How to Clean Your Gun: A Beginner's Guide

pistol disassembled for cleaning and supplies
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How to Clean Your Gun: A Beginner's Guide

Cleaning your gun regularly is a necessity to ensure proper operation, extend the life of your firearm, and get the most from your purchase. However, that doesn't mean it has to be a chore.


One of the great things about cleaning your gun is that you become intimately familiar with it. You break it down into various parts and develop a more thorough understanding of how your weapon operates. That knowledge can boost your confidence, making you more comfortable with the gun, which in turn can help make you a better shooter.


Where do you begin? Different gun types, cleaning tools, and methods for cleaning may make this a daunting task for beginners. Not to worry: we'll break it down and have you cleaning like an expert in no time by following the steps below.


1. Preparing a Proper Workspace


Start with a clean area that's free of clutter. 


Depending on what type of gun you're cleaning, you'll need a table, bench, or counter space large enough to accommodate the weapon. If you have a dedicated workshop in your home, that would be the optimal place for setting up, but any table or countertop will do. Just make sure it's big enough to hold the gun once you break it down and spread it out. It should also accommodate your cleaning supplies. A coffee table or the floor is often an easy choice, especially if you can keep pets, children, and others out of the picture while you work. 


Consider using a gun cleaning mat beneath your weapon to protect the surface of your cleaning area and make for easier clean up. They're usually made of rubber or synthetic material with a cloth covering similar to a mouse pad. They're fantastic for catching excess oil and other debris as you clean, and in most cases they're machine washable. Gun cleaning mats are available in a variety of sizes and configurations to suit various guns, and many also have diagrams of the gun that you're cleaning for added support.


Whether you buy extra supplies such as a cleaning mat is entirely based on your budget and preferences. An old towel can easily accomplish the same task, so there's no need to spend extra money to keep your gun clean. The important thing is to lay out whichever covering you use, place your gun and cleaning supplies on it, and get ready to clean.


2. Unload Your Gun (Safety Is Always First!)


man unloading pistol


The first step in cleaning your gun should be the same thing you do every time you pick it up: Make sure it's unloaded. Some types of guns require that the trigger be pulled to fully disassemble the firearm, and you don't want to shoot the table after just bargaining to use it for gun cleaning — and you certainly don't want to experience a more serious accident while caring for your weapon.


Regardless of whether you think it's empty or not, remove the magazine and double check just to be sure. Then, you're ready to start breaking your weapon down.


3. Disassemble the Gun


a full disassembled pistol


Every weapon requires a different method for breaking down its parts for cleaning, maintenance, and lubrication. This is commonly referred to as field stripping, a term used in the military to denote taking the weapon apart far enough to get it properly cleaned but not completely broken down into every piece that assembled it. The good news is that the manual that came with your gun, whether it's a rifle, pistol, or other type of firearm, should offer basic instructions for how to field strip your gun for maintenance.


If you lost the paperwork or bought the gun secondhand, you can still get this information. In most cases, if you contact the manufacturer and let them know you lost or never got the paperwork, they'll send you a new manual or direct you to a section of their website that has all the information you need.


It's recommended that you contact the manufacturer rather than looking for directions via Google or YouTube. First, because there is no shortage of misinformation online. Second, because even for the trained eye, some guns look similar but break down differently. Different models from the same manufacturer could differ in their specific disassembly process.




4. Clean and Maintain the Parts of Your Gun






Once you follow the manufacturer's instructions to field strip your gun, you're ready to begin cleaning. Whether you're cleaning a shotgun, rifle, or handgun, keep a few things in mind. First, make sure you keep small parts safe and secure, so you don't lose them. Next, no matter what gun you're cleaning, each has similar components that require maintenance.


The Barrel


This is one of the most important parts to clean to ensure proper function, since that's where the projectiles exit from. You can use a variety of oils and solvents in aerosol, foam, and liquid forms. That being said, before applying any solvents it’s recommended that you run a dry brush through the barrel at least a few times.


Feel free to experiment and find what you like best. Just make sure you attend to the inside of the barrel. Use a bore snake, push rod, or some other device meant for barrels to apply the cleaner and then remove it.


Typically, a few swipes through the barrel in the same direction the rounds will travel is enough to clean it, depending on how dirty it is. Keep in mind that you'll also want to periodically check the barrel for damage, especially with increased use.


The Firing Mechanism


One of the main areas that really suffers from carbon buildup is the firing area. It's not a shock that the area in which the explosion is initiated will develop some residual carbon over a period of usage. Depending on what you're shooting, you will access this area in different ways, but you should always ensure you clean it as thoroughly as possible with the same cleaners you used on the barrel and with a brush. Try to use a nylon bristled brush if possible; your weapon may have come with one for this purpose.


The Trigger Area


This area should also not be a surprise, since almost all triggers have some open areas around their mechanics to allow for movement. Naturally, this will collect residue from repeated firing. Oftentimes, Q-tips are your best friend here because they can reach where fingers and brushes can't. Just be sure that whatever you use doesn't leave anything behind that could cause a problem or impede movement later on.


While there are other areas of your gun that will need cleaning, those will vary by weapon type. A good rule of thumb is that if it helps your gun fire or it moves, you want to keep it clean.


5. Reassemble Your Gun


Once you've gotten the weapon cleaned to your satisfaction, wipe the parts down to remove any excess cleaning agents or oil. Then, based on manufacturer recommendations, use a small amount of oil to lubricate any moving parts. The bolt carrier on an AR and the slide contact points on modern semi-automatic pistols are examples of moving parts you'll want to oil.


Once that's accomplished, put your weapon back together in the reverse order from how you took it apart. Give it a final wipe down to remove oil that remains, and you're good to go.


The first time you clean your gun can certainly feel intimidating — that's natural for any new activity. But if you treat it as you would any new experience with your gun, you'll likely find you enjoy cleaning almost as much as you do shooting. Almost.


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Louis Malta
How often do u supposed to clean a revolver 1) a revolver kept in a gun safe with a dehumidifier that has been shot at the range 2) a revolver kept in a gun safe with a dehumidifier that has been cleaned ?
Neil DeBoer
How about the slide areas for a semi automatic. They don't get that dirty but seems fairly important that they are kept clean and lubricated.
Fred Brown
A company called Droll Yankee makes a small, (5-6mm) cylindrical, stiff nylon bristle brush called the "Perfect Little Brush" designed for hummingbird feeder cleaning. I have found these little brushes are "perfect" for trigger openings and slide contact points !
Anytime I buy a used gun, If the owner's manual did not come with the gun, I go to the manufacturer's website. Often times a copy of the owner's manual is available to be downloaded. However, sometimes the owner's manual is not in English. An example of this is with the Star BM. The online owner's manual is only in Spanish and even though I don't understand the language, the diagrams are valuable in seeing how the gun is disassembled.
Dave Hollander
Safety tip - always remove all ammunition from the room before cleaning. This will give you peace of mind when re-assembling and testing the action.
Good information. Wish I had this information 36 yrs ago. I had to learn everything by trail and error on my first firearm.
Not bad, but you really need to discuss BORE SNAKES. YES, you need to clean from the breach end, not the muzzle; but with revolvers, a snake is a "must."