I currently own two stainless steel revolvers: a Smith & Wesson Model 629-6 Performance Center (.44 Magnum) and a Freedom Arms Model 83 Premier Grade (.454 Casull). They are both fantastic guns that I cherish, but they’re not museum pieces. I use my guns, so they get dirty. But I never realized just how dirty the cylinder faces on these stainless steel revolvers were… until I started watching some gunsmithing videos on YouTube. Wow. There are some clean stainless guns out there, and they gorgeous. And then suddenly… I had cylinder envy. 🙁
So off to Google I went to learn the secret of the spotless stainless steel cylinder. The first YouTube video I watched showed one method that used a combination of a small piece of Scotch-Brite pad, some Hoppes #9 solvent, and a whole lot of elbow grease. And I suppose that’s certainly one way to go. I found another video that showed M-Pro7 founder Marten Niner using (surprise!) M-Pro7 cleaner and a Scotch-Brite pad. No offense to Marten, but I have to admit that the gun in the first video looked cleaner to me when finished. And it’s also in that first video that I heard mention of a Lead Away cloth.
So I decided to purchase my own Kleenbore Lead Away Gun Cleaning Cloth from Amazon.com for the apocalyptic price of $6.66. It arrived 2 days later.
KleenBore is actually owned by Safariland, world-renowned maker of holsters and other gun accessories. So I had at least a bit of confidence about what I was about to expose to my guns. When I opened the package, it smelled like chemicals. Exactly which chemicals aren’t disclosed on the package, but it kinda reminded me of kerosene. My own research leads me to believe that the cloth is soaked either in ammonium oleate (which is the active ingredient in commercial liquid lead remover products) with ethanol, or possibly just some fine grit aluminum oxide powder mixed with kerosene, fuel oil, or some other petroleum distillates. In fact, you could probably make your own lead removal cloth by soaking an old kitchen town or shop rag in those ingredients, but for under $7, it may not be worth the trouble.
The smell of the chemicals smell isn’t overpowering, but I recommend using it in a well-ventilated area (which is always a good idea when using any gun care chemicals).
To make the review fair, I cleaned both guns before using the Lead Away cloth, just so the results didn’t make it look like this product was just doing what other products could. I wiped both cylinders down with unscented baby wipes, put them in my Crest Ultrasonic cleaner for 20 mins, and then wiped them down with a microfiber cloth.
And, as an FYI, I decided to include hi-resolution photos in this review, so you can click on the images to really get a close-up look at the results.
First, I tried the cylinder from my .454 Casull:
You can see from the photo that I gently (and I mean gently) wiped the Lead Away cloth across the cylinder (between the 11 and 1 o’clock positions) before taking this photo, and already it had started to remove the triangle-shaped deposits. After 30 minutes of wiping, the cylinder looked way better, but not perfect:
Notice that the chemicals in the cloth turn the lead deposits into a dark gunk, which you can then wipe away with a regular cloth (or baby wipes, as I use). Scrubbing harder, or even faster, didn’t really seem to make much difference on those stubborn rings. So I grabbed the brass scraper from my Otis Cleaning Kit and folded the Lead Away cloth over the end, and then used it to keep consistent pressure (not hard pressure, just even) on the cylinder face as I worked on the rings. After another 30 minutes of work, here’s what it looked like:
Not too shabby. The cylinder looked great, but the Lead Away cloth had clearly seen better days:
Note: the brown shown near the center of the cylinder face in the above photo is a reflection of the brown cabinets above my workbench, not residual crud.
After lubing and re-assembling this revolver, the results are outstanding:
I can still make out a faint ring around each chamber, but I’ve owned this gun for over 12 years and never bothered to try cleaning the cylinder face before. I imaging subsequent cleanings might improve it further, but it’s already day-and-night compared to when I started.
But the Casull wasn’t even my dirtiest cylinder. Behold the “before shot” of my Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum’s cylinder face:
Yikes. Sure, the .44 Magnum was made famous by “Dirty” Harry, but that cylinder face goes way beyond dirty. I actually had to look closely to make sure the black stuff wasn’t painted on – it was so evenly spread everywhere. If you noticed from that photo that much of the action is missing, it’s because I was so shamed by that filthy cylinder face that I decided to do a full detail strip and cleaning.
You can see in the “before” photo where I did a single wipe of the Lead Away cloth at the the 3 o’clock position. That early result was encouraging, so I decided to skip right to using my Otis brass scraper as kind of a “mop handle” with the cloth, and I pushed it across the cylinder face for about 30 minutes. To use an appropriately fitting Dirty Harry reference, I was “blown away” by the result:
Again, I can still make out the faintest hint of residual rings, but it’s a dramatic improvement. Here she is, all put back together again:
In addition to using full-sized, you can also cut off squares of the cloth and use them as patches for cleaning inside the bore and cylinder (which I did). I also used some smaller pieces to remove some baked-on lead deposits inside the top part of the frame, especially near the forcing cone.
After using it on two (admittedly filthy) cylinder faces, the Lead Away cloth sadly had no more usable sections that weren’t covered in black gunk. For less intensive cleaning, I imagine you could get more than just two uses out of it — provided you put it inside a zip-lock baggie so it doesn’t dry out. But even with limited uses, for just under $7 retail, there’s no doubt in my mind that this odoriferous little cloth is worth the money.
Warnings: lead removal cloths should never be used on blued guns, since they could remove the bluing. I only plan to use the cloth on my stainless guns. And although I didn’t feel a need to wear gloves while using the Lead Away cloth, I did wash my hands thoroughly after using it. And of course, never ever clean a loaded gun, and always treat every gun as if it was loaded.
Bottom line: if you own a stainless revolver, you’re wasting your time and energy cleaning your cylinder faces with anything else.
I welcome your comments and feedback below!