This treatise on gun cleaning is not intended to be a detailed instruction, but rather to point out a few dos and don’ts. As a disclaimer, let me first say that instructions furnished with bore cleaners, equipment, etc. should be followed unless they would conflict with these dos and don’ts. Now let’s start.
It should be common knowledge and generally understood that firearms work better, shoot straighter, and last longer if they are properly maintained. A large part of that maintenance involves the proper cleaning and care of the working mechanisms and the all-important bore.
What I consider to be the best method of cleaning firearms may differ from the opinions of others. I base my gun cleaning routines on the way I was taught to clean my benchrest target rifles and I continue to use those procedures with all of my firearms. Benchrest rifles are considered the Formula One of the centerfire rifle world, and as such, they incorporate every technology available to shoot incredibly small groups.
An integral part of their accuracy is their precision stainless steel, match-grade barrels, which can set you back a princely sum when properly fitted to an action. I do not recommend dubious methods of gun cleaning when dealing with such precise instruments. My feeling is that if it works with these barrels, it will certainly work on firearms not requiring such pinpoint accuracy. Who wouldn’t want his/her firearm to be as accurate as possible?
Why clean your gun?
Before we talk about maintenance, let us first review what happens when a firearm is discharged. Particles of burnt powder and primer residue are deposited in the bore, along with copper or lead-fouling, depending on the type of bullets being fired. The next shot fired causes another bullet to pass over that fouling and so on until the shooting session is concluded.
If many shots are fired and the firearm is not cleaned, a layered build-up of fouling occurs in the bore. That is especially true in the throat just in front of the chamber. That build-up in effect reduces the size of the bore and can result in a rise of pressure. Remember, accuracy is about controlling the variables. That is why fouling can cause accuracy to drop off as more shots are fired without cleaning as the pressure increases.
I have seen accuracy begin to suffer in barrels with less than 10 shots being fired. Lead bullets fired in pistols and rimfires, are less affected by this problem, but they will also perform better with a clean barrel. Any firearm left uncleaned for a long period of time may also exhibit a pitted bore that might not become obvious until the bore is cleaned thoroughly. By then it’s too late.
Shotgun shooters have the additional problem of plastic fouling from the wads used to hold the shot. That plastic leaves a very stubborn type of fouling in the bore. However, there are special brushes available to help remove that plastic residue.
Gun Cleaning Supplies
A good accessory for a shooter to have is a cleaning cradle to hold the firearm for cleaning. For the do-it-yourselfer, you can make a cleaning cradle from a wooden box by cutting a V-notch in both ends, then add some padding in each V to protect the firearm, and voila! you have your very own cleaning cradle.
Here is a basic list of items your cleaning supplies should consist of for cleaning any bore:
- A one-piece cleaning rod of appropriate length and diameter.
- Bronze bristle brushes of the correct bore size.
- Nylon bristle brushes of the correct bore size.
- Suitable brass jags.
- A good supply of 100% cotton flannel patches of the correct bore sizes.
- A good quality bore (powder) solvent.
- A good quality copper solvent for that stubborn fouling.
- A small glass jar filled with mineral spirits.
- A bottle of Kroil lubricant or your favorite gun oil.
It is important that you use a good quality, one-piece cleaning rod that is coated. It should have a rotating handle and a rod guide that fits both your receiver raceway and the rod snugly. Ensure that the rod does not contact the bore.
As for bore cleaners there are two basic types, chemical and abrasive. Chemical cleaners are usually a blend of various ingredients including oils, solvents, and ammonia (in copper solvents). Abrasive cleaners are generally, oil, wax, or grease based with a very fine abrasive such as chalk, clay, or gypsum.
I recommend the use of name-brand cleaners on proper fitting patch/jag combinations for your particular bore size and quality, properly sized, nylon or bronze bore brushes.
Gun Cleaning Process
Now that you have all the tools needed, how do you use them? The first and probably most important thing to be aware of is that not all chemical cleaners are compatible with each other. Some, when used together can cause severe damage to your barrel — even stainless-steel barrels. You can use two different cleaners, but you must completely eliminate the first cleaner from the barrel and ensure it is dry before using the second.
Some copper solvents contain a high percentage of ammonia. This makes them very effective at removing copper. However, if left in the bore too long, they will damage the steel. Under no circumstances should those chemicals be left in the bore longer than 10–15 minutes.
You should always follow all instructions on the bottle of the product you are using especially, as far as soaking time. Always clean from the breech end whenever possible, pushing the patch out of the muzzle. Try to avoid dragging items in and out of the muzzle, as it will eventually cause uneven wear of the crown and accuracy will suffer.
The easiest type of fouling to remove is the loose powder that can be seen by inspecting the bore after firing. To remove this type of fouling, place a patch of the correct size on the end of the jag (on the end of the cleaning rod) and apply bore solvent. Push the patch through the bore and out of the muzzle.
It will be black with the carbon residue it removed. Do not pull it back through the bore. Carbon is one of the hardest substances known to man. If you drag it back through the bore it will damage it. Remove the soiled patch before the rod is withdrawn back through the muzzle.
Once the rod has been removed from the barrel, clean it before reinserting and repeating the process. Repeat as necessary until the patches come out clean. Don’t worry about how many patches you use. Patches are cheap enough. When a patch finally emerges clean, it indicates that most of the powder and primer fouling have been removed.
To remove stubborn fowling, a bronze bristle brush will need to be used. If that is the case, place some drops of bore solvent along its length and make about 10 passes back and forth all the way through the bore. Be careful not to let any solvent get into the magazine and trigger area.
Once finished rinse off the bronze brush in some mineral spirits to remove the fouling particles and the solvent. If you leave the bronze brush wet with solvent, the solvent that is designed to attack copper, will attack the brush and ruin it. Additionally, remember that it is always a good idea to use a bore guide when cleaning rifles. A bore-guide will prevent the cleaning rod from contacting the barrel. More barrels have been ruined by incorrect cleaning procedures than from shooting.
Next, run more wet patches through the bore to remove what the bronze brush has loosened. Initially, they will come out very black, because the brush will have to loosen any remaining powder fouling. When the patches come out clean, repeat the process again with the brush as many times as needed until the patches come out clean after the brush has gone through.
If you suspect copper fouling, there are specific copper removing solvents. The best known is probably Sweet’s 7.62, an Australian-made ammonia-based solvent that is very effective. Follow the posted instructions for its use. If there is any copper fouling, it will remove it.
When done, rinse the brush off in warm tap water and run patches through the barrel until it is dry. I then use gun scrubber to make sure all the copper solvent is removed. In a pinch you can use brake cleaner but be careful, it will damage wood and plastic and is not good to breathe. Continue by then passing a patch through the barrel with Kroil, or your favorite gun oil to prevent rust. The method described above applies to rifles, but it can be adapted to pistols and shotguns by using the appropriately sized rods and brushes. Revolver shooters have the chambers to clean in addition to the barrel.
We then need to clean the rest of the firearm. If it has been used in wet or dusty conditions, take the barreled action out of the stock first. You can clean the trigger group by using one of the modern spray-type gun cleaners. However, if you are old-fashioned, use solvent with brushes, picks, and flannel patches to get things clean.
When you finish, put a small amount of moly-based grease on the sears. All metal parts should be given a wipe down with a cloth that has a light amount of good gun oil. Remember to lubricate the locking lugs of the bolt to prevent galling. Synthetic stocks need only to be wiped down with a damp cloth. For wooden stocks, a good furniture polish will make them look like new.
We primarily looked at the barrel, but the rest of the firearm also needs attention especially semi-automatics, because they use the recoil, or a portion of the gases generated, to work. Those forces, along with the movement of major parts, contaminate the action and related parts with fouling and particles that need to be cleaned to prevent malfunctions and wear. The same solvents that are used on the barrel can be used on the action and parts. Remember to ensure they are clean and dry before lubrication. Wipe, scrub, brush, and scrape the fouling off with the tools shown. Then, dry and lubricate the same.
Keep in mind that this information is not intended as a complete, step-by-step guide or a recommendation of any product. However, please remember to use a quality one-piece cleaning rod that is either vinyl coated or carbon fiber, with the proper rod guide for barrel and action you are cleaning. Use the gun cleaning products, chemicals, jags, patches, and brushes that have worked the best for you in the past.
There is no “right” answer to gun cleaning products and equipment other than to use good quality products. I must mention that under no circumstances should you use a stainless brush. If you choose to use brushes in your cleaning, use only quality bronze phosphor brushes or nylon. Clean them after every use to extend their life. And always work in a well-ventilated area. I hope this answers some questions about cleaning and helps keep your firearms shooting like new.