Gun Care

Tips & Tricks: How to Easily Clean Your 1911 Pistol

Nighthawk 6-inch Echelon 1911

It’s not unusual for a new 1911 owner to struggle with the disassembly and reassembly required to clean the firearm correctly. Very common to this endeavor are frustrations associated with having the recoil spring plug hit the ceiling then rebound to places unknown, or scratches along the side of the frame made by attempting to align and push the slide stop lever/disassembly pin into its proper position.

I struggled with these particular items myself and scratched up a beautiful Springfield Armory stainless steel 1911. I’ve seen others scratched similarly. On one occasion, I launched the recoil spring plug right through the plastic cover of a fluorescent lamp in the ceiling.

Colt Government Model 1911 pistol right profile in burnt bronze with G10 Micarta grips
The 1911 was designed for military use and can be easily maintained if you know the proper procedure for cleaning the gun.

Additional difficulty comes with a gun featuring a full-length guide rod as opposed to one that is shorter. I struggled with these items even after I was in a position where I was supposed to know what I was doing. I was an instructor and other shooters looked to me for guidance. A sincere desire to get it right led me to an epiphany.

Those guns were made to be issued to soldiers and sailors who would be faced with the challenge of maintaining their weapons under less-than-ideal conditions and in a manner in which they would count on it in life-or-death situations. For the guns to work in that environment, they had to be easy to maintain. I needed to know what the military instructors were teaching their recruits about cleaning the 1911 pistol.

Well, there you go. As a former military man, I knew there would be a published field manual with the cleaning process broken down into simple steps. I searched high and low and finally located a reprint of War Department Field Manual 23-35, Automatic Pistol Caliber .45 M1911 and 1811A1 Field Manual on Amazon. A big part of this manual is shooting instruction, but it did have a section on disassembly and reassembly for the proper cleaning of the gun.

The steps outlined made sense, but there were no pictures and no mention of the three things the drill sergeants had to have explained when teaching recruits how to take a 1911 apart and put it back together. With knowledge of those three items, the process holds no secrets.

Barrel Bushing for a 1911 handgun
Understanding the tab on the barrel bushing is key to knowing how to remove and reinstall it.

Common Hangups

Number one is understanding the barrel bushing. There is a little tab on that bushing located at the 7 o’clock position when looking at it from the front. That tab matches in size exactly with an opening in the frame at the bottom of the barrel. It is this alignment that allows the barrel bushing to be removed at the proper time.

The second piece of information relates to knowing the correct notch on the slide for removing the combination slide lock/takedown pin. Although it appears the backend of this pin is supposed to come out through the same notch used to lock back the slide during gun operation, that’s not the correct notch.

Ruger 1911 pistol showing the empty hole for the retaining pin
The small notch slightly to the rear of the slide lock notch is the one used for removing the slide lock for disassembly.

There is another, much smaller notch on the left side of the slide a little less than an inch to the rear of the larger notch used to lock back the slide. When this small notch is perfectly aligned with the locking tab at the back end of the slide lock/takedown lever, the slide lock/takedown lever can be easily removed from the gun.

The third piece of information is related to this same piece and comes into play when you’re putting the gun back together. The tab on the back of the slide lock/takedown lever is made with several angled surfaces. These angles are there so the tab can be pushed up into position while pressing in on the spring-loaded retaining pin that is in a tube fastened to the frame.

With that pin pushed in, your next action of pushing the slide lock into place should be simple and without resistance. Attempting to put the gun together without an understanding of how the angles and pin work together, many people resort to a screwdriver or other tool to force the piece into place which usually results in scratches on the 1911 frame. The key to remember is that if you’re having to force it, something is not aligned correctly.

Now that we know about the three items that often cause gun owners difficulty, let’s go through the process of disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling a typical 1911. First, remove the magazine and set it aside, then check the chamber to ensure beyond a doubt the gun is unloaded. Pull the hammer back and push the thumb safety into the on position. This will lock the slide in place for the next step.

Disassembly Proccess

Hold the gun vertically with the barrel up and the beavertail resting on your workbench surface. Press down on the recoil spring plug and rotate the barrel bushing clockwise so that it is 90 degrees to the left as seen from the front of the gun. It’s important that you hold the recoil spring plug while rotating the bushing to keep it from flying off into hard-to-find land.

Barrel bushing on the 1911 pistol rotated 90 degrees clockwise
Rotate the barrel bushing to this position to remove the recoil spring plug.

There is a tool that ships with many guns for this purpose. If you didn’t get one with your gun, they are easy to find online. Just search for “1911 Barrel Bushing Wrench.” On many guns you can remove the plug without a barrel bushing wrench. Once the barrel bushing has been rotated out of the way, carefully let the spring pressure off the plug, then remove the plug and set it aside.

Barrel bushing on the 1911 pistol rotated 45 degrees counterclockwise
Rotate the barrel bushing to this position to remove it from the gun.

Now, rotate the barrel bushing counterclockwise until the two legs are pointing approximately 45 degrees right of the bottom of the barrel opening as seen from the front. This should align the tab with the opening beneath the barrel and allow you to pull the barrel bushing off the barrel and set it aside.

If your 1911 has a full-length guide rod, you will need to follow the procedure associated with your particular gun to remove the end of the rod. Most of the ones I’ve seen have an Allen screw in the end of the rod that allows you to take off the end of the guide rod.

Field stripped 1911 M45A1 handgun
1911 disassembled for cleaning.

With the recoil spring plug and barrel bushing removed, take off the thumb safety and move the slide to align the small takedown notch with the tab at the very end of the slide lock. This is the smaller notch on the slide. In fact, it is so small it is easily overlooked at times. When it is aligned properly, the takedown lever can be removed by pressing the pin on the opposite side of the slide.

If it feels like you need to force it, the alignment is not correct. Carefully and slowly move the slide back and forth a little bit at a time until the pin moves. Press it in until it’s flush on the right side, then pull it out from the left side of the gun. With the pin removed, you can easily push the slide right off the front of the gun which is the next step in the process. The barrel, plus the retaining rod and spring, will come out with it.

Remove the recoil rod and spring, and set them aside. This may require a little jiggling. Remove the barrel by pulling it out the front of the slide. You now have the gun disassembled — as far as is necessary to properly clean it.

Gun cleaning supplies from Lucas oil
You’ll need a bore cleaner, a general-purpose cleaning fluid and gun oil to go with a basic cleaning kit with brushes and cleaning rags.

Cleaning Process

Cleaning kits are available in all sizes, but just a basic kit is all you need for cleaning your pistol. You’ll need a bronze brush of the appropriate caliber size, with a rod used to push it through the barrel, and a small brush similar to a toothbrush for eliminating debris from various parts. You’ll also need some small cotton cleaning patches.

There are three chemicals needed to properly clean your 1911, and these are available from various manufacturers. I like to use Lucas Oil Products, made by the same folks who provide lubricants for most of the NASCAR cars.

First, we’ll soak the bronze barrel brush in bore solvent and run it back and forth through the barrel a few times. Push the brush through from the breech end of the barrel, so any copper or lead you’re pushing out will go outside of the gun rather than in the chamber area. Now, remove the brush from the cleaning rod and just using the rod itself (or you can put on a jag, if so inclined).

Push a small white patch through the barrel. Push several through until you get a clean one. If you’re going to be putting the gun up for a while, put a small amount of oil on a patch and push that one through last.

Using the contact cleaner, spray the inside of the gun liberally to remove any gunpowder residue. Note: some contact cleaners leave a white residue when they dry. I spray oil on these parts of the gun then wipe it dry. Before reassembling the gun, judiciously apply gun oil to the inside of the barrel bushing, the slide rails, and any other place where metal-to-metal contact is obtained during gun operation.

Quartering view of a Ruger 1911 pistol showing the positioning of the bevels on the slide lock
Proper positioning of the bevels on the slide lock will allow it to snap into place without the need of tools.

Reassembly Process

Reassembly begins with inserting the barrel back into the slide and putting the guide rod, and guide rod spring, back in place. As you push the slide back on the frame rails, watch the barrel link to ensure you will be able to see the hole in it as it slides into position where the takedown pin goes through the slide and the link.

Gently pull on the front of the barrel to ensure the link has been captured before completing the assembly. Align the back tab of the takedown lever with the small notch in the slide and push it upward, then in to compress the slide stop plunger. Let the angles on the slide stop do the work. You shouldn’t have to pry the plunger with any kind of instrument.

With the action up and in, you’ll feel it snap into place. Cock the hammer (if it’s not still cocked) and install the barrel bushing. Rotate it to the 90-degree clockwise position, and install the recoil spring plug. Next, work the slide back and forth a few times to distribute the lubricant, wipe off any excess lubricant that has seeped out of the various openings in the gun, and you’re done.

Do you have a tip for cleaning a 1911 handgun? How do you clean your 1911? Share it in the comment section.

  • Colt Government Model 1911 pistol right profile in burnt bronze with G10 Micarta grips
  • Barrel Bushing for a 1911 handgun
  • Ruger 1911 pistol showing the empty hole for the retaining pin
  • retaining pin for a 1911 pistol
  • Barrel bushing on the 1911 pistol rotated 90 degrees clockwise
  • Barrel bushing on the 1911 pistol rotated 45 degrees counterclockwise
  • Field stripped 1911 M45A1 handgun
  • Gun cleaning supplies from Lucas oil
  • Quartering view of a Ruger 1911 pistol showing the positioning of the bevels on the slide lock

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
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 (16)

  1. How to clean and lubricate a 1911 type firearm.

    Step 1: lock slide back
    Step 2: dunk in LSA
    Step 3: repeat


  2. @ SGT. DAVIS
    A response to a couple of things you said:
    #1. “Easiest way to disassemble and clean the 1911 is to not own one.” Using that logic, the easiest way to not get mugged on the street is never leave your house. Or the easiest way to never contract any communicable disease would also be never leave your house or have any physical contact with another human being who might be carrying said disease. I realize that was an attempt to be funny… uh, not so much.

    #2. ” but I will not ever understand the fascination people have with the 1911. It’s more annoying than…”
    Do you find other people’s fascination with the 1911 annoying or is it the weapon itself that you find annoying? You failed to specify here.

    As far as fascination with the 1911, what I have for the 1911… let’s just say that fascination is a poor choice of words when used to describe my attachment to this weapon. For me, it goes far beyond fascination. Fifty years ago, I was a medic in the Army and when I arrived at the final duty station on my overseas tour back then, I was assigned to a unit where I was on a team that was trained in SAR and did Recon. I was the only one who was issued a 1911 as my sidearm. Medics and officers were the only personnel, to my recollection, who were issued 1911’s. All the other men carried M-16’s, some with an M203 grenade launcher attached. We spent a great deal of time out in the field, much of it under less than comfortable conditions. I grew to appreciate the 1911 as a weapon during the time I served over there.

    When I got out in the early-mid 70’s, I began to work in civilian ER’s and retired as an ER Nurse after thirty plus years and became a Nurse Educator. I have seen more gunshot wounds than anyone I know, not to mention other injuries too gruesome to enumerate here. I know, from what I have lived through, exactly what the 1911 can do and, in my experience, it is one of the best weapons that can be wielded in a self-defense situation. In my experience, what people call failures of that weapon are not the weapon’s fault, but user error. The best weapon in the world has diminished usefulness in the hands of someone not versed in its capacity.

    What I do not understand is people who have only trained with and played with weapons, but somehow “know” more about live fire situations and how they will respond than those who actually have been there. Included in this are those who have never even seen a person with any kind of GSW but know more about their substandard and proven to be ineffective caliber choices for self-defense and do their best to deride, ridicule, and diminish the voices of experience when they report what they have actually seen in real life, many times over. They become incensed for some reason when someone interjects reality into their pipedreams and burst the fantasy bubble. Just my .02 there.

    You call yourself SGT. May I ask what that is in reference to? If you are a veteran, then I thank you for your service. If you are an officer of your local constabulary, I also thank you for your service.

    For the record, I am not a big fan of the Beretta either.

  3. Very interesting, and I thank you. Any hints for making sure that the barrel link is in the right position, and keeping it there while the takedown pin is re-inserted?

  4. Disassembly to this point isnt a problem for me. (Though I remove bushing and recoil spring first with nylon bushing wrench.) I end up spending extra time with reinstalling the safety after cleaning the sear,hammer and trigger.

  5. Hi, little confused, you talked about disassembly of firearm then how to go about cleaning it and mentioned what direction to push brush not to get crap in chamber, isn’t it apart?

  6. Easiest way to disassemble and clean the 1911 is to not own one.
    I like JM Browning’s mental theory behind it and the Model 94 Winchester in .30-30 is the bee’s knees but I will not ever understand the fascination people have with the 1911. It’s more annoying than the Beretta M9 or the CZ 75. Then again I can’t stand anything Glock either. I’ll stick to my S&W’s preferably in .40… yeah yeah…. sue me. Haha

  7. I have a Rock Island Amory 1911 FS Tac. Despite all the warnings, I lost the recoil spring plug and bought a replacement from Brownell’s (commander version). However, I cannot get the spring plug to fit. It seems to bottom out just shy of allowing the bushing to clear the center rise. Any suggestions?

  8. Agree with N.Morris it’s a better way to disassemble to take slide off first especially with match fit bushings and barrels. Pull barrel forward away from bushing then use wrench to rotate bushing and remove from slide. This eliminates wear on the muzzle end of barrel and inside of bushing, a critical lockup point necessary for maximum accuracy from your 1911. This was shown to me nearly 20 years ago by bullseye competitors (precision pistol).

  9. Thinking of the man BO ran into in Academy that knew it all, isn’t a shame how many people are unwilling to accept help, as if it made you less of a man. I get around in an electric wheelchair these days and I’m amazed at how many people offer me help when it comes to getting something off a shelf, or even loading and unloading the chair from the bed of my pickup. I’ve found accepting help so much easier than I used to and sometimes make new friends in the process. Those badass gun guys that know everything are sometimes the ones that injure or kill someone with an accidental discharge. If you’re in too much of a hurry to listen to what someone might say, you’re in too much of a hurry to be around guns. Just my humble opinion.

  10. Good, well written article. I have played with 1911’s since the early 70’s and own more than one (but not nearly as many as would satisfy my desire for another). I wish the author had written this years ago for others to see and possibly post any and every place where 1911’s are sold. I say that because quite a number of years ago, I was in a popular chain Sporting Goods store (one that is frequently first alphabetically in the local yellow pages under sporting goods) in Oklahoma. As is my wont when I am in such an establishment, I had wandered back to the gun section, planning on taking a look at their 1911’s. (That is one way I judge the quality of the gun department in stores like that.) But, there was another customer who beat me to that counter and was holding a brand new 1911 the clerk had just handed to him. I don’t remember the make of it.
    As I watched in disbelief, the man began to field strip the gun, but he started by removing the slide stop (what some people call the retaining pin) before he addressed the spring or the plug. He did manage to keep the slide group from flying off into the wild blue yonder (barely) but in trying to contain the mess and replace the slide, he was bending the spring in ways that made me wince. Fearing he was going to damage the spring further, (it looked like he was about to kink the spring, if he had not already accomplished that) I offered to assist. When the man looked at me, I stated that I owned more than 1911, that I had carried one during my overseas tour more than 40 years before, and I was rather well-versed in field stripping the weapon blindfolded.

    The clerk appeared to be clueless about the weapon and just looked at me with a blank stare as the man continued to try to force the slide back down onto the receiver group, still without removing the plug and the spring. Yeah, there was a noticeable kink in the spring that I have never seen in a usable spring and it was probably ruined for whoever bought it if he decided not to buy it.

    As he continued to struggle with the thing, I offered my assistance again; the man snarled at me that he knew what he was doing and knew more about the “F***ing gun” than I ever did. Had he let me assist, I would have removed the plug and released the spring pressure but he said he knew more than me so I just watched, looking at the clerk who stood there with helpless wide-eyed unease, no doubt realizing the possible consequences over what he had allowed the customer to do. The customer appeared to be a good twenty years younger than I was then and since he thought he knew more about guns than anyone else in the building, I couldn’t watch what he was doing to that weapon. I finally just shook my head and left. I still wince as I remember the kink that he placed in that spring. I had never seen anyone do that before and I hope I never do again. What he did to that gun was… I can’t think about it anymore.

    As an aside, many years ago, I procured a copy of the Department of the Army Technical Manual,
    TM 9-1005-211-34 PLUS SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL FROM TM 9-1005-211-12. It is titled DIRECT AND SUPPORT MAINTENANCE MANUAL PISTOL, CALIBER .45, AUTOMATIC, M1911A1. It is dated 22 June 1964 and I do not even remember from where I got it. It is possible that I got it when I was issued my 1911 back in the very early 70’s, but I really don’t remember, because I have slept since I went into the Army, lo, those more than 50 years ago. Anyway, IF you can find a real one and not someone’s xerox copy reprint, you will find the photographs to be of much higher quality than the knockoffs and you can actually see everything the text is talking about. I looked it up and you can find what are claimed to be original copies on
    I also have a reprint of the US ARMY OPERATOR’S & MAINTENANCE MANUAL FOR THE M1911A1 CALIBER .45 SEMIAUTOMATIC PISTOL: and I must say the pics in that one are not nearly as good as my original.

  11. Bore snakes work really well. Two or three passes and the barrel is clean. Saves a lot of time with brushes and patches. I have them for all the calibers I shoot.

  12. P.S. Should have stopped at “bushing and recoil spring plug and spring,” in my first sentence above. Obviously the guide rod and barrel can’t be removed till the slide is removed.

  13. I found out 40 years ago that it’s a lot easier to get the bushing and recoil spring plug and spring and guide rod and barrel out if the slide is off the pistol and you don’t have the frame in the way. Especially if like me you have single one piece guide rods that don’t take down, and/or a very tight fitted match bushing. The last disassembly step you have here that most people do should be the first: Unload the pistol, hold the slide with the muzzle facing left with your left hand, and move it back against the recoil spring till the slide stop cutout lines up, then reach behind and pop the slide stop towards you with your right index finger and pull it out. Now move the entire slide assy forward to the left and the whole thing will come off in your hand. Now you can hold the slide assembly down flat on the rails with the muzzle hanging off the end of the bench or in your lap and control the bushing removal a lot better. No more recoil spring plugs shot across the room. I put it back together the same way, reassembling the slide, holding the guide rod under tension up against the bottom of the barrel, then sliding it onto the frame and pushing the slide stop up and in place with my right thumb. Occasionally I have to hold everything in place with my left and depress the plunger tube pin in a bit with a non-marring punch or the Brownell’s tool made for that purpose, but not usually if you get the angle right and are quick and forceful. I have a 1977 Series 70 Colt with a mirror finish Grade 5 blue on the slide, and not a scratch anywhere using this method.

  14. Recently I learned there is such a thing as a CHAMBER BRUSH, which as the name implies, is for cleaning the chamber area of the barrel, AND/OR, the cylinder in a revolver. It looks like a Bore Brush, but is larger in diameter, it is NOT meant to be used in the bore, and most are made of stainless steel, which helps remember they are for the CHAMBER. Why a CHAMBER BRUSH? Because it makes so much sense. Think about it. In the chamber is where the carbon deposit is the most, as the bullet leaves the brass casing, a ring of carbon is left behind. I have learned that cleaning out this carbon deposit has improved both function and accuracy. NOTE: To use a chamber brush properly, it works best with a short NON-ROTATING cleaning rod, so you can twist it in the chamber for better cleaning action.

    NOTE for the AR-15. The CHAMBER BRUSH for AR-15’s gets the star, and the large part of the CHAMBER, HOWEVER it does NOT get the smaller part of the chamber which is still considerably larger than the bore, again where the bullet leaves the brass, it leaves a carbon deposit. For this area I recommend a standard .270 BORE brush to clean the small section of the AR CHAMBER, but again do NOT push the .270 brush down the bore.
    When cleaning all the nooks and crannies, especially in 1911, one cannot have to many different types of handy brushes, easily picked up at gun shows.

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