You just got home from some awesome range time. You toss your bag aside, unpack your firearms and savor the smell of gunpowder. Now before you move on with the rest of your day and put your guns away, CLEAN THEM!
Not all of us like to do this, me especially, but it is an absolute necessity. I personally treat my range time like dinner time. I finish my meal, then I wash my dishes. I’ve made this a habit, and look at it like any other household chore. The difference being, a dirty dish is not a matter of life or death. A dirty firearm can, and will malfunction. There are a multitude of examples that a simple internet search will reveal. Use these as cautionary tales, if you must. If you have a friend in the military, they will tell you this is a huge part of keeping your firearm in proper working order.;
Early on in my gun experience, I had a little Walther P22 that I’d take to the range upwards of three times a week. After a month of this, I started to have insane malfunctions. I’m talking every other round. I spoke to the range officer, who knew I was very new to guns. He grabbed my pistol, disassembled it and ran a finger up and down the slide. The look on his face was pure horror as he showed me his finger was literally caked in carbon. That was a valuable lesson, and I’m very appreciative that he took the time to point out the damage this was doing to my pistol.
I never cleaned it. I never lubricated it.
This could have cost me dearly, and he was quick to point that out. After giving me a few pointers on the how and why, he loaded me up with some Hoppes, a barrelsnake and a few other odds and ends (patches, a brush, cleaning rod, etc.) and told me that the next time he saw me, he’d better see that gun shine. I ran home and spent the next two hours making sure my pistol was spotless.
Now, this isn’t a guide for the seasoned gun owner. They already know the importance of keeping their firearms clean (hopefully). With the surge in gun ownership across the country, in my opinion, this is valuable knowledge for the new shooter. It can also save you the embarrassment that I suffered at the range.
So where do we start?
First things first, you must know how to properly break down, and reassemble your firearm. Some are easy, some are incredibly complex. YouTube is a valuable resource here. Simply search on your firearm and disassembly, or field strip. Once you’ve mastered this, and understand the inner workings and action of your firearm, you can move on to cleaning. There are a few considerations here, such as your location and climate. If you’re out West in the desert, sand is obviously your enemy. If it gets inside the moving parts of your gun, it will absolutely wreak havoc, as it is an abrasive. If you are down South, it can get very humid. Humidity equals moisture. Moisture and metal equals rust. In a more neutral environment, such as the Midwest, these aren’t as big of issues. That doesn’t mean you’re free from worry though, by any means. Wherever you live, shooting your firearm is going to get it dirty.
The insides of firearms contain moving parts that are almost always metal on metal. If you take nothing else away from this, it should be that these NEED to be properly cleaned and lubricated. It would be impossible to cover every moving part of every type of firearm, but this is where educating yourself on the inner workings of your particular gun is priceless. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves though, as you don’t want to lubricate prior to cleaning. Otherwise you’ll end up with a sludge of carbon, dirt, and oil gumming up the works.
Again, attempting to cover every part of a firearm to clean would be next to impossible, but there are a few fundamentals that are common to every gun, whether it’s a pistol, shotgun, rifle, or…even a tank.
Let’s start with the most obvious, the barrel. Carbon and debris can build up in your barrel and the consequence of not keeping it clean can be catastrophic. Gas and pressure escape primarily through the barrel, and if this is impeded by a lodged projectile, you’re in for a bad (and potentially fatal) time. So how do we clean the barrel? What’s the best way? Well, it boils down to personal preference. For me, I prefer barrel, or boresnakes. These are essentially small, woven ropes that taper down on one side to a weight. You can drop these into your barrel and simply pull them through. More often than not, these contain integrated brushes that help scrub buildup as you pull it down the length of the barrel. These are sized per caliber, and I like to keep one for each caliber I shoot.
Alternately, you can use a cleaning rod and patches saturated with your favorite cleaner. These are generally preferred for small arms, such as pistols and revolvers as they have smaller barrels. The advantage to using a rod and patches is that you can see the build up on the patches, whereas with snakes, it is less evident. Additionally, a rod and patch system is the easiest way to lubricate your barrel once you’re done cleaning it.
Next we’ll go over the basics for cleaning your action. This can, in the case of rifles and shotguns, involve a bolt, whereas with a pistol you’re dealing with a slide that houses your action and firing pin, in most cases. However, this is not universal and really depends on your particular firearm. Again, I would stress that you become intimately familiar with the particular mechanism of your gun. There is a general truth that, regardless of the type of firearm, this is where the majority of build-up and carbon will deposit. The consequence of a dirty action is less lethal, in theory, than a dirty barrel. Unless we’re talking about a malfunction at a critical time, such as a self-defense scenario.
In rifles and shotguns, access and removal of the bolt is easy and makes cleaning a snap. With pistols, unless you’re disassembling the slide, you don’t have easy access to the firing mechanism. This is ok, though, as most modern pistols are designed to protect the firing mechanism, making complete disassembly unnecessary for routine cleaning. For long term care, it would benefit you to also learn how to disassemble the slide to access the insides and firing pin.
The technique boils down to personal preference. The goal is to remove build-up. Some people like wire brushes, some people (like myself) prefer a toothbrush as it can be a little more gentle. Your choice of cleaning solution is also up to you. There are many great brands out there, and a little homework will go a long way in finding the right cleaning solution for you. I like to start with a Q-Tip or even a rag, or old t-shirt, soaked in solution and run it all around, more than a few times. After doing this, I let it sit for a few minutes so the solution can do its work. This helps to break up the carbon and dirt/build-up. Then, I hit it with the brush and scrub, scrub, scrub until I’m satisfied I’ve gotten all the gunk. A good way to tell if you’ve got more scrubbing to do is to take another Q-Tip, dip it in your cleaning solution, and run it all around the area you’ve cleaned. If you see any dirt or discoloration, you’ve probably got more scrubbing to do. Once you’re sure you’ve gotten it all cleaned up, its time to lubricate.
The big takeaway here is to ensure cleanliness and sufficient lubrication wherever metal meets metal. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive tutorial, but more so a guide for new shooters on some of the basics for keeping your firearms in good working order. It’s not fun, but it is a necessity because these are tools that you need to function properly in that critical moment of potential self-defense.
Do you have any cool tips to add? How do you clean your guns? What products and techniques do you use? Leave a comment below!