How to Clean a Shotgun in Simple Way [Step-By-Step Guide]

cleaning shotgun

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Anything with moving parts has to be cleaned to keep it running right. Since a shotgun has these parts and these parts are often exposed to the elements, shotgun cleaning is important to keep it functioning. Proper gun maintenance means your firearm works when you need it to.

If you do not bother to clean your shotgun regularly, eventually it will refuse to cycle or fire or both. Dirt, dust, unburned powder and powder residue will gun up the works. Using too much oil will also cause a gun to stop working because it attracts and holds dirt and grime. WD-40 makes this even worse because over time this wonder lubricant becomes gummy by itself.

I grew up with and around firearms. I have a federal firearms license and part of my business is cleaning firearms for other people. Here is my best advice for cleaning your shotgun.

Tools You Will Need

Some simple tools make cleaning easier. A major advance in cleaning tech is the bore snake. You can get one in all shotgun gauges and most rifle-pistol calibers. The snake is excellent for barrel cleaning. One pull and you are done.

Other tools you will find handy are a copper bore brush, bore mops, an old toothbrush, cleaning patches, a brass brush that looks like a toothbrush, a cleaning cloth, and a cleaning rod.

A brush is either brass or copper because both are soft metal and will not damage your shotgun's metal parts when used gently. The brush will wear out long before you have damaged the steel parts of your gun.

If you come across something that cannot be removed with a bronze brush, you will need cleaning solvents, mentioned below. Make sure the solvent will not dissolve the bristles on the brush.

clean shotgun

Cleaning rods are typically aluminum because they are lightweight and will not damage the bore of the gun.

A good gun cleaning kit will have all these tools for several calibers and gauges.

Cleaning cloths wear out and get tossed. You have to replace them. I use old cotton shirts. This is the same stuff as cleaning patches, except I am not buying them. Old shirts make excellent lightly oiled cloth as well. Make sure the shirt was laundered in water only. Detergents contain additives that will rapidly rust metal.

You can even cut the cloth into pieces for wiping the bore. All cotton cloth is also used as a patch between the load and powder in smoke poles.

I generally do not use paper towels. They do not hold up. They are OK for a wipe down when you are done and want to wipe off your skin's oil or remove the evidence of sweaty hands.

Cleaning Supplies

The first thing you need in cleaning supplies is a solvent and an oil for the wipe down. A cleaning kit will sometimes have solvents and oils. Regardless, both are something you will need to buy as you use up the supply.

Plain old soap and hot water will clean a shotgun. As a black powder shooter, I use soap and hot water with brushes to clean all my smokepoles. I've tried the various cleaning agents companies make and cannot tell a difference in the gun when I am done. The only difference I see is in my wallet.

I also rinse everything in hot water which quickly evaporates so rust is not a concern. Soap and hot water by themselves will not remove copper fouling. This is a bigger issue in rifles. Copper and lead buildup in a shotgun barrel are very rare. Soap and water alone will not remove plastic buildup from shooting sabots. You have to scrub.

Hoppes is the recognized leader in cleaning solvents. If you are working on a particularly stubborn deposit on metal, brake cleaner fluid will remove it. Be sure to use this stuff in a well-ventilated area.

Choke Tubes

how to clean a shotgun barrel

Some shotguns have choke tubes. These are magnets for dirt. As you shoot, the tube will gradually unscrew. Also, powder residue and carbon will push into the threads. Fortunately, cleaning choke tubes is the second easiest part of the shotgun to clean, behind the barrel.

Just remove the tube. Scrub the tube threads with a bore brush and your choice of cleaner. Do the same in the barrel in the choke tubes thread there. When done, put a little oil on both sets of threads. Choke cleaning is the same in break action or repeaters.

Mag Tube

how to clean shotgun barrel

The next easiest part of a shotgun to clean is the magazine tube. Unscrew the mag cap. Remove the spring and the bar that restricts how many shells you can shove down the tube. A mop or a copper brush with a cleaning cloth will quickly clean the shotgun magazine tube, removing any dirt that may be in it.

Deep Cleaning

Deep cleaning is not the same as routine cleaning, which is something you should do and learn to do. On simple actions like a single shot, double barrel, and most pumps, routine cleaning only requires field stripping. No tools needed, usually. Just do what is needed to remove the barrel and clean the exposed parts. You can do the same with many automatics.

A thorough cleaning is taking the gun completely apart, down to the trigger assembly. As the gun's action gets more complicated, taking all these small parts also gets more involved.

how to clean a shotgun

A black powder shotgun, single shot or side by side, is meant to be disassembled at home. Black powder is very corrosive. Break action single shots and double barrels, over & under or side by side, are next in line for cleaning ease. A pump action is next in line.

A semi automatic is the most difficult shotgun to deep clean and maintain. All the parts in the action may be more than you want to tackle.

The semi automatic gas system is not as difficult to clean and it needs regular cleaning to remove all the carbon. Carbon builds up in the system because the gun uses part of the expanding gasses to cycle the shotgun.

Removing the firing pins in some shotguns is also best left to a competent gunsmith.

Breakdown Varies

The breakdown varies depending on the type, make and model of shotgun. If you are looking for a step by step guide for a specific gun, visit Firearms Disassembly and Assembly on Facebook. This group has the schematics and guides you need to completely disassemble a gun.

This YouTube Video from the group shows a Kel-tec KSG break down.


If you are going for short term storage after a thorough cleaning, Hoppes is another top pick for this. Several other companies make gun oil. You can even use non-detergent motor oil. The key is to use a soft cloth coated with the oil to wipe down the parts. Spraying the oil on creates a thick coat that can be a problem down the road. A little oil in the wipe down is all you need.

If you are going for long-term storage, two products lead the list. CorrosionX is proven to stand up to nearly everything. In a gun safe, it will protect your gun for years. 

how to clean shotgun

If you are looking at many years of storage, especially in less-than-ideal conditions, Cosmoline is the stuff. Cosmoline comes in a spray and as a tube of grease. You will find the spray is easier to use.

I hear the complaints from gun owners now about how difficult the stuff is to remove. Irrelevant. We are still unpacking guns stored in Cosmoline and shoved in warehouses 70 years ago. These guns have no rust on the metal parts.

Final Thoughts

I have collector firearms I will never shoot. They are strictly wall hangers because they are not safe to shoot. They still get pulled off the wall and cleaned. I spray an oil on a cloth and wipe down the exterior surfaces with oil on a rag, admire the gun and wonder how many times it fed various families. A deep clean on these guns is not needed. I hang it back on the wall until it is time to clean again, or I need a really cool firearm for pictures.

I have a Mossberg 500 that is my go-to gun for shooting birds, hogs and deer. It gets a breakdown at the end and beginning of hunting season. It gets a serious cleaning at the beginning and the end of the season. A final wipe and it goes in the gun safe.

Treat your guns with the respect they deserve and they will last many years. Clean your shotguns. You will only get one shot at that trophy buck. Make sure your shotgun is ready for the shot.

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