Oops! — Top 7 Gun Cleaning Mistakes

Pour some bleach

We all want our guns to go bang! every time we pull the trigger. Most quality guns can take a hefty amount of use before exhibiting any malfunctions, but they can still happen. At any rate, it’s just good practice to keep clean, complete preventative maintenance, and take care of your tools so they take care of you. 

I would like to note: Not checking loaded/unloaded is the true #1 gun cleaning mistake you can make. Be sure to follow the rules of firearm safety and always check the chamber. 

Field stripped semi-auto shotgun
Shotguns are easily field stripped. Get a dedicated kit with rods, brushes, and swabs that match the gauge and you’ll be ready to head to the field or range.

1. Not Cleaning Often Enough

The first mistake we’ll cover, and probably one of the most obvious, is not cleaning your firearm often enough. Even if you don’t fire your guns, dust and lint can accumulate — especially if you concealed carry. Additionally, depending on your environment and whether you carry, your firearm will be exposed to a certain amount of moisture and sweat, which can cause rust. Most modern guns feature a good protective coating to prevent this, but they are not infallible.

Small parts, such as the magazine release and thumb safety, are often finished differently and may rust easier. I recently went to clean my M&P Shield Plus carry gun and noticed some rust forming around the magazine release button on both sides of the pistol. It had not yet interfered with function, but I could feel a little grit when I pressed it. With preventative maintenance this is quickly taken care of with a little solvent and scrub. However, had this progressed further it could cause a serious issue. 

How often is enough? Well, that depends on your gun, environment, and how often you shoot or carry it. A hunting rifle may only need to be cleaned up at the beginning and end of each season. A carry pistol should probably be maintained monthly. 

reassembling a field stripped semi-automatic pistol
When it comes to maintenance, too much of a good thing is a detriment. Lubrication is essential, but over lubrication and what amounts to an oil bath could cause a malfunction.

2. Over Lubricating 

Some would call it over cleaning. In reality, it’s over lubrication. Oiling your firearm helps to prevent excessive wear and friction between moving parts. It also can prevent rust on any metal surfaces. Some oil or grease is good, but too much oil can draw in and trap dirt and lint. This will cause it to gum up, which can induce malfunctions and unnecessary parts wear and breakage. 

Oiling in the wrong spots is another way to cause a malfunction. Some people think the more oil or grease the better, but this simply isn’t true. It’s often quite the opposite. You may even be better off running your gun bone dry than dealing with the effects of over lubrication. 

3. Incorrect Disassembly/Reassembly

Some guns are more difficult than others. Generally, it takes some minor disassembly to fieldstrip your firearm for cleaning and maintenance. Further parts removal may be required for a more detailed cleaning or parts replacement.

If you’re new to the firearms world or simply taking a new firearm apart, you may make a few accidental mistakes. Even experienced gunsmiths can make a mistake — it happens. Most often, if you make an error when disassembling or reassembling your firearm, the parts won’t fit together or come apart correctly, and you’ll notice resistance.

Cropped view of a man cleaning his gun
Your firearm’s manual or a short online video will walk you through the disassembly and reassembly of your firearms as well as the cleaning procedure and lubrication points.

Typically, you don’t want to force parts together, that’s a key indicator something is wrong. Pause, take a moment to think, and maybe take some time to review the owner’s manual or check online. Sometimes you may even get the gun back together only to notice it does not operate as it should. This is why the function check afterward is important. 

4. Missing Details/Internals

You clean the gun but miss some key areas or details. The most frequent example that comes to mind is the outer star on an AR-15 chamber. This requires two specific brush sizes for proper cleaning of the bore and chamber areas.

This can also be the case on the 1911 and other older, hammer-fired designs that have more small parts than modern striker-fired pistols. Whether it’s out of fear of screwing something up or because they can be hard to reach, these areas are sometimes overlooked. However, it’s a good idea to get in there from time to time and keep everything working properly. 

Real Avid AR-15 Chamber Brush Kit
The Real Avid AR-15 Chamber Brush Kit gives you everything you need to clean an AR-15 chamber and barrel.

5. Rushing

In conjunction with mistakes three and four, rushing through the cleaning process is a big mistake because it leads to other problems. Rushing the cleaning process often makes minor mistakes turn into major problems.

We’ve all done a quick wipe down before or after a range trip. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to attempting to speed through the process of a thorough cleaning or parts replacement. When we rush, we are not at the top of our game, which can lead to gouged bores, dropped (and lost) parts, bent springs, and more. Suffice to say, take your time. 

6. Incorrect Solvents/Products

Most times we can get by with using some generic products to clean and maintain our guns. Even household items such as mineral oil and dish soap can be used if you’re so inclined. However, specialized products should be used with care, as they are not intended for all firearms, materials, and finishes. Using the wrong products can not only cause malfunctions in some cases, it can cause some serious damage to your firearm’s components and finish. 

Using the wrong solvents specifically, may damage polymers or other materials over time. Chemicals for major rust removal/prevention, wood preservation or stain, metal polish, etc. should all be used as specified and reserved for the areas of concern. 

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.

7. Forgetting Magazines

All too often, shooters forget to clean their magazines. Like your guns, your magazines get dirty at the range and on the hip. Even if your gun is spotless, forgetting the magazines can induce a number of malfunctions.

If possible, remove the baseplate and spring from your magazine and clean it inside and out. Be sure to wipe it off and dry it completely before reassembling. Do not use any in your magazines, it will just draw in dirt and cause problems. 

Now, hopefully you don’t make any of these gun cleaning mistakes, but if you do, seek a competent gunsmith. Keep your firearms in good shape, and they’ll take good care of you. 

Have you made any of these classic gun cleaning mistakes? Can you think of any others? Share your thoughts in the Comment section. 

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
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 (11)

  1. Who does a guy listen to?
    Over the last 50 years I’ve been told a pile of ways to clean and oil a gun.
    I have one buddy that the only lube his guns get are from his cleaning solvent while another who has oil dripping from his guns. Both guys seem to have good functional equipment so who am I to tell folks how or what to do. My self I try to shoot a few times a week when the weathers cooperate and other times I slip my shots out when I can and as rule I clean them thoroughly at least once a month and finish them up with a very few drops of oil ( the colder the fewer drops you do you I’ll do me and I’ll bet we get along just fine.

  2. Regarding my q-tip comment: use solvent safe foam-tipped swabs instead. You can find them online for cleaning AV equipment, etc.

  3. @David, do not use any lube or oil in magazines, they are designed and function best when dry.

    One thing that was missed in the article is the use of incorrect or worn cleaning or disassembly tools.

    For example, steel brushes and tools are generally a no-no, instead brass (or plastic) should be used. Q-tips are another cleaning tool that should be avoided, they can and often leave small strands of cotton fiber the can hinder normal operation, especially in tight tolerance locations like firing pin holes or trigger groups.

    Similarly,worn brushes (metal or plastic) can leave broken off bristles behind thatcan quickly renewed a firearm inoperable. Che the condition of cleaning tools before use and carefully inspect cleaned parts, components, and groups during and after reassembly.

    Lastly, once fully reassembled, while maintaining proper muzzle awareness and obeying the 4 rules, cycle the action several times to confirm proper function and safely dry fire to confirm trigger function.

    Stay in condition yellow.

  4. David Maples: don’t use any oil in magazines. For that matter most knowledgeable sources say don’t use any lubricant at all.

  5. Another great article for passing along the wisdom of not only the Author, but also the learned comments that are shared.
    In That spirit I would offer that my decades of experience in Aerospace Repair/Overhaul taught me that one of the finest Lubricants for Semi-Automatic Firearms is NOT Marketed to Shooting Enthusiasts but to Automotive Mechanics and Precision Mechanical Assemblers.
    “Lubriplate” Lithium Grease mixed with a small amount of Molybdenum Disulfide powder and applied very sparingly to the Slide Rails and Bolt Races of Semi-Automatic Rifles and Handguns is not only effective and long-lasting but also Heat Resistant and Durable. Plus as was so wisely specified in point number “2”, it requires very little actual product and thus will last for many, Many usages.

  6. “Small parts, such as the magazine release and thumb safety, are often finished differently and may rust easier.” Same holds true for parts like the firing pin, and extractors. “The Real Avid AR-15 Chamber Brush Kit gives you everything you need to clean an AR-15 chamber and barrel.” Just a suggestion here: The part of the chamber that can get REALLY fouled in ANY firearm, is the part where the bullet leaves the brass case, in that it deposits a ring of carbon (think about it). If you look at the shape of the AR Chamber brush, yes it cleans the star, and the large part of the chamber, but lacks the proper shape to clean the critical part of the chamber in the “necked down” portion, where the bullet leaves the brass, and this it true of any necked down case, so what I suggest here is: Get a straight CHAMBER brush for the respective caliber, or if they are unavailable, say on a 5.56, use either a .270 or a .280 bore brush to clean this critical part of the chamber, and anytime the chamber is cleaned it is best to use a cleaning rod with a NON-ROTATING handle, like the ones that come with a Glock, so the brush can be twisted in the chamber for best cleaning, and NEVER run a chamber brush down the bore. I have found that cleaning this critical part of the chamber not only eliminates the potential for function issues, for some reason, it seems to help consistency in accuracy as well. For LUBRICATION: Another suggestion is: I use Wilson Combat Lube, as it takes very little, spreads like a fine film, requires a cleaning fluid to be removed, and carbon doesn’t seem to stick to it. As an example; one drop of WCL in the slide track, spread with say the soft tooth brush like the dentist gives you after a visit, will spread that single drop of lube very efficiently over the area of the slide track, resulting in not over lubing, and very smooth operation. Same for a 1911 on the outside of the barrel, and the inside of the bushing, as it takes only a drop or two to cover a 1911 external part of the barrel. Coating a rifle bolt using WCL, makes for a very smooth operation too. Try it, and if it doesn’t work for you, remove it with your favorite gun solvent.

  7. not sure how to reply to a comment. in response to Richard Shurick, i use break free on everything. i haven’t opened a bottle of hoppes in years. i knew a guy that swore by cleaning the bore of a mosin nagant with soap and water then swabbing marvel mystery oil in it.

  8. “If possible, remove the baseplate and spring from your magazine and clean it inside and out. Be sure to wipe it off and dry it completely before reassembling. Do not use any in your magazines, it will just draw in dirt and cause problems.”

    Don’t use any what in your mags?

  9. I agree with everything you said with the exception of the linseed oil for wood stocks, Perhaps if the stock had a linseed oil finish originally I might agree but too many stock finished out there for so generic a suggestion. I would suggest a good quality wax instead. Renaissance Wax probably the best out there but pricey. Any quality furniture paste wax would suffice.

  10. I’ve been around firearms and shooting since I was about 10 years old (I’m now 74), but there’s always room to learn more. This article made me realize that I had been doing a few things wrong (like too much lubrication.). The point is that I really appreciate these posts from your writers. It’s a genuine service to the community. Please keep them coming. Thanks!

  11. Is it ok to spray CLP into the firing pin hole of a bolt? My bolt seems very difficult to raise to re-set the firing pin spring. It is a Browning.

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