The magazine is as critical as the firearm and ammo we use. A large percentage of firearm malfunctions can be attributed to magazine-related issues, which is an important reason to always carry a spare mag. This being the case, it is surprising how little attention is paid to this critical component. A gun is only as reliable as its magazine.

Cleaning and maintaining your magazines is just as important as cleaning and maintaining your pistol or selecting the right ammunition. If you get a magazine malfunction, test it again. If it creates a second malfunction, immediately take it out of duty until the problem can be ascertained and remedied or use the magazine for training purposes only. The best option, of course, is to simply get a new magazine.

Magazines should be routinely examined for wear or damage. Check the body of the magazine for dents/cracks or other damage. Inspect the feed lips. One common test is to half load a magazine and smack the base on a hard surface to see if a round pops out. This will help you determine if the feed lips are spread and/or the magazine spring is weak. However, keep in mind all magazines will release tension on the top rounds, allowing one or more rounds to pop out when tested in this manner.

Magazine Loaders

Loading magazines by hand can be a slow and often painful process, particularly when loading the last few rounds into a new or stiff magazine. Some sub-compact pistol magazines and reduced-capacity state-compliant magazines are notorious in this regard. Moreover, manual loading can cause unnecessary wear and potential damage to the magazine.

A magazine loading device provides a mechanical advantage that can not only speed up the loading process and save your fingers, but more importantly prevent unnecessary stress and wear to the feed lips from the loading process. Damage to these lips can lead to feeding problems in your gun. A magazine loader also helps preserve the spring by minimizing the need for manual spring compression. It can prolong the service life of your magazines, ensuring reliable performance when it matters most.

There are a lot of different magazine loaders on the market, which can make choosing one a bit confusing. When selecting a magazine loader, keep these considerations in mind: magazine compatibility; quality and durability; user-friendliness and ergonomics; and size and portability. Check reviews and, if possible, try before buying.

Spring Fatigue

Storing a magazine loaded does not typically weaken the spring. Magazines are designed to endure long periods of compression without significant spring fatigue. Even when fully compressed, magazines retain energy well beyond the life of the stored ammo. There are reported instances where magazines have functioned flawlessly after a century of being fully loaded.

However, it is advisable to rotate the magazines periodically to ensure reliable performance. If you notice feeding issues, failure to lock back the slide, or unreliable ammunition feeding, it might be time to replace the spring. There is no need to unload your magazines when not in use. Keeping them loaded will usually not cause any issues with reliability or spring fatigue.

Spring fatigue in magazines is typically caused by the repeated compression and release of the spring, also known as “cycling.” Over time, this cycling can weaken the spring, especially in areas where there may be tiny imperfections in the metal. The rate at which this happens depends on the type of metal used and the frequency of cycles.

Many shooters keep two sets of magazines — one set for training or competition and one set for personal defense or duty.

Disassembly & Cleaning

Magazines will need to be periodically disassembled for cleaning and further inspection. Don’t overdo this. Disassembly should be done only as necessary. Routine disassembly is unnecessary and can cause unnecessary wear. Magazines don’t need to be cleaned after every range session. After a high amount of shooting or exposure to the elements or dirt and dust, cleaning is called for.

Disassembly methods will vary, but most modern magazines are designed for easy disassembly and cleaning. With the spring and follower removed, run a dry cloth through the magazine body several times. You can use a toothbrush to scrub inside the body or a purpose-designed mag brush.

The spring and follower should be carefully examined for signs of wear or damage. All magazine springs will fatigue over time. Compare the spring to a new spring or spring that’s known to be good. If the old spring shows signs of fatigue — that is it is noticeably shorter — it’s time to replace it or discard the magazine. Pay particular attention to any signs of chipping or cracking of the follower. Any loose chips in the magazine body are a sure indicator of follower damage.

If a magazine has worn or damaged parts, either discard the magazine or replace the parts and use the magazine exclusively for training. Training-only magazines must be clearly marked to prevent them from being mistaken for a personal defense or duty magazine.

Do not lubricate or leave any oils or lubrication inside the magazine or its components. Not only is it unnecessary, it will also become a dirt magnet. I just wipe them down with a silicone cloth.

Final Thoughts

Finally, don’t get too attached to your magazines. All magazines will eventually wear out. They are disposable items. And don’t scrimp on quality to try and save a few bucks. Your life and the lives of others are worth more than the price of a new magazine.