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.
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.
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.
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.
Run it in and out a few times until the paper or patch comes out clean.
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.
Look them over closely…bent feed lips are a frequent cause of semi-automatic firearm malfunctions.
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.
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.
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.
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.