Like anything, guns come with maintenance needs.
But what are they? What to clean with?
Oil or no oil? What if I forget?
And most importantly, how often should I clean my gun? It’s quite a debate.
A lot of experienced gun-owners say you should clean yours after every trip to the range. Others say it’s fine to leave it without maintenance for several months and it will cause no trouble.
To help you build the most effective cleaning schedule, I’ve created this guide to gun cleaning. Here, you’ll find most if not all information necessary to provide good care to a wide range of firearms.
Gun Maintenance: Whys, Whats, and Hows of Cleaning Your Gun
So, where’s the truth?
The truth is, both groups of experts are right. Recommendations differ according to the type of gun you own, frequency of use, and the conditions you use it in.
You should also understand the difference between a “quick fresh-up” and “a thorough cleaning”.
There are lots of intricacies, but here are some reference points for you:
- For light-use guns (clay, paper targets, etc.), one deep cleaning in a few months is fine. Those can fire as many as 500 rounds before reliability issues start;
- For semiautomatic guns (self-defense, etc.), it’s important to keep them clean and oiled at all times. Maintenance procedures should be done after every use;
- Revolvers also require more frequent maintenance since carbon buildup will make it impossible to pull the trigger;
- Semiautomatic match guns work accurately only when perfectly clean;
- Bolt-action rifles may need the first fouling shot to work precisely, so it’s best to clean them at the range or at home before use, remembering that they need that shot with non-corrosive ammunition;
- Stainless steel does slow down corrosion and rust buildup, but it’s also relatively soft and can show signs of wear faster if not cleaned when the accuracy goes off even a little bit;
- If shooting corrosive ammunition, clean the gun immediately after use.
- Doing a light oil-up after every range is highly recommended, given you deep-clean your gun every couple hundred rounds and not after every trip.
As you can see, the need for cleaning changes with the type of your gun. But don’t forget to pay attention to the conditions you use it in as well.
For instance, I was recently hunting in quite an unexpected drizzle. Couldn’t fire a shot, so one would say there’s no need to clean the rifle. However, I’ve had my share of bad experiences in such situations, so I did.
After all, it was soaking wet outside and guns don’t like that. Over time, rust buildup may make your firearm wear prematurely. In such cases, wiping the gun with a lightly oiled cloth is also a good idea. It will keep the moisture out.
You’ll benefit greatly from creating your own gun maintenance algorithm and implement it according to the gun you use and the environment.
That being said, I recommend that you have a portable cleaning kit that includes a brush, some CLP, and other handy items with you at all times.
What Builds Up?
The most common types of buildup in and on a gun:
- Carbon – After you fire every shot, there’s a bit of carbon remaining from the propellant burn.
- Bits of metal – These are left after you fire and may be microscopic but still dangerous for the gun.
- Rust – Due to moisture exposure, the metal oxidizes and rust forms and builds up on and inside the gun.
- Dirt – There are small particles of dirt and dust all over, especially if you’re using your gun outside.
- Salt – In areas near the seashore, there’s salt in the air that, just like dirt, can leave a residue on and inside your gun.
Now imagine that all of these are remaining inside the barrel and other moving parts of the firearm. If not properly cleaned, it will start to glitch and misfire with time.
So, while short-term consequences may not be noticeable, any gun can deteriorate in a year or so.
Oil or No Oil?
I say oil.
A light coating is recommended for certain parts of the gun, including the barrel and every moving part. Oil them only after cleaning with a solvent. There are special applicators that will help you do it, but a simple cloth will do as well.
It’s a good idea to re-oil the rifles that you don’t use as much. One of the worst things you can do is to leave a gun in storage unattended for a long time. You never know how it will behave once you take it out again.
If you live near a beach where humidity is high and there’s salt in the air, both of those will speed the corrosion. However, even 8%-10% humidity is enough to trigger the process, and re-oiling will help you avoid it.
They also offer compact, reusable bottles, which is super handy.
Pro Tips on Gun Cleaning Frequency
Here are some bits of knowledge I’ve gathered over the years to fill some gaps (hopefully):
Read as Much as You Can About the Gun(s) You Own
As you can see, there are a lot of peculiarities connected to cleaning. Some guns need a fouling shot for the most accuracy and can last as long as 500 rounds, while others need to be clean as a diamond at all times.
Make sure you know your gun and what’s best for it.
Don’t Go Cheap on Cleaning Products and Tools
Sometimes, maintenance can do more harm than good.
Pay Attention to the Barrel and Load
You know your gun the best. Some people clean their guns after 800 rounds when those show noticeable reliability issues. They know their barrel and how it reacts. This will come with experience, but to get that experience, you have to be attentive.
Get to the Small Elements
When cleaning, don’t forget about the smallest, hard-to-get-to places. This is where a lot of skunk is building up that you may not see instantly.
Make it a Therapy
No jokes – to a lot of people (me included) cleaning a gun is a form of meditation. I focus fully on it, my mind cleans with the gun from all redundant worries and thoughts.
Seriously, a lot of people have the same “zen” effect, so I recommend that you make maintenance a ritual. You won’t ever forget about it!
Clean in a Well-Lit and Ventilated Room
With good lighting, you can see every small spring or pin that might need replacement and could become a big problem if overlooked.
And ventilation is just as important since cleaning products’ vapor concentration in the air can cause dizziness and fatigue.
Potential Issues Connected to Gun Cleaning
There are several potential problems you may encounter:
- Overcleaning – Taking the side panels and other elements off too often and overcleaning them may cause faster wear and loosening. Cleaning your guns every day isn’t a good idea for most cases.
- Not cleaning when not in use – Whether or not you’re going to the range or using your gun for other purposes, do a deep clean once in several months. When in storage, your rifle is still exposed to humidity and other potentially harmful conditions.
- Poor storage – Ideally, a gun needs a room with environmental control. Use dehumidifiers or silica gel if possible. Also, avoid skin-to-metal contact since our body oils are destructing metal parts. Have you ever seen rusty fingerprints on a gun barrel?
- Poor cleaning conditions – Not wearing protective gear may cause harm to your health. Protect your eyes, nose, and hands. And always make sure the gun is safe before cleaning it.
There’s a lot of balance involved in cleaning your gun. You must maintain it but not too often. You must oil it, but not too much, yet not too little.
My way was all through mistakes and search for the needed balance. You can get all the knowledge in the world, but practice is the key.
That’s a lot of text for one question, and for those who lasted till the end, thank you. I’d like to summarize all the aforementioned facts and recommendations in one sentence.
This is a general recommendation and should work for most cases. However, you must know and feel your gun, so educate yourself as much as you can.
If you have any questions to ask or bits of experience to share, please, write a comment to this post!