AR-15s

How to: Cleaning Schedules for Handguns, Shotguns, Rifles, and AR-15s

Cropped view of a man cleaning his gun

As a gun owner, you know it’s necessary to treat your firearms with respect. It’s critical to take time for proper care and cleaning. Regularly cleaning your gun ensures safety, reliability, and longevity for your firearms, so it’s important to have a specific maintenance routine for handguns, shotguns, rifles and more. With that in mind, here’s a list of cleaning schedules for four types of guns.

Handguns

Pistols are the ideal gun for those who want to carry a concealed weapon. These handguns pack a punch with their short barrels. Put these firearms on a once-a-month deep cleaning schedule. This entails stripping the whole gun and inspecting every part for rust or corrosion.

GSG 1911-22 handgun surrounded by loose rounds
Frequent cleaning and lubrication extends the firearm’s life by reducing wear on the parts. For a firearm you may have to rely on in a life or death situation, reliability is paramount.

You can do a quick clean every two weeks or so. If you use these handguns as defensive weapons, you likely don’t use them often, so it’s OK to let them go for a month at a time. However, you’ll want to ensure your safety. Creating a regular cleaning schedule for your handguns is crucial.

Shotguns

Shotguns are the firearm of choice for those who love the sound of the pump and those hitting clay targets. Likewise, shotguns are perfect for close-range hunting with the right shells for the task in the shotgun. Either way, you still need to take good care of your firearm.

Some shotgun owners say you never have to clean your gun. Those people are typically well-trained with the shotgun and can shoot with the gun in any condition. You can follow these guys, but if you’re less experienced, putting your shotgun on a cleaning schedule may be a good idea.

Because of the different shotguns, reading the manual for yours is essential when you clean it. If you use your shotgun often, do a comprehensive cleaning once every 200–250 rounds. This schedule will help keep your gun lubricated and ready to roll when needed. If you leave your shotgun in storage, bring it out once a month and give it a nice wipe-down with lubricant to ensure it’s ready for the next time you want to use it.

Rifles

Rifles are the gun of choice for hunters. Whether you have a Remington or a Marlin, it’s best to clean your rifle before and after your hunt. When you’re outside, you absorb the fresh air and everything nature has to offer, including dirt and other elements in your gun.

oiling the wood stock of a bolt action rifle
Wood stocks require attention. A little linseed oil with keep the wood protected and extend its life.

Rain and snow can negatively affect your hunt with unwanted moisture. The elements can harm the coating on your gun’s exterior. Consider these different types of coating that will help your firearm last longer:

  • Anodizing: Anodizing a gun requires submerging it in an acid bath and distilled water. Your gun needs to be made of aluminum for this option to work. This process makes firearms much tougher and more resistant to rust.
  • Gun bluing: Bluing is a common tactic for coating hunting rifles. You can “blue” the gun by changing the iron into black oxide. This method will give your rifle a black and blue color on the steel. It will require continued maintenance, but this finishing can still prevent rusting effectively.
  • Parkerizing: Parkerizing, or phosphating, includes putting the gun in a tub of phosphoric acid and then adding copper and chlorates. The mixture heats up to over 200°F and produces a strong coating for your weapon.
  • Nickel boron: Nickel boron coating is great for reducing the amount of friction in your firearm. It also protects against heat better than other coatings, making your firearms last longer.
  • Ferritic nitrocarburizing: As the name suggests, this process uses nitrogen, carbon, and heat to make a stronger coating for the gun. A firearm with this coating will better resist scratches, scuffs, and corrosion.
  • Quench polish quench (QPQ): QPQ is like ferritic nitrocarburizing and is even more effective. This process starts with a salt bath, then a polish of the piece you’re treating. It then goes back into the salt bath. The three-step process is how the name came to be.
  • Cerakote and other baked-on paints: Cerakote is a popular coating for firearms that a gunsmith can apply as a liquid and then dry in the oven. It will provide your hunting rifle with excellent corrosion resistance.

AR-15

The ArmaLite AR-15, simply known as an AR-15, is a favorite among target shooters and people who participate in gun competitions across the country. They’re also great for hunting varmints and small animals such as jackrabbits. You can take down large animals such as elk, deer, and feral pigs with the proper ammunition.

AR-15 rifle with coyote brown furniture atop a plastic case
The ArR15 got a bad reputation early on due to an ammunition switch in with the Vietnam era M16. Today, with a modicum of care, it is very reliable.

Like shotguns, AR-15s are another firearm you’ll hear a different cleaning schedule recommendation from every person you ask. Some say clean it after every use, whereas others say never to clean it. A good rule of thumb for your AR-15 is cleaning it every 250 to 300 rounds. Use the eye test to determine if debris is building up inside the gun. You’ll want to clean the debris to prevent corrosion from ruining one of your prized possessions.

If you shoot your AR-15 for competition, you may want to put your firearm on a different cleaning schedule. A good practice is to do a thorough cleaning before and after every match. Cleaning your gun beforehand helps ensure everything will work properly during the competition. If you tend to your AR-15 after, you’re giving yourself a head start for the next competition because you’ll have less to clean.

Firearms Cleaning for Your Benefit

Cleaning your firearms is necessary maintenance for any weapon you have, whether you’re a beginner with guns or a lifelong expert. This makes them last longer and maintain their performance. Without cleaning, your guns could suffer from the elements and develop rust, which could then lead to corrosion. These problems can burn a hole in your wallet, so put your firearms on a cleaning routine appropriate to their purpose and how often you use them. Clean weapons ensure safety and fun for gun lovers everywhere.

Do you have tip or cleaning schedule for your firearms? Share it in the comment section.

  • Man in a farm field holding a bolt action rifle
  • reassembling a field stripped semi-automatic pistol
  • Field stripped semi-auto shotgun
  • Closeup of disassembled shotgun during repair or maintenance on worktable of gunsmith in professional weapons workshop. Selective focus on gun
  • AR-15 rifle with coyote brown furniture atop a plastic case
  • Cropped view of a man cleaning his gun
  • oiling the wood stock of a bolt action rifle
  • GSG 1911-22 handgun surrounded by loose rounds

About the Author:

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded where he writes about gear, the outdoors, survivalism and more. Whether you're interested in ice fishing, building a rooftop tent or the best hiking trails, Oscar has you covered. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
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 (3)

  1. I clean all of my guns shortly after shooting them. I do not believe it is necessary to do a detailed strip once a month because this requires much additional knowledge to completely strip and reassemble the firearm. Sometime it can require certain and specific tools. According to just about every firearms instruction manual it advises you to only field strip the firearm to clean it. Unless you have the knowledge to do more, by doing a detailed strip it could void the manufacturers warranty.

  2. This is one of the worst articles I’ve ever read on this subject. As a LE firearms instructor, I’ve seen some neglected weapons and they all need cleaning regularly, but detail stripping a handgun every month will lead to needless wear and tear on the parts and actually accelerate replacement. Not to mention most owners do not know the proper steps to detail strip and then correctly reassemble. On some models, incorrect reassembly can lead to failures. Perhaps the author meant field stripping. Which is simply breaking the pistol down to 3-4 main assemblies which every owner should know. I will only detail strip at signs of an issue and only if I am very familiar with the model otherwise it goes to a trusted gunsmith.

    As for hunting rifles, I clean them twice a year, after I’ve confirmed my zero or sighted in before the season and after the close of the season. If you clean before each hunt your rifle will likely have strong chemical odors that will hurt your chances.

    I do wipe all of my guns down after use /carry with a soft lent free rag that is lightly oiled with a quality gun oil.

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