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How to Clean a Gun: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Clean a Gun: A Step-by-Step Guide

In order to keep your gun working with a high degree of reliability, accuracy and longevity, a regular cleaning schedule goes a long way. Because there’s essentially a micro-explosion every time you pull the trigger, the released debris and residue impacts the overall functionality of your firearm. Proper care will help ensure your investment stays protected, while performing at its best in any shooting scenario.

Here’s a preview of the steps we’ll cover (feel free to jump ahead):

Why is Gun Cleaning so Important?

Cleaning a gun is important for many reasons. The first being the overall familiarity you develop when disassembling, working with its interior components and reassembling a firearm. Even if you’re new to the world of gun ownership, an intimate knowledge of your weapon will help build the relationship you have with it, and can help your ability to strike a target. Plus, you’ll develop an added sense for when the gun is firing poorly and be better suited to fix the issue.

Second, like anything—a car, bike, or even your lawn, for example—your gun is bound to last much longer with regular upkeep and maintenance. With consistent cleaning, proper storage, and correct use, a gun can last and function correctly for decades. As an example, just look to some of the guns from the Civil War era that are still operable today due to a proper care and maintenance routine.

At the same time, regularly cleaning your gun allows you to monitor for any minor issues, like small cracks, burrs, or dings, that could become a larger problem down the line if not properly addressed.

Finally, cleaning a gun is important because it increases accuracy and reliability by reducing build-up and stoppages. Over time, carbon, lead, copper, and plastic debris builds up in the various gun components, like the bore, action, and chamber. This process is known as “fouling” and is caused by added elements (the bullet, powder, and wad) interacting with a harder metal (the bore). For example, a bullet’s exterior, often made of lead or copper, rubs off and leaves behind a small amount of residue every time it’s fired.

In addition, consider the impacts of the environment you’re operating your gun in, like hunting in the rain or if your gun is stored in a damp basement, for instance. This can lead to rusting of the metal parts of your gun, barrel pitting, as well as damage to wood components. Accompanied by fouling build-up, it can greatly impact the way your gun fires. Regular cleaning will keep those problems at bay and give you accurate, reliable shots every time.

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A Clean Gun is a Safer Gun

A gun owner that forgoes regular cleaning puts themselves in a risky situation – one in which a gun may not be fireable when it needs to be. And, whether you’re in a self-defense situation, hunting or shooting rounds at the range, accuracy and reliability are of the utmost importance for all types of gun owners. After every time you use your gun for an extended period of time, you should clean it to ensure it’s ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

Cleaning a Handgun vs. Cleaning a Rifle: Is there a Difference?

There is one main difference between cleaning a handgun vs. cleaning a rifle: the overall ease of the process. The larger the firearm, the harder it may be for you to clean it. In that case, you may need to invest in a cradle, which gives you a stand on which to set your gun and clean. Otherwise, the cleaning processes for each type of gun are pretty similar.

Now, onto the good stuff: our instructions for how to clean your gun.

Step #1: Make Sure You Have the Right Supplies

Before you get started, it’s important to gather the proper supplies. Different guns will require different supplies – you can purchase all-purpose kits or sometimes find one specifically for your model of gun. If you want to assemble your own, the following list is a good foundation for many of the items you may need.

What Do You Need to Clean a Gun?

Preparing the Workspace

  • Solvent-resistant gloves
  • Protective eyewear
  • Cleaning cradle (secures longer shotguns and rifles)
  • Disposable drip pan
  • Rubber mat

Cleaning the Gun

  • Cleaning chemicals, including bore cleaners, action cleaners, and lubricants
  • Cotton cleaning patches
  • Cotton cleaning mops
  • Cleaning rod
  • Bore brush (bronze or nylon)
  • Double-ended brushes
  • Extra cotton swabs
  • Luster cloth

Cleaning the Workspace

  • Trashbags
  • Receptacle for recycling empty toxic cleaning containers
  • Cleaning rags, mineral spirits, and heavy-duty soap

Cleaning a Gun with Household Items

If you’re short on supplies, you can clean a gun with many items lying around your house or in the garage. Try some of the following options when you’re in a pinch:

  • Rod – any metal, cylindrical rod that properly fits through the bore can suffice as a cleaning tool.
  • Cotton swabs – normal swabs from the local pharmacy can serve as a substitute for patches and mops, as long as they aren’t too big or abrasive.
  • Mineral spirits – this magical solution degreases even the toughest lubricant and is handy to keep around.
  • Homemade solvent – using an equal mix of transmission oil, kerosene, and mineral spirits, you can create your own effective mix.
  • Wood polish/wax – for guns with wooden inserts, handles, or stocks, you might be able to use furniture or floor cleaning supplies, depending on the type of wood.
  • Soft rag – anything from a cotton towel to a microfiber cloth can help with wipe-down and removing fingerprints.

Step #2: Set up Your Cleaning Station

Setting up your cleaning station is often an overlooked part of the process, but a necessary one nonetheless. In the past, gun owners put little thought into the proper environment for cleaning a gun. But, modern science is clear that breathing in toxic chemical fumes does no favors for your health. So, you should take the proper precautions when setting up a cleaning station.

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Where’s the Best Place to Clean a Gun?

The best place to clean a gun is in a well-ventilated area like an open garage or shed, or—ideally—completely outside. Avoid enclosed areas like basements and small bedrooms. You can also consider one of the many non-toxic cleaning options available on today’s market, but a protective pair of gloves and proper ventilation should provide enough protection against harmful solvent and lubrication.

Step #3 Know Your Gun

One of the top commandments of owning any firearm is: Know Thy Gun. This is particularly important when undergoing the cleaning process, as your gun may have its own unique requirements, parts, and/or assembly. Before starting, refer to the owner’s manual that accompanies your gun model – this is where you’ll find instructions to take the gun apart and any specific cleaning instructions. If you’ve misplaced your manual, many manufacturers have them archived on their websites, or you can purchase the NRA Guide to Firearms Assembly, a two-volume collection of hundreds of historic and new gun manuals.

Additionally, reference any manual for firearm accessories that you may own. For example, cleaning a gun suppressor is its own process that may require additional steps. It’s generally recommended to clean all components and accessories at the same time.

Step #4: Start Cleaning

Now, you’re ready to start the cleaning process – follow the steps in order to achieve a better performing, longer lasting gun.

Unload & Disassemble Gun

After referencing your manual, you’re ready to disassemble your gun. Don’t forget to unload it completely—even when you remove a magazine there can still be a round in the chamber. Open the chamber and double-check that you can see through the barrel.

Begin disassembling your gun per the manual’s instructions in order to access each component that needs cleaning. Unless your gun is especially dirty, you probably won’t need to strip the gun all the way down; again the manufacturer will inform you as to how much disassembly is required for your firearm. In general, many handguns and shotguns are cleaned without heavy stripping, whereas semi-automatic and automatic firearms are stripped of all major components.

Clean Gun Barrel

Using your cleaning rod, cotton patches, and holder, start with the hollow interior of the barrel, otherwise known as the bore. Soak a patch in solvent and run it through the bore using the rod until it comes out the back end. Do this once or twice for an initial clearing of debris. Next, obtain a deeper clean with your bore brush, running it through the barrel a few times for more stubborn residue. Finally, run solvent-soaked cotton patches one at a time through the bore with your rod (back to font) until it comes out clean. After the gunk is gone, run a dry patch through to remove leftover moisture from the cleaning supplies.

Note that a muzzle guard may come in handy at this step in the process – these keep the cleaning rod from damaging the muzzle.

Lubricate Gun Barrel

The next step is lubricating the barrel. Apply some gun lubricant to a cotton mop and attach it to the end of a rod. Run the attachment through the bore to provide it with a thin coating of grease. This protects the gun from damaging heat and friction that occurs when it is fired while reducing wear and preventing corrosion caused by moisture.

Clean & Lubricate Action

Grab your gun brush, and using solvent, clean the entirety of the gun’s action. Take a soft, clean, dry rag and wipe it dry. Then, apply a small amount of lubrication to the action (too much lubricant and the action can get messy and attract debris) to ensure smooth operation and prevent corrosion.

Reassemble & Wipe Down Gun

Finally, you’re ready to reassemble your gun according to your manual. Once all the components are back in order, wipe down the firearm with a luster cloth. These contain silicone lubricant that cleans the remaining dirt, dust, or debris while adding an attractive shine. Of course, most any soft cloth will work – microfiber rags or cloth t-shirts, for example.

Repeat After Every Use

Although a gun cleaning regime is largely based on personal preference, repeating the above steps after every use ensures that you’re protecting your investment. After all, it’s been shown that a cleaner gun lasts longer and shoots with more accuracy. Plus, it only takes 15-30 minutes, and many even find it therapeutic, putting them more in touch with their firearm.

Always Prioritize Gun Safety

Above all, always make it your number one priority to stay safe when cleaning a firearm. Ensuring the gun is empty before beginning is an important first step. Following the steps in this guide, as well as in your manual, will help you get started. And of course, once you’re done cleaning your weapon, store it in a properly locked safe or cabinet.

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