The Basics of Gun Maintenance

Last Updated on


Gun maintenance is a lot like servicing the family car or truck. To keep your vehicle running smoothly, you need to change the oil, rotate the tires, and check the brakes from time to time. If you fail in the regular upkeep department, your vehicle could leave you stranded on the side of the road. 

The same is true when it comes to your firearms. 

Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you. 

If you neglect basic care and cleaning, you risk a malfunction or even permanent damage to your weapon. 

At best, a firearm malfunction is inconvenient. However, a firearm malfunction at the wrong time can have catastrophic consequences.

Getting to Know Your Gun

Becoming familiar with your firearm is the first step to proficiency. However, familiarity isn’t only forged on the target range. One of the best ways to build weapon competence and confidence is to service your weapon.

You can study diagrams, run through shooting drills, and hang out in on-line shooting forums for days. However, there is no better way to understand the inner workings of your weapon than to disassemble, clean, lubricate, and reassemble it.

Why Do Firearms Need Regular Maintenance?

The short answer? Because they get dirty. 

However, the complete answer is slightly more complicated.

Every time the weapon fires, tiny bits of gunpowder, lead, and other metals get left behind inside the weapon’s action and barrel. If you don’t regularly clean your firearm, then carbon, lead, and copper residue will build up inside the barrel and receiver

Left unchecked, small amounts of residue will accumulate over time, clogging the rifling inside the barrel and negatively affect shooting accuracy. Excessive fouling can also interfere with the proper operation of the action, resulting in potentially dangerous failures and malfunctions

Cleaning your weapon also helps prevent rust. Exposure to moisture, either during outdoor use or through normal humidity, causes some metals to oxidize. Oxidation leads to rust, and rust on a weapon will slowly destroy the metal workings of your firearm. 

More Than Cleaning

Firearms require more than just cleaning. They also need to be lubricated. 

Most firearms have internal moving parts, and proper lubrication helps reduce friction to ensure smooth, reliable cycling. 

Firearms endure monumental pressure when they are fired. At the time of firing, the internal workings of your firearm may be exposed to pressures over 2,000 times more than the normal atmospheric pressure. Proper lubrication helps protect the firearm from this intense pressure, providing lubrication and cushioning of the moving parts during recoil.

How Often Should I Clean My Gun?

Like many topics in the world of firearms, cleaning frequency is commonly debated. Some shooters swear you need to clean your weapon every time you shoot it. However, most modern ammunition is much cleaner than the rounds our grandfathers sent through their weapons. 

Unless your range visits or hunting trips include some serious high-volume shooting, you should be able to hold off on field stripping and a deep clean.

EDC weapons may need to be cleaned more often than other firearms, not due to fouling, but because they are exposed to dirt and moisture every single day.

As long as you use the proper tools and solvents, you really can’t over-clean a gun, so it may be best to err on the side of caution.

Safety First

Before you begin any firearm maintenance,  it is vitally important to verify your weapon is unloaded. The first step is always to check (and double and triple check) that your gun is free from ammunition. If possible, have a friend or family member give it a second look.

For extra protection, keep the weapon’s action open during maintenance and keep all ammunition out of your work area. Plenty of people have been injured by “unloaded” guns, so you can never be too careful.

Choose your work area wisely. You want a well-lit location with proper ventilation. Many of the solvents and lubricants used in forearms maintenance are toxic, so ventilation is important for your health and safety.

Before you disassemble your firearm, make sure you know how to reassemble it properly. If done incorrectly, it could cause a major malfunction next time you shoot, causing major damage to your weapon or leading to serious bodily injury

Check the Owner’s Manual

The best place to learn proper maintenance procedures for your weapon is to check the owner’s manual. This informative guide is usually included in all new purchases. If you purchased a used firearm without an owner’s manual, you can contact the manufacturer. Most companies will send you a copy either free of charge or for a small fee. 

The owner’s manual for any firearm includes important information on the weapon’s operation and maintenance. Proper takedown and reassembly procedures vary depending on the type of weapon you own. The owner’s manual will provide details specific to your firearm. 

It is important to thoroughly review your owner’s manual before attempting any maintenance on your firearm. 

Essential Checklist for Firearm Maintenance

There are a few important items required for routine maintenance that you should have on hand no matter what type of firearm you own. These products are universal and work for guns of all kinds.

Protecting Your Cleaning Surface

You will be working with harsh chemicals that can ruin wood and other materials. For this reason, you will need to protect your work surface. Some gun owners choose to cover their area with an old bath towel, newspapers, or some other recycled paper

Covering your work area will not only protect your table or countertop. It will also help protect your weapon. 

Some shooters prefer using a dedicated rubber mat (like this one from Otis), which protects your work surface and keeps the weapon from slipping around during cleaning. A rubber mat also helps keep small parts from sliding or rolling away during cleaning.

Cleaning Solvent

Used to clean away harmful residue, you need to choose a solvent designed specifically for firearms. You can scrub your gun for days, but if you aren’t using the right solvent, you’re just wasting your time. 

You need a solvent that will remove both powder and copper fouling. Our favorite is Hoppe’s Number 9. 

Cleaning Rod

A high-quality cleaning rod may be the most important part of any gun cleaning kit. These rods usually separate into segments for easy storage but screw together, so you can customize the length to suit your firearm. They come in several different materials, including aluminum, fiberglass, brass, and carbon fiber.

Cotton Patches

Use cotton patches to run solvent through your gun’s barrel. Be sure to use cotton because it won’t leave tons of fuzz and fiber behind. 

Cotton is perfect for removing residue, which also means they aren’t reusable. You’ll need to toss them once they get dirty. You can purchase pre cut patches or you can make your own from a basic white t-shirt. 

Bronze Bore Brush

Once you have applied your cleaning solvent with a cotton patch, you will need to scrub the bore with a bronze bore brush. Brushes come in a variety of materials, but bronze is the most popular. It won’t ruin rifling or damage the interior of your barrel. 

Brushes are caliber specific, so make sure you choose one appropriate for your firearm. 

Lubricant

Although some gun products claim to be multi-purpose, it is important to understand that cleaning solvent and gun oils are not the same thing. You use a solvent to remove dirt and residue. Lubricant (or gun oil) is designed to protect rather than clean

Not only will proper lubrication ensure your weapon works smoothly and reliably, it also extends the life of the firearm. Some types of gun oil are also designed to protect your firearm from oxidation and water damage. 

Some of our favorites are Hoppe’s Number 9 Lubricating Oil and Tetra Gun Grease.  

Three-In-One Products

You may not always have time to thoroughly break down your weapon and give it an intense deep cleaning. For quick maintenance, you can use a “do-it-all” product like Ballistol Multi-Purpose Oil. These products clean, lubricate, and protect in one easy step, even if they don’t do the job as well as separate dedicated products. 

Field Wipes

Although not essential, cloth field wipes (like Hoppe’s Lubricating Gun Oil Field Wipes) are a fast and convenient way to protect and maintain weapons in all-weather conditions. Wipes are soft, absorbent, and pre-saturated with weatherguard lubricating oil. Simply wipe down the exterior of your gun to help fight moisture, displace water, and prevent rust.

Final Thoughts

Regular maintenance is a major part of responsible gun ownership. Well-maintained weapons are more accurate, reliable, and safer to operate. Regular cleaning also helps you become more familiar with your gun, helping you identify accuracy issues and other complications whether you are on the shooting range or in the field. Additionally, proper cleaning and lubrication will extend the life of your weapon, ensuring you can enjoy shooting for many years to come.