A few ramblings on gun cleaning

Q: How often do we clean our gun?

A: Every time we shoot it… and sometimes when we don’t.

Cleaning guns in our house has become somewhat of a ritual.  It’s easy to plop in front of the tv and clean away.  We do a lot of that these days.

I won’t go too much into the “why we clean,” but I will say that we pay good money for these things – let’s take care of them.  I got this in class once: “yeah but my bicycle is a machine too, just like my gun, and I don’t ever have to clean it,” clearly implying that I was crazy for suggesting cleaning your gun every time you shoot it.

My answer: “well do you rely on your bicycle to potentially save your life?”  My point was made and we moved on to other things.

Now, let’s talk about the “how” part of this equation.  I don’t often recommend using YouTube as an honest reference for many things.  You have to be careful what you take as legitimate advice and what to filter out.  But gun cleaning is one of those times that if you have nowhere else to start, spend some time researching videos that may help.  One YouTube tip: as best you can, try to stick to those videos made by a company and not some random guy.  The NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) has some great ones, like this one on how to clean an AR-15:

But I’ll try and break cleaning down into a few high-level steps:

  1. Verify that the gun is unloaded and the ammo is somewhere else.  Yes, I had this question once in class “But when would I clean a loaded gun?”  You wouldn’t.  Period.
  2. Take the gun apart in accordance with the instructions in the owner’s manual.  If you lost the manual, download a new one from the manufacturer’s website – just look it up by the model of the gun.
  3. Get the gunk out.
    1. There’s likely to be all sorts of undesirable stuff in and on your gun after you shoot it.  Let’s get it back to a “factory new” condition.
    2. I typically use a “degreaser” for something like this.  There are many good ones on the market, but the one I have the most experience is called Slip 2000 and I just love it.  It’s likely that there is better stuff out there – but we used several different products, then found this stuff, and have stuck with it ever since.
    3. I’m not here to try and sell any of that stuff, my point is find something you like.
    4. Break-Free CLP is probably the most common stuff I’ve seen around.  If you like it, awesome.  The “CLP” stands for “cleaner, lubricant, protectant,” so it’s your shampoo-and-conditioner in 1.  That’s appealing to a lot of people.
    5. So spray all the dirty parts down, inside and out.  Pay particular attention to anything that moves (springs, buttons, strikers, slides, cylinders, etc.) and anything near the chamber.  Spray-and-wipe (or scrub), spray-and-wipe.  We go through a LOT of those tiny cleaning cloths like these.  If you were motivated, some of those may be reusable.  But I voted for disposable diapers, too.
    6. Some places may need a little brush to help you get it clean, and I use a Q-tip in various places on our guns.  The bottom line: I want 100% of the “bad stuff” off my gun.
    7. Don’t forget about the barrel.  They sell “bore snakes” like this one for this as well as the old-fashioned cleaning rods.  On our pistols, I prefer the cleaning rods.  But if you’re using a bore snake, spray it down with the cleaning solvent, run it through the barrel a few times (breach-to-muzzle, if possible), until it’s spotless again.
    8. If your barrel is especially dirty, consider a brass brush – many “standard” cleaning kits come with them, and it’ll help you knock some of that caked-on gunk off. Then go back to Step 7.
  4. After you’re confident that it’s as clean as it’s going to get, lube it back up.
    1. My advice here is that you basically can’t over-lubricate your gun – unless it’s literally dripping off the gun.  You certainly don’t want that stuff on your clothes if you can help it, particularly if this is a carry gun.  But it should be a little shiny when you’re done here.
    2. But you absolutely can UNDER lubricate!  These things create a lot of heat and friction and the lubrication keeps all the parts moving correctly.
    3. Break-Free CLP, remember, is your shampoo-and-conditioner in one.  So you’re using the same stuff for both the cleaning part and the lubricating part.  But I prefer something a little more robust like this.
    4. Don’t forget about the inside of the barrel – but it shouldn’t take a lot of lube here to get the job done.  I’m talking a few small drops on a patch when you run it through the barrel – that’s all.
    5. One note: many lubricants are also rust-preventatives, so they’ll help protect your gun too.  So I’m not even afraid to use those out the outside of the gun.  I don’t want to make the gun slippery or hard to operate, but I do want to keep it clean and looking new as long as I possibly can.
  5. Put the gun back together and make sure everything works.

Don’t forget to clean your magazines!!  The vast majority of malfunctions on semi-auto pistols (that aren’t because of ammo problems – still the #1 cause of malfunctions overall) are magazine-related.  Take care of those magazines!  And yes, you can actually take them apart and clean them, just like you can for your gun.

By the way, slave labor works well to help with cleaning.  Teaching kids about the parts of a gun while you’re cleaning them, is a great way to take this scary object and make it just like another object in the house that needs regular cleaning.


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