My Thirty Years With Ed's Red

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Ed Harris posted this 19 February 2021

My Thirty Years With ''Ed's Red'' Bore Cleaner... Home-Mix Still Works

By C.E. ''Ed'' Harris - Updated 2/20/2021.

Thirty years ago I mixed my first "Ed's Red" or "ER" bore cleaner. It has passed the test of time. Thousands of satisfied users think this home-mixed cleaner is every bit as effective as more expensive commercial products.

The design intent of “ER” was to provide cleaning action similar to Vietnam-era military rifle bore cleaner, Mil-C-372B.  When the optional acetone is included ER is more effective than Hoppe's for removing plastic fouling in shotgun bores, or heavily-caked carbon fouling in semi-automatic rifles or pistols. Users have reported it as effective as Kano Kroil as a penetrant for loosening rusted bolts, engine parts and in removing leading in revolvers.  “ER” is less expensive than commercial bore cleaners, and as effective, providing excellent corrosion protection and fully adequate residual lubrication so that routine "oiling" after cleaning is unnecessary, except for long-term storage of over 1 year, or harsh service, such as humid tropical environments or salt water exposure.

The “ER” formula was based upon proven principles, incorporating two polar and two nonpolar solvents. It was adapted from the recipe published in Hatcher's Notebook for "Frankford Arsenal Cleaner No.18," substituting readily available modern materials.  Hatcher’s formula called for equal parts of acetone, turpentine, Pratts Astral Oil and sperm oil, and optionally 200 grams of anhydrous lanolin being added per liter.

Today I recommend "K1" kerosene of the type normally sold for use in indoor space heaters.  Users have reported successful substitution of civilian aviation grade kerosene such as Turbo-A.  

An inexpensive, effective substitute for sperm oil is Dexron automatic transmission fluid. 
[The original Dexron (B) transmission fluid was introduced on April 1, 1967. Over the years, the original Dexron (B) was supplanted by Dexron-II(C), Dexron-II(D), Dexron-II(E), Dexron-III(F), Dexron-III(G), Dexron-III(H), Dexron-VI(J), Dexron HP, Dexron LV ATF HP, and Dexron ULV which is the latest fluid]

Experience has proven that any major name-brand ATF whether Dexron, Mercon, Mopar, etc., are all fine in ER.  If you have old Ford-Mercon in the garage back from the days you owned that Ford Galaxy Police Interceptor which would pass anything on the road except a gas station, mixing ER is the best way to repurpose it, instead of taking to household hazardous waste disposal.

Hatcher's original Frankford Arsenal No. 18 formula used gum spirits of turpentine. Safer and cheaper is "aliphatic mineral spirits," a petroleum based "safety solvent" used for thinning oil based paints and widely used as charcoal lighter, and as automotive parts cleaner. It is commonly sold under the names "odorless mineral spirits," "Stoddard Solvent" or "Varsol". 

Acetone was included in "ER" to provide an aggressive, fast-acting solvent for caked powder residues. Because acetone is an aromatic, organic solvent, it is recommended that users leave it out if the cleaner will be used in enclosed spaces lacking forced air ventilation.  This is because the acetone in ER will readily evaporate, liberating volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere unless containers are kept tightly closed when not in use.

ER is still effective without the acetone, just not as "fast-acting," so you will have to be patient.

There isn't anything in Ed's Red which chemically dissolves copper fouling in rifle bores.  However, because it does a better job removing caked on carbon and abrasive primer residue, decades of use has established that exclusive use of "ER" reduces copper deposits, because it removes the old impacted powder fouling which is left by other cleaners, by reducing the abrasion and adhesion of jacket metal to the bore surface, leaving a cleaner surface which reduces subsequent fouling. "ER" reduces adhesion of metal fouling when if you let it "soak." Once the penetrants and surfactants do their the job, deposits are more easily brushed out.

Addition of the lanolin to ER bore cleaner mix is entirely optional. Today it is increasing difficult to find anhydrous lanolin. A clever boy can substitute Lanolin, Modified, Topical Lubricant, USP from the drug store, heating it over a double boiler and gradually driving off the excess moisture.  Farm boys tell me that Bag Balm can be minimally processed and used in the same way.  ER still gives adequate corrosion protection and lubrication for most users without the lanolin. However, incorporating the lanolin makes it easier on the hands, displaces water better, increases its lubricity and film strength, and improves corrosion protection for long term storage or when firearms will  be routinely exposed to salt air, water spray, industrial or polluted urban corrosive atmospheres.

At current retail prices [unless you live in California, I am told…] you can buy the ingredients to mix ER, without the lanolin for about $25 per gallon. 
I feel obligated to say that in the years since Ed’s Red was introduced, others have advocated substituting other materials such as MEK or other hazardous, cancer-causing solvents, or Marvel Mystery Oil, which does have a pleasant smell, but is more expensive than Dexron and offers has no real advantage. 

So I am going on record here that Ed does not recommend ANY substitutions.  Please stick to the proven recipe.

CONTENTS: Ed's Red Bore Cleaner

1 part Dexron ATF, GM Spec. D-20265 or later. Older Ford Mercon and Mopar are also OK.

1 part Kerosene - deodorized, K1, also OK to substitute Jet-A

1 part Aliphatic Mineral Spirits, Fed. Spec. TT-T-2981F, CAS
#64741-49-9, or may substitute "Stoddard Solvent", CAS #8052-41-3, or
equivalent, (aka "Varsol")

1 part Acetone, CAS #67-64-1. (Optional)

 (Also optional) 200 g per Liter or up to 1 lb. of Lanolin, Anhydrous, USP per gallon, OK to
substitute Lanolin, Modified, Topical Lubricant, from the drug store)

This "Recipe" is placed in the public domain, and may be freely distributed. 

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

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shjoe posted this 19 February 2021

best thing since sliced bread.

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pisco posted this 19 February 2021

I use it to get the primer and powder fouling out 

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Gregor posted this 20 February 2021

This is one reason that Ed is one of the greatest living gun writers, old school.  Mixed up my first batch 20 or so years ago and it has become my favorite go to cleaner, especially for shotguns and handguns.  Works so much better for general cleaning than anything else.


Thanks again Ed for all you do. 

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gnoahhh posted this 20 February 2021

Poured over fresh snow it makes a wonderful mid-winter treat.

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Little Debbie posted this 20 February 2021

No kidding best general purpose cleaner there is if you ad the lanolin. Handgun, shotgun, rifle, tools, table saw tables, your high lift jack, the best penetrating oil, excellent preservative ( I’m talking 20+ years ) hard on stock finish so keep it off, best AR15/M16/M4 Carbon remover period. Oh a so cheap and easy to make!

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RicinYakima posted this 20 February 2021

University of Iowa did a study for rust remover/penetrant for their missionaries/Peace Corps kids in Africa. The best solution they found was acetone and auto trans fluid, 50/50. FWIW

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ray h posted this 20 February 2021

I'm finally going to break down and make some of this, read about it for years. Question to Ed, how much moisture is really in lanolin that needs to be removed. It's the only thing I need to go find and buy.

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4and1 posted this 20 February 2021

Although I've never done it, I bet if you added some 28% ammonia to it, it would do well for jacketed bullet cleaning and copper fouling.

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Carl Pegg posted this 20 February 2021

I used the lanolin because I shoot muzzleloaders and remember that Ed recommended it for rust prevention after hot water cleaning black powder residue. I use it religiously on my milling machine and lathe and all of my tooling. I live in an area that has very high humidity in the summer and the lanolin is great for preventing surface rust. It's also a great resizing and case reforming lubricant. I found anhydrous lanolin on Amazon, of course. 

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beagle6 posted this 20 February 2021

My American Legion Post has been doing military funerals for veterans for 101 years. For 96 of those years we used 1917 Enfields and though they were hardly ever cleaned, there were no problems, about 5 years ago we got M-1's. After a while we started to have issues doing the 3 volleys at funerals. Firing blanks is a dirty business and nobody wanted to clean the weapons. Finally our commander ordered a work party at our monthly meeting. Since we didn't have cleaning material, I brought a jug of Ed's Red to the proceedings.

Long story short. I couldn't believe the crud that was in those M-1's. That they fired at all was amazing. Everyone was amazed at how quickly Ed's Red cleaned up the mess. Next funeral, all went well. Thanks Ed.


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Qc Pistolero posted this 20 February 2021

Back from the days I was still shooting jacket bullets in my rifles I still have a big jug of Hoppes no9.I started shooting cast bullets in everything since the early '80s and started mixing ER since the late '90s.My bottle of Hoppes no 9 is at the same level as it was in the late 90s.

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RicinYakima posted this 20 February 2021

I open my bottle of Hoppe's #9 when I clean guns just for the smell.

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oscarflytyer posted this 21 February 2021

Make it by the gallon and give it away by the qt!  LOVE it!  

THANX Ed!!!!!!!!

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ray h posted this 21 February 2021

I ordered a lb of USP grade (whatever that means) ultra refined lanolin.  A lot of fancy words, is this what I need for ER and will this need to be boiled?? I have all the other parts on hand.

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RicinYakima posted this 21 February 2021

Image result for usp grade chemicals  

USP grade meets or exceeds requirements of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). This grade is acceptable for food, drug, or medicinal use. ... Purified grade, also called pure or practical grade, meets no official standard; it is not pure enough to be offered for food, drug, or medicinal use of any kind.Nov 12, 2017

If you ordered anhydrous, no water, it will be good.

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ray h posted this 21 February 2021

Thanks Ric, I did get the anhydrous. I'll be good to go when it gets here. 

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Dale53 posted this 21 February 2021


Ed's Red is just one of the many things I have learned from you, over the years. I would like to thank you publicly for your untiring efforts at sharing your wide, authoritative experience to the rest of us!

Many years ago, not long after I retired, a couple of serious competitors and friends of mine, agreed we would so some serious work with various brands and types of .22 ammo.  So, we met two to three times a week all summer at our local gun club. We picked a day and time that the range was not busy, so we wouldn't have interruptions.

We made a pact that we would not share anything, that all three of us with match grade .22 rifles, couldn't duplicate. The idea being, if the three of us had different findings, "It didn't really "happen".

One of the things we "proved":

When switching ammo, it would sometimes take up to a whole box of .22's before the bore was conditioned for the new ammo.

As an example, also, when we cleaned the bore with Hoppe's #9, it would take less ammo to reach a state of "condition" but still maybe a half box. However, when we cleaned the bore with Ed's Red, five shots and the bore was conditioned for maximum accuracy with that load!

Over the years, that has held. .22's are notorious for being ammo sensitive. We learned that when we found a brand of regular, target, or high speed ammo, that worked well with a particular rifle (or pistol) it was not only important for brand name but also LOT #. Each and every .22 rifle or pistol had a preference (we could NOT get all three of any rifles or pistols to agree with "which" ammo).

So, the rule became (for us), when we found a particular ammo that was better in a particular .22 firearm, to immediately buy as much as practical, NOW!, and both the brand and lot# was important. 

We had our match ammo preference, but we also found some ordinary bulk ammo that worked quite well for plinking and small game.

So, Thank you again!, Ed!


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max503 posted this 21 February 2021

Lanolin is readily available at any drug store. It comes in tubes. It's used by nursing mothers.

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sudden thunder posted this 22 February 2021

I've been making my own version more than fifty years, but without the lanolin, and use either mineral spirits or kerosene (whichever is handy. Sometimes have even recycled used brake fluid in it - I find I can add more acetone for penetration, extra ATF and brake fluid if I really need to provide extra lubrication. I've found it works way better than Kroil, just don't let it start a fire or burn anything of value.

Shoot for the moon! Getting older may be inevitable, but acting your age appears to be optional ....

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Little Debbie posted this 26 February 2021

One caveat I did not share was that using the Dextron/Mercon ATFs is important. You can usually find quarts of Mercon at yard sales for .25 cents or less. Using any synthetic ATF is a mistake as it will cause Ed’s Red to separate rather quickly. My BIL discovered this when mixing acetone and ATF as a penetrating oil ; complete bi layered separation in 24 hours....... at retail prices Ed’s Red cost me 18.5 cents an ounce when I made my last gallon last year.. that’s $1.48 an 8oz bottle! Kinda puts it perspective. I’m cleaning 8-10 rifles a week and refilling my glass 8 oz medicine bottle about twice a month. That’s about 1/10 the price of a lot of commercial cleaners that don’t work as well. Carbon and primer fouling removal is the key accuracy The jacket fouling removal is pretty good without any danger to steel. I’ve always considered jacket solvents as a last ditch effort and have my bottle of Sweets ready. I have a few pitted bores that I’m happy to leave the pits filled with lead or jacket fouling. Let sleeping dogs lay so to speak. Use Ed’s with a brush to remove the powder/primer fouling in the throat area and soaked then dry patches keeping the bore as smooth as possible .

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