When it comes to choosing range ammunition for your firearm the debate between brass vs steel ammo often comes up. Both ammunition types have their unique advantages and disadvantages making it important to understand the differences in order to make an informed decision. 

In this article we will compare brass vs steel ammo, examining factors such as performance, reliability, cost, and environmental impact, to help you choose the best option for your shooting needs.

Steel vs brass ammo
Steel vs brass ammo


The performance of ammunition is often influenced by the properties of the casing material, believe it or not. Brass casings are made from an alloy of copper and zinc, known for their excellent performance. 

Brass has better inherent elastic properties than steel, allowing it to expand and contract when fired. This expansion creates a tight seal in the chamber, preventing gas leakage and ensuring relatively consistent pressure and velocity.

On the other hand, steel casings are made from mild steel with a protective coating to prevent rust. While steel is stronger than brass, it has significantly less elasticity because of its strength. As a result, steel casings do not expand and seal the chamber as effectively as brass, which can lead to inconsistent performance.

The best performer between the two is brass ammunition because it is more consistent. 


Brass ammo is considered more reliable than steel ammo due to its ability to expand and contract when fired. This quality helps prevent malfunctions such as failure to extract, and stovepipes, ensuring smoother cycling of the weapon. Additionally, brass casings are less likely to cause damage to the extractor, contributing to the overall longevity of your firearm components. This is because the brass is more malleable, giving less wear to the extractor during casing removal. 

Steel casings, while generally reliable can be more prone to malfunctions due to their reduced elasticity. Moreover, the protective coatings on steel casings may wear down over time, increasing the chances of rust and corrosion, which can lead to further reliability issues.


Ah, now we get to the most central part of the debate, cost of use. 

One of the primary reasons shooters use brass vs steel ammo is it is cheaper. Steel is generally cheaper than brass, making steel cased ammunition more affordable for shooters. This isn’t because it is necessarily cheaper to produce, but because there are metric tons of surplus steel ammo from the former Soviet Union and China. 

However, let’s weigh the potential savings against the potential for increased wear and tear on your firearm and the possibility of reduced performance.

Brass cased ammo is more expensive than steel cased, but its reliability, consistency, and lower impact on your firearm may justify the higher price, especially for self defense, competition, or hunting firearms.

Barrel Ware

Barrel wear is an important consideration for rifles when choosing steel vs brass ammo. Most pistol barrels will not see enough rounds or pressure to really ever warrant changing, but rifles will due to the heat and pressure. What many people may not realize is that steel cased ammo generally has steel and other hard jacketing on the projectile itself, increasing barrel wear. I am going to use the AR15 chambered in 5.56 without a chrome lined barrel for this illustration. 

Let’s say we have two equal rifles and fire 5,000 rounds through each, one using steel cased ammo at 25-35 cents a round, and other using brass ammo at 35-45 cents a round. I understand steel ammo used to be much cheaper, but with changes in import laws, dwindling supplies, and demand for ammo in the past year this is the current metric I have seen. 

The rifle using brass will cost between $1,750-$2,250 for 5000 rounds, based on the above metric.

However the barrel wear will not yet warrant a new barrel.

 The steel ammo rifle will cost $1,250-1,750 and may need a new barrel costing between $150-400. The overall cost when this is factored in makes the difference somewhat negligible. 

However, if the rifle has a chrome lined barrel the amount of ammunition would be significantly higher before the barrel would need changing. 

However, with the conflict involving former Soviet Bloc countries over the last year and a half, you can imagine that factories are no longer focused on producing 5.56 and other NATO calibers. I checked, and there is very little steel case 5.56 on the market and steel case ammo is now barely cheaper than brass.

Environmental Impact

Brass casings are generally considered more environmentally friendly than steel casings. Brass is non-toxic and can be easily recycled/reloaded, reducing the environmental footprint of spent casings. Additionally, brass is less likely to spark when it strikes a hard surface, reducing the risk of wildfires in dry shooting environments.

In contrast, steel casings may rust and degrade more quickly, posing a more significant environmental concern. While steel can also be recycled, the process is typically more complex and energy intensive than recycling brass. Furthermore, steel casings may produce sparks when striking a hard surface, posing a fire risk in certain conditions.


Another big consideration among shooters who reload their own ammunition is steel’s inability to be reloaded. The reason for this is that steel casings are case hardened, and therefore inelastic. The inelastic nature of steel means the casing cannot be resized to accept another projectile. 

Brass casing can be reloaded up to four (4) times per case depending on caliber, and who you ask. I am no expert, I recommend checking reloading publications for exact information and guidance, however I have friends that reload 9mm up to four times. Reloading cuts the cost of shooting a fair amount if you do a lot of both. 

This isn’t an important factor for the majority of shooters, but for reloaders who make up 5% of the shooting community, and 10% of avid shooters, it is. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice between brass and steel ammo will depend on your shooting needs, habits, preferences, and budget. Brass casings offer better performance, reliability, and environmental friendliness but come with a higher price tag. Steel casings provide a more affordable option for shooting but may require more frequent firearm maintenance and come with potential reliability and performance concerns. By understanding the differences between brass and steel ammo, you can make an informed decision that best meets your practice ammunition needs when it comes to brass vs steel ammo.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.

2 thoughts on “Steel vs Brass Ammo: Which is Better?

  1. Eli Richardson says:

    It’s interesting to know the cost differences between steel and brass ammo. I have an uncle who’s buying his first firearm next week after he gets his license, so I think he’d benefit from reading your post. Thanks for the information on how brass-cased ammo has higher reliability and consistency.

    • Jason Ward says:

      We are glad to hear this post helped! If you have any further questions feel free to shoot them our way!

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