Firearm Maintenance: How to Clean a Gun

Firearm Maintenance: How to Clean a Gun

Person cleaning pistol with snake bore

Whether you love to clean them or not, cleaning your firearms is an essential part of gun ownership. Regular cleaning not only keeps your firearms in good working condition but also makes them safer to handle. It can help them retain their value, too, so you'll be protecting your investment. 

Cleaning doesn't have to be a hassle, either. Once you know how to clean a gun or how to clean a rifle, the process should only take you around 30 minutes. So before your next session in the shooting range or heading out on the big hunt, take a few minutes to brush up on your firearm maintenance knowledge and make sure you know the best way to clean your gun or rifle. 

Why is it important to clean your firearm?

  • Safety. A clean gun is a safe gun. Residue builds up in your gun or rifle as you use it, which can cause it to jam up or misfire. Clean firearms work better, and you'll be able to feel the difference between firing a freshly cleaned gun or rifle and shooting with one that needs maintenance.
  • Reliability. Clean firearms are also more reliable, giving you better accuracy when shooting. You'll know what to expect from your weapon, which can make you a better and more confident marksman.  
  • Investment. Cleaning your firearms protects your investment. It keeps them working better for longer, and you can pass well-maintained firearms down through generations. 

Gun cleaning snake inside a pistol barrelAre you supposed to clean your gun after every use?

How often you clean your firearm will depend on how often and where you use it. The more rounds you put through your firearm, the more often you'll want to clean it. You'll also want to clean it more often if you are using the gun or rifle in conditions that could damage the weapon. That includes conditions you'd encounter on a hunting trip or while target shooting outdoors. 

Some firearms owners prefer to clean their weapons after every use. If you don't do that, you'll want to do a basic clean every few hundred rounds or after every hunting trip. Make sure you do a comprehensive cleaning of your gun or rifle every few thousand rounds or after every few hunting trips. 

Steps for cleaning and maintaining your firearm

What's the first step in cleaning a firearm? Making sure the firearm is unloaded. This is the most important step when learning how to clean a gun or how to clean a rifle. Smart gun owners know to treat their firearms as if they are always loaded and to never assume it's unloaded without double and triple-checking. Remove magazines, clear chambers, and check bolts and slides before starting the cleaning process. 

Gun taken apart on a table for cleaning

  1. Prepare your cleaning area. Cleaning firearms can be dirty work, so make sure you have a towel or a gun cleaning mat down to protect surfaces. Work in a well-ventilated area and prepare all the tools and cleaning equipment you'll need for the job. Gather brushes, solvents, lubricants, a cleaning rod or cleaning snake, and some rags.
  2. Disassemble your firearm. Firearms should always be disassembled for cleaning. Check your owner's manual or an online guide about how to take apart your gun. Keep track of all the pieces, and get a bowl or pan to hold smaller items so nothing rolls away. Keep in mind that when it comes to cleaning, you shouldn't have to completely take apart the firearm. You'll just need to disassemble it enough to get to the parts you need to clean. 
  3. Clean the exterior of the firearm. Apply solvent to a rag and give everything a good wipe down. You'll see lots of black smudges from discharging the weapon, so get rid of those marks along with any other buildup or residue that's visible on the outside. 
  4. Clean the barrel. The barrel can develop a lot of buildup over time, especially after a few thousand rounds go through it. Start cleaning it by scrubbing out the bigger pieces of buildup with a bore brush. Once you've done that, you can dip a piece of cloth into your bore solvent and pass it through the barrel with a cleaning rod. You can also use a gun cleaning snake for an easy pass-through clean of the barrel. Make sure you use a cleaning rod or cleaning snake that's the right size for your caliber. Clean the barrel until it's completely smooth inside.
  5. Clean the action. Cleaning the action of the firearm will help the ammo move through the piece smoothly. You'll want to use a brush to scrub each part of the action. These pieces will vary depending on the type of action you have, such as a slide or bolt. Coat each piece of the action in a solvent before scrubbing and wiping them down to remove any buildup.
  6. Lubricate the firearm. Lubrication will help prevent the weapon from jamming and can help prevent rust. Apply lubrication to any part of the gun or rifle that creates friction. Use a gun lubricant with a precision application nozzle so you can get the product right where you want it. Thorough lubrication is good, but don't go overboard. Applying too much can cause more buildup in your firearm and make the mechanism sticky. 
  7. Reassemble the firearm. Once your firearm is clean, put all the pieces back together. Once reassembled, check that everything is working correctly. Check the action and toggle any safety switches you might have. This will help spread the lubricating fluid around, too. 

Once you've reassembled the firearm, give your firearm a final wipe down with a soft cloth. This will help you get rid of any cleaning solvents or lubricants that have dripped onto the outside of the gun. It will also give the gun or rifle a polish. 

Taking time for gun cleaning and maintenance will ensure you have a properly working weapon when you need to use it. Check out our gun care collection and stock up on what you need to keep your firearms in great condition.