How to Clean Any Rifle

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Last Updated on May 18, 2021.
How to Clean Any Rifle

Any experienced gun owner will tell you that regular care and maintenance for your firearms are essential. Guns are like cars, computers, and any other machine; their performance degrades if you don’t take good care of them.

Learn how to clean your rifles, which tools and equipment to buy, and find out about the benefits of a regular cleaning schedule.


Why Cleaning Guns is Essential

The vast majority of firearm malfunctions can be traced back to poor maintenance. Dirty, unkempt firearms sustain jams and malfunctions significantly more frequently than clean, well-maintained weapons. 

After each shot, minute amounts of unburnt powder, dirt, dust, grime, and lead or copper residue end up coating the barrel, the chamber, the bolt, and other moving parts.

Over time, without cleaning and maintenance, these buildups may interfere with your firearm’s normal function, increasing the chances of a malfunction and accelerating wear and tear.

Corrosive ammunition

You may have heard about corrosive ammunition before; this term refers to ammo fitted with primers containing a corrosive chemical compound, such as potassium chlorate. Most corrosive ammo found in the United States is old or imported foreign military surplus and is generally inexpensive, making it attractive for shooters on a budget.

Cleaning your firearm is doubly important if you regularly shoot corrosive ammunition; such ammunition deposits corrosive salts into the barrel and onto your steel parts after each shot. If not cleaned thoroughly as soon as possible, these salts cause the development of rust, corrosion, and pitting, harming your gun’s accuracy and longevity.


What Gun Cleaning Does

If you wish to learn how to clean a rifle, you must first understand the three essential properties of proper gun care and maintenance:

  • Cleaning: Removal of residue buildup and fouling from your firearm, which can cause malfunctions and reduce accuracy.
  • Lubricating: Coating the moving parts with lubricants to slow the damaging effects of friction, increasing your firearm’s longevity.
  • Preserving: Removal of moisture and harmful chemical compounds, which cause rust and corrosion.

Cleaning tools

Although there exist products claiming to be all-in-one cleaning, lubricating, and preserving agents, there is no such thing as a do-it-all gun cleaning product.

Your gun cleaning kit should contain the following essentials:

  • Bore brushes and cleaning rods appropriate for each caliber
  • A bore snake
    • Cotton cleaning patches and cotton swabs
  • A small utility brush (a toothbrush also works) and a dry cloth
  • Cleaning solvents and lubricant gun oils
    • A silicone cloth or CLP wipes

Treat your gun cleaning kit as you would a toolbox, and keep your gun cleaning equipment organized in one place, such as a dedicated box or pouch.

Although you can find ready-made cleaning kits sold as a single package, you should instead select each tool yourself and build your own cleaning kits.

Just like with first aid kits, a personally curated cleaning kit contains only the tools you need, eliminating superfluous elements and keeping weight and bulk down.


How to Clean Your Rifle

Learning how to clean a rifle is nothing more than learning how and when to use each element of your cleaning kit.

Step 1: Preparation

Before doing anything else, ensure you have a clean, well-lit, and sufficiently large working area, such as a decent workbench. Gun cleaning involves oils, solvents, and contaminants, such as lead, carbon, and copper. Avoid using a surface for eating or drinking, such as a kitchen table. 

Once you’ve ensured that your working space is safe and clutter-free, unload the rifles you’re going to clean, and verify they are unloaded.

Remove the inserted magazine (or empty it, if it is non-detachable), clear the chamber, then visually inspect it to ensure it’s empty.

Step 2: Field strip

After unloading your rifle, field-strip it in preparation for cleaning.

If you have any doubts on how to field-strip your gun, consult your owner’s manual: it will contain step-by-step instructions for your particular firearm.

Step 3: Dry-clean the barrel

First, use a dry bore snake or a dry bore brush of the appropriate caliber and insert it down the barrel, using a chamber-to-muzzle motion.

This process removes some carbon fouling, unburnt powder, and some of the lead and copper residue from the barrel. If you wish, you can repeat the process once or twice if your rifle is particularly dirty.

Step 4: Solvents and patches

Gather a cleaning rod of the appropriate caliber, a cotton cleaning patch, and a cleaning solvent.

Apply the cleaning solvent on the cotton patch until one side is completely wet, then use the cleaning rod to ram the patch down the barrel, using the same chamber-to-muzzle motion as with a bore brush.

The solvent-soaked patch catches even more grime and residue. Don’t pull the patch back the other way, and never reuse a dirty patch. Instead, pluck it off the cleaning rod as it comes out of the muzzle, then dispose of it.

Rifle Scope Anatomy

Let your barrel sit for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the solvent to break down more fouling, then use your bore brush again to scrub the inside of the barrel.

Take your cleaning rod and a fresh, dry cotton patch, ramming it down the barrel chamber-to-muzzle to clean the residue off, disposing of the dirty patch as it comes out of the muzzle. Repeat as many times as necessary until the patch no longer comes out dirty.

Coat your bore snake with a lubricant, then insert it down the barrel to apply the lubricating agent.

Step 5: Cleaning and lubing the action

Gather your utility brush or toothbrush and apply some cleaning solvent to the fibers.

Use your brush to scrub and clean each part of the action (slide, pump, bolt, bolt carrier group, etc.), then wipe them off using a dry cloth. Each action is different; your owner’s manual will give you detailed instructions on which elements should be cleaned and lubricated.

After cleaning the action, apply a small amount of lubricating oil on all contact points, as recommended in your owner’s manual.

Step 6: Finishing

Use a silicone cloth or individual CLP wipes to wipe your rifle’s external parts, such as the receiver, stock, grip, handguards, or the outside of the barrel, keeping the dirt and debris off your gun.

Once finished, reassemble your rifle and perform a function check, ensuring that everything works as expected.


Clean Guns Are Reliable Guns

Ideally, you should clean your firearms after every shooting session, ensuring that any fouling deposited into the barrel and action doesn’t have any time to settle and cause wear and tear.

On top of routine maintenance after shooting, check your rifles for rust and corrosion at least once a year, even on rifles you haven’t used recently.

Regular cleaning schedules keep these issues at bay, helping you maintain your rifles’ accuracy and reliability.