Rotary Rock Tumbling: Cleaning Up

Part 6 of 6 – clean-outs and cleaning up

Cleaning up whether it’s between stages of the tumbling cycle, or at the very end after beautiful polished rocks have been achieved, is an important step to get right if for no other reason than for everything to be need and clean for the next time with little chance of grit contamination from the last cycle or stage.

What follows next in no specific order is a bullet list of pro-tips, tricks and advice on the subject of cleaning out and cleaning up your rotary rock tumbler and barrel, contributed by the Rock Tumbling Hobby Forum community.

  • Plan ahead for how to handle your barrel clean outs. Having several 5 gallon buckets and some dollar store strainers or colanders are a good start.
  • The initial dump and rinse of your barrel needs to be captured and must not go down the drain. Never ever under any circumstances should you dump even a small amount of tumbling grit slurry down the drain and into the plumbing of your house. Tumbling grit is heavier than water and immediately falls to the bottom and forms a solid concrete-like layer which will ruin your pipes as it builds up.
  • One DIY cleaning solution a member came up with is to fasten an 8 inch section of 1 x 2 pine to each handles of a plastic colander allowing it to sit firmly on top of a 5 gallon bucket. This way the slurried rocks can be placed in the colander and water poured over, washing them.
  • Another popular method is to dunk the barrel of tumbled rocks, slurry and all into a 5 gallon of warm soapy water. Swish everything all around by hand, then gather the clean rocks up from the soapy water and rinse them off with clean water.
  • Some people use a gravel driveway to dump their rinse water and slurry but if that’s not an option for you, let the grit settle to the bottom of the bucket you rinse in, decant off most of the clean appearing water (not down the drain) and let the rest of the water evaporate over time. Once the water has evaporated you can break it or scoop it out of the bucket and into your landfill garbage.
  • If allowing the slurry to completely dry out isn’t an option, then scooping it like clay into empty containers, such as coffee cans works. Tie it up in a bag before setting it in the garbage can so it doesn’t make a mess if it pops open.
  • Contamination between stages can be a real issue with tumbling. Each time you finish a stage, hose down the rocks, barrel, and lid, making sure that as much grit as possible is washed away. None should be visible after this.
  • Do not let the slurry dry on your rocks during clean-outs. Removal of dried slurry from rocks can be a very tedious and frustrating process.
  • Wash everything very carefully at the end so you are ready for a new tumble run. It’s also important to clean carefully between every stage because even a little bit of 120/200 grit left in a barrel can spoil the results you were expecting at the next grit stage.
  • It’s extra important to clean the mating surfaces of your barrel and lid gasket immediately after dumping the rocks out and especially if you will be storing the barrel unused for a period of time. These are the critical surfaces that interface to create a good seal and you don’t want any of the slurry from drying there and compromising the seal for next time.
  • Collapsible sinks such as this fish cleaning table on Amazon, hook up to a garden hose and work great for cleaning rocks over a ground surface that can handle tumbling grit.
  • Some tumblers even use separate cleaning buckets for every stage to avoid grit contamination.

Thank you for visiting this six part series of pro-tips, tricks and advice on Be sure to bookmark these articles and return to them as often as needed as you travel on your rock tumbling hobby journey.

If you would like to offer feedback about your own experiences, pro-tips, tricks and advice, please post in this thread in the Rock Tumbling section of the RTH Forum, and they might eventually make it into the appropriate category in this article series.