In a previous post, I reviewed the ultrasonic cleaner I now use to clean my firearms. But a good ultrasonic cleaner is only part of the process. What you put in the tank (apart from the guns, of course) is just as important — and maybe even more so.
But before deciding on exactly which cleaning solution to use long term in my ultrasonic cleaner, I had to do some research. Not surprisingly, there are lots of options available, and many of them seem to be working for lots of gun owners. Of course, the biggest requirement for any ultrasonic cleaning solution is that the parts come out cleaner than when they went in. 🙂 But beyond that, following are the requirements I set for my ultrasonic cleaning solution of choice:
Requirement #1: Must Not Contain Water
Eliminating aqueous (water-based) solutions from my list of possibilities severely limited my options, as the majority of ultrasonic cleaning solutions contain at least some water, or are indicated to be diluted with water. Of course, there are plenty of gun owners who successfully use use aqueous ultrasonic cleaning solutions for firearms with good results, but they always have to ensure that all residual fluid is removed from the gun, otherwise rust can set in fast. And rust is Kryptonite to firearms. Anyone using aqueous ultrasonic solutions have to dry all gun parts with something more powerful than a simple can of compressed air (such as an air compressor) before proceeding to lubrication. That’s a step I didn’t want to have to worry about in my ideal process, so a solution free of water was my first requirement.
Requirement #2: Must Remove Grease
Removal of grease was also a top priority for my cleaning solution of choice. Not just because grease-cutting solutions also tend to be decent overall cleaners, but because part of my plan was to remove all petroleum-based lubricants from my gun as part of a switch over to a plant-based lubricant (I’ll have a review of that in the future).
Requirement #3: Must Evaporate Quickly and Completely
As I mentioned in the first requirement, I didn’t want to have to dry out my gun parts before lubricating them. So in order to accomplish that, I wanted a solution that evaporated completely, leaving the metal dry and “thirsty” for lubrication, and without me having to wait around all day for that to happen.
Requirement #4: Must Have a Relatively High Flash Point
Because I’d be using the cleaning solution in an ultrasonic cleaner with a built-in heater, I wanted to be able to heat the cleaning solution without fear of a spark or some other ignition source setting it off. Additionally, ultrasonic waves warm liquid even without a heater, so my solution needed to be safe enough to allow heating to around 40C (just over 100F).
Requirement #5: Must be Tough Enough to Clean Metal, but Gentle Enough not to Eat Plastic
I own Glocks. Enough said.
Requirement #6: Must be a Good Value
This was my final requirement, but an important one. Chemicals can get spendy, and I wanted to make sure that whatever I chose wasn’t so exotic that it got crazy expensive. I also like to extend the value of gun cleaning solutions by being able to run them through a funnel with a coffee filter and re-use them.
On the budget side, there is a popular home-brew cleaner known colloquially in the dark corners of firearms websites as “Ed’s Red” (named after Ed Harris, an employee at Ruger). It’s a crowd favorite… among a certain crowd. Although, I’d think twice about including the acetone from the recipe when considering using it as an ultrasonic solution. Fast evaporating solvents like acetone will “boil out” quickly during use (even faster when heated) reducing the overall effectiveness of the cleaning solution, as well as modifying the “recipe” of the mixed solution. I’d prefer something where the formulation doesn’t change from evaporation, so its effectiveness as a firearms cleaner also doesn’t change. Plus, while I enjoy budget and home brew gun cleaning products, I just didn’t feel like gathering and mixing all that stuff this time. I’m sure I’ll mix up a batch of it eventually, even if it’s only in the name of science. But for now, I wanted something I could just open and pour. And the something I discovered was UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™.
I actually stumbled across UniqueTek’s website while doing research on a totally different product, but was so intrigued by the description of their proprietary cleaning solution that I picked up the phone and gave them a call to learn more about it. I was immediately transferred to Lee Love, founder of UniqueTek.
Lee is a former micro-electronics industry geek, which means I knew right away that I liked him. In his previous career, he’d worked for a very large international chemical company, and upon leaving that company he and his wife decided to open a business that aligned with their other passion: shooting and reloading. During Lee’s work in the micro-electronics industry, he’d used a commercial grade iso-paraffin solvent designed to clean semiconductors — and he also took some home to use it as a solvent on his own guns, with excellent results. So when Lee and his wife founded UniqueTek, Lee decided to offer that same formulation to the shooting community under the UniqueTek brand.
So, after an enjoyable, friendly, informative, and relatively in-depth discussion about UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™, and believing Lee’s assurances that while it works great as a standard gun cleaning solution, it would work even better in an ultrasonic cleaner, I ordered a gallon from UniqueTek’s website for just under $50.
They also sell smaller 4oz – 8oz bottles for between $7 – $10.
When my bottle arrived, I quickly set up my ultrasonic cleaner by pouring just under three gallons of distilled water in the primary (bottom) tank, and then poured the entire gallon of UniqueTek cleaner in the auxiliary (top) pan:
I set the heater to just under 40°C/104°F (the UniqueTek solution has a flash point of approximately 38°C/100°F) and ran a degas cycle on the solvent. Straight out of the bottle, the solution has a faint but noticeable smell. The smell grows stronger when heated and/or agitated by ultrasonic waves, but it’s still far from overpowering. I was able to peek down into the tank while the solution was degassing without any eye sting, but I still held my breath to avoid breathing in any fumes.
In a sudden fit of caution, I decided I didn’t want to just drop any of my “babies” into some mystery liquid. So before cleaning any of my guns, I decided to ultrasonically clean a couple of less expensive items that would still give me a good indication of whether or not this stuff would hurt my guns. So I tossed my Peerless Handcuffs (a gift from an FBI agent buddy of mine) and my first-generation original Leatherman Tool in the ultrasonic basket and lowered them like Han Solo into Carbonite. I watched with anticipation, wondering if maybe my metal objects would explode… or melt… or disintegrate…
Now, to be honest, my handcuffs really weren’t that dirty. It’s not like I’m out there making citizen’s arrests every day. But my Leatherman? It had never been cleaned since I bought it as a Boy Scout… almost 30 years ago. Gunk streamed out of the Leatherman’s hinge points, and after taking it out of the ultrasonic bath, I noticed that the blades and tools opened and closed with half the normal force required. I silently kicked myself for not cleaning it sooner. Both metal items escaped the liquid unscathed, clean, and begging to be lubed.
My confidence bolstered, I disassembled and dropped in my Ruger Mark I pistol, followed by the carrier and bolt from my Remington 870, then my Desert Eagle .50, and finally my Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum. I was having a blast watching gunk stream out of guns I previously thought were clean.
In a few cases, where I had serious grime on some gun parts, it was necessary for me to remove the part from the basket after a 10-15 minute cleaning, brush it with a nylon brush from my Otis kit, and then drop it back in the tank for another round. But even with guns I would have called “clean” before putting them in the tank, the combination of my ultrasonic cleaner and the UniqueTek solution proved that there’s clean… and then there’s CLEAN.
After cleaning, I merely had to shake the liquid off a gun part (back into the pan) and set it aside for a couple of minutes to dry. The solvent left all metal completely devoid of grease and ready for immediate lubrication. It’s really nice to find products that do exactly what they say they’re going to do.
After my first tests, I poured the solution through a funnel and coffee filter back into the original bottle:
The above photo is actually the morning after I’d poured it back in, showing that I may need to use a finer coffee filter. Some of the grime made it back into the bottle, and you can see the heavier concentration near the bottom. Also note that I really didn’t lose that much solution to evaporation or transfer. That will hopefully help make this bottle last longer. Oh, and please ignore the Carb+Choke cleaner in the above photo. I do NOT use that on my firearms. That was left over from earlier in the day when I was attempting to rebuild the carburetor on my John Deere lawn tractor. I do, however, use brake cleaner spray on certain parts of some firearms from time to time. But that’s a different blog post.
Anyway, intrigued by why this stuff worked so well, I followed up with an email to Lee. Here’s his response, explaining more about the product:
The UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ is a pure single-solvent product. Well, depending on how you look at it, the product does contain a narrow range of Isoalkanes. From time to time we have thought about adding surfactants but decided against “messing with a good product!”
I don’t know what your chemistry background is so I hope this doesn’t get confusing … but one of the key points is that it contains no aromatic solvents (e.g. Xylene, Benzene, Toluene, etc.) or terpenes (e.g. Limonene, Camphor, etc.) that tend to aggressively attack plastics and swell rubbers. The absence of aromatic solvents also makes it safer to use from a toxicological standpoint as well as accounting for the low odor.
As for best practices, there isn’t really anything different about using it than any other firearms cleaner, especially when it comes to traditional cleaning techniques. It is slightly slower than some other cleaners … Largely due to the absence of aromatic solvents … But, IMHO, the safety and low odor more than make up for the difference.
A major point is that it is a pure cleaning solvent, NOT a CLP. It contains no oils or other additives that could interfere with application of lubricants. All lubricants will perform better if they have intimate contact with a bare metal surface. I personally feel that cleaning and lubrication should be done separately. And I typically do not use a single lubricant on all parts of my firearms. UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ leaves the metal surfaces clean, dry, and ready to accept whatever lubricant YOU choose to apply.
When it comes to ultrasonic cleaning, again, there is no real difference in technique. Well, except for there is no need to rinse after cleaning. Being a pure solvent, UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ evaporates completely leaving nothing behind. So I just let them drip off a few moments, wipe them down with a microfiber cloth and lay the parts on a clean towel for a few minutes to finish drying. Then, immediately lubricate.
I have attached a copy of our ultrasonic cleaner “Tips” file, which describes ultrasonic cleaning in detail.
There are several BIG advantages when using UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ in an ultrasonic cleaner:
1) It contains no water. (I don’t think water and steel mix well.)
2) It is neutral pH and non-corrosive.
3) No rinsing in water is required.
4) It evaporates 100% from the parts.
5) It has a very long bath life.
6) It can be filtered (just use coffee filters) and reused.
If you have any additional questions, just let me know. If you want to have an in-depth conversation about it, that is fine too. Just call any time.
Awesome. That’s exactly the kind of geeky talk that I like to hear. I replied with some additional questions about the product, including temperature recommendations and whether they’d considered any alternate formulations of their product with higher flashpoints (which would allow ultrasonic heaters to safely warm the solution above 40°C/100°F) and a question about how many times I could run it through a coffee filter and re-use it. Lee responded with:
Higher boiling point versions of this type of solvent are not as effective at cleaning firing residues … In particular carbon … And are slower. They are also not as good at dissolving gummy type residues like old congealed oil. Next time someone tracks tar or bubble gum into your carpet, try using our firearms cleaner to remove it. You will be amazed at how well it works for that!!!
I don’t really know just how long you can keep using it. Kind of depends on how much grunge it has to absorb and how often you filter it. I’ve heard from one customer who just keeps replenishing the tank and has never dumped the original stuff. Don’t know if he is still doing that of if he finally started fresh.
I don’t really have a temperature recommendation. Keep in mind that you would normally use UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ at room temperature … so it doesn’t require heating to be an effective cleaner. The aqueous cleaning solutions REQUIRE heating to be effective cleaners. I’ve tried one aqueous cleaner that doesn’t clean worth crap until it gets ABOVE 150°F (although its recommended cleaning temperature is 140-150°F).
When using UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™, I frequently just place the parts in cold and it will warm up during use. If it is a cold day (granted not many of them here in Arizona) I just degas the cleaning solution for 5 minutes before use and that warms it up a bit. Normally degassing is required only the first time you use a batch of cleaning solution. But, since I filter it and pour it back into a bottle between uses (simply to prevent evaporation losses since I don’t use it every day), all the turbulence from pouring it back and forth forces some atmospheric gases back into solution. So, especially if I’ve just poured it in the tank, I’ll run a degas cycle and let that warm the solution. But there is no reason that you can’t run a degas cycle every time … with UniqueTek Premium Firearms Cleaner™ or even with aqueous solutions.
Again, more good info straight from the source. It’s nice when you can get straight answers from smart people about their products.
Bottom line? Well, I think the results speak for themselves:
After testing out UniqueTek’s Premium Firearms Cleaner™, there’s really only one thing I’d do differently: order two additional gallons so I can have more of it in my ultrasonic cleaner. Which is precisely what I plan to do after I finish this post!
I welcome your feedback and comments below.
- Ultrasonic Cleaning of Firearms (PDF document authored by Lee Love of UniqueTek)
- UniqueTek’s Website
- My review of my ultrasonic cleaner