaner overnight, and it ate a hole through the “stainless” steel pan and stunk up my reloading bench for a week.

  5. avatar Warren says:

    I’ve heard that sonic cleaners can “weld” parts together, if they aren’t fully disassembled first? Specifically threaded parts, such as suppressors still attached to their mounts/barrels. Is there any truth to that?

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      I’m unaware of that, and hope someone can confirm or deny it.

      What I can confirm is, it can attack Parkerizing.

      A number of years back, I had a Ruger Mk.1 with really beat up bluing. Took it to a local gunsmith and had him Parkerize it.

      I don’t know for certain, but I suspect he wasn’t thorough in the surface prep, because the first (and last) time I tossed it into the potent ultrasonic bath at work the Parkerize was mostly stripped of in some areas leaving the Parkerize looking like it was blotchy or patchy.

      The ultrasonic worked great on every other gun part I put in it. Tossed ’em in for an hour, rinsed with a wash of De-ionized reverse osmosis water, then dried ’em in the 105 C oven we used for drying glassware…

  6. avatar cmac890 says:

    From the title, I thought Hornaday had a new product that that cleaned hot tubs. I was intrigued ?

  7. avatar mark_anthony_78 says:

    Is there any type of gun part *not* good to clean in an ultrasonic tank? Just wondering if certain materials or items don’t take kindly to it.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      I don’t think I’d put that beautiful Turkish walnut stock in there.

      It would float, anyway.

    2. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “Is there any type of gun part *not* good to clean in an ultrasonic tank? Just wondering if certain materials or items don’t take kindly to it.”

      See my reply on Parkerizing above…

    3. avatar TruthTellers says:

      If it’s a blued part, just be careful with what you add to the water. I stick with just Dawn dish soap on blued parts and it hasn’t caused any damage yet.

    4. avatar Pausert says:

      I would be careful with any non painted aluminum parts. My RCBS ultrasonic discolored the trigger on my Springfield Range officer. All the other parts were fine but the trigger is now significantly darker and a bit uneven.

  8. avatar Ed Rogers says:

    I want a sonic cleaner for our two Mask silencers. I suppose I could clean my brass for resale…

  9. avatar notalima says:

    I’ve got one of these big Hornady units. Use it to clean lots of things, but not brass (Have the Franklin rotary unit for brass cleaning). I love dropping in filthy crusted BCG parts and pulling them out later only needing a micro fiber wipe down and then lube.

    Never dropped an entire upper in it, but I suppose if you pulled the handguards it would work. I’d hate to see what got trapped inside the forward assist cavity though.

    Also be a bit concerned about fluid and cleaner penetration at the barrel nut.

  10. avatar Stinkeye says:

    “If you reload, there’s just no reason not to have one.”

    That $500 price tag seems like a pretty good reason.

    1. avatar DrewN says:

      Whatever Chinese one Harbor Freight is selling at the moment works just fine. If it breaks, take it back. Even if the name brand isn’t just a rebranded Chinese unit (which it totally is I’m sure), you’ll never wear out 5 HF units in the same time frame.

  11. avatar I have a job so I can afford things says:

    Jesus, this website is just full of the biggest cheapskates I’ve ever seen. Everyone here must simply shop at the nearest dollar store and drive the most barebones car because they could never justify to themselves any form of luxury. I hope no one ever uses these comment sections as any indicator of value or quality.

    1. avatar I have a job, a wife, a mortgage, and a future says:

      Have fun with your toys, man. I’ve watched plenty of your kind go down in flames.

      1. avatar I have a job so I can afford things says:

        Interesting, you’ve seen people with a bit of spending money go down in flames? This seems, if anything, to be a conjectural statement and one I highly doubt you can prove or provide evidence to and don’t worry I will enjoy my tools.

  12. avatar Ben says:

    I love my sonic cleaner for cleaning baffles bcgs, and other random parts, but hate them for cleaning brass. Drying them out is too much of a pain.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “Drying them out is too much of a pain.”

      After washing, toss ’em a clean pillowcase and shake for a few min.

      Or pound a bunch of thin nails long enough to hold the case necks off the wood into a piece of plywood and stick the brass on the nails…

    2. avatar OODAloop says:

      Hell, I use our food dehydrator. It’s got stacking trays and I dry the shells for and hour at 105°F and life is good.

    3. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

      My brass drying setup is…

      1.) Old shallow cake pan
      2.) Cheap space heater, angled towards the pan

      Run it for 15 minutes, shake the pan, run for another 15 minutes. Then let them cool.

  13. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Thanks for the review Jon. I’ve contemplated one of these, but wanted to see an honest review first.
    I currently use the big Dillon vibrator/tumbler tub thing, but it takes 8-10 hours before the brass is acceptably cleaned. Then digging through the media and tapping each case to get the media out… PITA.
    Since I can go through a thousand rounds on a good weekend of shooting,
    I think it’s time to get one.

  14. avatar rdsii64 says:

    My only complaint is that it is only long enough for a 16 inch upper. If it would accommodate a 20 inch upper I would have one.

  15. avatar Dave J says:

    Purchased one this summer. I’ve primarily used to clean gun parts: AR parts, 16″ upper (had to see for myself). My clasd iii dealer buddy brought over 4 suppressors, full auto mp5, various handguns, scar and AR. All were cleaned in a few hours.

    Suppressors were fine, both baffles and single core. Finishes on the cerakoted suppressors were also fine. We were careful at first to make sure.

    What wasn’t expected was the discoloration of the slide for the FNS-9, so obviously we weren’t as careful for that.

    Otherwise, it is indeed a significant investment because you not only need the unit, but also the gun parts cleaning solution and brass cleaning solution.

    Make sure to take heed of which solution you have in the tank! Purchased on sale for $361 including shipping from centerfireguns and scoured the net for the lowest cost on the solutions. If you get the gallon jugs, it should last quite a while. Another last tip is to use distilled water.

    Bottom line, worth it? Hard to say right now. Perhaps eventually. It is cool, does really seem to work and get into places, freeing up carbon deposits that I couldn’t get to manually. You will become more popular with your shooting buddies.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “What wasn’t expected was the discoloration of the slide for the FNS-9…”

      As I understand it, the FNS-9 has a type of ‘Tenifer’ nitrocarburizing finish similar to what Glock uses.

      The Glocks I owned did just fine in a potent ultrsonic bath, a Parkerize re-finishing not so much…

      1. avatar AR says:

        How does a Ceracote finish stand up to ultrasonic?

        1. avatar Nanashi says:

          Or Duracoat for that matter.

        2. avatar Dave J says:

          According to my friend’s and my experience as referred to above, the Cerakoted suppressors did not experience any discoloration.

      2. avatar TCP says:

        I have a Cerakote’d XD and AR parts that do fine in my ultrasonic, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve only used Lyman steel cleaner so I can’t speak to other cleaning solutions.

    2. avatar Tex300BLK says:

      Don’t think your problems with the FNS were down to the ultrasonic cleaner. The slides and barrels from both my FNX45 and FNS9 would look grey and chalky after a bath in KG1 (or similar) carbon cleaner/degreaser. A quick wipe down with a lightly oiled rag brings both of them back to the normal matte black finish.

  16. avatar Wiregrass says:

    I don’t know about your results, but when I first started reloading I used an ultrasonic cleaner for brass using a homemade vinegar-water-dish soap solution. It cleaned well but I spent a lot of time drying brass on low heat in the oven after cleaning and after a few reloads the finish on the brass was fairly dull even after cleaning.

    I went to a cheap vibrating tumbler with corn cob and Nufinish polish and have found it much easier and effective. That shine isn’t just to make them look good, it really aids inspection for defects in brass.

  17. avatar SK says:

    Can someone provide guidance on how to use this on various pistols?
    first break it down, place it in the tub, what kind of solution do i use? Do i use gun cleaning solution alone or mixed with water? what about rusting on firearms or finishes i need to be careful with?

    Thanks!

    1. avatar int19h says:

      Hornady sells the cleaner in containers that have instructions on them. You mix it with water in the specified proportion.

      For the most part, yeah, you just disassemble things and put them in there. Disassembly is not strictly necessary, but the more surface you expose, the better it cleans (think about it this way: if your BCG, say, is pressed against the wall of the receiver, where would all the accumulated carbon on that side of it go, even if ultrasound makes it loose?).

  18. avatar Docduracoat says:

    A warning to all Cerakote and Duracoat firearms owners
    Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner on your coated guns
    It will damage the finish

    1. avatar TCP says:

      Then your Cerakote applicator didn’t prep it properly.

      I’ve run several items through multiple times and never had an issue. In fact, any carbon that doesn’t come off my bolt will wipe off with even less effort.

      Can’t speak to Duracoat as I’ve never used it.

  19. avatar Tex300BLK says:

    Excellent review, have been on the fence about getting one of these for a long time. Adding it to the list of “must haves”.

  20. avatar Bill says:

    Several comments about finish and coatings, but is this suitable for aluminum framed pistols like Kimber?

  21. avatar Scott says:

    This thing is fantastic, I use it for my M4 upper as well as bolt carrier group and pistols. I have used it before to clean brass fuel injectors for aircraft as well. A couple words of caution: If you accidentally put the brass cleaner in to clean your steel, the blueing will come off (I just learned that the hard way, no fault of Hornady or the machine). The one issue that I have had with this machine, a diode burned out and left the machine running well after the timer counted to zero. I’m glad I was monitoring (as per the instructions), that could be pretty dangerous – so don’t go take a nap by any means while this thing is running. My machine was out of warranty, but I informed Hornady about the defect. Their reaction was disappointing – it was out of warranty; but my point was more to inform them that a better design might be to have it fail off, rather than to fail on. I’m no electrician, but it was moderately easy to find the burned out diode and replace it. I have had no further problems – it truly is a fantastic machine!

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