Cleaning your gun is essential to its survival and performance. Knowing how often to clean it, what materials to use, and the best methods is key to making sure your gun is in good working order. If you’ve ever had beginner questions that you felt too embarrassed to ask, you’re in the right place.
We’ll talk about the differences between solvent and gun oil, brushes & snakes, and all the good stuff. This beginner’s guide will help you understand everything you need to know about cleaning a gun properly so that it’s safe and reliable when you need it most.
How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?
When it comes to the frequency of cleaning your gun, there are a few ways to approach it. It’s a good habit to just clean your rifle every time you get home after shooting it, or possibly even while you’re still at the range before you go home. If you clean it that often, you can almost guarantee that it won’t ever be dirty enough to cause a problem.
Granted, that will usually mean that you’re cleaning it more often than it “needs” to be cleaned, but there aren’t very many problems associated with having a firearm that is too clean, as long as you properly apply oil where it needs to go (and not where it doesn’t need to go).
If you are like me, and are struck with an inexplicable laziness when you get home after a day hunting or out at the range, then you may be tempted to look at a cleaning schedule based on either how many rounds have been fired through it or how many days have passed since its last cleaning.
Based on Number of Rounds Fired
If you’re an avid shooter, then you should definitely clean it after every time you fire a certain number of rounds. A general rule of thumb that I’ve heard is that after firing 50-100 rounds, it’s time for a good cleaning. This will help keep your gun free from dirt and debris that can build up after every shot and cause malfunctions or other issues.
This obviously doesn’t make as much sense for a semi-auto rifle where you could feasibly go through a couple hundred rounds in a single trip to the range. It would be an expensive range trip, certainly, but not out of the realm of possibility.
That’s the main reason I don’t find the number of rounds fired to be a very useful metric on how often to clean. Considering that it could easily take me years to put 50-100 rounds through my bolt action .308, I don’t know that it makes sense to wait that long between cleanings.
Based on Days Since Last Cleaning
If you don’t shoot as often, then it’s still important to make sure your gun is cleaned regularly. The National Rifle Association recommends cleaning your gun at least once every 3-6 months, even if you haven’t been using it. Dust can potentially settle even while the gun is in storage, and there may even be rust that begins developing that you won’t notice unless you take it out for cleaning.
Is the gun likely to malfunction from being dirty if it’s just been in the gun safe for 6 months? No, probably not, but cleaning is about more than just preventing malfunctions, it’s about extending the life of the gun for as long as possible and taking good care of it.
At the end of the day, you can use the two guides – 50-100 rounds and/or 3-6 months – to come up with your own rhythm of how often and when you’re going to clean your guns. I usually try to clean my guns while I’m still at the range as long as I have time to do so, and I try to clean them after each time I use them.
Do Semi-Autos Need Cleaning More Often?
Semi-automatic firearms tend to need more frequent cleaning than revolvers or bolt action rifles for a couple of reasons. Number one, they have more complex internals that require regular maintenance in order to remain reliable. Number two, they also tend to cycle a lot more rounds than either bolt actions or revolvers.
The use of gasses to eject the spent cartridge, cycle the bolt, and chamber a new round can also foul things up more quickly. While you may not be cleaning your semi-auto more often in terms of how many rounds go through between each cleaning, you should be cleaning it more frequently in terms of days since last cleaning.
At the end of the day, the same rules apply, though: it’s probably best just to clean it after each time you use it.
Best Ways to Clean Your Gun
When it comes to the actual cleaning process, there are some best practices that should be followed in order for your gun to stay in optimal condition.
Barrel Brush vs. Snake
A barrel brush is an essential tool for any gun owner, as it helps remove fouling from the barrel and chamber of the firearm. For many guns, a soft nylon brush is all that’s needed; for others (like shotguns), a brass brush may be more appropriate. A bore snake can also be used instead of a brush; these are small “snakes” with brushes on the end that can be used to quickly scrub down the bore of a gun without having to disassemble it first.
I’ve been told that snakes don’t do as good of a job as a brush, and that does make a certain amount of sense, but my personal experience is that the chamber and barrel aren’t particularly difficult to clean in the first place. It seems to me like a single pull of a snake (or a few pulls of a cloth at the end of a rod) is enough to clear up the barrel.
For a gun that has had a lot of rounds shot through it or hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, it’s possible that using one of the tube-shaped brushes would be essential to really get things clean.
Cleaning the Bolt Carrier Group
The bolt carrier group (BCG) consists of several small parts within the upper receiver of a semi-automatic firearm that need regular cleaning and lubrication in order for them to function properly. The BCG should be disassembled and cleaned with solvent before being reassembled with fresh lubricant applied sparingly on all contact points and surfaces. Don’t forget that lubricant and solvent are two different things!
Cleaning the Inside of the Lower Receiver
The lower receiver of a semi-auto firearm needs periodic cleaning as well in order for it to remain reliable over time. The inside of the lower can be wiped down with solvent before applying lubricant on all contact surfaces such as pins, springs, triggers, etc. A word of caution about over-lubricating: don’t do it. A light coating from a thin piece of cloth is all that is needed.
Even with bolt actions or revolvers, you still want to clean the bolt, drum, etc. It’s typically a little easier to access and faster to clean, but just as important.
Solvent vs. Oil vs. 2-In-1
Clean your gun with a solvent, then coat it with an oil when you’re done. If you bought one of those all-purpose gun cleaning kits at the store that can do both handguns and rifles, chances are the cleaner that it came with is actually a 2-in-1, which will work fine, but you’ll need to apply it in two separate steps.
First apply it while cleaning, then wipe it all off along with the grime with a cloth or paper towel. Once all the components are shiny again, then you’ll use a clean piece of cloth to apply a very thin coating of the 2-in-1 to the moving parts.
This depends on how often you use it, but generally, most firearms should be cleaned at least once every 3-6 months regardless of usage frequency. If you plan on shooting frequently then more frequent cleanings may be necessary in order for your gun to remain reliable over time.
As a general recommendation, yes. Is your gun definitely going to malfunction in an emergency if you don’t clean it after running 5 rounds through it at the range? No. Cleaning the gun after each use is a way of guaranteeing that the gun’s state of cleanliness never results in a malfunction.
It’ll stop working, will either have a failure to feed, misfire, or eject. The bolt can get stuck. You may notice accuracy issues. When the chamber, firing pin, and bolt are all fouled up, it can begin introducing inconsistencies in the rate of powder burn, the effect of the rifling on the projectile, and other performance indicators.
Long story short: clean your gun. Cleaning your gun is an important part of firearms maintenance that shouldn’t be overlooked no matter what type of firearm you own or how often you use it.
Knowing when and how often to clean your gun is essential in order for it to remain reliable and safe while out on the range or hunting. If you’re not sure how to clean your gun, we have an article here on Hunting Mark that is all about that. I’m also curious to hear what everyone thinks about the idea of cleaning your rifle every 50-100 rounds. Let me know in the comments!