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