Cleaning old lead bullets

I have three old lead bullets found by a friend with a metal detector at the site of an old military firing range. They are quite clearly old .577 Enfield bullets.Not rare or valuable but interesting all the same.

Over in the US there are a lot of these sort of bullets dug up at old Civil War sites so I thought there would be more experience in cleaning them.

As they came up from the ground they were just white lumps of lead oxide. I have scrubbed them with an old toothbrush and removed the loose corrosion but closer to the metal the oxide forms a hard crust.

I was going to put them in vinegar but thought I would check on here first.

Hi Vince
1st they are your bullets, however perhaps the advice we hear in our TV version of your Antiques Roadshow about not cleaning & removing the patina might be worthwhile?
As to vinegar ? I don’t know


In my old metal detecting days I found a lot of those encrusted bullets. It is possible to remove the crust with things like acid, but I have found that it’s like removing heavy rust. Underneath you’ll find pitting. Whether this looks better than the white crust is a matter of personal preference. Try one and decide.


Pete No they are not my bullets but the guy who found them is not particularly interested in them and doesn’t think he can sell them so he will end up giving them to the Harrow Heritage Museum who will put them in a box and forget about them.
I am very much aware of the principle of leaving well alone when it comes to old things but there is a difference between patina and encrustation.

I got impatient on Friday evening, one of the bullets was marked anyway from when it was dug up so I put it in some vinegar. After about half an hour the bullet was covered in tiny little bubbles which rose to the surface bringing a film of white oxide with it.
By Sat morning large areas of lead could be seen and what remained appeared to be softer.

Its now 2.25pm Saturday and the bullet is clean dull grey lead. The lead is pitted but not as bad as I feared it might be. I can see rifling marks on the bottom eighth of an inch of the skirt of the bullet. The bullet nose has impact damage and is quite badly distorted. It looks like it has been hit from behind by another bullet as well. Not exactly what you would describe as mint condition.

In the bottom of the coffee jar that I used there is a white sediment evenly distributed over the bottom.

Looks like vinegar works OK

Interesting !