What Will Happen if I Don’t Clean My Gun?

By CTD Suzanne published on in How To

Every time you fire your gun, carbon, lead, copper and plastic—if shooting shotgun—residue are left in the barrel, chamber and action. Each time you fire your gun more of this fouling residue builds up. This fouling comes from the powder, wad and bullets. Further, moisture from weather and sweat can cause corrosive rust to damage your gun’s metal parts. Fouling built up over time can impact a gun’s reliability. You will find that a dirty gun causes many malfunctions.

Types of Fouling

Almost all bullets—centerfire and rimfire—are made of a lead core with some type of copper jacket surrounding it. Even lead-free ammunition contains copper. The four most common types of fouling are:
Carbon, which occurs as a result of the burning powder that propels the bullet from the chamber through the barrel

  • Copper, caused by copper-jacketed bullets leaving residue in the gun’s barrel after firing
  • Lead, caused by lead bullets leaving residue in the gun’s barrel after firing
  • Plastic, caused by the plastic wads from shotshells

It is impossible to find ammunition that will not foul your gun.

Black powder, most Berdan-primed and a lot of military surplus ammunition is corrosive. This means there are salts in the ammo’s primer. These salts will damage your gun. If you shoot a gun using corrosive ammunition, you should clean it after each shooting session. As far as the rules regarding frequency of gun cleaning go, this is where it stops.

 

No Rules

There is no hard and fast rule to when you should clean your guns. Some people clean their gun after every shooting session. Others never clean their guns. Truly, there is no right answer.

Retired military and law enforcement tend to clean their guns after every shooting session. Because of their training, they feel that a clean gun prevents malfunctions. One retired police officer told me, “Clean them as if your life depends on it.” This is somewhat true. Dirty semi-automatic guns tend to fail-to-fire (FTF) and failure-to-feed (FTF) more often than when the gun is clean.

A gunsmith told me his gun cleaning routine depends on the gun. After every use, he cleans his precision rifle. However, he rarely cleans his .22s. Copper build-up inside a gun’s barrel can effect the bullets velocity by slowing it down. Further, barrel fouling also affects the barrel’s rifling. Shooting a dirty precision rifle can greatly effect the gun’s accuracy.

The Rusty Gun Gets the Oil

Rust can cause severe damage becoming corrosive and eating through the metal. I’ve even heard horror stories of parts rusting together. Rust also will affect the rifling in the barrel causing pits to occur. A retired Air Force veteran cleans his semi-autos after each use, but not his .22s: He says he just leaves a little bit of oil on the outside of his rimfires to prevent rust. If you are going to store your gun for a long period, you should take preventative measures to avoid damaging rust.

So can you clean your gun too much? Some say you can, but over cleaning is just like under cleaning—it’s all a matter of opinion. I know someone who ran over 40,000 rounds through his Remington 870 and cleaned it only once because he felt guilty.

Despite differing opinions on when and how often you should clean your guns, all experienced gun owners agree that a little oil and lube goes a long way. I keep oil in my range bag. I have never cleaned my semi-auto .22 rifle, but when I get malfunctions at the range, I just add a little oil and I’m good to go. A friend of mine who participates at shooting leagues goes one-step further by running a bore snake through her pistols when she experiences issues. One of the most experienced shooters I know says, “A gun that has no lubrication is going to fail much sooner than a dirty, but well-lubricated firearm.”

You aren’t doing anything wrong if you clean your gun after every range visit. Some find it relaxing and therapeutic. Others just love breaking down their gun and putting it back together. On the other hand, you aren’t doing anything wrong if you don’t clean your gun after every range visit. One seasoned shooter I know says, “If it doesn’t work dirty, than it’s not a dependable gun.” Whatever your cleaning routine is, it is important to remember that guns are a machine, periodic maintenance never hurts it and will only keep it in proper working order. For the very basics on cleaning your gun, read our post New Year New Gun: Cleaning and Maintenance.

How often do you clean your guns? Tell us in the comment section.

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Comments (10)

  • Tara

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    I completely agree with those who said it was a relaxing way to spend some more time examining and learning about my guns. Always with the utmost care though! There was a story in the local news not too long ago about a father who accidentally shot and killed his 10 year old son while cleaning his rifle. Who doesn’t remove the bullets from their guns while they are cleaning them??

    Reply

  • Terry Dell

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    As a routine, I clean my guns after every range visit. A Clean Gun is a Working gun. I also carry my 9mm gun everytime I leave the house…

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  • Bob Velon

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    I clean them every time I bring them home from the range…. I take the AR completely apart clean it good and reassemble it…….

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  • Brian

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    Please correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems that in an AR, or any autoloader for that matter, if the Bolt Carrier assembly is “Sloppy wet” with oil then dust, dirt, sand, etc.. could contaminate the lube and cause excessive wear. Since AR Uppers are made of Aluminum this would wear faster than normal. Personally I use a Dry Moly Lube on the underside of the carrier and the same Synthetic lube that the Army does where the bolt fits into the carrier. As for Barrel maintenance, I keep it pretty simple, Solvent and a bore snake followed by a dry patch until the patch comes out clean. I finish with an oiled patch, except for my AR, since it has a chrome lined barrel I store it dry and ready to use.

    I work with a Army Reservist. He told me that other than running a bore snake through the barrel they were advised to only thouroughly clean the carrier after about 2500-3000 rounds, don’t sound enough to me, but if it works for them then so be it.

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  • Kicknbak

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    I have to agree with both writers above. It’s just always been a rule (of my own) to clean it often, that my gun serves me… and if I wish it to continue to do so, then I will serve it also. A good cleaning after every outing and it will appreciate you. A love affair can only work if it’s two sided. A forgotten firearm will soon forget you, and in no time you will lose your admiration and be wanting to get rid of it. I say, “Clean it, handle it, know it thoroughly and it will treat you accordingly when you, if and when, need it next time.” You may never sell it, but hand it down in the family. I would wish to think that whoever inherits one of my guns has the same respect for it (and me for doing so). Yes, and even talk to it now and then… but I wouldn’t suggest doing this where folks can see and hear. ;-) Roger

    Reply

  • John Browning

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    I spend considerable more time cleaning than shooting. My 22 target pistols are a pain, they have to be unscrewed and it’s not that easy to put the recoil spring back in. I enjoy cleaning all and maybe the long guns not so much. But still a labor of enjoyment.

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  • Michael Rutherford

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    No David, you’re not a nut, if you are, then so am I. I know a lot of people that do the same with their weapons as we do, it’s called preventive maintenance, and a love for and respect for our weapons that we chose for whatever purpose. You are not a nut and I agree with you 100%. I love my guns/weapons, I have accumulated many over the years, and for the most part I have struggled to get them and they mean a lot to me as a story goes with every one of them. I don’t think we’re weird at all.

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  • Michael Rutherford

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    If I shoot ‘em, I clean ‘em! I’m the guy that finds it very relaxing to clean my guns after shooting ‘em. I also love to know that they are going to work when I pull the trigger, especially because my life or significant loves life, could be on the line. I’ve also cleaned my .22s the most because a .22 round is the dirtiest round in this world, and I never, ever throw oil on top of the grime and gunk that gets into a .22s action, making something that resembles mud mixed with metal shavings, which makes a .22 most unreliable during ejection and feeding, and the barrel can get most gunky also, slowing the bullet down and making the gun in-accurate, and even worse than that, it will cause wear beyond belief and premature aging on working parts. It’s kind of like dumping about a quarter tube of course lapping compound into the action and leaving it there during all your range visits. If you like the gun, clean it, and it will last a lot longer, if you don’t like the gun, or you have plenty of money (unlike me) just buy a new one every year.
    My father taught me to clean my guns and keep them in tip top shape so that when you need them you can absolutely count on them to go bang, every time you pull the trigger.
    I have a Remington Rand 1911 .45 that was issued during WW ll, and it is in great shape. I deer hunt with this pistol and have killed many a buck with it. I never just run a bore snake through the barrel and then load it and forget about it, ‘cos that gunk can get down in the action and wear at your gun like crazy. It is my home defense/ concealed carry/deer hunting/best range friend and my all time favorite gun ever, it sees a lot of action at the range. It never malfunctions, mis- feeds, catches a spent cartridge or anything like that, because I keep it in tip top shape, because my life may depend on it someday. It will also spit out hollow points just as well as round ball.
    My SKS w/ paratrooper folding stock/red dot/laser/tac flashlight is a real dream to shoot and clean also. It’s almost as accurate as my Remington 700, in 30.06 which has a 4x16x56 Accu-shot(Leapers) mil.dot S.W.A.T. scope and I’ve made a lot of long deer kill shots with it. Being from WV, it’s hard to find a long shot area like that, but my deer hunting buddy and I have it in Jackson Co. WV. and we take full advantage of it, giving our rifles an accuracy check, as well as keeping ourselves in good operating condition for long range shooting.
    I have one rule my father taught me about cleaning guns, and that is; If you shoot it, you clean it! Just like the rule my wife has about the dishes; you dirty it, you wash it! Both of those rules keep me out of more trouble, and in more ways than I could ever convey.

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  • JiminGA

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    I clean and lube each gun after every use, particularly my AR’s. Carbon buildup on the AR bolt happens after firing only 60 rounds, and I have had a failure of the bolt gas rings before. If I hadn’t cleaned and inspected it I would have never known. Also, I once read that AR’s work best when “sloppy wet” (upper receiver and bolt carrier), and that has served me well. Besides, I like fooling with my guns and hope to do some gunsmithing in the future.

    When buying a new or used gun it should be cleaned and inspected before firing. Why not do the same before each future firing?

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  • David Grossi

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    I guess the military and my Dad governed my way of thinking. I clean my weapons after every trip to the range. I do find it relaxing and I just enjoy time wih my weapons. Am I strange? Maybe I am! For me it is a type of love affair as I truly am a weapon nut! I also like inspecting as I clean for possible future issues. I think of it the same way as washing my car. It gives me the chance to look it over real good and discover any damage/s. I also believe a clean weapon is a happy one and will preform flawlessly for you. As far as the comment of reliablilty when dirty I do believe a tighter tolerance semi auto is less forgiving and will FTF if not well maintained. That does not mean buy a cheaper one, it means take care of what you have. All in all, to each his own. Some drive nice clean cars and some drive junkyard limos. All a matter of taste I guess. I know all my weapons will fire in a life threatening situation. :)

    Reply

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