Corroded lead bullets

This topic has been discussed a little in the past, but I would like to re-visit it. I came into several thousand older .22 RF cartridges (probably from the 1960s), all with some degree of whitish-gray corrosion on the bullets, and would like to clean them for shooting, given the current prices of .22 RF. I don’t really know exactly what the white substance is, but am assuming that it is some form of lead oxide (there are several different lead oxides), although it could be some other lead compound. I did read some information suggesting that lead oxide dissolves in a solution of sodium hydroxide (lye), and I did try that, i.e., dumping them into the lye solution for an hour or so. It does seem to remove most of the corrosion, although not all, at least the bullets still seem to have a slight whitish cast after their bath. I have not yet tried vinegar or citric acid solution. After the lye bath and rinsing, I polished the bullets a little with 0000 steel wool and then waxed them with Johnson’s paste wax for lubrication. Those seem to shoot OK. Any other suggestions as to what might work better for either cleaning or lubrication before I jump into cleaning all of them? I also wonder if the corrosion on the bullets has any effect on bore wear. Does anyone know?

Hello Dennis,

I do not shoot old ammunition, just collect it. So I can not say anything towards the shooting aspect of the cartridge.
Regarding the white lead oxide, I did a little “self test” today, with a spare rimfire cartridge (with two miss-fire marks)…

I sprayed G96 Complete Gun Treatment on the lead, let it soak for 30 seconds, and lightly scrubbed with a clean toothbrush (I won’t be using the toothbrush again). The result did what I thought it would do, as G96 “cleans and protects”. White oxide gone.

I obtained both of these cartridges at the same time, and we’re in roughly the same condition with the same amount of oxide on the lead. The cartridge on the left is “untreated”, while the cartridge on the right is “treated” with G96.

To my untrained eye, the G96 treated cartridge would be “ok to fire” and is free of oxide.I personally leave all my cartridges with the white oxide on, as it makes them look “old”, which is what I like.

Here is the G96 website:


Dennis: I assume you’re certain the white substance is metal corrosion and not merely oxidized bullet lube? I ask because I had two groups of old Eley 22 match cartridges a while back in which one batch looked pretty much as it had left the factory, while the rest had bullets in which the lube had turned an opaque offwhite and was a little crumbly. Both types still shot quite well, but the ones with the oxidized lube weren’t pretty. As far as bullets with even traces of metal oxide are concerned, I wouldn’t shoot them in anything I thought a great deal of. Jack

For the past two years, I have been testing the accuracy of post-WW2 Shorts, especially match ammunition, at 25 yards, fired from a nearly new Stevens-Pope “Pope Special” rifle sitting on a machine rest. Results to date indicate that cartridges over 40 years old (+/-) tend to show erratic performance which appears to be a function of aged or deteriorating bullet lubricant. One of my advisers is a chap who makes and markets a high grade lubricant for lead bullets. His advice is to wipe the bullets with a shop rag soaked in alcohol (or acetone) to remove the existing oxidized lubricant and then re-lubricate with (his) new lubricant, either worked into another shop rag or just with the lubricant on my fingers.

I have done this with 100 Eley Rapid Fire Match (12 dot lime green box, nickle plated cases) dating from about 1972 (Lot MA-56) and 50 Remington Intermediate Velocity Shorts (ordinary green box, dating from 1946-47, identified by SKU on the box). Now I am waiting for a break in the weather to test the treatment.

Shooting oxidized bullets cannot be good for the bore, the oxide being much harder than either the lubricant or the lead. OTOH, soaking a batch in NaOH seems to be a bit of overkill. I would not shoot bullets given that treatment in the S-P. The Johnson’s Paste Wax is just furniture wax, intended to make your furniture shine. It is not intended to hold up at 1100 fps while being pushed down a rifle barrel. Most serious rimfire target shooters will tell you that it takes one shot per inch of barrel to get the bullet lubricant evenly distributed around the inside of the rifle barrel. If you have a 30 inch barrel, it will take 30 shots before you can rely on center hits time after time, even with the highest priced ammunition. I don’t think making bullet lubricant is big business, but it is quite serious business.

There are dozens of commercial bullet lubricants intended for use with cast or swaged lead alloy bullets. Some are liquids, some are solids, some you rub on, some require melting in a double boiler or heating in a special applicator. Some are powders and require tumbling. All will work. I would opt for the rub-on stuff sold as SPG. The liquid stuff sold as Alox is also easy to use. This is a relatively simple process. You need clean, soft shop rags, a couple of baking or bread pans (not to be used for food after this), and a few plastic 100-round cartridges boxes of the sort CCI uses for their 22 rimfires. and whatever you choose as a bullet lubricant. The whole process ought not to cost more than $20.

For those of you interested in cartridge boxes, I have saved most of them. I have worked my way through CCI Target Shorts and HV Shorts, Fiocchi Normale and SM-200, Eley lime green 12 dot and black shooter boxes, the early post-war Remington Kleanbore stuff, & Lapua Rapid Fire. Still to go are some Federals, Peters HVHP, and the Polish military stuff.

“I have done this with 100 Eley Rapid Fire Match (12 dot lime green box, nickle plated cases) dating from about 1972 (Lot MA-56) and 50 Remington Intermediate Velocity Shorts (ordinary green box, dating from 1946-47, identified by SKU on the box). Now I am waiting for a break in the weather to test the treatment.”

Interesting, in that what I have is mostly Green (dark) Box Eley 12-dot .22 Short Pistol Match. with unplated cases, Lot MU-60. About all I can say about their age for certain is that the boxes have the child warning. I had not considered that the gray-white coloration could be deteriorated bullet lubricant rather than corroded lead. I tried a soak in citric acid solution. Afterward, the bullet appearance seems about the same as after the NaOH soak - a lot better but some whitishness remains. However a quick rub with 0000 steel wool removes what coloration was left. Perhaps tomorrow I will try some solvents to see if that works any better than Citric Acid or NaOH soaks.

I didn’t wait until tomorrow. I simply wet a paper towel with mineral spirits (paint thinner) and wiped the bullets. It took them down to shiny lead, so the whitishness is evidently deteriorated bullet lubricant, not oxidized lead. Now all I need to do is to come up with some simple to apply lubricant. By the way, what do the ammunition manufacturers use as lubricant for .22 lead bullets?

Trade secrets, at least with those firms producing high cost target ammunition. I am told that with Eley, there is a difference between the high end (beeswax-based?) and the lower end stuff with paraffin-based lube. I can tell you that the Eley lubricant is entirely compatible with whatever was used on Fiocchi Normale. The white color might be a paraffin-based lube that is past its use-by date.

By your posts, you are in Texas. There must be a shop somewhere that carries supplies for handloaders. Bullet lubes are often sold in those places. One tube of something like SPG is all you need. I lubed mine with a $5 tube of SPG. After lubricating 150 bullets, I still have 95+ % of the tube. You can try mail-order, but the S&H will exceed the purchase price. Just load up a spot on a shop rag with the stuff. A really thin film is all you need.

There are about 200 “Traditional” bullet lubricant recipes. Many of them are posted in a sticky on the Reloading section of the American Single Shot Rifle Association (ASSRA) Forum. Commercial lubricants are discussed in detail in “Principles and Practices of Loading Ammunition” by Earl Narramore, 1954. Home-brewed lubricants are discussed in “The Modern Schuetzen Rifle” by Wayne Schwartz & Charles Dell. A classic work is “The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle” by Ned Roberts.

Did a little research on bullet lubes, and it seems that just about everything under the sun has been used as a bullet lubricant or as an ingredient in one. As it turns out, my original use of Johnson’s paste wax was not such a bad idea. Seems than many of the cast bullet crowd use it alone as a bullet lubricant for cast bullets at lower velocities, usually by tumbling. It’s also used as an ingredient along with various other materials (such as beeswax, Alox, STP, etc.) as a bullet lube. And even more strangely, it works well as a bore cleaner. An application of JPW on guns will prevent rust and keep the wood shiny. Truly miraculous stuff.