Cleaning guns has a bit of mysticism attached to it. If you only clean your gun with a certain frequency or use a specific lube the full moon will rise, the stars will align, and everything from accuracy to speed will fall into place. Reality is different. Opinions abound on cleanliness and gear, making it hard to know where to start. I say start with the basics: What should you do and have on hand before cleaning your gun.
The Four Golden Rules
Every facet of firearms use begins and ends with safety. If you haven’t already, memorize the four universal gun safety rules.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
- Always be sure of your target (and what is beyond it).
Before cleaning your handgun, you must make certain it is empty. That means dropping the magazine and racking the slide to clear the chamber. Do this even if you believe the chamber is not loaded. Remember, all guns are always loaded. Once you rack the slide, lock the slide open and double-check not only visually but by touch. Same goes for revolvers. Empty the cylinder and check the barrel visually and by touch. Never assume.
Sure, you can give your handgun a basic cleaning with only a fistful of Q-Tips and some lube. But if you want to do a thorough job, you’ll need more. These are the supplies I suggest:
- Manual or assembly guide for your gun;
- Non-slip mat to protect the surface you’re working on, as well as the gun and the parts when laid out (also keeps things from sliding and rolling away);
- Non-marring hammer (Brownells 1-inch Nylon/Brass Hammer);
- Magnetic-tipped gunsmith screwdriver set (Brownells Magna-Tip Screwdriver Set);
- Allen key set, if applicable (Bondhus Gorilla Wrench Set);
- Safety glasses;
- Gun CLP and/or lubricant (SEAL 1 CLP);
- Cleaning kit or the parts found in one:
- Patches, like the pre-saturated from SEAL 1
- All-purpose cleaning brushes
- IDT Bore Brush from Otis
- Cleaning rod and loop such as those made by Brownells
- Pierce-style cleaning jags made by Sinclair;
- Rag or paper towels; and
- Cotton swabs
You may need more specific supplies based on your pistol. For example, a disassembly pin and auto bushing wrench (often shipped with your gun) for 1911s. If you have a revolver, you may want tweezers, a pin punch and a rebound slide. For Glocks, I recommend the Real Avid 4-in-1 Glock Tool.
Tip: Consider taking pictures as you disassemble your gun. This gives you images to reference if you forget which way a spring should face or where a pin belongs.
So Many Opinions
Debate roils over the topic of how often you should clean your piece. Many in the gun world offer advice that falls under “do as I say, not as I do.” So, what’s the right answer? It varies.
Range Safety Officer and longtime shooter David Werner suggests cleaning your gun with every use. “Cleaning schedules vary massively according to usage,” he said. “There is no standard. Use cleaning as a time to learn about your gun and its parts. Disassemble it, clean it and reassemble it.”
Werner acknowledges that for many gun owners, cleaning with each use means only a few times a year. He added that you should not store your gun dirty on a long-term basis, so clean and lube guns before storage in your safe. As for lubing, Werner said your handgun should be well-lubricated but not so lubed it’s running down the grips. A little goes a long way.
Gail Pepin, producer of the ProArms Podcast, former champion of Florida State IDPA and Florida/Georgia Regional IDPA female champion, takes a different approach. She’s a high-round count shooter and carries out a full cleaning of her Glocks once a year. During that annual cleaning, she uses either Rogers cleaning products or Dawn dishwashing liquid. The dish soap tip is gleaned from Massad Ayoob Group Senior Staff Instructor David Maglio.
“I put everything in a pan of water and Dawn to soak. Then lather, rinse, repeat,” Pepin said. “Then I lubricate the guns according to Glock specs. Throughout the year I boresnake them as needed with some CLP.”
Frequency depends on how often you shoot, what ammo you shoot and your specific model. Some ammunition is dirtier than others and some handguns require more cleaning than others. You will find precision rifle shooters prefer a fouled barrel for greater accuracy and only clean when the groups begin to expand. Conversely, when I’m taking a high-round-count handgun class, you’ll find me cleaning and lubing my gun every night. I’ll also inspect key parts and ensure the pistol will perform well.
My plastic guns are cleaned far less frequently than my 1911s and revolvers. A complete inspection of my revolvers takes place once a year — at which point, I check out small parts like the hand and hammer stirrup pin.
With time you will learn what ammunition is dirtier (Winchester white box) and how often your specific gun needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Yes, most guns can run dirty. But they can be prone to failures and possibly even breakage if they get filthy enough. If you’re talking about your concealed carry or home-defense gun, the answer is simple: That gun should be lovingly maintained and lubed. You cannot afford a piece of grit causing a failure when you need it most.
When in doubt, clean, inspect and lube.