Do’s and Don’ts of Firearm Cleaning

Cleaning your firearm is an important task but it needn’t be a complicated one.

The amount of cleaning your particular firearm requires depends on a couple of things; the action type, and how often you shoot it. For example; if you shoot your semi automatic rifle in competitions every month, it is going to need more cleaning than the bolt gun which you use for hunting twice a year.

These days, if you have a firearm made by a reputable manufacturer, it is likely to be reasonably reliable without needing too much attention. Modern, non-corrosive ammunition is also on our side here by being fairly kind to the innards of your gun. It is, therefore, entirely possible to get away with cleaning most sporting guns once in a blue moon – and I have to admit that I usually only clean the bore of my hunting rifle with my first shot of the season!

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who take enormous pride in their firearms and like to spend as much time cleaning their gun as they do shooting it. Some professional marksmen will clean the bore of their rifles between each and every shot. For most of us recreational shooters, though, this is going a bit far.

I am a big fan of keeping things simple, so my recommended happy medium is to give your gun a basic clean down after every time you shoot it. Regardless of what type of firearm I’ve been shooting, my usual après-shoot procedure involves running a Bore Snake down the barrel, scraping off any carbon deposits from the bolt face, and adding a drop or two of oil to the action. The whole process is over in about three minutes and I don’t consider it a chore.

Every firearm is different and will have it’s own idiosyncrasies in regards to cleaning, and if I attempted to go through them all here, it would swell this magazine to the size of the yellow pages. So have a gander at the owner’s manual of your gun and follow their specific instructions. With that said, here are a few do’s and don’ts that apply to any firearm:

Do perform normal safety procedures first – Always unload your firearm and PROVE it safe before performing any cleaning or maintenance.

Do clean the bore of your barrel in the direction the bullet travels (from breech to muzzle) – this ensures that any dirt gets pushed out of the muzzle and not pulled back into the workings of the action. Using a Bore Snake, or other pull-through, means you can do this without having to remove the bolt or disassemble the firearm. If you must clean from muzzle to breech, then be sure to blow the action clear with compressed air before cycling the gun.

Do wear gloves and safety glasses when handling cleaning solvent – it’s nasty stuff and having some splash into your eyes or seep into a cut on your finger could ruin your day.

Do use Q-tips and old toothbrushes for cleaning tight spaces. I also like to use Q-tips as an oil applicator for the rails on bolt carrier groups and handgun slides.

Don’t over-clean your gun. Excessive and unnecessary scrubbing with hard brushes and scrapers (even those made of copper or brass) can accelerate wear on the firearm over time.

Don’t over-lube your gun. As well as clogging up components, too much oil will attract dust particles which cling to it and form a rudimentary grinding paste. Cold weather can also cause you issues if you use too much lube. The viscosity of some oils can increase in cold weather causing it to become thick and sticky. If you plan to go shooting when it’s below freezing, then consider purchasing a specific cold weather oil or even a dry lubricant such as graphite powder.

Don’t oil the firing pin. I like to keep my firing pins completely dry to prevent any risk of it getting gummed up, but if you do choose to add some lube, then stay away from oil and use a frugal amount of grease instead.

Don’t get too bogged down in the marketing hype of the many Awesome Oils, Wonder Lubes and Super Solvents that exist. Almost any quality oil will work as a gun lubricant; some will just do the job better than others. Throughout my years as a professional soldier, it was common practice to use synthetic engine oil as gun lube, and I still use it on several of my guns today. I do, however, suggest that you avoid using WD40 on firearms as it tends to gum up fairly quickly and, when it mixes with powder residue, can turn into cement!

Don’t spend much time cleaning aluminum receivers or synthetic stocks – these will be fine with a wipe down from a dry rag. If you’re worried about fingerprints, a light rubbing with a silicone cloth will work wonders.

Whether you are lovingly caring for your priceless Winchester Yellow Boy, or throwing some oil down the pipe of your battered SKS, remember to take some joy in what you’re doing and, above all, stay safe.


Want to see what to do if your firearm gets wet? Have a read of Wet Firearms: How to Keep Rust at Bay.