How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?

How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?


A firearm is a machine. Depending on the type of action, it can be considered a simple (as in a single-shot break open shotgun) or a complex (think a GE aircraft mounted mini-gun) machine. Like any machine, firearms require maintenance, cleaning, and lubrication to ensure they operate properly and last a lifetime.

Regular cleaning performed on a timely basis is the difference between a deer hunting rifle that lasts a gun owner a few seasons and one that is passed down through multiple generations.
For many gun owners, gun cleaning is a chore that is avoided at all costs. Part of this attitude may come from not wanting to complete a thorough cleaning every time a firearm is used for target practice. Adding to this are tales about competition guns that are damaged or knocked out of alignment after performing regular firearm maintenance.

Gun Cleaning on Table

What Tools Do You Need to Clean Your Gun

In order to perform thorough cleaning on a regular basis, you will need at the very least a basic cleaning kit. While specifics vary depending upon the firearms in question, the basics are similar enough to speak of almost universally.

A basic cleaning kit may consist of an old toothbrush, a cleaning rod, a bore snake, a few cleaning brushes such as a bore brush and a chamber brush and possibly an eyelet, a worm or jag for use on certain rifles.

Bore brushes and chamber brushes come in different sizes depending upon the caliber of the firearm. A bore brush for a 12 Gauge shotgun will be significantly larger in diameter than one intended for a .22-caliber pistol. Bore brushes can be constructed of copper, bronze, and stainless steel. They are sized to scrub the inside of the bore to loosen up carbon fouling, residue buildup, and in some cases lead or copper fouling. It is very important to ensure the size of the bore brush is compatible with the bore diameter. Too large of a brush will not fit and could even get stuck in the bore and too small of a brush will not be effective and in some cases can damage the bore.

While some pistols may have a one-piece brush and rod in order to clean them, most do not. This is where the cleaning rod comes in. Some cleaning rods are segmented and screw into the end of each other for compact storage. Like the bore brush or chamber brush they are typically constructed of a softer metal such as aluminum or brass so to not damage the bore of the firearm. Most serious shooters use one-piece rods that are vinyl coated to ensure the rod does not mar the rifling in the barrel. The only downside to these is that they can be up to 4-feet long and not convenient to store in a drawer or keep in a range bag.

A bore snake is a flexible type of cleaning rod that is easy to store as it is typically a coiled piece of string or wire that is pulled through the action of the firearm. Its primary benefit is storage with the secondary benefit of not damaging the rifling of the firearm’s barrel.Clean dry cloths in the form of shop rags, microfiber cloth, and a silicone gun and reel cloth can also come in handy.

If you truly want to go the extra mile and ensure your guns are extremely cleaned with less time and effort you can invest in a parts washer or ultrasonic cleaner. The specifics of those are a little beyond the scope of this article, however.

Person Cleaning Gun with Gloves

How To Clean Your Gun

The best way to perform a thorough cleaning of your firearm is to completely unload it all ammunition and disassemble it. Each firearm is different. A double-action revolver for example, needs to only have the cylinder opened or perhaps the grips removed; whereas a single-action revolver will typically allow the gun owner to remove the cylinder completely. A bolt action hunting rifles may be removed from its stock to facilitate cleaning and have the trigger assembly removed. Most semiautomatic rifles can be broken down further.

If the bolt can be disassembled and broken down for cleaning, that is recommended. Regardless of the type of firearm it is important to consult the owner’s manual to see how far a firearm may be disassembled in order to clean it and except for extreme cases to not go any further without consulting a reputable gunsmith or armorer.

Small parts that are excessively dirty can be soaked in solvent while the rest of the firearm is cleaned. In most cases cleaning should start from the chamber or receiver and the cleaning rod or bore snake pushed out through to the muzzle. This is to avoid possible damage to the crown of the barrel which may affect accuracy. After scrubbing with the bore brush to loosen up carbon fouling, it is recommended to pass a cleaning patch through the barrel. These can be initially soaked in solvent if needed. A succession of patches is then passed through the barrel until a clean patch is passed through and emerges from the muzzle identically. Once you have that clean patch, you can use a small amount of gun oil or other lubricant to lightly coat the patch and lubricate and protect the bore.

The small parts such as the bolt, firing pin, extractor, etc. can be removed from the solvent, scrubbed to remove dirt, fouling and the like; cleaned thoroughly and then lubed and replaced. At this point you can reassemble the firearm and clean the externals and coat all moving parts and the exterior with a light coat of lubricant to protect the outside. Excessive oil can damage wood stocks, so it is always recommended to wipe all surfaces down with a clean cloth when finished.

Cleaning Gun with Brush

How Often Should You Clean Your Gun

It is recommended to thoroughly clean your firearm after every use. A proper cleaning will ensure your firearm will work when it needs to and not break down over time. About every other month, firearms should be inspected and at least have the externals rubbed with gun oil or another lubricant to ensure their proper functioning. For hunting rifles and shotguns that may not see much use beyond an annual hunting season, cleaning is advised when they are taken out for use at the beginning of the season and at least once again at the end of the season before they are put away again. This also includes the choke tubes on shotguns equipped with choke tubes. A stuck choke due to lack of regular maintenance and cleaning can end a hunt prematurely.

Corrosive ammunition and black powder

Although it seems to be less commonplace as it once was, if you are shooting corrosive ammunition or genuine black powder, the firearm must be cleaned immediately after any shooting session.

Corrosive ammo refers to the manufacturing process in which the primers contained mercury or other caustic salts, rusting, and corroding your firearm as quickly as within 24 hours. Much of this ammunition was manufactured over 75 years ago and is typically in short supply. However, it is still out there and primarily afflicting surplus rifle shooters who relied on cheap surplus foreign-made ammunition. Most corrosive primers are known as Berdan primers and are easily identifiable by the presence of two flash holes instead of one. Not all Berdan primed rounds are corrosive primers, but if the ammunition was manufactured prior to the 1990s; it’s likely.

To clean a firearm that was exposed to genuine black powder or corrosive ammunition, hot soapy water is often used. The key is to get the water as hot as possible and use a soap like Dawn. Even better is to use a product designed for dealing with corrosive ammo.

When cleaning with water it is advisable to use an air compressor to ensure that every drop of water has been dried out of the firearm. Once dry, a lubricant can be applied to preserve and protect it.

Why is it Important to Have a Clean Gun

Having a clean firearm goes beyond mere aesthetics. Although some gun owners seem to have grafted onto the “hard use” look to exaggerate their use of the firearm; sooner or later they will pay the price for this bravado. Namely when the gun stops working. The metal will pit and corrode, the moving parts will stop moving, and in a self-defense scenario the firearm will become unreliable. A dirty barrel can ruin your day at the shooting range if nothing else.

Make no mistake, routine maintenance of a firearm is crucial. Whether it is a firearm kept for self-defense, a hunting rifle, competition gun, or even an antique family heirloom. When it needs to fire reliably and accurately, a firearm that has not received a proper cleaning is likely to fail. Likewise, it is important to lubricate the metal parts, even if those parts are made of stainless steel.

All machines, whether they are tools in the garage, an automobile, dirt bike or a handgun require proper maintenance on a regular basis to keep them running effectively for a long time. For firearms that proper maintenance includes cleaning and lubrication on a regular basis.