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Autoloader Cleaning Tips

by Dan Johnson   |  June 9th, 2011 19

Cleaning an autoloading handgun is a simple chore. Determining how often to clean is not so cut and dry. Some shooters will field strip, clean, and lube their favorite pistol after every trip to range, while others seldom clean their guns at all. So how often should an autoloader be cleaned? Even the experts disagree on the answer to that question.

One might think the top competition shooters would be fastidious about cleaning their autoloaders, but often the opposite is true. Rob Leatham once told me he had gone more than 6,000 rounds with one of his competition guns without any cleaning whatsoever. Other top competitors seldom clean as well. They spend their time shooting, not cleaning. One thing they all stress though is lubrication. Their guns will often be dripping with lubricant. That not only saves on wear and tear, but also keeps the powder fouling loosened up so it doesn’t jam up the works.

While drenching an autoloader with most any good lubricant may work fine in a match, a gun carried for self-defense has different needs. You certainly don’t want oil leaking onto your dress shirt and with guns that are carried often and shot seldom carbon can harden and cause problems. For those guns some of the high-tech lubricants get the nod. Keep them clean and lube them sparingly.

Anyone who owns an autoloading handgun should know how to fieldstrip it. These thorough cleanings are a good time to inspect the various parts for wear or damage. Pay particular attention to the extractor. The internal extractor on a 1911 should be removed occasionally for cleaning and inspection and you should know how to check for proper tension. While the barrel is removed is the time for bore cleaning, of course. Never clean your barrel from the muzzle with the handgun assembled. You risk crown damage and dump gunk into the action.

Some autoloaders can be finicky after a cleaning. After you field strip and thoroughly clean your carry gun, I suggest you run a couple magazines full of your chosen defense load through it to test for reliability, and then run a patch dampened with rust preventative down the bore. The rust preventative will prevent the powder fouling from absorbing moisture and rusting the bore and the test firing ensures the gun has been properly reassembled and working as it should.

Bore fouling is not a major concern with most autoloaders due to the relatively mild velocities compared to rifles and some other type handguns. If you shoot lead bullets, fouling can be an issue though. I will discuss both lead and copper fouling and how to deal with them in a soon to follow blog titled “Revolver Cleaning Tips.”

  • nn

    I hope you would consider listing the recommended high-tech lubricants in your follow on blog.

    • BPsniper

      I use Shooters Choice/Kroil mixed 50/50 for cleaning. Then use RemOil and synthetic transmission fluid for lube along with a touch of TW-25B grease (or Shooters Choice grease) in key wear points.

      I use these on every single gun I own or run. All have worked flawlessly so far. Now where's some wood to knock on…….

  • Dan Johnson


    Most major brands of gun lubricant today are high tech in that they cling to the metal and condition the surfaces. Even good old Break Free does this and can be used sparingly and still lubricate and protect.

  • nn

    Thanks Dan for your follow up on the issue. I've been using Breakfree and may use the grease some, that BP mentioned on the Glock.

  • robert38-55

    Good tips Dan J. Thanks… I have been using Break free, Rem oil, for years, I also use Lubriplate on the metal to metal slide parts for my semi-auto, it works great….A little goes a long way….

  • Edward Bleistein

    A old salt, Black water x recon friend, told me he has used syn. motor oil.

    He did say he used what could be found .

  • BigBullet

    Thanks so much for this article Dan ! For years,I have been getting those double looks from friends,and fellow shooters,as,after I shoot my autos,and clean them,I always fire a few rounds through,after cleaning,and then,as you mentioned,follow up with a quick pass through,with a cleaning rod & swab.

    My friends have always asked why I shoot my semi auto weapons,after I clean them.I believe you have cleared it up for them,and probably for others . Thanks !


    All my autos both pistol and rifle love Hoppes #9 for fowling removal then Remoil and the final is TW24B fo the slide and other high stress areas.

  • Tigwelder56

    I use Eezox and only Eezox on all of my firearms. The stuff is incredible and provides everything needed from cleaning to protecting!

  • BigDanS

    I use moly lube on my semi auto rails, and it works great.


  • Pellets2Helmets

    What's a good light grease that evaporates like Hoppe's 9 overtime, but doesn't gunk up too much… anyone?

  • http://n/a Kapahulu


    Thanks to all your great info on cleaning semi-auto and lube for the next shooting. I have been field stripping my stainless steel 45acp after each visit to the range and using Hoppe's #9

    before storing in my gun sock. I do not field strip my Ruger III

    22LR because I do not want to spend hours disassembly and struggling to put my Ruger back together. I have no problem with HP Remington ammunition with 525 rounds fired so far? I will field strip when I start having problems with feeding ammo.

  • Bill

    I have found that Yamaha synthetic 2 cycle lube works very well on all

    my guns. Outboard oil has very good lubrication as well as anti-rust

    protection. Been using it on my 1911 for years in a saltwater environment without

    any rust issues and the gun works great

  • P.J.

    The owner of the gun store I purchase all of my firearms at suggested using plain ol' white lithium grease. So far, so good for my SIG 516 and Glock 27…..

  • Fernando Rafael Teje

    Guns have to be cleaned right after they are used. It's as necessary as washing your teeth after each meal. time will tell the difference.

  • JAG
  • PaulM

    I use good old 3-in-1 oil and it works great. The main oil in it is the same as WD 40, fish oil. So it even disperses water so rain and sweat will not hurt it. It works really great as a lube. I learned it from a old timer.

  • Mark Bucher

    Slip 200 EWL or RemOil.

  • Bob & Wife

    Transmission oil is 90 % detergent. Learned that from an old timer many decades ago. When cars ran on non-detergent oils he told me before starting a rebuild to replace 2 quarts of oil with two of transmission fluid. He said it would make the truck engine smoke like an old train coming down the track. It did. After only about 15 minutes my neigbors had me shut it down from the smoking. When I took off the oil pan it was filled with sooo much gunk, but the inside of the engine parts where absolutely clean. Nothing left on anything but a film of oil. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.

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