How to Clean a Gun

The number one rule when owning a firearm is safety. Did you know that a clean gun actually reduces the risk of accidental discharge? The more correct name is a negligent discharge, this is completely avoidable by following all safety procedures. These include: ensuring that any firearm is safely unloaded and cleared before proceeding with any disassembly work. Performing a safety check is always a mandatory first step that should be done and re-done as a double or triple check to guarantee a clear and safe firearm.

Knowing how to clean a gun is about more than just having an attractive looking firearm. It’s about safety.

Not following protocol when cleaning your weapon can lead to accidental injuries – or worse.  Besides the risks of physical injuries, there are legal implications as the firearm owner is liable for any injuries or damages that may result from a negligent discharge.

Keep reading to learn how to clean a gun the right way and tips for doing so.

Good Preparation is Key

Before you start cleaning your gun, you need to choose a clean area with plenty of space to work. The area should be well-lit and well-ventilated to avoid any mistakes or side effects from the cleaning chemicals.

Gun enthusiasts who clean guns regularly know the best place to work is outdoors or in the garage. If you have to clean your gun inside, do so near an open window. Use a table that is sturdy and free of clutter.

Avoid using your kitchen, dining room table, or any other surface where people eat or drink. Gun cleaning materials include oils, solvents, and lead or carbon fouling which can contaminate nearby food.

Another pro preparation tip is to remove all live ammunition from the room or area where the cleaning work is to be performed. Empty all gun magazines and secure all ammunition in a different location or nearby gun safe until the cleaning process is done.  This involves ensuring the removal of any other live ammunition (even if it is boxed) from the room or cleaning area and will prevent any possibility of mishandling or inadvertently introducing live ammunition in a firearm.

Consult the Manual

Are you one of those people who throws out the owner’s manual to every gadget or appliance they buy? This might be fine for your dishwasher or refrigerator, but make sure you not only keep your gun owner’s manual, but that you actually READ it in its entirety.  A great amount of attention to detail and care has been invested in the writing of the information contained in the owner’s manual.  It is a valuable reference during your ownership of the firearm and understanding along with following correct operation and practices therein will help provide you with a safe and more complete experience.

The manufacturer manual will explain exactly how to take your gun apart safely and clean it. Most manuals offer colored diagrams and detailed pictures to guarantee you both disassemble and reassemble your gun properly.

Can’t find the manual? The NRA’s Guide to Firearms Assembly provides written and visual instructions on how to take apart most handguns, shotguns, and rifles.  Manuals for specific models from various manufacturers are also available.  You can download these free of charge from the manufacturers’ websites and printed.

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get to Work

Now that you’ve taken the right safety precautions to clean your gun, let’s discuss the particulars.

Different guns will require different techniques. But here are some essential tools for the gun cleaning process.

  • Cleaning rod
  • Bore brush (caliber specific)
  • Cleaning jags (slotted and form-fitting)
  • Cleaning swab
  • Mops
  • Double-ended/utility brushes
  • Cleaning patches (caliber specific, lint and fiber-free)
  • Luster cloth/Silicone impregnated Gun and Reel Cloth
  • Cotton swabs
  • Bore snake
  • Cleaning chemicals, including bore cleaners, action cleaners, and lubricants
  • Disposable drip pan (to catch byproducts and residue of the cleaning process)

A caliber specific cleaning kit will include most if not all of the above cleaning supplies. Other materials to consider are a rubber mat to help protect all the gun parts plus your work surface. For long guns, a cleaning cradle also comes in handy for securing your gun hands-free so you can focus on controlling your tools and other loose parts.  Safety glasses should always be worn to protect against eye injury from flying springs, debris, and chemical splash/vapors. It is also a good idea to wear solvent resistant gloves to protect skin from contact with chemicals and their absorption. Use only tools and chemicals designed for the purpose of maintaining firearms.  Use care when working with solvents to prevent drippage onto wood, painted or other sensitive surfaces.

How to Clean a Gun in a few basic Steps

Here are the basic steps to properly and safely cleaning firearms of all types:

Remove the magazine and ensure the firearm is unloaded!

Clean the Barrel and Chamber

Dry brush the chamber and barrel with a copper-phosphate (or nylon) bore brush in a chamber to muzzle direction.  This will loosen and remove some of the large carbon and metal fouling from the bore.

Place a cleaning patch dipped in bore solvent on the tip of your cleaning rod. Next, push the cleaning patch through the barrel and out the other side and saturate the chamber and bore surface.

Avoid pulling it back through – this will redeposit dirt and gunk back into the bore.

Allow the cleaning solvent to break down bore fouling for 10-15 min.

Next, use just the bore brush to scrub the inside of the barrel. Use a new, dry patch to remove any residue and keep running it through the bore until the patch comes out clean.

Use a pull-through tool impregnated with a light lubricant, such as a bore snake and CLP or equivalent to further clean and treat the bore surface against corrosion.  Do not lubricate the bore using gun oil!  For long term storage only, the bore can be treated with a heavier lubricant such as Barricade (or equivalent).  This must be removed by cleaning the barrel prior to shooting the firearm!

Clean the exterior of the barrel, barrel hood, barrel lug, and the feed ramp.

Clean and Lubricate the Action

You need to clean and lubricate more than just the barrel of the gun. The action (slide, pump, or bolt) should also be cleaned using a nylon utility brush, dry cloth, and action cleaner solvent.  Spray the action liberally from the top of the frame/receiver, allowing carbon and metal debris to be washed into the drip pan. Use manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular model. Allow the cleaned sub-assemblies to dry.  Use proper disposal procedures for any cleaning residues.

Lastly, use a needle applicator to precisely apply lubricant drops at the specified lubrication points on the frame/action, slide assembly, and exterior of the barrel, as recommended by the manufacturer. It is important not to over lubricate, as this will more readily attract contaminant accumulation and could potentially cause reliability issues.

Don’t Forget the Magazines

Magazines are the source of ammunition and are responsible for proper feeding of a semiautomatic firearm. Reliable, clean magazines are critical for the proper operation of a semiautomatic.  They can be disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Special purpose brushes are available for magazine cleaning.  Use safety glasses and extra care when working with magazines during the disassembly and reassembly process, as magazine followers are spring loaded.  Magazines must never be cleaned using petroleum products, as these will contaminate ammunition primers.  Magazines should never be lubricated, but rather cleaned with a residue-free solvent or cleaning agent.

Reassemble the Firearm and Perform a Functional Check

Anytime a firearm is disassembled and reassembled, a functional check needs to be conducted in order to ensure that the firearm still operates as designed following the disassembly.  During this check the proper functioning of the trigger mechanism, safety or safeties, slide operation and locking, magazine retention and ejection systems are verified.  Follow the manufacturer’s procedure for your specific firearm and always observe the rules of gun safety!

Wipe Down the Outside of the Gun

Once the inside of the gun and it’s moving parts are clean and lubricated, it’s time to clean the exterior. A gun/reel cloth is perfect for this job.

These cloths are soft and pre-treated with silicone lubricant. This helps to remove any leftover debris, acidic prints, and adds a nice shine of protection to your weapon.

If you don’t have a silicone cloth, individual CLP wipes, or equivalent will also work well.

The Importance of a Safe, Clean Gun

Knowing how to clean a gun is about more than just a pretty appearance. A clean gun is also a safe gun and a reliable gun.

Regular gun maintenance ensures accuracy, reliability, your comfort and confidence level in using the weapon, as well as preserving the functionality and appearance of your investment.