We explore some of the cleanest 9mm ammo options out there for shooters and hunters.
“Clean” shooting is a problem for all firearm users.
Whether you are a high-volume target shooter or someone who carries a 9mm weapon for personal defense, you should be concerned with maintaining a clean weapon. Depending on where you shoot, you may need to be concerned with firing clean ammunition.
The 9mm Luger, the most prominent handgun cartridge in the nation, comes in countless varieties, including numerous “clean” options.
We’d like to share a few of the top picks for cleanest 9mm ammo. Farther down in this article, we’ll also explore why you might want clean ammo.
Types of Clean 9mm Ammunition
The Most Popular “Clean” 9mm Ammo
As we’ve previously touched on in our Federal Syntech 9mm ammo review these loads use bullets that are entirely wrapped in a synthetic jacket. This makes them much cleaner to shoot. There is no metal-on-metal friction in the barrel. But they also use lead-free primers and clean-burning propellants to reduce harmful vapors and residue.
Why Clean Primers and Propellants Matter
The bullet design is not the only aspect that can be called “clean.” The primers and propellants also make a difference. The exact details and chemistry behind “clean” propellants may vary, but if you find rounds that are described as clean-burning or clean-firing, they likely distribute less residue to your barrel and into the air.
- High-volume shooting
- Indoor shooting
Jacketed Ammo (FMJ, JHP, etc.)
Although some may not consider jacketed ammo automatically clean, it is popular among target shooters because the copper jacket reduces fouling. The only reason why this ammo may not be considered clean is that the bottom of the bullet can have exposed lead, which allows lead vapors to be released when fired.
- Affordable target practice (FMJ)
- Training (FMJ or JHP)
- High-volume target shooting (FMJ)
- Personal protection (JHP)
Popular Jacketed 9mm Ammunition
There are probably more jacketed options than any other type of 9mm ammo (especially full metal jackets), so picking just a few, in all reality, is not really fair. That said, here are a few options for jacketed 9mm rounds:
One of the lowest-cost options on the market, this full metal jacket ammo is perfect for practice and hobby shooting.
With an affordable price, these hollow point rounds are popular for both high-volume shooting and personal protection. The copper jacket reduces fouling, while the hollow point creates expansion on impact.
Total Metal Jacket
A total metal jacket (TMJ) round has a jacket that wraps entirely around the cartridge. This keeps the lead core completely enveloped in copper, eliminating the chances of lead residue.
- Indoor target shooting
Popular Total Metal Jacket 9mm Ammunition
Designed as a training round that would perform as closely as possible to self-defense loads, this round has the traditional benefits of an FMJ round, which include less fouling and smoother feeding. However, the bullet is fully wrapped so there is no lead vapor.
This cartridge has the basic benefits of a TMJ round, but it also has a tracer feature that allows you to visually track the round as you shoot. This gives you instant feedback on your shots so you can make accurate adjustments.
Enclosed or “Encapsulated” Ammo
This type of cartridge has many of the same features and characteristics of a total metal jacket round, but instead of a seamless copper jacket covering the entire lead core, this type of ammo uses a traditional FMJ design with a brass disc at the bottom. It achieves, essentially, the same functionality as a TMJ round, it just uses a different design to achieve the same goal.
- Indoor target shooting
Popular Encapsulated 9mm Ammunition
With a brass disc at the bottom, this round keeps the lead core entirely sealed. This is also a sub-sonic round, making it ideal for use in a suppressed handgun.
If you want to fire clean ammunition with absolutely zero concern for lead toxins in the natural ecosystem, you’ll want to purchase solid copper. The design of these rounds is simple: they are made entirely of copper; no lead core, no brass encapsulation. Just an all-copper bullet.
They are particularly popular for hunting, as there is no chance of releasing lead into a forest, field, or body of water. These bullets can be engineered into round nose or flat nose, but they are most common as hollow points, usually listed as “SCHP” which stands for “Solid Copper Hollow Point.”
- Personal defense
- Indoor shooting
Popular Solid Copper 9mm Ammunition
Marketed as a self-defense load, this solid-copper round is designed for reliable penetration and high-quality mushrooming when it strikes a target.
These are one of the few 9mm Luger rounds marketed exclusively for hunting. This +P ammo, which means extra internal pressure, delivers the strength you need for high-quality performance. It can be used for varmint control, coyote hunting, and other medium-sized game animals.
When To Use Clean 9mm Ammunition?
High-volume Target Shooting
If you participate in high-volume target shooting, you should be particularly concerned with clean ammunition. Every shot will deposit a small amount of residue, called “fouling” in the barrel. This fouling can come from the bullet itself, but it can also be left by the propellant.
Cleaning the firearm is important no matter what type you use, but anyone who fires hundreds of cartridges on a regular basis should be particularly concerned with clean ammo.
This has more to do with the surrounding environment and less with the barrel and chamber of the firearm. Indoor ranges can hold high concentrations of lead, which is released in small amounts every time you fire a bullet that has exposed lead. As you likely know, a lot of lead exposure can be horrible for your health.
If you practice or train at indoor ranges, you may be required to use clean ammo. (See “Total Metal Jacket” above.) Even if not required, it’s still a responsible practice.
Hunting (Especially on Public Land)
The 9mm Luger is not generally considered a hunting cartridge. But it can be used for a variety of game animals, although the range from a pistol is not particularly high. Regardless, hunting with a 9mm Luger is not unheard of.
The impact of lead on wildlife is still being discussed and debated, but most agree that lead should be avoided when hunting. In public land, it’s often illegal to use anything but solid copper ammo. If you hunt with a 9mm firearm, you’ll want to pick the cleanest 9mm ammo you can.