Cleaning and Maintaining Your Handgun Magazines – Why, How To, and How Often

how to clean your magazine

Matt Sandy for TTAG

Magazine maintenance isn’t really a hot topic among gun owners. People love talking about what they do and don’t do in regards to their firearms, but their magazines are often forgotten. This is due, in part, to the idea that they don’t really need much care.

While that’s relatively true in comparison to guns, completely forgetting about the piece of equipment that’s solely responsible for feeding your firearm is a mistake that will eventually catch up with you.

How to Clean Your Pistol Magazines

Cleaning your semi-auto pistol magazines is pretty simple and not really necessary very often unless the magazines get excessively dirty based on how you use them. This can happen from thousands of fired rounds or one tumble in dirt or mud. Most malfunctions caused by “dirty mags” will be due to foreign debris like dirt, small rocks, mud, and sand.

To clean your magazine, the first thing is disassembly.

Most magazines have a floor plate or retention tab that must be pushed up, into the mag body, in order to slide the base off.

Matt Sandy for TTAG

There are scores of kinds of magazines out there, both single stack and double stack, and there are exceptions, like GLOCK magazines. Unlike most semi-auto mag designs, GLOCK magazine bodies have teeth that engage the base plate.

GLOCK magazine (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

To disassemble a GLOCK magazine, you need to squeeze the body so those teeth disengage the base plate, push up on the floor plate like on “normal” magazines and slide the base plate off. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.

Using a GLOCK magazine tool and most of my weight to squeeze the mag body and shift the base plate (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

Once disassembled, cleaning magazines is just like gun cleaning. The level to which you clean yours is entirely up to you, but if you’re going to do it, you might as well do a good job.

First, I use a tool to get all the gunk and dirt out of the magazine housing. A nylon brush or old toothbrush wrapped in a paper towel is my go-to for this. A dedicated magazine cleaning brush may be helpful, but I have yet to spend the money on one.

Matt Sandy for TTAG

Run it in and out a few times until the paper or patch comes out clean.

Matt Sandy for TTAG

If my magazines have gotten dirty with dry dirt and general fouling, I’ll usually just scrub them with a dry brush and paper towel. If it’s been a while or they got wet or mud was involved, I’ll rinse and scrub them with some water and then dry them thoroughly.

Check the spring and follower and wipe them down as necessary. Then reassemble your magazine and you’re done. No lube necessary.

You can clean your magazines as often as you want, there isn’t any harm in it. Since I’m a creature of necessity, I tend to reserve my cleanings for when dirt/mud is involved.

Periodic Magazine Maintenance

Cleaning isn’t the only thing you’ll need to do to ensure reliable feeding. Magazines eventually wear out, too.  They’re disposable items that take a beating. Unless you’re a shooter who carefully inserts and removes the magazine from the firearm every time, it will eventually break.

It’s a good idea to visually inspect your magazines from time to time. Check the magazine body for dents/cracks or other damage. Dents along the length of the body will act as a speed bump for the ammo inside and may impede function.

If you find a crack anywhere on the body, throw it out or reserve it for plinking.

Then be sure to check the feed lips to ensure they’re not deformed, bent or cracked.

Healthy feed lips (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

Look them over closely…bent feed lips are a frequent cause of semi-automatic firearm malfunctions.

Matt Sandy for TTAG

Feed lips can easily be damaged, dented or stretched outwards over time if used frequently. Be aware of this and check them periodically. Fixing them can be tricky, though. In most cases, if your feed lips become dented or damaged, you may want to retire the magazine.

Remember to check the base pads for cracks, specifically around the slot/cutout for the mag body.

A normal base plate (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

Be sure to inspect followers for chips, breaks, or frayed plastic.  The legs of the follower help stabilize it in the mag body so it doesn’t cant or become crooked.

A damage-free magazine follower (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

Check all the magazine release cutouts for burrs or damage that may snag the follower as it passes up and down through the magazine housing.

Snag-free cutouts (Matt Sandy for TTAG)

Pay attention to your magazine springs, too. These wear out over time, depending on use. The more a magazine is loaded and unloaded (shot) the faster it will wear out. Keeping a magazine loaded for long periods of time isn’t supposed to be that bad for it.

Replacing your magazine spring once a year is a pretty common recommendation, though there are plenty of anecdotes claiming “I’ve had mine loaded since the 1980s and it still works fine!”

I have been carrying and competing with my CZ P-10 C for the past two years and I’m still using the same factory magazines. That’s two years with lots of loading, unloading and constant compression. The magazine you see in the photos above is one of those mags. After two years of good hard use, it was barely dirty and really didn’t need to be cleaned. Just some perspective. Your mileage may vary.

That said, remember that replacement springs and followers are inexpensive, easy to replace and help ensure that your mags continue to perform smoothly.

The main point in all of this is, take care of your magazines and your magazines will take care of you. Your semi-automatic pistol won’t function properly if your mags don’t function properly. Give them a once-over occasionally, clean them when they’re dirty, replace parts as they break or wear and replace the entire thing if necessary.

Magazines play a critical role in your gun’s reliability, but are ultimately are expendable. Be sure yours work well.

 

Matt Sandy is an Austin-based gunsmith who competes in both USPSA and PRC matches. 

 

comments

  1. avatar 10x25mm says:

    Magazine springs made from silicon free steels are prone to taking a ‘set’ under prolonged compression because they cannot benefit from the Bauschinger Effect. Preset chrome-silicon spring steels are very resistant to setting. Short of laboratory analysis, you don’t know which type of spring steel was used in any given magazine.

    Keep unused magazine springs on hand for each type of your important carry magazines and compare lengths when you take the magazines apart for cleaning. Replace any springs which are 5% shorter than the new exemplar.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Most reputable after-market magazines use chrome-silicon springs these days, I can’t speak for OEM, but it appears to be more or less an industry standard these days. Spring “set” hasn’t been an issue in years if not decades except with bargain basement magazine manufacturers.

      1. avatar TommyJay says:

        Some guy published a seemingly careful measurement of several handguns he owned with mags that he had kept continuously loaded for 1 to 4 years. I don’t recall which was which, but they were major brand name OEM equip. And most, but not all, of them took a set. The 4 year one was quite bad.

        You might be correct about after-market stuff, but I wouldn’t just guess that it is not a problem. I didn’t know it was chrome-silicon steel that did the trick. I looked on Mec-Gar’s web site and did not see any mention of steel type.

        1. avatar 10x25mm says:

          It is not just the chemical composition of the magazine spring which is required to take advantage of the Bauschinger Effect. You also have to prestress the spring after winding. If either is absent, your magazine spring is very likely to take a set under prolonged compression.

          Few magazine manufacturers wind their own springs in house – including the OEMs – so you are at the mercy of the spring winder their purchasing department selects. Some are good, some not so good.

    2. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      No magazine from a decent manufacturer has ever ‘taken a set’ from just sitting there, period. It’s not a matter of modern manufacture, it’s just never been a problem. There have been magazines left loaded between world wars that still worked just fine. If only this FUD would die already.

  2. avatar D says:

    Don’t throw out non working or broken mags. Use them for failure drill training.

    I have two sets of magazines. One set is for carry. These have been tested, but never used for practice in order to keep them pristine. The second set is for practice only.

    1. avatar Geoff "Guns. Lots of guns." PR says:

      “Don’t throw out non working or broken mags. Use them for failure drill training.”

      Make sure you label them as ‘Bad’ in some way you recognize…

      1. avatar Neil says:

        I do enough failure drills. The one mag I damaged (oops, I dropped a weight on a mag… Looked ok, FTF when mostly full though…). I kept the undamaged parts. The body went in the trash.

    2. avatar Draven says:

      but clearly mark them.

  3. avatar cgray says:

    Just throw ’em away and buy new ones.

    1. avatar kd says:

      Do you throw your car away when it needs an oil change?

      1. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

        If my car cost $15 to replace with a new one and I made >=$125k/year, I would.

        1. avatar Everyday +1 Carrier says:

          Even if you made that much money, there is no point in throwing away a magazine, and at that rate, it’s easy to assume you did not earn the money you have and will be broke eventually.

        2. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

          It is really easy for you to assume things, I’ll grant you that:-)

        3. avatar Everyday +1 Carrier says:

          well, yes mags are expendable, but if you are just throwing away cars…

        4. avatar arsh says:

          This exactly! I get some folks are poor but even at $80k a year if the magazine is junk, then it’s junk.

  4. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    my handgun magazines only need some periodic cleaning maintenance on the exploded diagram pages.

  5. avatar BusyBeef says:

    Spray ’em down with some CLP and call it a day.

    1. avatar Everyday +1 Carrier says:

      You don’t use CLP on mags. Oil will attract more grime.

    2. avatar TommyJay says:

      The Browning Buckmark mags have welded-on bases, so you can’t pull rags thru. They recommend blasting the insides with Gunscrubber solvent and shaking out the excess.

      That half-way works. I remove the spring and follower and wrap a nylon brush with a paper towel and work it in and out. But basically, it’s a lousy mag design.

      1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

        That seems fine to me. To be honest I’ve never done more than scrub carbon off the outside of the business end and inspect the follower.

  6. avatar Mad says:

    An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure check them out periodically

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      something you only think about when they fail to work …..

  7. avatar Mark H says:

    So many new-fangled magazines with removable bases. I think half my mags have welded steel bases. I am sure there is some sort of trick to removing the follower from the top…

    1. avatar Mack The Knife says:

      If your mag has witness holes similar to a 1911 mag, take a toothbrush and push the follower down, then using a punch insert it through the mags witness holes below the follower to capture the spring. The follower is now loose so shake it out. With your hand over the mouth of the mag remove the punch, catch and remove the spring.

      1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

        TBH that still sounds easier than disassembling a Glock magazine.

  8. avatar Derringer Dave says:

    Eventually, the states that ban “high-capacity” magazines might realize that if you can disassemble a magazine for cleaning, you can modify it to hold more than 10 rounds. These states will then demand that all magazines be welded so they can’t be disassembled for cleaning, maintenance, spring replacement, or any other reason. Then we’ll have to switch to revolvers, because a magazine that can’t be cleaned or repaired can only be thrown out when it needs cleaning or repair.

    1. avatar Everyday +1 Carrier says:

      Don’t give them ideas. Hopefully in the future, people will say enough is enough, and start making their own with the help of 3d printers. Would be great if machining metal was cheaper too. Just buy a chunk of metal, find a pic on google, and make a gun. Shall not be infringed 😉

    2. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      The original 1994 ‘crime bill’ which included a 10 round magazine limit specified that the restricted magazines shouldn’t be able to be restored to full capacity. IIRC they were expected to put the equivalent of crumple zones that would ruin the mag body if you tried.

  9. avatar tdiinva says:

    I go with magazines are consumables. I use them until the break then buy new ones. I also have magazines for carry, which I shoot once or twice a year when I change out ammo, and magazines for practice. I do not toss bad magazines that can be fixed. You never know when they might become unavailable

  10. avatar bob says:

    Revolver

    That is all……

    1. avatar Everyday +1 Carrier says:

      17+ rounds. that is all.

      1. avatar bob says:

        Excessive use of force. Haha.

  11. avatar BASHer says:

    One thing that helps identify bad magazines is to serialize them. If you have a failure note your magazine number. If unlucky “4” keeps turning up you can remove it from the rotation for further scrutiny at home.

    On a separate note I had some new polymer magazines that were not running right a few years ago that responded real well to a dry teflon lubricant.

  12. avatar joefoam says:

    I always number my mags as well so if one continues to cause problems out it goes, or gets resprung.

  13. avatar Geoff "Guns. Lots of guns." PR says:

    Being in Hot-n-Humid Florida, I try and make sure my magazine springs have light coat of oil on them for corrosion protection…

  14. avatar Shwiggie says:

    For my competition mags I run a silicon-treated cloth them through the mag body and wipe everything else down with it. Does the job, and the mags don’t get drippy.

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