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How Do I Clean a Gun and How Often Should I Clean My Gun?

How Do I Clean a Gun and How Often Should I Clean My Gun?

Two of the most important questions from new gun owners are “How do I clean a gun?” and “How often should I clean my gun?” There are a lot of varying opinions about cleaning guns, but one thing that virtually everyone can agree on is that a clean gun is a lot safer than a dirty gun and, in some circumstances, a clean gun can shoot a lot more accurately.

Why Does a Gun Need to be Cleaned?

Every time a gun is fired, the primer ignites a fire and the fire ignites the gunpowder. This ignition produces gas in the cartridge or shell which propels the bullet out of the barrel.  However, the burning gunpowder and primer as well as the pressure from the gasses leave behind a residue in the gun that builds up and requires cleaning.

Additionally, as a bullet is projected out of the barrel, the bullet leaves behind very small metal fragments as it is pushed down the bore of the barrel. This metal, depending on the bullet type, can be lead, copper, or some other form of hybrid metal like bismuth.  The build-up of metal inside the barrel begins to act like sandpaper which rubs against the next bullet, taking off more and more metal with each bullet and fouling the bore.  Once the bore is caked in metal fragments, the accuracy and safety of the gun begin to suffer.

How often should hunting firearms be cleaned?

In an ideal world, every time you shoot your firearm it should be cleaned and lubricated. When you are hunting, it is not always easy to stop and clean your firearm, but it should be cleaned as soon as you’re safely able to do so. It is important to get your gun cleaned after it is exposed to water, moisture, corrosive ammunition, dust, salt, dirt, and mud.  Leaving your gun without cleaning and proper lubrication can lead to rust, corrosion, and even failure.

Hunting weapons can make it through a trip without getting cleaned, but they need to be cleaned quickly and thoroughly upon returning home. Carrying a small cleaning kit in your pack or kit when heading out on a hunting trip is a good idea. Tearing down a firearm after hunting should happen regularly during the season. 

How Often Should Handguns be Cleaned?

Pistols or any type of handguns should be cleaned and wiped down after every shooting trip.  If you are at the range weekly your gun should be stripped down and scrubbed down weekly, and perhaps even more often, depending on the number of rounds you put through your weapon. Cleaning regularly allows you to check all parts and understand what is wearing down and what could fail.  Fixing parts before they break keeps your weapon safer and in tip-top shape.  

Do I Need to Clean My Gun if I Store It in a Safe?

Even if your firearm is stored in a safe, it will still need to be cleaned. Your firearm should be wiped down and checked every 3-5 months when kept in a safe. Even when your firearm has not been in use, ensure a thorough cleaning every year to check for rust, cracks, corrosion, and any other damage or parts that are not working properly.

Gun Cleaning Manuals

Every gun comes with an owner’s manual and it is important to keep it.  Many of these owner’s manuals have diagrams with each firearm part labeled. Having these diagrams is vitally important for reference and they will help you ensure that each part is accounted for. They will also help with the disassembling and reassembling procedures.  Following the instructions in the owner’s manual will help to keep the firearm safe. If you do not have the owner’s manual, the Firearm Guide might be a great place to start. It has manuals for over 77,000 guns, 17,000 schematics, and it covers 1,350 manufacturers as a reference tool for anything you might need. 

Gun Cleaning Tools

Every gun is slightly different and requires different tools.  Make sure the tools you are using are designated for the firearm that you are cleaning. Many manufacturers make caliber-specific cleaning kits that provide you with everything you need, specific to the firearm you are cleaning. Note: Some guns require specialty tools including punches to remove pins and screwdrivers to remove trigger assemblies.

Important tools for the process include:

  • Cleaning pads/Patches
  • Bore Brushes
  • Cleaning Rods/Bore Snakes
  • Cleaning Jags
  • Swabs/Swab-its/Cotton Qtips
  • Brushes
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Cleaning Chemicals
  • Tray for holding parts
  • Cleaning Pad/Cleaning Tray
  • Safety Glasses
  • Nitrite or Latex Gloves

Gun Cleaning Safety

First and foremost, which we will mention many times in this article, always make sure that the firearm is pointed in a safe direction and checked to ensure that it is safely unloaded and cleared.  This first step is so vitally important that it should be considered your mandatory first step, second step, and even third step.  There is no excuse for negligent discharges, so check, check again, and then check a third time to make sure that your firearm is unloaded and clear. 

Gun Cleaning Preparation 

Preparation helps reduce the amount of work that needs to happen and makes the entire process clean and simple. You should have a designated, well-ventilated workspace. Gun cleaning oils, solvents, lead, and carbon from your firearm is caustic and you don’t want these anywhere near places where eating might occur. This is also the time to make sure there is no live ammunition anywhere near your workspace or even in the same room as where weapon cleaning is occurring.

All of the cleaning tools, i.e. brushes, chemicals, swabs, rods, etc. should be laid out and ready to go before you begin. Gun cleaning pads or trays on a big open area are great for ensuring solvents and/or chemicals are contained.

What to Look For When Cleaning a Gun

When cleaning a gun, it is important to look for signs of wear at the firing pins, trigger springs, all small parts, screws, and the barrel.  Look for pitting in the bore, both inside and the barrel outside.  Additionally, examine all visual aids, like the scope rings, sights, etc. A thorough visual inspection is incredibly important when cleaning a gun.  

Gun Cleaning Steps

Step 1

The first step is always, and always will be, to make sure the firearm is unloaded and remove the magazine. Once the firearm is unloaded and you have checked and double-checked the barrel for any rounds, removed the magazine, and removed all ammunition from the room, you can begin the process of cleaning the firearm.

Step 2

Take a dry brush to the chamber area and use a pull-through bore snake with a copper or nylon bore brush specific to that caliber in the direction of the muzzle.   Never push debris into the action, always push or pull it towards the muzzle.  This process helps remove large chunks of carbon, lead, and fouling. Repeat this process 3-4 times.

Step 3

Next, run a patch soaked in bore solvent through the bore. This step should be repeated multiple times and on each pass, the patch should be replaced with a new, clean patch. This process could take anywhere from 5 to 15 patches depending on how fouled the bore is. Once the patches come out clean, run a clean dry patch through to ensure it comes out clean as well. Repeat this step. The inside of the bore should now be clean and reflective. 

Step 4

The fourth step is to pull a single patch through the bore with a light amount of lubricant or gun conditioner on the patch to treat the bore against corrosion.  Clean the exterior of the barrel and any other metal around the barrel.

Step 5

The next step is to clean and lubricate the action of the gun whether that is the bolt, slide, or pump.  This should be completed with a nylon brush, dry cloth, and cleaning solvent.  Use a good amount of solvent and allow it time to work before brushing and cleaning it out, allowing debris to drip out and down.  Use an applicator to apply lubricant where needed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and wipe off any excess lubricant.  Too much lubricant will attract residue, sand, and grit and is not good for the action of the firearm. 

Step 6

Clean out the magazines and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.  If the springs are damaged, replace them with new magazines.  You can purchase specific tools to keep your magazines clean. Pay attention to the springs to ensure the system is put back together properly.  Never use lubrication inside of magazines as they will gum up and corrode ammunition.

Step 7

Trigger assemblies can usually be brushed clean with a nylon brush, cleaned with a residue-free cleaner, and dried with a cloth.  Sometimes they need to be cleaned more thoroughly by disassembly, but not often.

Step 8

Once these tasks have been taken care of, it is time to reassemble the firearm.  Do a complete inspection to make sure that it operates correctly.  Check the trigger, safety, slides, bolts, locks, magazines, etc. to make sure everything is in working condition and ready for use.   Once that is complete, wipe down the gun with a CLP wipe or silicone gun cloth to remove any leftover debris, fingerprints, grime, or residue, and wipe out your holster.  


Anytime your weapon is clean, it is safer and more reliable. Whether your gun is for target practice, training, hunting, or self-protection it will need to be cleaned. Ensure that your gun also is safe, clean, and protected with an IWB holster or an OWB holster. Here at We The People Holsters, we fully support your Second Amendment rights.