How to Clean a 1911 Handgun

1911 handgun with light, how to clean a 1911

The video below covers how to clean a 1911 that does not need a tool to remove the barrel bushing. There are also written steps below.

I did not have access to this other style of 1911, so I could not include that in the video. My apologies, but all the processes translate over to that type as well.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

Phase 1: Takedown

The first rule of gun cleaning is to make sure the gun is unloaded. This means to check the chamber AFTER you have cleared the magazine.

After the weapon is determined to be clear, 1911 disassembly begins by pulling the slide back enough to give the recess cut on the slide room to work the takedown lever/pin out of the frame.

With one hand, you keep the slide in place. The other hand pushes then pulls the lever/pin out of the frame. This allows the frame to be removed.

1911 pistol with slide pulled back
Use one hand to hold the slide back at the cutout and the other to remove the slide release lever/pin.

Next, remove the slide. Be aware, there is spring tension in the slide. If you drop or bounce the slide much, the spring and other parts may launch across the room.

This may result in cursing, looking at scratches and trying to find parts. Placing the thumb over the spring greatly reduces the chances of that.

Then, gently release the pressure for a simple slide disassembly.

With the spring removed, the next step is to remove the barrel bushing. A leftward rotation allows for the removal of the bushing by freeing up the lugs.

The recoil spring plug will drop out as well.

After that, the barrel link must be folded to allow it to be removed from the slide.

This completes the basic brake down of the pistol to clean a 1911. You can remove other parts for detailed maintenance or to fix broken pieces, but for a standard range cleaning there is no need to go further.

Phase 2: Cleaning

Although this barrel is not dirty as you see in the video, I always run a wet patch or mop through the barrel first.


This allows the cleaner to have a long time to work at loosening up the built-up carbon before a brush is run through.

In working with the more recessed areas, like the recoil spring plug, I like to saturate a Q-tip to ensure sufficient cleaning fluid gets at the carbon trapped inside.

My process for cleaning the spring and guide rod varies from many. I don’t remove the guide rod unless it is quite dirty.

Simply sliding it down ¼ – ½ an inch provides access for the cleaning fluid and saves the step of fitting the spring back over it.

For the stripped slide, I use a wet cleaning patch to coat the entire interior and exterior with fluid. Again, I am not really cleaning at this stage.

Rather, getting the fluid in contact with the filth and giving it time to loosen it up for removal later.

Often, the external area of the frame rail is missed and this can get quite dirty, especially on a carry gun. A good wipe with a wet cleaning patch on the outside is just as important as on the inside.

A different type of filth is removed, but all filth is bad.

cleaning a 1911 barrel
When you clean a 1911, coating the firearm in solvent will help break up carbon and dirt for easier cleaning.

The frame has more small recesses than the slide and the use of a very wet Q-tip is quite helpful in reaching those areas with the fluid for pre-cleaning.

The magazine and the magwell need a wipe-down as well. Especially on a carry gun, lots of dust will accumulate there.

You can remove the grips if you want. There will often be a slight layer of gunk where they meet the metal. I do that at about every three to five cleanings.

After allowing the fluid to soak in, I begin cleaning. On a fairly clean gun, by the time you have applied fluid to the entire gun, you can begin cleaning.

In any area you find your patch or paper towel getting really dirty, a second application of cleaning fluid should be applied and removed after the rest of the gun has had the once-over.

Repeat until all areas are clean.

I like to use paper towels for the initial removal of the cleaning fluid when I clean a 1911.

They are cheap, easy to manipulate and there is no temptation to keep working with one that is dirty.

For areas that are very dirty, scrubbing with a patch or Q-tip will provide faster removal and more pressure.

I like the precision of needle applicators for my gun oil. They allow me to concentrate the oil where I need it, like on the barrel link and the frame rails.

As you can see, with application down the length of the barrel, a bit more pressure on the bottle will provide a nice line to spread across large surfaces.

All metal components should have at least a thin layer of oil as a rust preventative.

The barrel bushing, barrel link, frame rails and slide rails should all have a thicker application as they are high-friction zones.

Phase 3: Reassembly

This works in the reverse order of disassembly.

First, rebuild the slide by reinserting the barrel. The barrel link must be flat to allow it to pass into the frame.

Inserting 1911 barrel into slide
Make sure the barrel link is laying down so you can slide the barrel in from the front.

Then, insert the recoil spring plug and refasten the barrel bushing to keep the recoil spring plug in place.

Then, add the spring into the plug and compress the spring and guide rod to allow it to rest against the barrel link.

When installing the spring, keep pressure on the length of the spring so it does not slinky out on you.

You also need to pair the fingers on the guide rod over the barrel. Once this is done and secured at the barrel link, it is fairly secure.

With the slide assembled, it needs to be reattached to the frame. Ensure the barrel link is in the proper position to not interfere with slide movement.

It helps to have the hammer back as well. Move the slide back to where the recess is in alignment with the hole for the takedown lever.

I use one hand to keep the slide and frame in alignment and the other to carefully position the pin in place.

This requires the barrel link and the frame hole to be in alignment. Then, gently push the pin about 1/3 of the way in.

You are looking for just enough to engage the barrel link while still retaining the ability to rotate it without scratching the frame.

This is important so you can position the slide recess over the notch in the lever without scratching/gouging the frame.

When all is aligned properly, apply firm pressure to the lever to overcome the tension on the slide-stop spring.

Once this is in place, the gun should be properly reassembled. Rack the slide a few times and dry fire to make sure all components are tight, but not binding, as well as functional.

If there is any resistance to those actions, take the gun apart and reassemble. Generally speaking, a 1911 doesn’t allow you to get it back together if you have done something wrong.

Conclusion: Cleaning a 1911 Handgun

After these steps, you now have a clean and lubricated gun. Congrats, that is how to clean a 1911 pistol.

How do you clean a 1911? What other gun-cleaning videos would you like to see? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. Used to work in a Medical component manufacturing plant until it was moved overseas (Thanks OBAMACARE!), Injection Molded a lot of parts per FDA standards, so when they (FDA) decided that White Lithium Grease could no longer be used on our components, I got several cans of SLIDE EJECTOR PIN LUBE & GREASE out of the dumpster. This white lithium spray lube was designed to be used in high temperature and high pressure applications. (Think .38 or .45 ACP heat/pressure levels,) As this is an industrial type product, found I liked it better than most of the so called “gun lubes”‘ Although suppliers sold it by the case, think that some FASTENAL locations will have individual cans in stock. Too bad so many “industrial” products are not available for the masses. SLIDE PRODUCTS has a number of industrial products that I found work so much better than the typical “over the counter” consumer products I have used before.

  2. I have a Springfield Xd 45. Is the take down like the 1911?

    I also have a high point carbine 45 that I would like to know how to clean properly

  3. In aaddition to the tips above with which I agree, I offer the following.

    I have found wet wipes are adequate for removal of the top layer of fouling and accumulated filth. However, I wipe the gun with a paper towel after using the wet wipe to get rid of any residue left by the wet wipe. I use silicon clothe on exterior surfaces and then wipe off the excess silicon with a clean paper towel. I only do that on a gun that is cool and not still warm from firing.

    in the military, we used to use a lithium grease name LAS on the 20mm machine cannons. They got exceedingly hot and we were taught that the LAS soaked into the pores on the metal and provided lubrication even after the surface layer was removed. It was thought that the heat from the guns caused the metal pores to open up and absorb microscopic amounts of grease. When I left the military a container of LAS followed me home and the residue is still being used today. On some hidden surfaces where I do not want to build a visible layer of grease, I use a hair dryer to heat the metal until it is very warm to the touch, apply the LAS, let it cool and then wiped off the excess. It seems to work for me.

    I am informed that some of the new commercial products duplicate LAS in that they are also absorbed into the pores of the metal when heated.

    My process has worked well on hunting and competition guns for many years. My Series 70 Colt has been rebuilt twice and is on its 3rd barrel but everything else is pretty much original and still very serviceable.

  4. Save all this hassle by just using a bushing wrench for higher spring rates or thumbs for a regular stock rate to start taking it apart. From a 1911 user for 65 years who fired EXPERT with it service and still does.

  5. I appreciated the description for cleaning a model 1911.

    Now I would like to see a similar description for cleaning an M1 Garland, including removal of the gas plug without the tool.

  6. Thanks for mentioning to clear the magazine first, I see many articles checking the chamber first. Also, depending on the fit, the bushing may not be removeable without a tool, I have one thats sloppy and easy and another thats been fitted and needs a tool. Thanks!

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