Do I Really Need to Clean my Handgun? Even if it is a GLOCK?

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearm Safety, Guest Posts, Gun Cleaning, How To

About 20 years ago, a fellow officer suffered a malfunction on the firing line with his new stainless steel pistol. I took the gun and the ammunition into my office for examination. The firearm was dry and devoid of lubrication. With a bit of lubrication, it began to work properly.

New black Colt pistol with brown grip on top, barrel pointed to the right. 97-year-old pistol with worn grips on the bottom.Both lying on a white shirt.

The Colt pistol (top) is new; the pistol at the bottom is 97 years old. The grips are nearly worn through, but the piece is reliable and accurate. Quality firearms will last several lifetimes with good maintenance.

During a training class just last year, the trigger of a Glock froze. The gentleman was certain the Glock did not need lubrication, yet it did. You must lubricate the connector and the trigger bar; that pistol was dry and had stopped working. Each of the pistols was as reliable a design as any in my experience, but they stopped working due to poor maintenance.

Dirt, lint and unburned powder stop a pistol from working, and so does improper lubrication. Even the most complicated handgun designs are not that difficult to field strip and maintain. The 1911 comes apart quite readily into its basic components—frame, slide, barrel, springs and magazine. The Glock and Beretta are even simpler to maintain.

Cleaning is not a one-time proposal; it is a constant process.

There is foreign matter that may find its way into a handgun whether your fire it or not. A rifle or shotgun stored at home for emergency use may even collect cobwebs. Lubrication is a renewable resource. It does not lie on the firearm forever; it will run off the gun and you should replace it whether you use the firearm or it simply sits in a safe. (Store long guns muzzle down for that reason.)

Black and white diagram of a firearm with numbered callouts.

No matter which firearm you choose to deploy, learn the operating principles and how to perform simple maintenance.

It is not going to work to keep firing the firearm—be it a 1911, Glock or AR-15 or an AK-47—and simply run lubricant into the action. That would be like adding oil to the sludge in your vehicle instead of regularly changing the oil. I am a believer in preventive maintenance, changing the springs when needed and keeping up service on the machinery. I believe that is the reason my Springfield Lightweight Loaded Model has just passed 20,000 rounds of ammunition and is still reliable. It is not as nice looking as it once was, but that is normal wear. (Most of you know what a firearm with a few thousand rounds through it looks like; so do I and that is why I take the claims sometimes posted in popular press with a grain of salt.)

If you practice at a modest pace, say 50 rounds a week for 10 years, that is a lot of ammunition. I probably should have the Springfield refinished because it has been a stalwart companion and very good to me. Good maintenance is the reason my Corvette has more than 200,000 miles on it and runs like new. My Toyota truck has 289,000, and several of my .22s have more than 5,000 rounds each. They all work just fine.

Silver AR-15 with focus on bolt head

With the AR-15 rifle, you must pay particular attention to the bolt head, locking lugs and firing pin channel.

There is a huge difference between normal wear and eccentric wear. If you clean the piece when it is dirty and keep it lubricated, then wear will be in the normal range. If the firearm becomes dirty with caked powder residue and lead shavings mixed in, the wear becomes eccentric. It is similar to the wear that occurs when a piston wall in an internal-combustion engine becomes scarred. Normal wear is even, and even burnishes, not cuts, grooves.

Eccentric Wear

Eccentric wear causes grooves and gouges. Once eccentric wear begins, it proceeds at a greatly accelerated rate over normal wear. Sometimes modern ammunition burns amazingly clean. As an example, I recently ran a significant quantity of American Eagle ball ammunition through the Glock 41. When I field stripped the pistol, it hardly needed cleaning. However, when I ran my own hand-loads through the pistol, there was a good amount of powder ash on the disconnect. That is no problem to clean but is simply a consideration.

Whether or not you fire the handgun or rifle, to ensure reliability, wipe down and lubricate the piece every week if you rely on it for personal defense. And do normal cleaning every 300 rounds. That includes field stripping and cleaning the bore, breech face, slide and frame. Every 1,000 rounds or so, detail strip the pistol. Unburned powder and old lubricant residue has a habit of finding its ways into every mortise and blind hole in a firearm, and brass shavings end up in the firing pin channel at times.

If you do not feel you can field strip and reassemble the firearm, it is time to take it to a gunsmith or trained armorer. As a side note, service-grade firearms usually are designed for user maintenance. Ultra-compact pistols intended for civilian use often have a more complicated field-strip procedure. Learn the sequence and get with the program. Qualified gunsmiths are increasingly difficult to find, and it is important to learn to service and maintain your firearm.

Cleaning Procedure

Black firearm, barrel pointed to the right with removeable parts on top.

Most handguns are relatively simple, but often the smaller and more compact the pistol, the more difficult the field strip.

Unload the Firearm

Unload the firearm and triple check that it is not loaded. Do not have any ammunition in the room where you are cleaning the firearm. That is for safety first and also to avoid contaminating the ammunition. It is a good idea to work over a cleaning mat to catch any loose parts. Some of the parts are spring loaded, and many of us have a dent in the wall to prove it.

Clean the Magazines

I do the magazines first. Don’t just wipe them off every month. Every two to three months disassemble the magazines. Take care to observe the relationship of the springs to the follower to the body of the magazine. Brush out the magazine, clean it well, and check for damaged magazine bodies or springs.

When you field strip the pistol, remember that most recoil springs fit just one way. There are many cleaning kits available, but whatever you choose, brush first with a good cleaning solvent. Get in the frame rails and carefully hit the breech face and feedway. The rule for cleaning the barrel is to wipe the outside, and then use a wet brush to rub solvent through the bore.

Use a Copper Brush

A soft copper brush removes powder and lead deposits. Then, use a patch soaked in solvent to remove the last of the powder. Finally, use a dry brush to be certain the bore is clean. With the bore, breech face and long bearing surfaces clean, reassemble the gun.

Lubricate the Firearm

For lubrication, there are two levels. If you use the firearm in competition, the long bearing surfaces will be sopping wet with lube. The same is true if you plan an extended range session. For carry use, the gun needs a lighter degree of lubrication. The 1911 needs plenty of lubrication in the frame rails, barrel hood, on the barrel and in the cocking block.

Black anad silver, double-action firearm, barrel pointed to the right with removeable parts on top.

This double-action only is more complicated than some designs and demands an understanding of the action to properly clean and maintain the pistol.

The Glock needs a drop on the connector, and the Beretta needs oil on the rails and the locking wedge. Be familiar with each individual firearm. The older the technology, the greater is the need for lubrication. Next, reassemble the handgun and function check the piece for proper operation.

Also, be careful with solvents. I have sometimes soaked parts in a pan, although never the entire firearm. There are too many parts that could be damaged, including night sights. While blasting the interior of the firearm does dislodge some of the grit, it does not get it all, so at times, you must disassemble the firearm.

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Do you keep your firearms cleaned? Does it make them last longer? Share your experience in the comments section.

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

 

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Comments (4)

  • mike j

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    anybody that was in the service knows how important it is to keep your weapon clean and lubricated, and that was just a basic operation as part of firing at the range or in the field. If you ever wanted to get on the wrong side of your SFC and have life miserable, don’t do a good job cleaning your weapon.

    Reply

    • jeff

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      that’s the truth about incurring the wrath of a senior nco! i was in the “old” army, ie 1st sgts with ww2 ribbons. cleaning my weapons after every use is a well ingrained habit.

      Reply

  • Pete in Alaska

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    Bob,
    This is likly the simplest, most comprehensive, easy to understand, and well written description I’ve had the pleasure to read on this subject. I was given my first firearm at the age of eight and the first lesson was how to break it down, clean it, and reassemble it. THEN, I was taken out and taught to shoot it!
    Excellent read! Should be printed up and used as in the classroom!

    Reply

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Yes it was Bob, and I appriciate it too, I’ve always had revolvers and bolt guns, so I need the primer on it. Hey there, Pete!

    Reply

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