Gun Care

Gun Cleaning: “Dos and Don’ts”

Two paper target showing how the groups open from a dirty rifle

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.

Field stripped T Series Browning Hi-Power
A properly cared for T Series Browning Hi-Power shown broken down for routine maintenance and cleaning.

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.

Custom .338 Win Mag rifle with Krieger barrel
This well-maintained and very accurate custom hunting rifle chambered for the .338 Win Mag. sports a Krieger Barrel and has taken game cleanly from 40–400+ yards.

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:

  1. A one-piece cleaning rod of appropriate length and diameter.
  2. Bronze bristle brushes of the correct bore size.
  3. Nylon bristle brushes of the correct bore size.
  4. Suitable brass jags.
  5. A good supply of 100% cotton flannel patches of the correct bore sizes.
  6. A good quality bore (powder) solvent.
  7. A good quality copper solvent for that stubborn fouling.
  8. A small glass jar filled with mineral spirits.
  9. 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.

Black cleaning kit with all the tools to keep your firearm in good shape.
Learn to use a quality cleaning kit to ensure a long life for your firearm.

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.

Gun cleaning patches
Good quality cleaning patches are a must for good results.

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.

Pushing a cleaning rod through an AR-15 rifle in a cleaning vice
A good AR-15 cleaning is easy to perform when you have the right components. The gun is clamped in a vise with a lower receiver vise block, and an AR-15 cleaning link holds the gun open. An AR-15 rod guide in the receiver keeps the rod straight and eliminates solvent pouring into the lower. An aggressive copper-removing solvent will irritate your skin, so wear gloves.

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.

Bore lite for checking gun barrels
A good quality bore light is essential to check your work.

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.

Before and after restoration of a .32 ACP Seecamp pistol
Here is a “been carried a lot” shop very little .32 Seecamp in need of some real TLC. That need is apparent by the corrosion and rust on its innards. Believe it or not, it looks and works like new now.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Do you have a procedure for breaking in a new gun? What gun cleaning regimen do you follow when caring for your handguns, rifles, shotguns, or back powder firearms? Which cleaning and lubrication products have worked best for you? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Paper target showing a sub MOA group from a .338 Win Mag with a Krieger barrel
  • Ruger #1 rifle left and paper target proofing accuracy
  • Before and after restoration of a .32 ACP Seecamp pistol
  • Bore lite for checking gun barrels
  • Gunsmithing punch set
  • Wheeler Engineering Gunsmithing Screwdriver set
  • Two paper target showing how the groups open from a dirty rifle
  • Custom .338 Win Mag rifle with Krieger barrel
  • Field stripped T Series Browning Hi-Power
  • Gun cleaning patches
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 (19)

  1. Someone asked about ultrasonic cleaners and what solution to use. They actually make solutions specifically for ultrasonic cleaners. I’ve had success with Hornady, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s not just rebranded Simple Green (smells just like it). The stuff is intended to be added to water, not used at 100% strength. I’ll throw metal parts only in the tank, and I make sure they are completely dried and then lightly oiled – not enough oil to see or to lubricate anything – just enough to wipe everything down. When it comes time to put everything back together (like a 1911), I oil and grease as I go, continuing to wipe anything that ends up somewhere I hadn’t intended. If it’s going to be carried immediately, it goes in the holster looking as if I hadn’t oiled it – that’s how little oil is required. If it’s going in the safe after an ultrasonic cleanse, I’ll give it one more oil wipe on the outside before putting it in it’s holder.

  2. What are your thoughts on using an Ultrasound as a part of the process? After all we use them for surgical instruments with many fine moving parts, multiple types of construction and materials. How often should one be used? I think they should be considered. However I am not sure of what solutions to use.

  3. Thank you, Alex Cole for clarifying my inquiry regarding Mr. Aka. Of course, I do know the meaning of AKA but that is not how it’s presented. In reading the layout at the beginning of the article, wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge the author as: Ed LaPorta, the “Real Most Interesting Man in the World.” Just my thoughts as I think it would make it easier to identify the author . Cheers

  4. I enjoy reading the articles on Shooter’s Log but I’m confused as to what the author’s name is that wrote this particular piece. Many of the commenters refer to him as Mr. Ed Aka, yet it also says LaPorta. I have met and attended several seminars where the guest speaker was Ed LaPorta. He is a highly respected gun guru, lecturer and firearms instructor. I remember he once referred to himself as the “Real Most Interesting Man In The World.” Is this the same gentleman that wrote this excellent article? I was curious because I don’t remember seeing any articles on other websites by
    Ed Aka. Anyway, keep up the good work at CTD!

    1. Yes, the author is Ed LaPorta, aka stands for “also know as.” He is sometimes referred to as “The Real Most Interesting Man In The World.”

  5. What is your opinion of using a Bore Snake? For me with Arthritis it’s a blessing. Of course I do try to clean my weapons within a 5 day period of using them. I also was impressed with quality of Shooter Lube Cleaner and subsequent Lubricant.

  6. “Jack
    July 19, 2022 at 9:46 am
    Mr. Aka, I notice you did not mention the bore snake.”

    I was wondering about the “kit” pictured too, I see no rod, just a pull thru, but you talk exclusively about using a cleaning ROD. Why promote something that isn’t what you recommend using?
    Also AR specific question, why do people seem to want to just pop open an AR for cleaning? I pop out both pins and separate upper and lower receivers for cleaning, just seems easier to me only having to deal with half at a time.

  7. I clean my guns shortly after shooting them. If I’m shooting a magazine fed firearm I also clean the magazine. My motto is to never let the sun set on a dirty firearm.

  8. Good tips for the new AR owner, but other platforms don’t permit pushing from the rear to the front. In the case of the AK, inserting the naked cleaning rod from the front, and then attaching the cotton patch in the area above the magazine well is about the only way to pull a patch through without bending the cleaning rod. There are also levels of cleaning. If it’s for inspection in Basic Training, that’s one thing. If it’s for long time storage, that’s another. And for someone who goes out to the range regularly, there’s another.
    I’ve known people that regularly cleaned their firearms with soap and water, which is sometimes the required first step after firing corrosive ammunition. Then, they followed up with Ballistol, Hoppe’s, or Hornady cleaner/lube. Some cleaners/lubes are emulsifiers and push the water out of the way during the drying process. Some cleaners/lubes are polymer and wood friendly. Shop around and make your life easier.
    Of note, the amount and type lubricant used also plays a part in how dirty the firearm gets during use. Basic rule of thumb is grease on things that slide and oil on things that turn/rotate in warm climates. And, from my limited experience (34 years in the Army), less is best.
    There are a lot of techniques and opinions out there. I’ve found Paul Harrell and Hickock45 to be excellent YouTube sources of cleaning techniques. Highly recommended for new and seasoned firearm users.

  9. Good informative article, however it seems most articles on this topic neglect the need for cleaning the CHAMBER. Chamber brushes, like bore brushes, are sized by the caliber. The difference is, the CHAMBER brush is slightly larger in diameter than the respective bore brush, as it is designed to clean the area where the brass casing rides. Why is this important? Because when the bullet leaves the brass casing, it leaves a ring of fouling, which is in the CHAMBER, not the bore. CHAMBER brushes many times come in stainless steel, which makes them easy to identify they are NOT a bore brush, and should NEVER be forced down the bore. IF FACT; a stainless steel brush should NEVER be use in the bore, even though a Glock 44 comes with one, DO NOT USE IT IN THE BORE. CHAMBER cleaning is really obvious when shooting say a 38 in a .357 chamber, or .22 shorts in a .22LR chamber, however the one that is really missed is the centerfire Rifle chambers, but especially AR CHAMBERS, as there is a CHAMBER BRUSH available, but if you look at its profile it cleans the Star, and the main large diameter part of the CHAMBER, however it totally neglects the small part of the CHAMBER where the bullet leaves the casing neck. For this I recommend a respective size bore brush, like for a 5.56/223, I use a .270 or a .280 bore brush to clean the fouled ring out of the small part of the CHAMBER. You can do the similar process with other rifle calibers. Cleaning the CHAMBER also improves group size. It doesn’t cost much to try this, basically the price of a CHAMBER brush, which is competitive with bore brushes, and good ol Hope’s #9.

  10. I, also, noticed that the use of bore snakes was conspicuously absent. In thinking about it, I suspect it’s because you are running a dirty snake through the barrel and depositing all of the carbon, copper, lead, etc removed from the last cleaning. I recall reading another article that suggested running the snake through the washing machine and thinking that my wife might not think that was such a great idea.

  11. Consider being careful when using solvents around polymer parts, such as stocks, or poly lowers of pistols and some ARs. Many penetrating solvents contain chemicals that will weaken or mar polymer.

  12. New gun owners are the worse, as they don’t realize that even a NIB firearm may need to be cleaned. IF you know how to disassemble/reassemble your firearm, many simple issues can be corrected without needing to send it back to the factory. I have firearms that are 45 – 50 years old in better shape than I am because of simply keeping them properly cleaned. Revolvers also need to have the Throats cleaned if using cast lead bullets, as a build-up of residual lead can destroy accuracy. Years ago, it was common practice to “clean” a new rifle barrel, with some accuracy seekers even using Lapping Compound. to help remove any burrs or machining marks. That practice exists to this day, but with shooting a few rounds, and then cleaning the barrel, over and over, to slick up the bore.

  13. My Cleaning Ritual pretty well matches your steps outlined here, and has resulted in many years of enjoyable shooting plus longevity for my collection.
    A Byproduct of my cleaning habits is that my Children absolutely Love the scent of “Hoppe’s No. 9” Powder Solvent and the memories it conjures up of our shooting sessions together!😊

  14. I clean after each shooting session period always do my guns never have rust on them they are always clean

  15. Mr. Aka, I notice you did not mention the bore snake. What’s your take on bore snakes? If you believe using a bore snake is appropriate, where do you use it in your cleaning process? How do you clean a bore snake? Appreciate your responses and your cleaning article.

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