Few cleaning tasks are enjoyable - even the ones where you enjoy the thing that has to get cleaned!
Cleaning a gun can be a pain, but we’re here to give you some tips and tricks for how to clean a rifle, shotgun, or handgun in a snap, so you can get back out to the range or start that John Wick movie marathon in no time.
As with most “how-to’s” in the gun world, the best method for how to clean a gun - no matter the platform - is a topic of great debate.
One thing is not up for discussion however, is the importance of cleaning your gun at all. If for no other reason, you probably paid good money for your pew pew prize, and it deserves proper respect.
An even more pressing reason to clean your gun regularly however, is safety. A clean gun is a safe(r) gun. Responsible cleaning practices reduce the risk of negligent discharge and malfunction while simultaneously improving the quality of your shot.
So how do you clean a gun? Here we’ve compiled some best-practices from the experts to help keep your firearm in tip-top shape:
Set Yourself Up For Gun Cleaning Success
Before you even begin the actual task of cleaning, there are some logistics and tools that will make the process easier.
Gun cleaning and real estate share one important rule in common: location, location, location.
The most ideal setting is one that is both well-ventilated and protected from climate elements like harsh sun, wind, or blowing debris. Many gun enthusiasts agree that an outdoor environment--such as a shed, barn, or garage--is the best place to clean your gun.
Even if you can’t get outside of the house, being in a well-ventilated room with a sturdy flat surface is a good start.
Additionally, if you have little ones in the house (or even curious critters), try to find a space that puts a safe distance between fascinating gun parts and fascinated fingers.
It’s best to avoid cleaning guns in places like the kitchen or dining room, to avoid having food and drink contaminated with cleaning solutions (or vice versa!).
One really helpful tip is to have a container nearby for loose parts. This way, as you disassemble and clean the gun, you can collect these small pieces into one place so they’re not lost.
Also, placing a flashlight nearby in case you do, in fact, accidentally drop any of the small pins or springs will allow you to find it quickly.
Do Not Irritate!
Finally, keep a box of disposable gloves and eye protection handy to put a barrier between your skin and eyes and the harsh chemicals you’ll be working with.
Now you’re ready to get cleaning.
How to Clean a Shotgun or Rifle
1 - Unload and Disassemble
Check (and triple-check!) that your rifle or shotgun is unloaded.
At most, you should only need to break down the major components of a rifle, separating the action from the barrel and bore. With the help of tools like a gun cradle or butler and bore guide, however, you can simply secure your rifle in the vice and get to work.
The vice holds the firearm steady while a bore guide protects the action from debris and seals it against oils and solvents. It’s a good idea to clamp the barrel at a slightly downward angle to prevent product “goo” from drifting backward into the action.
For guns with modified parts--or if you’re cleaning a platform that is new to you--be sure to consult the owners manual for any model-specific breakdown instructions.
2 - Apply Powder-Cleaning Solvent
These next steps are where gun owners start to divide on which order of events is best.
Others skip the first round of solvent-soaked wet patches, run the soaked bronze brush down the bore, and then finish with soaked patches.
Regardless of where you begin, the general consensus is to soak the bronze brush in powder-fouling cleaning solvent and run that down the bore from muzzle to breech anywhere from 10-20 times. For guns where the barrel is attached to the receiver, you may have an easier time using a boresnake.
Then push several (3-4) powder-cleaning solvent-soaked patches down the bore using a jag in the same manner. Many experienced gun owners recommend allotting several minutes (10-15) in between these patches to allow the solution to really “work” and remove all fouling.
You should see improvement over time such that the final patch comes out almost white. Then run a dry patch (or two) down the bore to remove any excess solvent.
For regular maintenance cleaning, you’re pretty well done and can skip to step 4.
If your gun has been heavily fouled with copper, you’ll want to add in the next step to keep it firing smooth.
3 - Remove Copper Fouling
Similar to the process above, you’ll want to soak several patches in solvent that aggressively attacks copper fouling.
Opinions vary on whether you should only ever run patches from breech-to-bore without exception, or if “scrubbing” the bore with back and forth strokes is more effective for copper removal.
If you go the strokes route, about 20 up-and-back is a good start. Then run one solvent-soaked patch and one dry patch breech-to-bore and examine. If it’s clear (of blue dye), you’re done. Otherwise, repeat until the patch comes out clean
If you prefer to do single-pass pushes through the bore, run a copper solvent-soaked patch breech-to-bore, and let it “work” for about 10 minute until the patch comes out with very little or no blue coloring. The amount of blue tells you how much copper is still present in the bore.
Word of caution on the ammonia-based copper solvents: they’re powerful stuff and can get the job done, but you do not want to let this product dry out on its own sitting in the bore. This can mess up your barrel big-time.
Be sure to set a timer for each pass and finish with running a couple of dry patches down the bore, maybe one soaked in powder cleaning solution for good measure, and one more dry patch.
4 - Oil (Optional)
This might be the most hotly contested step. Plenty of shooters say you should NEVER apply lubricants to the inside of the barrel or chamber except for long-term storage.
Others, however, hold that a miniscule layer--achieved by running one oil-soaked patch down the bore, followed by two dry ones--does more good than harm.
If you do choose to apply oil, it is crucial that the layer be as thin as possible, as too much lubricant can build up pressure in the chamber and result in accidents.
5 - Reassemble, Clean Up, and Shoot or Store
If you’re going to store your shotgun or rifle for a longer period of time, applying a slightly more generous amount of oil to the bore can help prevent rust.
Then it’s time to clean your tools. Most people don’t think to “clean the cleaners, “ but this prevents buildup and keeps bore brushes, rods, and jags in good condition. You can give these a quick spray-down with brake cleaner to remove any residue they might have picked up.
Reassemble your gun (if necessary) and do a function check on the safety, trigger, slide operation and locking, magazine retention and ejection systems.
Then, kick back, grab some grub, and pop in that John Wick movie with the satisfaction that your gun is probably at least as clean as his.
When you’re ready to have some fun and “foul up” your gun again, we’ve got your ammo covered.