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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.