Use of firearms isn’t limited to nice and tidy indoor ranges. Firearms are often needed in extreme conditions, from dry, dusty, sandy environments, to wet or muddy environments. We’ve already written about the proper care and use of your firearms in the field, but it is just as important to keep them clean and prepared for such use.
A gun vise or cleaning station such as this can make the cleaning process much easier.
Basic Cleaning Procedure
The general procedure for cleaning a firearm is to:
- Disassemble the firearm
- Remove carbon fouling and any debris that may have found its way into the firearm
- Inspect the firearm for loose screws or bolts, broken pieces, excessive wear, and for any cracks or deformities
- Remove lead or copper fouling (depending on what ammunition you are shooting)
- Rinse out any corrosive salts (if shooting corrosive ammunition).
- Dry thoroughly
- Lubricate the firearm at appropriate locations to levels appropriate for the conditions that you are in
That’s pretty much it – but lets break this down to the details.
Breakdown and Initial Carbon Removal
Latex or other protective gloves will protect your hands from harsh solvents, and protect your pistol or rifle from harmful oils from your skin. Obviously you will need to field strip your firearm, but it is generally not necessary and is, in fact, inadvisable to disassemble it any more than your manufacturer recommends. Once the firearm is disassembled, you will need a quality solvent and toothbrush or other nylon cleaning brush to remove all carbon fouling from the outside of the frame and barrel, as well as from all of the smaller parts you have.
Cleaning the Barrel
Next, we focus on the barrel. It is important to always clean the barrel from the breech end, not the muzzle end. Cleaning from the muzzle side without using a muzzle protector can damage the crown of the muzzle. Any nicks or scratches, no matter how small, in the muzzle crown can dramatically affect the accuracy of your firearm. Always use a high-quality cleaning rod made from brass, carbon fiber, or some other non-marring material.
Cleaning Carbon Fouling From The Bore
Begin by attaching a brass jag of the proper size to the end of your cleaning rod and soaking a bore patch in solvent. We recommend CLP or Bore Scrubber as your initial carbon solvent. Bore Scrubber has the advantage of cleaning out copper fouling as well as carbon fouling. Poke the sharp poker on the jag through the center of the bore patch and run it from the breech end to the muzzle end. When it comes out of the muzzle end, you should be able to just pull back the rod and the fouled bore patch should fall off the end of the jag. Do this two or three times to thoroughly coat the bore, and then wait a few minutes to allow the solvent to work on the carbon build up. Use a properly sized bronze brush attached to your cleaning rod to scrub out the bore and remove the loosened carbon fouling. Once you’ve scrubbed loose the fouling, you can use an aerosol spray solvent like Gun Scrubber to blast out the remaining particles.
If you are shooting copper jacketed bullets and did not previously use Bore Scrubber as your powder solvent, you will need to use a copper solvent to remove the build up of copper fouling. I prefer the old tried and true Tetra Gun for removing copper fouling, although others such as Kleen Bore, Copper Cutter will work as well. Let the copper solvent soak in the bore for a while to allow it to do its job. It is important to use a nylon brush when scrubbing out copper fouling, as the copper solvent will eat up your copper and brass brushes.
While you are letting the copper solvent soak, it’s a good time to inspect your firearm for loose parts or excessive wear. Look for bright spots in the metal that would indicate fresh wear. Check for any cracks or distortion of the metal. Finding areas of excessive wear will allow you to stay ahead of the maintenance curve and help you avoid having your firearm break on you when you need it the most.
Once the copper solvent has had time to do its job, take a nylon brush attached to your cleaning rod and scrub out the copper fouling. Run a couple of dry patches through next. The patches will likely come out with a blue streak. Continue running dry patches until they come out pretty much clean (they don’t need to be spotless – even precision rifles are designed to run with some fouling, and excessive cleaning can hurt the accuracy of the bore.) Follow that up with a blast of aerosol Gun Scrubber and a couple of CLP soaked patches to remove any remaining copper solvent and residue. Finally, run a dry patch or two to soak up any remaining fluid in the bore.
If you have been shooting corrosive ammunition, now is the time to clean out any remaining salts from the bore and action (how do you know if you have corrosive ammunition? Click here to find out.) The best and easiest way is to simply rinse the gun and bore with hot water. Some carbon and copper solvents will also remove corrosive salts, but if you don’t have a water-based solvent, you will still need to rinse the gun thoroughly with hot water. Because the water is hot, it should evaporate and dry easily, but just for good measure take your can of Gun Scrubber and give the tight spots and action a good blast to get rid of any water left in the nooks and crannies of your firearm.
At this point, your gun is pretty much as clean as it can get. While it may be clean, it is not protected. All of those solvents we used to remove the carbon and copper fouling also removed much of the protective oils and films on your gun. Because of this, we need to apply a thin film of lubricant, not just to ensure the smooth action of your firearm, but also to protect the metal surfaces from rust or corrosion. Lets start with the bore. Take a couple of patches that are saturated (not dripping, but well-coated) with lubricant such as Hoppes Elite Gun Oil or Remington Moisture Guard and run them down the bore to give it a thin film of protective oil. Next, take a q-tip that has been oiled and lubricate your firearm per the manufacturers instructions. If you are in a dry, dusty environment, a dry lube may allow more reliable functioning of your firearm than an oil.
Don’t neglect any magazines. Disassemble them and apply a thin light film of dry lube to make sure the springs and follower work smoothly without binding. We recommend using a dry lube such as Hoppes Dri-Lube or Moly Lube Dry Film to help keep dirt and dust from accumulating in the magazine.
Finally, reassemble your firearm and wipe down all external surfaces with a silicone impregnated cloth. If you have a precision rifle that needs a bore to be fouled, you will need to clean your firearm at the range where you can fire one or two fouling shots prior to storing your firearm.