Gun Cleaning Basics

Proper maintenance of firearms is a key part of gun ownership. While it seems like a simple task, it can be surprisingly difficult when first starting out. Like all other aspects of firearms ownership and use, maintaining a weapon is a matter of discipline. It is a great place to begin building that discipline up, especially for new or younger gun-users.

Getting into a routine is key to making sure your gun—whether it’s a rifle, sidearm, or shotgun—is kept in proper working order. Carbon will build up and cause issues with feeding and ejecting rounds, as well as impairing accuracy, especially when it coats the barrel. Dust can interfere with firing mechanisms. Water will begin to rust the weapon, especially if it is stored wet. All of these issues can cause serious malfunctions, some of them very dangerous. It’s a good idea to clean the weapon after every use, so that it never becomes too dirty, similar to how you clean your bathroom so that it doesn’t become ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. I’ve seen weapons with carbon build-up so bad that chips of it had to be forcibly pried off for hours at a time. It is a good idea not to let your weapon fall into that condition, and here are a few tips to help you out.

Gun Cleaning Kit

A good, well-stocked gun cleaning kit is a great place to start. You can purchase an entire one very easily, with all sorts of bell and whistles already included, or create one yourself with tools that you know you need.

Some key components you should be sure to have:

  • Bore snake. These are the best way to ensure the barrel is kept clean. Narrow, spiral bore brushes can be attached.
  • Cleaning patches. You will be lost without these. They can be used with the bore snake and are often used to scrub away carbon and dust in narrower areas.
  • Brushes. These have pretty stiff bristles. They come in different sizes, which you’ll need to clean different parts of the weapon. There are round ones, as well, which can make cleaning the chamber much easier.
  • Rags. It’s very common to find people using a cut-up old t-shirt or shop rags. You’ll be scrubbing a lot so have a few on hand.
  • Lubricant. Not only will this help break down carbon, it will help your gun’s moving parts stay in working order.
  • You can also purchase many, many other tools. Picks, which look like dental picks, may be a smart purchase for getting at anything that’s particularly hard or hard to get to. There is a massive variety of brushes out there, and many different lengths of cleaning rods, though I really recommend a bore snake for ease of use.

Cleaning the Firearm

As always with anything involving a firearm, safety first! Be sure the weapon is clear and that there are no rounds in the chamber. It’s common to hear of firearms incidents that occur because someone was cleaning a loaded weapon. A good habit to get into is making that there isn’t ammo anywhere near the gun, as well none in the chamber. Set loaded magazines to the side and keep the space you’re using clear. Situational awareness will make sure everyone is safe, at home, on the range, and in an emergency.

Break down your weapon. If you’re new to this particular model of firearm, learn how to take it apart and put it together again. There are plenty of videos online detailing how to do this for any kind of gun on the market. Make sure you keep track of all the parts. All of them are important.

A clean, clear area is the best work-space. The only thing nearby should be your gun cleaning kit.

The order you clean the different parts of your weapon is up to you. Apply lubricant when build-up is bad and needs help, but make sure you dry it off when you’re done. Pay special attention to the firing pin, ejector, and barrel, as debris on these parts will easily interfere with function. It’s a good idea to clean the magazine well, too, as dirt there can cause problems with ejecting and loading magazines quickly and properly.

Using a Bore Snake

A bore snake is an unusual tool. Many people are often unsure on how to use it right. Here a few tips:

  • You can use a cleaning patch on the end with the patch tip attachment or the bore brush attachments, which come in different sizes.
  • Drop the weighted end of the bore snake through the chamber into the barrel and pull it through. You’ll need to repeat this a few times. The patch tip is a good way to get a feel for how dirty it is. You can also look down the barrel, though be very, very sure the weapon is apart and unloaded before you attempt this.
  • Make sure you use the bore snake in the right direction! A bore snake should be threaded in the same direction as a bullet travels, not dropped down the front of the barrel. Otherwise it can get stuck, whether you’re using a brush or a cleaning patch, and is very difficult to remove. It can even damage the barrel.

Storage After Cleaning

  • To make sure your gun is going to stay clean, be sure to store it in a storage area that is clean, free from lint and dust, and dry.
  • As a general rule, you should keep a light coat of lubricant on your firearm’s moving parts. This will help keep it from rusting.
  • In some climates, dust is always present and no storage container is safe. In that case, do not leave lubricant on your weapons. It will combine with the dust in the air and turn into a grimy film that will clog up every nook and cranny in the gun.

Ready to Start?

While cleaning a firearm can seem like a chore, it certainly isn’t a waste of time. It is a simple task with simple tools, with a clear beginning and end. Many gun-owners find it to be very relaxing, a chance to focus on something simple at the end of a long and busy day. Above all, it helps keep your firearm in excellent condition, ready for hunting, sport, time at the range, or the emergency we all want to be prepared for.


About kzurmehl

I'm a lifelong shooter. I grew up hunting and shooting on the range. Firearms have been a part of my life and continue to be so.
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