how to clean your magazine
Matt Sandy for TTAG
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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. 


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  1. Last year, amidst the ammo scarcity, I saw some boxes of Winchester target ammo on the shelf in a Bass Pro. 150-rd boxes that looked like the usual “white box” stuff, except the packaging was plain kraft. I thought it was simply a measure taken by Winchester to save a little bit on the product cost, and assumed it was the usual product, so I bought a few boxes because the price was about 25% less than other ammo in the store at the time.

    When I went to the range and opened up the first box, I was disappointed to find it was steel case. Normally it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but the cartridges were treated with some sort of material that “gummed” the surface. Think of how a surfer rubs wax on his board to increase friction for his feet to hold onto it. Well, I quickly learned that the ammo works fine in single stack mags, but not double because the cartridges don’t “slip” against each other like clean brass does within the mag. I got around this by literally cleaning each and every individual cartridge with a rag and WD-40 while watching TV. I’m guessing that coating was applied with the intention of preventing any surface rust during transport and storage, but I learned my lesson and will never buy that crap again. Bad on you, Winchester.

    The point is…I had to clean my mags as well because that coating gummed them up very quickly. Sometimes dirty ammo (or crappy Winchester steel case with too much crappy coating applied at the factory) will muck them up.

    • Replacement car parts are often coated with something called “mil-scale” as a corrosion preventative. It needs to be cleaned off before installation because it is very much not a lubricant and gums up under heat and friction. I expect something similar was used on those cartridges, as a cheaper alternative to lacquer or polymer coating.

      • Agreed, but I also imagine any manufacturer would test their products using common items before approving for sale to the market. A Glock double-stack mag is pretty much the most common mag, and that ammo was coated with too thick an application to properly work in any of mine I tried with it. Cleaning machine parts before use or installation is anticipated; having to clean ammo is not. Somebody at Winchester (or Olin, or whoever’s in charge of that nowadays) messed up.

    • Used the same stuff, clp or the lube if you separate the products out will take the gummy stuff off and let it cycle mostly normally. Dirty as can be with the case not sealing the same way brass though.

    • “…I quickly learned that the ammo works fine in single stack mags, but not double because the cartridges don’t “slip” against each other like clean brass does within the mag.”

      I also bought some of that stuff, right as the ammo drought started.

      The steel cased were parkerized, a phosphate finish that has a ‘gritty’ feel to it.

      You really don’t want to oil ammunition, as it will eventually migrate to the primer compound and eventually ruin it, but doing it on ammo you’re about to use at the range is fine.

      Plus, you won’t be reloading that stuff anyways.

      Thanks for the reminder, I need to burn up the last few hundred rounds of that steel I have, and my new CZ RAMI is just the ticket… 🙂

    • I’ve shot a lot of the Winchester Forged ammo from my Gen5 Glock 19. I mainly use it at ranges that don’t let me collect my brass. The price is decent for post-Covid factory ammo. I rarely use full mags while training. Maybe that helps, but I haven’t had issues when I have had full mags. I’ve had no problems with the factory barrel, but I have had some failures to go into battery with a Griffin barrel. There is black left on my hands after loading mags. I’ll happily use the couple cases I have, but I’m not sure that I’ll rush out to buy more.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of newer shooters showing up at the range with a freshly bought pistol and only ONE mag, probably came that way. I’d suggest everyone should have at least three mags for each gun, numbered to help identify problems, and short load them and practice mag changes…. often.

    • I agree. I tell anyone who asks for advice that magazines can/will go bad. Number each one so you can identify it after a range trip. It does not work to say “I’ll just put it in this pocket so I know later.”

    • Have to tell on myself with that post Pb. I went to my first steel plate challenge with my Glock 23 and 2 15-rnd mags. I had no idea what I would need. Fortunately I brought enough ammo. The people there were great! They were loading my spent mags while I was shooting. Had a great time and met some great people. Came home and immediately bought 3 more mags. Now I have so many I’ve had to start numbering them to keep track so I can rotate them out.

      • That’s how I do it too. Use my electric engraving pen on the base plate. Some I know do it with a Sharpie, but even permanent ink will wear off. Since the bulk of the baseplates are polymer on my small collection of guns, turning it down to a lower setting is sufficient to make an easy to see number.

      • Well been doing this for about 10 years now and doesn’t seem to be affecting me or Mrs Comply, although the youngest does seem to have a craving for paint chips.

      • Last place I worked (before retirement) had a dishwasher in the break room. People in the electronics lab used to bring printed circuit boards in there to be washed before repair. When I found out about that, I pointed out to the plant manager that they were contaminating the dishes with lead from the solder on the boards. His response was, “Gee, I never thought of that.” He did fix the problem though by moving that dishwasher out in the shop and replacing it with a new one in the break room.

  3. Something left out of the article is put the spring back in the correct way. Installing it backwards can cause feeding issues. Over time I’ve finally quit worrying about cleaning my guns or mags after every range session. If it’s a 22 or an older blued gun it gets more attention than any of the modern ones in the collection. Cheap aluminum cleaning rods are absolutely the worst thing you can do to a firearm.

  4. Good article and long overdue. Most malfunctions in semi-auto firearms are magazine induced. I would add that you make sure your spare magazines are the best you can find. Buy factory original or quality after market magazines. I must have at least fifty Wilson 1911 magazines. My P7M8 mags set me back $100 ea. The list goes on. Worth every penny.

  5. I disassemble, knock out the loose debris, and run a CLP-dampened paper/shop towel through a few times. Then I drag a Tricare chamois for a last scrub and to remove excess CLP, leaving a very light layer behind. Then I reassemble after wiping the spring, follower, and base plate with the same towel/cloth combo. I’m done in a minute or two, as I don’t let my mags get corroded before attending to them. I generally do it after every competitive shoot for the mags used there and just as needed for my other stuff.

    • I was surprised he seemed to gloss over the very light film of rust preventative on them.

      • Geoff:
        Personally, I think keeping magazines absolutely dry is a better idea. Anything oily is liable to trap dirt.

        • I forgot to add that the plastic followers they put in most magazines these days are naturally slippery and don’t really need any lubrication. Also, some magazines are made of stainless steel, which greatly reduces the risk of any rust.

        • A teflon based dry lube is useful in some cases. A couple years back I bought a couple new Tapco plastic 20 round magazines for an SKS. These were reputed to be the best available. When I went to the range I kept having failures when the mags were nearly full. I could not figure out what my issue was since it was not just one particular mag.

          I asked a kindly Vietnam Vet if he could help me troubleshoot and after using his thumb to push a few rounds out of a mag and seeing some binding he suggested lube. Having used dry lube for boat stuff I had some at home and it resolved the issue.

        • Actually S&W had some problems with their SD9 magazines.
          There are quite a few videos on YouTube to bend the feed lips.
          The followers get stuck at the top and the slide will not lock back on the last shot. The answer is simple and something my dad taught me.
          Dry graphite powder. Take mag apart, clean with the solvent of your choice,
          PUT ON GLOVES and rub graphite powder in sides of followers.
          Also sure to do the front and back and then put magazine back together making sure spring is properly orientated.
          You don’t want any type of liquid oil or grease in your magazines.
          The same with sears, powdered graphite is slick and does not attract dirt.
          Gadsen is also correct but I only have about 20 WC 1911 mags
          WC does have rebuild kits and they get the same treatment.
          I rebuild them about every 5 years, the kits come with the spring and follower. $8 for the kit and the mags function like brand new.
          The WC 1911 mags will run well in $500 to $5000 1911s.
          If your 1911 has a problem then it’s something wrong with the gun.

  6. Those that keep the gun in the closet and never go to the range might not ever need to clean their magazines or replace their springs.

  7. “Replacing your magazine spring once a year is a pretty common recommendation”

    I’ve literally never heard this. Sure they’re consumable items, but how much do you have to shoot for this to be anywhere near reasonable?

    This line makes me think the article is for competition shooters or something.

  8. We used to take apart our mags in USPSA after every stage run. Push a brush and patch thru them and spray with NAPA spray silicon. Slicker than snot after a while. I never replaced mag springs. Replaced recoil spring once a year.

  9. A properly designed and built spring will never “wear out” from its intended use, as long as it is constrained within its elastic limits and built of non-corrosive materials. Never. Obviously, corrosion will eventually degrade it, but repeated proper use will not.

    Sure, check the feed ramps, and remove debris, but please stop with the springs.

  10. Good article, Matt.

    The Glock mag base plate is user-hostile. Sometimes, the damage caused by taking the mag apart exceeds the damage caused by not cleaning. My mags get blasted with compressed air whenever one gets dropped in the dirt – about 4x per year due to CO-POST qualifications.

    Plastic is an oil polymer, and therefore self-lubricating. Oil can help, but attracts lint. Graphite can help, but it’s a band-aid. Find the burr and smooth it. There are abrasives from 1200-12000 grit. The resulting polished surface is smooth enough to see your reflection.

    Or, do what the rest of us do – get a new mag and consign the damaged one to the “range” heap. Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your EDC will work if needed.

  11. Couple of my lesser brain celled distant family members only keep a couple rounds in a magazine for their “carry” pieces (the kind they’d never get to without rummaging through every single thing they own and never on body). I was over at their place and shooting with them when I found this out and I tried to mention how bad of an idea it was, but I could tell they were so set on “not ruining the spring in the magazine” that I just gave up after a while. The last thing I said about it was “this one is over 10 years old and has never had anything less than a full mag in it” then ran it no issues.

    But as for cleaning goes – rare.


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