If you use a semi-auto for concealed carry or home defense, then there’s a pretty good chance that you keep at least one magazine loaded at all times. Do magazine springs wear out prematurely from keeping the mags loaded for long periods of time? It’s been debated for ages, and the argument continues today, so that makes it a perfect topic to tackle in today’s Make Up Your Mind Monday.

Can You Leave Your Magazines Loaded?


It’s Complicated

If you skipped the video, the short answer is “yes.” Or no. Maybe… nobody really knows for sure.

In theory, if you started with a brand new magazine and loaded it to full capacity, then left it in a drawer, it should not lose a significant amount of spring tension for a very, very long time. Probably years. But reality is messier than that. Tiny variances in the materials and processes used to make the spring can lead to unpredictable results, and there are always outside factors like moisture/corrosion, dust and debris, and ammunition-related issues that can cause the magazine to fail before the spring would actually wear out naturally.

Using the spring (loading and unloading the magazine) frequently will cause it to wear out as well. But if you’re using it a lot, you’ll be able to tell when the spring starts to weaken because the rounds will be much easier to load, and the gun will eventually start experiencing malfunctions at the range. The spring should last tens of thousands of cycles before this occurs, but it will happen eventually. When it becomes apparent that the spring is “done”, either replace it, or replace the entire magazine.

When left loaded to full capacity and not used, most magazines will very slowly lose some amount of spring tension over time. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say with any certainty just how long it will take before the spring loses enough tension to start causing issues. Some springs may stay loaded for decades and still function, and others might wear out after a much shorter period of time. So just to be safe, the best practice is to rotate the magazines periodically. That’s where you unload your magazines and let them “rest” for a while, and switch to a second set of magazines to keep loaded for the next cycle.

How often is “periodically”? That’s a great question. A gunsmith at Beretta (who claimed not to be speaking on behalf of the company) told us he rotates his personal carry magazines every two weeks. The customer service rep we spoke to from Sig said that once every six months would be sufficient. However David Cochol of Mec-Gar, the company that manufactures the factory magazines for Sig (as well as Ruger, S&W, CZ, and several others), gave us the answer that seemed most common; “We recommend following standard law enforcement practice and that’s to rotate magazines every 90 days.” He also suggested that rotation as a good opportunity to field strip, clean, and inspect the magazines to make sure there aren’t any other problems that could cause malfunctions. Polymer followers in particular seem to be a common failure point for magazines.

Magazine Springs

Down-Loading

Adding some complexity to this debate is whether loading the mags to their full capacity will make any difference in how quickly the springs wear out. It’s not rare to hear the advice that a 17-round Glock magazine, for example, should only be loaded up to 15 or 16 rounds in order to spare the spring from any unnecessary stress. Many people will cite the common practice of leaving 30-round AR-15 magazines loaded to only 28 or 29 rounds because it’s difficult to seat a fully loaded 30-round magazine into the mag well when the bolt is closed. But that’s an issue specific only to certain firearms, and separate from the longevity of spring tension.

Again, there is not a clear consensus in the industry. Mec-Gar’s rep stated that it’s unnecessary to down-load magazines and that doing so is not relieving enough tension to make any appreciable difference in the life of the spring. “If you’ve got a 15-round magazine, you’re not doing yourself any favors by making it a 14-round magazine,” Cochol said.

However, Wolff Gunsprings, a company well known for manufacturing a wide variety of springs for the firearms industry has a slightly different take. The FAQ page on their website includes this statement; “More recently higher capacity magazine have become popular. These are designed to hold more rounds with less spring material often in the same space. This puts more stress on the spring and will cause it to fatigue at a faster rate. Unloading these magazines a round or two will help the life of the spring.” It’s not clear to what degree this practice will supposedly “help the life of the spring”, but most of the other industry representatives we spoke with didn’t believe it was necessary if the magazines were rotated regularly.

The Bottom Line on Magazine Springs

Magazines and magazine springs wear out. They aren’t designed to last forever whether they are used often, or loaded up and left to sit for years at a time. The various firearms and magazine manufacturers didn’t exactly agree on the specifics, but many of them did say that it’s common for customers to blame magazine spring tension for issues completely unrelated. De-formed followers, bad ammunition, problematic firearms, and user error are more often to blame for frequent malfunctions than worn magazine springs. The best way to avoid any of these issues is to keep a regular maintenance schedule and carefully clean and inspect both your magazines and firearms. Or just buy a revolver.


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67 Responses to “Make Up Your Mind Monday: Do Loaded Magazines Wear Out Magazine Springs?”

  1. Steve Oja

    Timely article. I teach CPL, and that came up in class this past weekend. Glad to hear my advice fell in line with that above.

    Reply
  2. Jesse Lambert

    I think the factor that a lot of people miss in this debate is that a loaded magazine sitting in a drawer isn't the same as a loaded magazine in a gun, in a mag carrier on a belt, or in a vehicle getting bounced around. The weight of a stack of rounds bouncing against the compressed spring offers exactly the same kind of cycling wear as repeatedly emptying and reloading it.

    A magazine that really does sit in a drawer (and especially protected against dust and moisture) probably has nothing to be gained from being rotated.

    Reply
  3. Frank Richmond

    You are also compressing the spring more when you put it in the gun because the top run presses up against the bottom of the slide–the very reason it is harder to seat the mag fully when it was a full load on board.

    Reply
  4. Rik Harmon

    AAhhh, finally solved this subjective issue. Yeah, right… seems the best course is to keep spares sealed in vacuum packaging so you have extras when the need arises…

    Reply
  5. James Richardson

    Well my .40 is always loaded. The only time there's not a loaded clip in it is when it's being cleaned. I've had it for 15 years with the same two factory clips!! Never had a problem yet. But things do wear.

    Reply
  6. Matthew Scott

    My personal belief is what I do and that is rotate them the first weekend of every month.

    Reply
  7. Paul Dragotto

    I HAVE HAD HIG CAPACITY MAGAZINES THAT HOLD 16 ROUNDS FULY LOAEDED FOR OVER 10 YEARS. WENT TO THE RANGE AND NO PROBLEMS. ON AN AK MAG 30 ROUNDS, I FOUND THAT IF IT IS NOT CLEAN AND LUBED WELL YOU WILL HAVE THE MAG LIP JAM UP. THEN YOU HAVE TO CONSISDER HEAT. IF YOU KEEP YOUR LOADED MAGS INA COOL DRY PLACE THEY SHOULD FUNCTION WELL EVEN LOADED FOR A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. I FOUND WHEN LOADING EVERY SO OFTEN HIT THE BACK OF THE MAG WITH YOUR HAND TO SEAT THE CASE. I HAVE FOUND THAT CHEAP IMPORT MAGS WILL NOT LAST LOADED FULL.

    Reply
  8. Paul Dragotto

    Frank Richmond IT DEPENDS ON THE FIREARM. GLOCK, S&W ECT NO PROBLEM EVEN ON A WIDE FRAME 1911.

    Reply
  9. Edward Steele

    Well that answered nothing and used five minutes of my time. Good thing I'm retired.

    Reply
  10. John Delaney

    I have had several Colt .45 ACP 7 round mags..one has been used and stuffed up for close to 10 yrs..still functions. I have never been a believer in the one year rule..I have no idea where or who made that stupid rule.

    I am a former Govt Special Agent, Highway Patrol, Deputy Sheriff and US Customs Inspector. Been in plenty confrontations..still here so my opinion out weighs those of the Novice's

    Reply
  11. John Delaney

    Paul..right you are. Glad you paid attention to that as well. I really get po's at the alleged "Experts" that say get new mags after a year..novice advice.

    Reply
  12. John Delaney

    By the way…in all but one encounter ( 22)..one one ever exceeded 3 fired rounds…extra mags etc.. NOT necessary unless in a combat local..another novice idea

    Reply
  13. James R Hood

    I never leave mags loaded. If I choose to leave a firearm loaded for in home defense, It will be a revolver of significant force – aka 357 magnum. Sure it only holds six rounds, but after the first round is fired even if you failed to hit the assailant, he will be deaf, blind, and confused as well as hopefully on the run.

    Reply
  14. A.j. Lehman

    Amen. I agree I have tired of this argument with people. If it's a quality mag it will last the test of time.

    Reply
  15. Ronald M. Camilletti

    When is your next class?

    Reply
  16. Paul Bottino

    I am pretty new to semi autos. I am also not very good at loading a magazine. I just don't have the technique down. I use a Hulu tool to load my Springfield Armory to 17 rounds. But I have always wondered about keeping a magazine fully loaded all the time, but I try and shoot regularly, so that keeps them rotated. This was a really great article.

    Reply
  17. Major Brown

    in Viet-Nam, we rotated our greese gun and tommy gun mags, because they were WWII issue, and probably couldn't stand the tension long. in fact my greese gun could be made to function twice as fast by streching the return spring! my M-14 mags were never loaded long enough to worry about, and my .45 were unloaded each night.

    Reply
  18. Skye Solly

    Unfortunately you will also be deaf, blind, and confused by your .357. Not a good idea to rely on "intimidation".

    Reply
  19. Scotty Maloney

    I shoot too much to ever have to worry about this.

    Reply
  20. LG Chris

    Interesting info, Major. Fortunately, we've had some improvements in metallurgy in recent years that make a lot of that unnecessary for modern magazines. I find it fascinating that the rate of fire of your grease gun was dependent on the tension of a single spring!

    Reply
  21. LG Chris

    Matthew are you LEO? Is that SOP for your department?

    Reply
  22. LG Chris

    Great point, Jesse. A lot of the theory and science that people like to reference can apply to a magazine in a closed environment (like a drawer) but mags that are carried and moved around introduce a lot of variables that can definitely have an effect on their reliability.

    Reply
  23. Matthew Scott

    Retired LEO and doing security work now. Yes that was our SOP. And we never had any jams for the 5 years we had been doing that. Department carried Sigs and I have Springfield's, Beretta's, Taurus's.

    Reply
  24. Tahir Zain

    I skipped the whole mag debate and carry a revolver

    Reply
  25. Paul Dragotto

    sky you sayed it right. plus, 6 shots from a 357 . over penetration and what if you have multiple perps to shoot. auto loader is the way to go with minimum 10 rounds.

    Reply
  26. Paul Dragotto

    1969-1971 army ranger recon. never had an empty mag. always had my magazines fully loaded. got sick of my m16 over heating and jamming and got myself an ak47 from a gook I killed. used that until they gave me an m60. with all the mud and rain , the only mag that was reliable was my 1911. ak mags would never jam. even coated with mud.

    Reply
  27. James R Hood

    auto loaders are good too, but I prefer revolvers both for woods carry and home defense even though I have several autos. a 357 will indeed over penetrate many times if a heavy bullet is used, but so will some other auto loads like a 10mm or 38 Super. It's al personal preference. Against human attackers and infiltrators, use anything from a 9mm to a 45 acp. For hogs, feral dog packs, moose, and smaller bears, use 357 and up.

    Reply
  28. Major Brown

    not hard to figgure LG, the greese gun only has like 3 springs and 3 moving parts, not counting retacable stock!!

    Reply
  29. Gerald Dreisewerd

    I'm a mechanical engineer who's designed and used springs for decades.

    First, springs under load "relax" or "take a set". If you've ever replaced a suspension spring or valve spring on a car, you'll see the old spring is shorter than the new spring. Gun springs are no different.

    The reliability of my 50 year old High Standard was pretty poor until I replaced the recoil spring and the magazine springs. Same thing with my 30 year old Colt 1911.

    I concluded that recoil springs & magazine springs should be replaced every 10 to 20 years depending on the load that the spring is subjected to on a long term basis. Springs under heavy load should be replaced sooner than springs under a moderate or light load. You'll forgive me if I don't go into the math.

    I also recommend Wolff Gun Springs. They are quality made parts and Wolff appears to know their metallurgy & heat treating processes well.

    Reply
  30. James Richardson

    Good one Arthur. I only have 2 Mags for my .40!! Never have had a jam, misfire or any other problems. I keep it clean and loaded. Always!!

    Reply
  31. Jeffrey Machado III

    I had a mag loaded for at least 10 years continuously. It fired without issue and still functions fine. It's over 20 years old now…

    Reply
  32. Paul Dragotto

    Arthur Harless US OLDER FOLKS CALLED THEM CLIPS. THE REASON? THE M1A TAKES A CLIP THAT HOLDS 6 ROUNDS. WHEN ITS EMPTY THE RIFLE EJECT THE EMPTY CLIP. OK? GOT IT? GIVE THE GUY A BREAK. YOUR LIKE THE SPELLING POLICE. KNUMB NUTS!!:-)

    Reply
  33. Arthur Harless

    Paul Dragotto He said clips, If you're talking about a rifle that was used almost 50 years ago I would agree. But he said .40 and by golly when I search for .40 caliber stripper clips, I cannot find any.

    Reply
  34. Arthur Harless

    Paul Dragotto He said clips, If you're talking about a rifle that was used almost 50 years ago I would agree. But he said .40 and by golly when I search for .40 caliber stripper clips, I cannot find any.

    Reply
  35. Frank Ivey

    I hope not I have 50 30 round AK mags loaded right now i did back off to 25 each mag but they should be good for years which I think we will be using before to long now anyway.

    Reply
  36. Frank Ivey

    John Delaney Great advice the mag folks would love that I can see me replacing 50-60 mags every year.

    Reply
  37. Frank Ivey

    A.j. Lehman I'm using Tapco 30 round mags for my AK they are guaranteed for life.

    Reply
  38. Frank Ivey

    What's your plan when the economy fails and there is no food so mobs decide to loot the neighborhood you going to have your wife load your empty mags? takes me about 5 min to load a 30 round mag.

    Reply
  39. Ken Barent

    mine have been loaded since Taurus PT 145 (2009) – Springfield 1911 (2000) – Glock 22 (2003) Thompson Auto ordance1911 1996 no problems with any of them with quality mags and GOOD ammo. I do know continued loading/unloading of one or two bullets ( empty chamber after work, re chamber prior to work then reloading bullet into mag can cause bullet set back.

    Reply
  40. Connor Brewer

    Frank Ivey Exactly what I was thinking. The folks giving that advice have a vested interest in you and I thinking our mags are worn out, when they arent, to buy more of their product.

    Reply
  41. Chris Mazur

    I have a Ruger LC9 for carry. I have a S&W M&P 9 and a .410 pump shotgun with a pistol grip (can't remember the brand) both for home defense. I have 6 or 7 extra magazines for each pistol and every Friday I switch to another, leaving the first to "rest" while all the others cycle through. I also down-load magazines 1 round. The shotgun is loaded full (with the plug out of course) and I cycle rounds through it at least monthly then clean it and put new rounds in it. Yeah, it's crazy but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    Reply
  42. Jesse C McLaughlin

    No caps-lock necessary

    Reply
  43. Tim Holm

    Magazines are like tyres; they need to be rotated & replaced when they wear out. That said, I have seven Wilson 10-rd magazines that I shoot USPSA with that are 18 years old & running strong. I leave them loaded, empty or partially loaded. I'm waiting to see when they "Hiccup". My primary carry guns put a lot of rounds down range & the magazines are loaded, unloaded & dropped quite a bit. Wolff +5% springs go in these magazines and I leave them loaded. I've seen rusted magazines with corroded ammo shoot fine. Spring quality = Longevity & Reliability

    Reply
  44. Ruben Neri

    quite educational

    Reply
  45. James Marcum

    I would be more concerned with the feed lips on the magazine than the spring, magpul's dust cover does a good job of taking the pressure off of the lips

    Reply
  46. Ron Wilson

    Interesting article. I, personally leave all my mags fully loaded. I have 10 each 30 rd PMags. They get rotated at the range (but not very often – due to the cost of 5.56 ammo). They're not much good empty… I do shoot my semi-auto pistols at the range at least twice a month (usually more often) and use all of the magazines but 1, of each caliber, that is loaded with HP defensive ammo. Maybe I should start folding those magazines into the rotation?

    Reply
  47. George Davis

    LG Chris Very true!. Pocket lint can kill…You!

    Reply
  48. George Davis

    I had the great good fortune to buy a Colt 1911 (NOT an A1), date by serial # as produced in 1913. It had a full magazine in it with ammo that several people said was of the same vintage.I could have sold the rounds to cartridge collectors, indeed had offers of $2+ a round, but curiosity ruled….They worked just fine, and so did the mag!. They had thrown out the box, but I kept the wool sock the new looking gun had been stored in by Grandpa…This was in 2009!

    Reply
  49. Marc Karey

    I have a Walther P99 40 caliper. The magazines were loaded but I hadn't used the gun 2 years. When I took it to the range both magazines broke the first time I used it. Very disappointing

    Reply
  50. Stacey Smith

    Empty magazines are useless…unless they have been emptied by firing the weapon they are meant for…..food for thought…thx

    Reply
  51. Richard Schurman

    John…You are correct. I have S&W 6906 and Glock 19 mags that I leave loaded less one and have done it for years (PMC 9mm ammo) and have never experienced a misfeed or eject. When I was in Nam I always loaded 14 or 28 rounds to avoid havong to slam the forward assist all the time. I figured one round absent was less of a risk than trying to clear a jam in a firefight – I was right.

    Reply
  52. Richard Schurman

    I have to disagree. I will take a 13 rnd 9mm with Hydra-Shok over a 6 rnd 357 mag. More rounds make more holes make em bleed faster

    Reply
  53. Richard Schurman

    Thanks for the supply source tip for mag springs. I will check them out as mine are 10 yrs old and probably should consider replacing them and I did not want any cheapo Chinese crap.

    Reply
  54. First Defense Firearm Instruction

    Some newer firearms are coming with springs that are made to be kept loaded such as the Smith and Wesson M&P Pro. However, as an instructor I teach all students to empty their magazines at least once a month for at least 24hrs (24-48hrs) to let the spring regain it's integrity. I've had a couple wear out by keeping them loaded, now I make sure to mark each magazine so I know which is which, and on training days I'll make sure I bring one of those with a weak spring with me. They tend to cause more malfuntions so, it helps me with my malfunction drills but, for self defense, marking each magazine gives me the piece of mind that I need to know I have a trusted mag (or 6) in the firearm and extras as well.

    Marking magazines Tip: start with your oldest most worn out/used magazine and mark it #1. As you get new ones or additonal mags keep numbering them. If you end up with 20 mags, you know the lower numbers are older, maybe use them just for training and the higher numbers are going to be your newer/fresh magazines with stronger springs. It's worked well for me.

    Reply
  55. Michael Harris

    This was a big issue with me, but the best answer is the one that I will follow. I will rotate magazines every three months and clean the magazines at that time. This is for my home defense firearms.

    Reply
  56. Christoph von Forstner

    I would think that people would be jacking up their cars to relieve stress from the springs if that would really degrade the springs performance.

    Reply
  57. Jay John Hermias

    that's why revolver never stinks…

    Reply
  58. Bill Matthey

    I've got a couple of Sig mags that have been fully loaded for about eight years. Went out yesterday and had no problems with either of them performing as expected. If I'd had a problem I would have investigated to try and ascertain the cause and then take the appropriate action, e.g., cleaning, new spring, new mag, whatever. I'm going to leave them fully loaded.

    Reply
  59. Keith Melton

    Lucky Gunner, why not do a year long test. Fully load 9 mags from say 3-4 different mag companies for say one of the most popular rifle platforms the AR-15 family. Test 3 each after 3 months, 6 months , and then a year and see if there are any problems over time.

    Reply
  60. Mike Foster

    From racing, I learned quickly that a valve spring left sitting compressed all winter on a spare engine was more prone to failure. We always backed off the spring pressure on a spare engine and had about half the early spring failures on those engines. I use that knowledge with my guns as well. I rotate mags AND guns when carrying just to minimize any loaded sting fatigue failures now… Better safe than sorry.

    Reply
  61. Dan Ess

    Paul Dragotto : what exactly are you calling a Clip, a Magazine or are you referring to stripper clips? A magazine has always been a magazine, whether it's 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 rounds and stripper clips hold various quantities as well. I have an M1A it uses magazines up to 20 rounds and they can be loaded with stripper clips.

    Reply
  62. Tom Kosky

    maybe in time it will wear out.

    Reply
  63. Richard Camacho

    All I know is that a brand new Glock 19 mag is ridiculous to load. But after letting it sit for a month loaded, it was noticeably easier.

    Reply
  64. Tom Rkba

    My solution is to count the number of magazines I have on June 1 and January 1. I buy one follower, one spring and one base plate for each one. I inspect the magazines against a new mag with spring. If the spring on the used magazine is one or two coils short, I replace the spring, follower and base plate. Otherwise, it gets another six months or until it starts jamming in practice.

    Reply

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