Firearms Cleaning

A clean gun is a happy gun.

Clean guns malfunction less and shoot straighter.

Well maintained firearms hold their value better.


How many times have you heard "I didn't know it was loaded" or "I was cleaning it and it went off"?

There is no excuse for that kind of nonsense.

  • Be sure your gun is not loaded!
  • Check it twice!
  • Put ammunition in another room.
  • Use a clean organized area without distractions.


  • Tools needed to disassemble your gun as recommended by the manufacturer. Often no tools are required at all, and other times a simple screwdriver is all that is needed. Consult the manual.
  • A cleaning rod. A plastic coated rod is preferred, to protect the bore.
  • A bore brush. Bronze brushes work well.
  • A patch holder.
  • A small soft brush for cleaning crevices.
  • Dropper for dispensing solvent.
  • Some method of holding long guns. This can be a home made rack or padded vice.


  • Paper towels.
  • Soft cloths.
  • Cotton patches. I buy patches big enough for a shotgun and cut them down for smaller bores. You can also buy several sizes.
  • Gun cleaning solvent. Hoppe's Number 9 is an old favorite.
  • Gun oil and grease. Read what the manual has to say about lubrication.
  • Q Tips. These are great for cleaning most parts.
  • Pipe cleaners. Good for cleaning holes and hard to reach areas.


It is important to keep your guns clean and lubricated, but over zealous cleaning can also harm guns.

Be especially mindful of the bore. If the bore gets scratched, corroded, or just plain worn down, your firearm may suffer a loss of accuracy. Be very careful of the muzzle area. Damage here is worse. Many competition shooters use a rod guide to avoid muzzle damage to their rifles. A rod guide is a plastic device that slips over the barrel and keeps the cleaning rod centered in the bore.

Avoid placing your gun on surfaces that could scratch the finish. Cover your work area with clean soft cloths.

Be sure any solvents used will not harm any of the metal, plastic, wood or finishes of your gun.

Take your time with disassembly so as not to damage screw heads, finishes and delicate parts. Don't disassemble more than you need to.

In the past primers were corrosive. They contained compounds that damaged the bore if not cleaned immediately. Most newly manufactured ammunition is non-corrosive, but there is still quite a lot of the corrosive stuff on the market. If you shoot any corrosive ammo be sure to clean your firearm as soon as you get home from the range.


Disassemble as required.

  • Double action revolvers need no disassembly.
  • Single action revolvers need the cylinder removed.
  • Most semi-auto pistols field strip without tools. Read the manual.
  • Bolt action rifles can usually be cleaned by removing the bolt. Look for a latch at the back of the receiver. Some need the trigger held down while the bolt is pulled out. Read the manual.
  • M1 Garands and M14 types like the M1A have a trigger guard that unlatches and hinges down. Then the whole trigger group comes out and the barrel group can be removed from the stock. You don't need to do this for every cleaning.
  • M16 / AR15 types have two pins that push out to one side to separate the upper and lower. The bolt group will come out with just the rear pin released and the upper pivoted on the front pin. Pay attention to how this assembly goes back together.

Cleaning the bore (and cylinder if applicable).

  • Put a one piece, plastic coated, cleaning rod down the bore from the muzzle end.
  • Attach a bore brush.
  • Use a dropper to put some solvent on the brush. Use paper towels to catch runoff. (Dipping the brush in the bottle will eventually contaminate the unused solvent.)
  • Pull the brush through the bore. Repeat enough times to loosen the crud (ten should do it unless the bore is really filthy). Once the bore is wet with solvent you don't need to add more. Pulling is better than pushing because the rod won't flex and hit the inside of the bore.
  • Do the same to revolver cylinders.
  • Let the solvent sit in the bore while you clean other parts.
  • After the solvent sits a while, put a patch holder on the cleaning rod, moisten the patch with solvent and pull it through the bore. It will be quite dirty. Wipe down the cleaning rod to avoid recontaminating the bore.
  • Pull dry patches through the bore until they come out clean. If you suspect the bore is still dirty, try another solvent wetted patch followed by more dry patches.
  • Do the same for revolver cylinders.
  • With some guns you can look right down the bore while holding it up to the light. On others you will need a bore light, a mirror, or sometimes you can reflect enough light off your thumb nail. The bore should be shiny with no visible grunge. Old guns whose bores have not been maintained properly may be dark. If the rifling is not badly worn and all the fouling (dirt, lead. and powder residue) has been removed it should still shoot OK.

Other areas.

  • Semi-autos get dirtier than other guns. The action opens while there is still pressure in the barrel allowing the byproducts of combustion to get everywhere.
  • Clean the bolt face (or equivalent), the bolt, the slide, the magazine well, the magazine follower, and any other parts that were removed or look dirty.
  • The trigger group should be cleaned and re-lubed when it gets dirty. On some firearms the trigger group comes out as a unit. On others you may need to clean it in place. Flushing with an aerosol cleaner is often effective. Be sure the cleaner is compatible with materials and finishes with which it will come into contact.
  • The chambers of firearms that fire bottle necked cartridges are bigger than the bore. Use a chamber brush and patches to clean the chamber.
  • M16/AR15 rifles port the gas directly into the bolt assembly. As a result the bolt gets really dirty. It should be disassembled, cleaned, lubed per the manufacturers instructions, and reassembled at every cleaning.


Firearms need lubrication to function properly.

The manual will detail which parts need what kind (oil or grease) of lubrication.

In general, most firearms use oil. Some rifles with ruthless semi-auto actions (think Garand and M14) need grease on the bolt lugs and op-rod guides.

Look for places where parts slide over each other. These places often show evidence of wear, especially on parts with a finish.

Some parts should not be lubed. The gas systems of Garands and M14s are designed to operate dry.

The bore should be dry unless the firearm is to be stored. Run a dry patch through the bore before you shoot it again.

Wipe the exposed surfaces with a silicone cloth to remove finger prints and prevent rust.

Keep your guns in a dry place. Use a chemical dessicant if you live in a damp area.