Cleaning Firearms Safely: A Step-By-Step Guide

Whether you are an experienced gun owner or have just bought your first firearm, it is important to know how to properly clean and maintain your weapon. Dirty guns may fire fine, but that doesn’t mean that you are not doing irreparable damage. You do not have to take the firearm to a dealer or repair-man to give it a good clean. By following some simple steps and having just a few easy-to-find tools you can clean your own gun. There are as many “correct” ways of cleaning firearms. Read on to learn more about the method we suggest.  

When Should You Clean?

cleaning your firearm safelyExperts disagree as to how much and how often you should clean your firearm. As we discuss in our smaller articles, the type of firearms will determine the amount of cleaning. Other factors that will influence cleaning rate include how often you shoot, chambering, and environmental aspects like air quality, humidity, or inclement weather.[1]

Probably the most important factor that will affect how often you clean will be the type of ammunition you use. Lead bullets will leave the most residue. However, any type of ammunition—even those with a full metal jacket—will leave some deposits when shot. You will want to check the barrel of your gun regularly for build-up.[2] A high-quality flashlight or pin light will work best for this purpose.

Many people recommend the following cleaning schedule[3]:

–        All guns should be cleaned at least once a year.

–        If you shoot a firearm that usually stays in its case, you should check for enough lubrication before hitting the range and clean and lubricate it before returning it to storage.

–        Your everyday firearms should be cleaned as needed. This will be either when the building begins to cause malfunctions or around 500 rounds for most types of firearms.

–        Finally, guns that are used as self-defense weapons should be cleaned and lubricated every time they are shot.

Obviously, this is a fairly strict cleaning schedule, especially if you have a lot of firearms. In fact, most modern guns will shoot fairly well and accurately for many hundreds of rounds before they demand cleaning. Yet, waiting until the gun breaks to clean it almost guarantees that you will have caused damage to the firearm. We all spend a lot of money on our guns, and we should treat them like the high-end products they are.

Supplies

You can make your own gun cleaning kit out of just a few materials or purchase a complete set. Many stores sell gun cleaning sets. However, if you would like to compile your own, here are the essential items you will need.

–        Cleaning Rod: Most experts recommend a one-piece cleaning rod instead of a sectional one.[4] This will prevent the rod from bending and scratching the inside of your barrel. For ultimate protection, you should consider an aluminum or carbon-fiber instead of another material.

–        Bore Brush: Make sure to buy a brush that will fit your specific caliber of gun. If the brush is too big or too small it will not do its job properly. Bronze bore brushes are highly touted. While synthetic brushes are now available, a bronze brush will ensure accurate cleaning every time.[5]  

–        Jag: This item will hold your patches as you pass them through your firearm. You want one that will be long enough to pass all the way through the barrel.

–        Patches: Cloth patches specifically designed for gun cleaning can be purchased from companies like Southern Bloomer, Hoppe’s No. 9, or Birchwood Casey.

–        Gun Cleaner: Some of the most popular brands of gun cleaning solvent include Sage & Braker, Ballistol, and Hoppe’s.

–        Gun oil and Lubricant: Gun oil and lubricant are also made form a variety of companies. The top-rated ones are Ballistol Multi-purpose lubricant cleaner protectant, Hornady One Shot, and Hoppe’s no. 9 Synthetic Blend Lubricating oil.

–        Q-tips, pipe cleaners, or toothbrush: Your basic household Q-tips or pipe cleaners will help you clean the hard-to-reach places on your gun. They are also a great way of adding lubrication sparingly.

–        Clean towels or rags: Any type of dry toweling or rag will be helpful to wipe down your gun as you go through the cleaning process. We do not recommend using paper towels in place of cloth towels, as they can shred and leave paper residue in the internals of your gun.

One word about cleaning products: Keep in mind that there are a large number of manufacturers of gun cleaning products. There are even companies making non-toxic solvents for those people who dislike the idea of exposing themselves to the noxious chemicals found in most cleaning products. We recommend doing some research and trying a wide variety to figure out what will work best for you and your guns.

Safety First

While gun cleaning may not sound inherently unsafe, there are a few ways that it can go wrong. Below are our top tips for keeping yourself and your gun healthy during cleaning.

1)     As with everything else related to gun safety, before even thinking about disassembling and cleaning your firearm, make sure that it is unloaded. Double or triple check even. Most people have a story about themselves or someone they know getting injured when an “unloaded” gun discharged during cleaning. Unloading all ammunition from the gun does not take long and could prevent a disaster.

2)     On a related note, never keep your ammunition in the same location as your cleaning supplies, or in the room where you clean your firearm. The chemicals used in gun cleaning have been known to remove ammunition’s priming compounds, which could cause a misfire later on.

3)     Finally, make sure to protect your workspace and yourself. If you are using a table to clean your firearm—and you probably should—put a large amount of plastic down to guard the surface. Always wear safety goggles and gloves and clean your gun in a well-ventilated area. You may also want to wear a work smock to shield your clothes from any spare drops of chemicals released during the cleaning process.

Step-By-Step Gun Cleaning

Once your gun is unloaded and you have all of your safety gear in place, then it is time to start cleaning.

1)     You should begin by field-stripping your gun. Essentially, field stripping enables you to take the gun apart partially, just enough to clean all of the important components. Most guns can be stripped down further than you do during a field strip, but unless you are a professional, you will not need to know how to perform that kind of maintenance.

Modern gun manufacturers have attempted to make field stripping as easy as possible. The way the different types of firearms get field strip varies. We discuss the proper field stripping techniques for semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns in our shorter break-out articles on gun cleaning.

As you are field stripping the firearm, make sure to take note of how all the components fit together, so that you can reassemble the gun easily. Also, we recommend having a tray on hand to hold all of the small pieces that will likely need to be removed from the gun—semi-automatics especially have a lot of small parts that are often lost.

2)     Once the gun is properly field stripped, dip your bore brush in the cleaning solvent and run it through the barrel breech to muzzle. You may have to run the brush through the barrel multiple times to unstick all of the debris.

Let the barrel soak in the solvent for a few minutes while you wipe down the outside of the gun with a clean rag. You will not want to dip your brush in the solvent bottle, as that will contaminate the entire batch of cleaner. Instead of either spray the solvent on the brush or pour a little in a separate container that you dip the brush into.

3)     Then put a patch soaked with cleaner into your jag and run it through the barrel, also breech to muzzle if at all possible. This first patch will be dirty. Do not pull it back through the barrel as you might have seen on television or in films. Instead, remove the patch and then attach a clean one.

Continue to pass clean patches through the barrel until they come out unsoiled. Next, run a variety of dry patches through the barrel to remove any left-over cleaner. The final patch should have a little oil on it to protect the inside of the barrel from moisture build-up.[6]

As you clean the barrel, you will want to pay particular attention to the crown—the opening at the end of the barrel. This area is the last place that touches the bullet before it leaves the gun. So, any damage to the crown can significantly alter the accuracy of your firearm. Be careful not to clean this area too vigorously.[7]

4)     Use your Q-tips, pipe cleaners, or toothbrush to clean all of the components of the gun that you can reach. Use the gun cleaner for this step. You do not need to soak the parts in the cleaner. But, anything that looks dirty probably is and should be cleaned. Pay particular attention to the bolt face, any crevices, and the threading. You will also want to clean any magazines that you have used with the firearm. The number and placement of parts that will need cleaning vary depending on the types of guns being cleaned. See our smaller articles for more information.

5)     Once all of the individual parts have been cleaned they need to be coated in a small amount of gun oil and lubricant. Less is more when it comes to lubricant. The last thing you want is your gun getting your hands or clothes dirty because of oozing oil. Usually, just a drop or two of oil will work for lubricating your entire gun.

6)     Put the gun back together and “dry fire” it to make sure that it is running properly.

Conclusion

Properly cleaning your gun should not be a hard or extremely time-consuming process. Some people really like spending hours on cleaning their gun until it is perfect. However, there are a lot of gun-owners that hate the cleaning process. If you like the Zen-like nature of gun cleaning, then good for you.

If you hate this process, just remember that putting in a little time every once and a while will help keep your firearm a reliable and trustworthy machine for many years to come. Also, cleaning your gun does not mean it has to be perfect, but good enough to retain—or regain—its accuracy.[8] So, you want to get most of the nasty stuff off and out of the firearm, but its okay if it’s not perfect.

As mentioned above, there are many ways to clean your gun. The trick is to find a method that will work for you and keep your firearm in top working order—not ever cleaning is technically a method but will not help keep the gun in good shape. The more you clean your firearm the easier it will be to discover your own way of doing things.

                                                       

 


[1] Steve Adelman, “Barrel Bliss: How to Properly Clean a Gun,” NRA Family (March 26, 2017), https://www.nrafamily.org/articles/2017/3/26/barrel-bliss-how-to-properly-clean-a-gun/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[2] Bob Campbell, “How Often Should I Clean My Handgun?” The Shooter’s Log (May 5, 2017), http://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/clean-handgun/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[3] B. Gil Horman, “How to Clean a Handgun,” American Rifleman (May 6, 2011), https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2011/5/6/how-to-clean-a-handgun/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[4] Steve Adelman, “Barrel Bliss: How to Properly Clean a Gun,” NRA Family (March 26, 2017), https://www.nrafamily.org/articles/2017/3/26/barrel-bliss-how-to-properly-clean-a-gun/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[5] Bryce M. Towsley, “The Dirty Little Secret of Gun Cleaning,” Range 365 (June 27, 2017), https://www.range365.com/dirty-little-secret-gun-cleaning (accessed 3/23/18).

[6] B. Gil Horman, “How to Clean a Handgun,” American Rifleman (May 6, 2011), https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2011/5/6/how-to-clean-a-handgun/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[7] Kristen Weiss, “Cleaning Guns for Accuracy,” Guns and Ammo, http://www.gunsandammo.com/shoot101/cleaning-guns-for-accuracy/ (accessed 3/23/18).

[8] “Gun Cleaning—Tips and Tricks,” Gun Cleaning Tips.com, http://www.guncleaningtips.com/gun-cleaning-tips-and-tricks/ (accessed 3/23/18).

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