A Beginners Guide To Simple Pistol Cleaning

How to Field Strip and Clean a Pistol
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A Beginners Guide To Simple Pistol Cleaning

Field stripping and cleaning a semi-automatic pistol can be intimidating for a new gun owner. In reality, it can be a quick and simple process that doesn’t require a lot of supplies and materials to accomplish. In this article, I will cover some of the bare minimum supplies you will need to clean a pistol and take you through the steps to get it done.

Supplies & Work Area

Starting with your work area, let’s ensure you have a clean, clutter-free area to work on your pistol. You’ll want a good, flat workspace to spread your stuff and keep it organized. I highly suggest protecting your cleaning area by spreading out a towel so that you won't mind getting dirty while doing your work.

Alternatively, there are cleaning mats you can buy to put down on your surface to work on. I sometimes use a metal pan to place all my gun parts into when cleaning pistols to help keep all of my parts and cleaning chemicals contained.

In addition to a good work area, you will need a couple of tools and supplies. I will list these items according to my preference and suggest common-use alternatives.


Bore Snakes, such as this one from the Hoppe's no. 9 brand, are probably the simplest and easiest way to clean the barrel of your pistol!

Alternative cleaning supplies:

  • Instead of Hoppes no. 9, you can substitute any reputable firearm-specific gun-cleaning solvent.
  • Instead of Lucas Oil Extreme Duty Gun Oil, you can substitute any reputable firearm-specific gun lubricant.
  • Instead of a caliber-specific Bore Snake, you can substitute a cleaning kit for pistols with rods, jags, and brushes.

As an alternative to a bore snake, pistol cleaning kits like this one from Real Avid provide the tools for cleaning multiple calibers of pistols.

Safety First!

Before you do anything with the pistol, you must properly and safely ensure it is in an empty and clear condition to handle. To do this:

  1. With the pistol pointed in a safe direction, remove the magazine from the firearm.
  2. Fully cycle the slide of the firearm several times to ensure no live rounds are chambered in the gun.
  3. Lock the slide to the rear.
  4. Visually and physically inspect the pistol's magazine well to verify no ammunition is present.
  5. Visually and physically inspect the chamber of the pistol to make sure there is no ammunition present.
  6. Visually and physically inspect both the mag well and the chamber area of the pistol again, double-checking to make sure there is no live ammunition present.
  7. Separate any and all live ammunition from your work area.  Ideally, you will have removed any live ammunition from the room.

Break It Down

Once you have verified that your pistol is in an empty and clear condition, it’s time to field strip it.  Field stripping a pistol means disassembling it down its main, basic components. This differs from a more complicated detail strip of a pistol, which involves breaking a pistol down completely and is only recommended for advanced users.

Typically, a semi-automatic pistol breaks down into four main separate components.  These are:

  • The pistol frame (the lower portion of the pistol that the shooter holds on to when shooting)
  • The pistol slide (the upper portion of the pistol that contains the barrel)
  • The barrel (the portion of the gun the bullet is propelled through towards the target)
  • The recoil spring assembly (the portion of the gun that forces the slide back into position after a round has been fired)

Glock 43 field stripped into its four basic components.

More complicated or exotic pistol types may feature more components outside of this basic component set.

Because there are many different types of pistols in circulation, I cannot cover the specific method for disassembling your pistol in this article. I highly recommend you seek out the resources provided by your pistol’s manufacturer on properly field-striping your firearm.

Once you have disassembled your pistol, lay out the parts in an organized fashion on your work surface so that you can keep track of everything and not lose anything important.

Getting Into It

There is no specific order for cleaning the parts of the pistol. We’re going to start with the barrel for this article.

Using a bore snake, wet the area of the bore snake between the wire bristles and the pull rope with Hoppes no. 9 cleaning solvent. Then, drop the weighted end of the bore snake’s pull rope through the chamber end of the barrel and pull it out of the muzzle end of the barrel.  Repeat this step several times, checking the barrel bore (the inside surfaces) each time until you are happy with how clean the inside looks.

Apply Hoppe's no. 9 to both sides of your caliber-specific bore snake here!

Typically, a clean barrel bore should look shiny and be free of gunshot residue. After passing the bore snake through the barrel, use a combination of cleaning brushes, cotton swabs, and your cleaning rag - along with your Hoppe’s no. 9, to remove any carbon residue from the exterior surfaces and feed ramp of the barrel. Once you are satisfied with the cleaning of your barrel, set it aside.

Next, we’ll concentrate on cleaning up the slide of the pistol.  This is a very simple operation, but it may require some time to clean it of carbon residue thoroughly.  All you need to do is dip a cotton swap into your Hoppe’s no. 9 and wipe down all of the surfaces of the slide to clean it of carbon residue.  Some areas might have a thicker or harder build-up of carbon residue that may take more effort to clean off.  This may also require a cleaning brush to help defeat any stubborn carbon build-up.

There are several important things to consider here. One is not to dip a dirty cotton swap back into your cleaning solvent. Also, be careful not to use a cleaning brush that is too aggressive and may harm the finish of your firearm. Make sure you clean behind the extractor hook on the pistol, as carbon easily builds up here, and too much carbon build-up can cause malfunctions.  Once you are satisfied with how clean you‘ve made your pistol slide, set it aside.

This is the extractor on a Glock 43.

Now, we’ll move on to the pistol frame. Cleaning the pistol frame is similar to cleaning the slide. Using a combination of cotton swabs, brushes, and Hoppe’s no. 9, clean all of your pistol frame's interior parts, carefully removing all of the carbon residue.

Use a cotton swab dipped in cleaning solvent to remove as much carbon build-up and gun shot residue as possible.

The last part of the pistol to clean here is the recoil spring assembly. Due to how these are typically constructed, I lightly scrub mine with a plastic bristle brush and some Hoppe’s no. 9.

Lubrication, Reassembly, & Function Check

When lubricating a pistol, a good rule of thumb is to apply a small drop of oil on any surface that looks like it is receiving any wear. This is indicative of one surface rubbing against another. Another thing to consider is that you don’t want to over-lubricate your pistol. Gunshot residue that results from firing the gun will flow around the inside of the pistol and stick to the oil. This can cause gunky buildup that may result in malfunctions.

I put a drop or two of oil on the barrel and then use my finger to spread the oil evenly and thinly across its outside surface. Then, I will place a drop of oil inside the slide on any shiny areas resulting from metal-on-metal contact. You are ready to reinstall the barrel and the recoil spring assembly back into the slide, ensuring they are properly seated.

I sparingly apply oil to any pivot points of the pistol’s internal linkages to oil the pistol's lower frame. I also add oil to each frame rail where the slide cycles back and forth. Now that the pistol is lubricated, you can install the assembled slide onto the frame.

Apply lubrication to the frame rails so, as you install the slide, it wipes through the slide's rails.

Work the slide back and forth several times to ensure it cycles smoothly and correctly. Double-check that the pistol is empty of ammunition, and while pointing in a safe direction, dry fire it to ensure the trigger mechanism is functioning correctly.

The last step is to lightly apply Rem Oil from the aerosol can to the pistol's exterior and use a plastic brush to brush out all of the nooks and crannies to remove any dirt and gunk that have built up. Don’t use too much Rem Oil spray; just enough to loosen up and remove the dirt. Also, make sure not to get the spray oil on any sensitive equipment, like red dot optics, if you have them present. Then, wipe off the pistol's exterior with a clean rag to remove any excess oil.

Very lightly spray Rem Oil Spray Lubricant on the outside of your firearm, and be careful not to spray any sensative equipment like red dot optics.  Using a plastic brush, clean up the exterior of your pistol and then wipe off the excess oil.

Go Shoot It!

Now that your gun is all clean, it’s time to head to the firing range and shoot it so you can get it dirty all over again!  I’m just kidding!

If you go long periods of time between using your firearms, it’s a good idea to get them out, make sure they are in a safe, empty, clear ocndition, and inspect them from time to time.  Dust and debris can settle into them from storage or carrying a firearm.  Also, oil may evaporate from the gun surfaces and need reapplying.

How To Field Strip & Clean a Typical Semi-Auto Pistol Using a Taurus G3C
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