Consumer Information

Magazine Maintenance: Do’s and Don’ts

magazine maintenance

Every semi-automatic gun I can think of has a magazine, as do some bolt-action rifles. That means a lot of my guns are reduced to very inefficient single-shot weapons without a magazine.

On that thought, we should probably look into ways to extend the service life of these critical components.

Notice, I said service life. Magazines are consumables. They are not consumable in the manner that ammunition is, but they are sort of like drill bits. They wear over time and when they become faulty, they must be repaired, replaced or destroyed.

As such, there are things to do to repair or rebuild them. But, at some point, there really isn’t anything left to do but render them inert and properly dispose of them in favor of a new one.

Why Do Magazines Fail?

Magazines are typically some type of box housing a spring and a follower. The box provides structure for the storage of the ammunition, an anchor point for the spring and a method of securing ready ammo in the gun.

The spring provides the energy to lift the next roundup, ready for chambering. The follower sits on top of the spring and provides a stable platform to lift the round for chambering. Sure, that is a very basic description as there are other things, like the mag catch.

However, as a general rule, when that part fails, it is time for magazine destruction.

magazine maintenance
What a disassembled magazine looks like.

Magazine Maintenance Don’ts

So, what are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to magazine maintenance? Let’s start with the “don’t” list:

  • Don’t attempt to deep clean the magazines without disassembling—you won’t remove much dirt or grit and the cleaning tools might get stuck or damage the magazine.
  • Don’t just drop it in an ultrasonic cleaner—metal mags may come outstripped of paint; plastic mags and followers may not withstand the chemical bath (depending on chemicals).
  • Do not use Simply Green on aluminum mags or mags with non-steel metal components—corrosion, damage of the metal and destruction of the mag may occur.
  • Do not lube polymer mags—it only attracts dust and grime, as they are self-lubricating.

Magazine Maintenance Do’s

Now for the “do” list:

  • Wear eye protection—a spring or follower to the eye is no joke.
  • Confirm chemical compatibility with magazine components—standard gun cleaning products are normally safe.
  • Have plenty of clean paper towels or disposable fabric cloth—for cleaning and lubing duties.
  • Carefully disassemble the magazine–watch a video if you don’t know how.
  • Carefully clean and inspect all components—watch for dirt, carbon, rust, weak spots, wear issues and spring tension.
  • Replace all overly worn components–Magpul and others make repair/upgrade kits.
  • Be sure to remove cleaner—apply a light coat of oil to metal mags and apply non-evaporating/dry lube to spring components.
  • Reassemble magazines–generally, the reverse order of disassembly.
  • Function check by handloading and manually cycling a full load of ammo–it should find binding or feeding issues

Smile, your job is done and the magazine should last a lot longer based on a few minutes of work!

magazine maintenance
A little elbow grease can make your mag collection last longer.

What About Loaded Mags?

One question we’ve been getting about magazine maintenance is how long you can leave a magazine loaded and be sure it will still function properly. Unfortunately, that question doesn’t really have a definitive answer.

An off-brand, seven-round mag for a 1911, for example, will be quite different from a Magpul 30-round AR mag. The difference will be both in the load applied to the spring and the quality of the spring material.

Having said that, I have factory GLOCK 17 mags that have been loaded with 15 rounds for eight years that work fine. Their springs are compressed and those springs will eventually fail.

Similarly, I have Magpul 30-rounders (loaded to 28) that are coming up on six years, loaded. Same thing with them.

Downloading them slightly decreases the spring pressure, which adds to its loaded lifespan. Also, be sure to buy enough mags so that you can swap out ready mags very six to 12 months.

Then, when you disassemble and notice spring compression, either replace the springs or relegate those mags to practice/range use only.

When to Maintain Your Mags

With the exception of my carry gun, I do batch work. Carry mags have a two-year lifespan for me. After two years, they work into the range only or 3-Gun rotation (if applicable). I work on each magazine type at a different time of year.

The AR mags get broken up (as there are so many of them). The 3-Gun mags and range mags get done together before the season starts. The SHTF mags and all other AR mags get done in mid-summer.

All the hunting mags get done preseason and again postseason if they were used. By doing things in batches, it only takes a short period of time and I don’t mix up parts or job descriptions.

Your method can vary greatly from mine. The point is not that my method is the best, but that you need to develop a method and maintain your mags to extend their useful life and to make sure your fancy bangomatic doesn’t become a single shot when you really need it.

Do you have any magazine maintenance do’s or don’ts you’d add to these lists? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (13)

  1. I don’t know if I’m an expert, but I’ve had .45’s, AR15’s M-16’s, M-4’s, etc. in my hands, along with many other pistols, rifles, etc. for 50 years now. 10 years ago, I loaded a dozen AR-15 mags, M-9 mags, magpul and steel and aluminum etc. Last year I took all the loaded mags out to the range to break in some new guns. After 10 years, all the mags for pistols and rifles performed without any problems. No stoppages of any kind. I fired them slowly, rapidly, stop and go slow and rapid, and not a single problem with any of them. I reloaded and fired them again. And again, no problems at all. I can’t say enough good things about the magpuls, but one really good point for me has been their quietness. I remember feverishly stuffing a 20 rounder made by Mattel into my M-16 one day, and my loyal opposite heard it, and popped his head up, whereupon I popped him. I don’t recommend 10 years or any length of time you’re not comfortable with, but YMMV. I also kept said loaded mags in ammo boxes, and in a controlled climate environment. For all you Nervous Nellies out there worried about it, just keep a bunch loaded, and get your behind to the range a couple of times a year to use them. And to rest of you, just two words. Speed loaders.

  2. Thanks. Great info but I have the same questions as some of the others and would really like to get your input. How long can you leave a magazine loaded and be sure it will still function properly?

    Thanks again.

  3. And the most important question which many of us lowly civilians expected to get answered here was how long you can leave your mags (lets just say AR) loaded before the springs wear down to the nonfunctional threshold….and no such answer was provided here. Thanks for telling me to clean my magazine and wear eye protection though, i never thought of that.

  4. I have two pistols that stay loaded. One my house gun and the other my c-carry gun that stays loaded in my truck and goes to church in my pocket. My question is how long is too long to keep a mag loaded? I have heard all kinds of opinions on this but none from an expert. I sure wouldn’t want a situation where I really need the pistol to operate an get nothing but a click.
    Thanks

  5. Have had many discussions over the years regarding keeping ammo is a magazine for long periods of time. Some people keep a home defense weapon loaded and don’t think it necessary to cycle the ammo out and replace it in another mag. My position is that spring fatigue is possible or that the spring may take a “set” after long periods of time and lose it’s ability to function properly. This is all well and good if all you use it for is range duty but for home defense? Seems like a risk.

  6. My mags always get blown out and wiped down after each range session. Maybe a little no9 for stubborn powder residue. I don’t do mag drop drills. Here we have cinder dust, it will chew up moving parts. I clean thoroughly once or twice a year, depending on use.

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