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."