Firearms are precision tools built to demanding specifications. Robust as most modern guns are, though, they still require some very basic maintenance to keep them in top condition.
The good news is that there are a number of products to make the process of cleaning your gun fast and simple. Many of these cleaning items are compact and easy to carry, so you can throw them in a range bag and give your gun a thorough cleaning in just a few minutes at the end of every shooting session. Keeping your gun clean not only protects your investment against damage, it also keeps your gun in top working order.
Many new shooters purchase a handgun or other firearm for self-defense, so it is essential that your gun operates properly every time you pull the trigger. No matter whether you use your new gun for target practice, competition, hunting or defensive shooting, there are a few things you can do to keep that gun functioning like brand new. Every time you shoot, residues and gases build up in your gun's action and barrel and you need to clean those deposits from your gun as quickly as possible to insure that they don't ruin accuracy or damage your gun.
Additionally, if you ever decide to sell your guns then ignoring basic cleaning is going to deplete their value. On collector's guns this may end up costing thousands of dollars, so a little routine maintenance goes a long way!
Here is a breakdown of the different elements of the gun cleaning process broken down by firearm type. Different firearm types require different levels of care, but all guns benefit from routine maintenance, so you need to familiarize yourself with the special concerns for your particular firearm. I personally like to have a compact, basic cleaning kit that travels with me every time I go to the range as well as a large cleaning kit at my home that has more advanced cleaning tools for a more thorough scrubbing when I have the time.
Let's take a look at some of the basic types of firearms and examine how you can clean them at the range and at home.
Revolvers are one of the most robust and reliable firearms available, and for this reason many new shooters purchase a revolver as a defense or target gun. They range in power from mild to mighty, and even though revolvers have a tough-as-nails reputation they require a bit of care.
At the Range: Revolvers release gas and residue with each shot, and those can build up on the frame and cylinder. If you have a stainless steel revolver, the effects will be immediately visible in the form of dark residue on the gun. With blued guns these residues aren't as easy to see, but they're still there. You'll want to start with a basic wipe down of the gun's external parts.
Hoppe's Lubricating Gun Oil Field Wipes (pictured right) are a great addition to any range bag because they allow you to wipe away this layer of residue while simultaneously protecting the gun against damage and lubricating moving parts. In addition, Hoppe's wipes come in pre-cut 3-by-5-inch pieces and are stored in a compact, weatherproof container that fits easily in a bag. Cleaning the cylinder chambers and the bore requires you to carry a product like Outer's Compact Handgun Cleaning Kits, which are available for less than $20.
There is also a universal kit from Outers that cleans a wide variety of handguns. I also like to keep a soft Hoppe's BoreSnake on hand for a quick swab down the barrel (the BoreSnake is compact and easy to store in any bag, and it requires no rod assembly in the field).
At Home: Like other guns, revolvers build up copper and lead deposits in their bore over time. These deposits are oftentimes visible when inspecting the bore, and eventually they will begin to make your gun less accurate. Copper and lead get harder to clean as they settle into the bore, so the sooner you can remove them the better. Have a cleaning kit on hand that kits your gun and includes nylon or stainless steel brushes as well as cotton mops. Cleaning the bore requires a quality solvent, something that will break up debris and help flush it out. Some good options are M-Pro 7 Bore Gel, Copper Klenz and the classic Hoppe's No. 9. The revolver's cylinder and all exposed metal parts should be wiped down and lubricated with a product that will prevent corrosion.
Today's semiauto pistols are durable and reliable, but they have moving parts that require some maintenance. Here's what you can do to keep your semiauto in top working order.
At the Range: Just like with revolvers, it's a good idea to go ahead and wipe down the external surfaces of the gun. Semiautos will typically release most of the gas from the action and muzzle, so clean those areas thoroughly with Hoppe's Field Wipes, making sure to wipe the gun down thoroughly right after you shoot to reduce deposits. Some shooters prefer to disassemble the gun (for most semiautos this means removing the magazine, slide, barrel and spring). You'll find that there are more parts to the clean and more hidden places to scrub out, but having a barrel that can be taken out of the gun makes cleaning with a BoreSnake or Outers Handgun Cleaning Kit much simpler because you are just cleaning the barrel and don't have the rest of the gun to worry with.
At Home: Semiautos require the same barrel cleaning that you'll have to complete with any gun, so having products like Outers' Crud Cutter helps remove all the residue that can foul your gun. The moving parts in a semiauto will only work properly if they are lubricated and free of gunk or debris, so it takes a bit more time to make sure you have everything in order.
After you are finished, be sure to lightly lubricate the slide, rails, and other parts of the gun that are exposed to friction. The key is to lightly lubricate the surfaces, making sure that they are slick but not excessively greasy, which can foul your gun. Once the gun is degreased and lubricated, put it back together and apply a light layer of rust protection like Gunslick's Gun-Seal, which will protect your gun against corrosion. These anti-rust products are also very important if you carry your gun for protection since exposure to sweat and moisture can quickly damage unprotected gun surfaces.
Rifles & Shotguns
The same basic rules apply to long guns that apply to handguns, but there are some special circumstances that require a little extra effort.
At the Range: Give your shotgun or rifle a basic wipedown of internal parts. I also like to use a BoreSnake to keep the internal of the barrel clean. It's a quick and simple process, and it saves you having to dry and remove fouling from wads, copper or lead bullets and carbon down the line. A compact cleaning kit like Hoppe's Universal Field Cleaning Kit offers everything you need to clean all your guns in one compact package.
At Home: Some rifles require very little breakdown for basic cleaning, and others are more detailed. For bolt-actions, remove the bolt so you can wipe it down and swab the bore more easily. Removing the bolt allows you to see just how quickly a barrel gets fouled after shooting. The same goes for shotguns, so use your cleaning kit to give the bore a thorough cleaning. Stainless steel and nylon brushes should be run through first, then use a mop with a bore cleaning solvent.
I personally prefer to use a foaming bore cleaner, but this is a matter of taste and there are a number of great products available from the companies listed above. For semiauto rifles, the bolt should be removed and, if you know how, you should disassemble the bolt and clean the small internal parts like the firing pin. The same applies to shotgun chokes and any other small metal pieces that are exposed to the corrosive effects of gunpowder. You can make this process much simpler and more effective by using a Gunslick Ultrasonic Cleaner, which comes with a 3.2-quart stainless steel tank that can clean all of these parts at once.
Keep Them Clean!
Neglecting your firearms can ruin accuracy, compromise function and lessen their value over time. It's worth taking just a few extra minutes to make sure that your guns are in top working order, and today's advanced cleaning products make the process simpler than ever. Make sure that you have a small range kit that has all your essentials you need to start cleaning in the field and keep additional materials at home for a more thorough cleaning before storing the firearm.