The Basics of Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance

Regular preventative firearm cleaning and maintenance are crucial if you want to keep your guns in tip-top shape.

Owning a gun comes with countless responsibilities; included in that lengthy list is proper care and maintenance. Without it, your firearms cannot function correctly, which could lead to major issues that are incredibly dangerous. 

In an ideal world, you would clean your guns within a day of using them. When you skip cleaning your firearms, dirt, gunpowder, and other grime and debris will harden into a problematic carbon film, making it much more challenging to remove and can make operating them unsafe. 

Getting into a good habit of cleaning and inspecting your weapons after every use can significantly increase their lifespans. Continue reading to learn more about cleaning and maintaining your guns below.

Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance Basics

Before diving into the basics of firearm cleaning and maintenance, here’s what you need to know:

Safety First — Regardless of whether you’re shooting your gun or cleaning it, safety must be your number one priority. Make 100% certain that your firearm is unloaded before beginning. Find an area with good lighting and ventilation, and remove all ammunition and any distractions from your workspace. 

Now that it’s safe, follow your owner’s manual’s instructions to disassemble your gun for cleaning. For most firearms, complete disassembly isn’t necessary; a field stripping is sufficient. And for revolvers, you probably won’t need to disassemble them for general routine cleanings.

Cleaning Agents 101 — Generally speaking, there are three kinds of chemicals that you will use to clean your guns. Each has its own purpose and should never be used as a substitute for another product unless it explicitly states it has multiple uses. Here’s more on the three chemicals you’ll use:

  • Cleaning Agents — These solvents and degreasers are meant to dissolve or loosen any gunk stuck to your gun, making it easier for you to wipe away.
  • Lubricants — When applied to clean firearms, lubricants help each of the moving and working parts smoothly glide past each other, increasing its reliability.
  • Protectants — Use protectants to protect the exposed metal surfaces of your gun and help prevent corrosion and rust.

You will need, at the very least, a cleaning agent and lubricant. Protectants are not always necessary, especially if your firearm is mainly comprised of stainless steel, plastic, or has a permanent protective finish. However, if you live near the ocean and the salt content in the air is high, you might consider applying a protectant anyway.

Cleaning Tools and Gear — It doesn’t matter whether you buy a firearm cleaning kit or purchase the necessary tools individually. You’ll just want to make sure you have access to the four main tools needed:

  • Bore Brushes or Boresnakes — Bore brushes are stiff, wire brushes that come in various sizes, so make sure to get the one that is the exact diameter of your weapon’s barrel.
    A Boresnake is a cloth wrapped around a cord and is sometimes coupled with a bore brush. Thread the cord through your gun’s barrel and then pull the fabric and brushes completely through.
  • Standard Brushes — Your standard or utility brushes will come in different sizes and shapes. Many designs are similar to a toothbrush. Some have stiff metal bristles, others have softer nylon bristles, and some have both. These brushes are great for removing large particles from most parts of your gun.
  • Cleaning Patches — Cleaning patches or cloths are small bits of fabric, typically made from cotton. They are used to remove gunpowder residue and smaller particles on your firearm. If you’d rather, you can use a regular washcloth or old rag instead.
  • Extension Rod — Using an extension rod to hold your cleaning patches will make cleaning hard-to-reach crevices a breeze.

Methods and Best Practices for Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance

Now that your firearm is disassembled, you can begin.

STEP ONE — Use a bore brush or Boresnake–and an extension rod if necessary–to firmly clean the inside of your barrel. Repeat this step as many times as needed until the dirt, carbon, and gunpowder is gone. 

Do the same to all other components with a brush, paying close attention to the trigger housing, hammer, breech, bolt and cylinder, and slide, as applicable. If necessary, use some solvent to make this process easier.

STEP TWO — Use solvent to moisten a cleaning patch or rag, and wipe each gun’s exposed surfaces. Continue this step until the patches or cloth come out clean.

STEP THREE — Once everything is clean, add a light layer of lubricant to any surface that rubs or moves against another part. Just make sure you don’t put too much lubricant on your firearm since it can make it sticky; this will attract lint, dirt, and other particles.

Always refer to your owner’s manual to see if your particular gun needs lubricant in any specific places. However, here’s an excellent place to start:

  • For semi-automatic pistols, make sure to lubricate the recoil spring, the entire bottom of the slide, and any of the top surfaces of the frame that contact the slide. 
  • Revolvers only require a thin coat of lubricant around your ejector rod and hammer. 
  • For rifles, lubricate the bolt, bolt carrier, and firing pin assembly. 
  • Most shotguns only need lubricant around the bolt. Refer to your owner’s manual to see if your particular firearm needs lubricant anywhere else.

After applying a thin coat of lubricant, reassemble your gun and work your action about eight to ten times to spread the lubricant evenly. 

STEP FOUR — Next, perform a function test, which should be outlined in your owner’s manual. 

STEP FIVE — Finally, apply a thin layer of protectant to any exposed metal surfaces if necessary.

STEP SIX — Lastly, scrub your hands thoroughly after you’re finished cleaning. Carbon and gunpowder contain lead and other substances that can be harmful if your skin absorbs them.

Need Help With Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance? Let the Experts at SUB M.O.A. Firearms Help!

Firearm cleaning and maintenance can be time-consuming. If you want help with this task, contact SUB M.O.A. Firearms pros for all of your gunsmithing needs. We are located in Henefer, Utah, and can do it all— repairing, building, and cleaning guns. Contact our experienced team today to learn more about what we do.