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.
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.