If you own a firearm for recreational or competitive target shooting, hunting, or self-defense, you should know how to maintain it. Maintenance encompasses two processes: cleaning and lubrication. If you’re a first-time gun owner, you must learn how to clean a gun, especially how to clean a handgun — the most common self-defense weapon.
Why Clean a Gun?
Understanding how to care for your firearm, including how to safely clear malfunctions, is an essential part of responsible gun ownership. When you fire a gun, the firing pin or striker detonates the primary explosive in the primer to ignite the propellant charge in the cartridge case — the propellant burns, producing high-pressure expanding gases to drive the bullet through the barrel.
Burning propellants produce combustion products, which accumulate on the inside of the barrel and the surfaces of action parts in the form of fouling. Bullets also deposit copper and lead fouling inside the bore. This collects in the rifling grooves. Fouling can cause reciprocating action parts to operate less efficiently. It can also harm weapon accuracy.
How Often Should You Clean a Gun?
How often you should clean your firearm depends on what you intend to use it for and how frequently you fire it. If the sole purpose of a handgun or rifle in your collection is informal recreational target shooting, keeping it immaculate may not be a high priority.
However, you should regularly clean and lubricate your concealed carry or home defense firearms to ensure optimal performance.
You should clean the bore and action after every firing session if you own a black powder firearm. Black powder is hygroscopic, which attracts moisture, contributing to surface corrosion.
Surplus military ammunition, especially from Warsaw Pact countries, often uses corrosive primers. If you fire corrosive ammunition in your firearm, you should clean your weapon as soon as possible after firing. The corrosive salts can destroy the rifling of a barrel overnight.
Fortunately, most factory-new U.S.-manufactured ammunition uses smokeless propellants and non-corrosive primers.
When it’s time to clean a firearm, proper preparation and equipment are key. Cleaning solvents are volatile and can produce toxic fumes. Find a well-ventilated room in your house where you can safely clean your gun. You should also have adequate overhead lighting to avoid misplacing small parts or accessories.
Safety is everything
Before performing any maintenance on a firearm, ensure it’s unloaded. If the weapon is fed from a detachable box magazine, remove the magazine first. Clear the chamber by retracting the slide or charging handle and visually inspecting the chamber.
You can also insert your little finger into the chamber for tactile confirmation that the gun is unloaded.
Keep live ammunition and loaded magazines away from your firearm during the cleaning process.
Wear eye protection
Cleaning a firearm usually requires partial or complete disassembly. Many firearms have parts under spring tension. A pin or spring could fly out of the weapon as you take it apart, so wearing a pair of safety glasses is generally a good idea.
If you have delicate skin, you may also consider wearing latex or nitrile medical exam gloves to protect your hands against harsh chemicals and exposure to lead residue.
Get the right equipment
One of the most important accessories you can have as a gun owner is a cleaning kit. You can either purchase a complete cleaning kit or assemble one yourself. You’ll need appropriately sized bore brushes, a chamber brush, a cleaning rod, jags, solvent, oil, cleaning patches, and a lint-free cloth. A utility brush is also useful.
How to Clean a Gun
Cleaning typically starts with disassembly. For routine maintenance, field stripping is often sufficient. However, if you haven’t cleaned your gun in years, or you’ve dropped it in sand, mud, or dirt, you may need to detail strip it for increased access.
If you’re unfamiliar with how to disassemble your firearm, consult the owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website.
How to clean a pistol
First, pour some cleaning solvent, such as Hoppe’s No. 9, in a metal tray or dish. Try to avoid dipping a brush or other cleaning tool directly into the solvent bottle, as this may introduce contaminants.
Cleaning the barrel: Part 1
Attach a phosphor bronze bore brush to the end of your cleaning rod and soak or dip it into the solvent dish. Insert the brush into the barrel from the breech end and push it through to the muzzle. This avoids potentially damaging the crown — the recessed face of the muzzle — which can adversely affect the weapon’s accuracy.
Scrub the inside of the bore in a forward and rearward motion, then remove the brush and set the barrel aside for a few minutes. This allows the solvent ample time to break down the fouling in the bore.
Cleaning the action
As you’re waiting for the barrel, you can wipe down the slide rails and the underside of the slide. Use a dry lint-free cleaning cloth or a piece of flannelette first. If you can remove fouling or soot before applying solvent, all the better. Cotton swabs are also useful for this purpose.
Once you’ve cleaned off the first layer, soak a nylon utility brush in solvent and scrub the inside of the slide and the articulating surfaces of the frame and trigger mechanism.
Cleaning the barrel: Part 2
Returning to the barrel, wipe or scrub the external surfaces with a cloth or brush, paying particular attention to the locking lugs and camming recesses (in a recoil-operated handgun). You can use the bore brush to loosen the fouling further.
Attach a jag to the end of your cleaning rod and place a cleaning patch over it. Insert the patch into the barrel via the breech end and push it through until it exits the muzzle. Using a jag, the patches tend to fall away as you retract the cleaning rod, avoiding re-depositing fouling in the bore. You can determine the extent of the fouling based on the color of the patch.
Repeat this process until the patches that leave the muzzle are white.
Cleaning the chamber
A dedicated caliber-specific chamber brush is the best option for cleaning the chamber. However, this may not be strictly necessary if you haven’t fired the gun extensively. Pay attention to the feed ramp, which should remain clear.
Lubricating Your Gun
You can oil the gun after you’ve cleaned the barrel and action. Firearms are complex machines with multiple moving parts, and lubrication reduces wear, increasing the service life of parts. If you have the owner’s manual, see if there are any specific recommendations regarding lubrication.
Use an applicator to apply a few drops of oil to the parts that experience continuous friction. Examples include the inside of the receiver, the slide, the corresponding rails on the frame, the trigger mechanism, and the locking recesses outside the barrel.
The Best Accessories Include Holsters
Keeping your concealed or open carry handgun clean and functional is crucial. If your weapon isn’t performing at its peak, it may not cycle reliably when you need it most. In addition to a cleaning kit and the knowledge to use it, you’ll also need shooting targets, a high-quality holster, and a proper gun belt.
At We The People Holsters, our leather and Kydex holsters are the best on the market: Durable, reliable, safe, and discreet.