How to Clean a Gun in 6 Steps

Pelican Flyer  |  May 10, 2020

If you choose to wield a firearm at any point in your life, you’re effectively agreeing to follow a set of rules and handling practices to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you. The safe, responsible use of firearms involves certain basics. For example, always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. One such obligation you have as a gun owner is to keep your firearm thoroughly cleaned, well-maintained and properly stored so it performs as it should at all times.

As firearm enthusiasts, we often think of gun-cleaning as a necessary task meant to keep our most beautiful, unique and historical firearms looking shiny and new. Indeed, this is as good a reason as any to break out the gun-cleaning kit, but the truth is that there’s a much more serious reason why you need to regularly spiff and shine your arsenal. The fact is that a dirty gun is a safety hazard- specifically, the gunk buildup (fouling). Rust and corrosion can cause components to jam and malfunction, which can compromise your aim and even cause explosions. It’s not worth the risk.

The Simple Gun Cleaning Process

There’s just no getting around it. As a responsible gun owner, routine cleaning needs to be a part of your upkeep. But it seems that every gun owner out there has his or her own opinion on how, exactly, this routine cleaning should be done. At Pelican, we believe in the simple, time-tested approach. There’s no need to complicate things! So here’s how to clean your handgun gun in six steps. Note that this is our guide to basic cleaning, but the occasional deep clean is necessary as well.

Essential Gun Cleaning Supplies

pelican consumer blog vault gun cases cleaning supplies

If you’re new to firearms or have never cleaned your gun at home, you will have to pick up some basic supplies before you begin. It may be a convenient and cost-effective option to start with a gun cleaning kit that contains all of the items you need. In general, a good gun cleaning supply kit should contain:

  • Solvent, such as Hoppe’s No. 9
  • Lubricant, such as ALG Defense or BreakFree CLP-2 Cleaner
  • A dry rag or cloth
  • Swabbing patches
  • Cleaning rods or patch pullers
  • A boring brush that fits your barrel
  • An old toothbrush
  • Cotton swabs
  • A pair of latex or nitrile gloves

Step 1: Disassemble the Gun

Before you do anything, we recommend putting on a pair of nitrile or latex gloves so that you don’t get any chemicals or toxins on your skin. When dealing with any firearm, lead exposure is a concern, so you need to be sure you’re doing everything you can to minimize it. Once you have your gloves on, check and make sure your gun is unloaded. Then, check to make sure your gun is unloaded again. Be sure to inspect the chamber and magazine, confirming that they are empty before beginning disassembly.

pelican consumer blog unloaded gun cleaning

Referencing your owner’s manual (or website) if needed, carefully remove the slide, guide rod, spring and barrel. This is usually enough to give you access to most of the buildup within the firearm.

Once you’re sure the gun is empty, you can begin to disassemble it. For routine cleanings, you don’t have to break the gun down entirely. Referencing your owner’s manual (or website) if needed, carefully remove the slide, guide rod, spring and barrel. This is usually enough to give you access to most of the buildup within the firearm so you can clean the areas that see the most accumulation of gunk. Place the components out on a towel-covered surface in front of you.

Note: For deeper cleanings, you may want to disassemble the gun further or have a professional do so in order to address the complex pieces and parts within the firearm. Consider doing this once a year for the guns you use often.

Step 2: Clean the Barrel

Arguably, the barrel is the most important component to consider when cleaning a handgun. When your barrel is dirty or filled with residue, it could impede movement, which could negatively affect your accuracy and cause serious accidents. So it is extremely important that you give your barrel a little extra attention.

pelican consumer blog clean barrel bore brush

Apply a bit of solvent to your bore brush and run it through the barrel in one direction, leaving the solvent in the barrel.

To clean, apply a bit of solvent to your bore brush (or use a patch wrapped around a rod or patch puller) and run it through the barrel in one direction, leaving the solvent in the barrel. Avoid pulling the dirty brush or patch backwards to reintroduce any dirt or buildup back into the barrel. Now you can let the solvent work inside of the barrel while you clean the rest of your gun.

When you return to your barrel after addressing the rest of the handgun, use your boring brush or rod to work in the solvent inside the barrel. To make sure all the gunk is gone, use a clean patch and run it through the barrel with your rod. Look into the chamber and make sure it’s clean and shiny. If not, repeat the process. Make sure to pay extra attention to the buildup-prone areas, such as the feed ramp.

Step 3: Get Rid of Debris

Before using any solvent, it’s a good idea to use a mechanic’s rag or a microfiber cloth and a cotton swab to remove the surface debris from all the nooks, crannies and recesses of the firearm. Pay close attention to the spring and any other small parts, addressing surface debris with a dry brush or an old toothbrush. This will get rid of the loose fouling so that your cleaners don’t have to work as hard.

pelican consumer blog gun wiping dry cloth

It’s a good idea to use a mechanic’s rag or a microfiber cloth and a cotton swab to remove the surface debris from all the nooks, crannies and recesses of the firearm.

Most likely, a dry rub-down isn’t enough to get rid of all the fouling within your firearm. If you see any serious, stubborn residue, you can spray a bit of solvent onto a cotton swab and give the area some extra attention. Some people also find that using compressed air is a good way to remove any stuck dirt and debris from inside the springs and other small compartments. Just use caution and keep the pressure low.

You’ll also want to periodically deep-clean the magazine, magwell and even your holster. Though these parts don’t need as much attention as the rest of the firearm, keeping them clean can help you retain the value of your weapon and prevent wear and tear. Simply wipe them down with a dry cloth and avoid using any lubricant on the magazine or magwell.

Step 4: Lubricate the Gun

The final step before reassembly is the lubricant application. Lubricant is an oily substance that helps the parts within your firearm to interact properly with minimal friction. Without oil, the parts of your gun will rub against one another and cause wear and tear. So, routinely lubricating your guns is of utmost importance, not only for safety, but also for protecting your expensive investment.

pelican consumer blog firearm lubricant

Routinely lubricating your guns is of utmost importance, not only for safety, but also for protecting your expensive investment.

The key with firearm lubrication is restraint. You never want to over oil your gun, as this can be just as bad for the components and performance as a bone-dry weapon. Not to mention, excess oil can run off into your holster and make the handle slippery. Don’t put lubricant directly onto your gun, either. Apply it to a cotton swab or a dry rag and wipe it onto the slide rails, recoil spring, barrel and in any of the shiny nooks and crannies.

At this point, you can now return to the barrel and finish cleaning it.

Step 5: Reassemble Your Gun

When you’re confident that your weapon is clean and fully dry, you can reassemble the pieces. Give your unloaded gun a test or two after you put it back together, just to make sure that you didn’t knock anything out of place while cleaning. Do a dry fire and run it, making sure everything functions properly. You can also do a final wipe-down with a microfiber cloth to ensure that no cleaning supplies remain on your gun before you put it away.

pelican consumer blog firearm gun reassembly

Give your unloaded gun a test or two after you put it back together, just to make sure that you didn’t knock anything out of place while cleaning. Do a dry fire and run it.

Step 6: Store it Properly

Never discount the importance of proper firearm storage. When it comes to keeping your gun clean, safe and well-maintained, where you store your gun is just as important as cleaning it. Be sure to choose a gun case that suits the size and style of your gun. In other words, store your pistol in a pistol case and store your rifle in a rifle case. Being picky about your case can pay off in the long-run, as the right case can prevent your firearm from becoming dirty, rusty or damaged when traveling. Look for a case that has the following features:

  • Foam on the inside, hard on the outside. Gun cases with foam in the interior are the best because they cradle your firearms in a layer of protection so they never get damaged or scratched. This aspect of gun storage is important both in storage and transit. The hard exterior keeps your guns safe against impact and weather, so it’s good for rough environments.
  • Watertight. As you probably know, moisture and metal don’t mix. To prevent your firearm from rusting, it’s important to thoroughly dry it before putting it in storage. Keeping your gun in a fully watertight case to seal out moisture will go a long way in your gun maintenance.
  • Pressure equalized. An automatic pressure equalizing valve is an essential feature because it lets air enter and seals out water, dirt and dust. The air molecules keep your weapon dry, but your gun stays protected from other harmful particles.
  • Crushproof. If you plan to do any traveling with your firearm, whether you’re simply going to the range or checking it in baggage on your next flight, a crush-proof gun case can help keep it safe from damage.

pelican consumer blog gun with pelican crush proof case

If you plan to do any traveling with your firearm, a crush-proof gun case can help keep it safe from damage.

How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?

How often should you clean your gun? This question is debated among firearm enthusiasts, but the general consensus is that you should clean your handgun after every trip to the shooting range, especially if it’s a defensive firearm. If you have a concealed carry weapon that isn’t used very often, be sure to deep clean and inspect it about once a month to ensure that it shoots properly if needed. Seasonal guns, such as your hunting rifles, don’t need to be cleaned as often, but make sure you clean them at the beginning and end of the season.

A Simple Chore That Goes a Long Way

In addition to restoring your gun to its original beauty and improving accuracy, routine gun cleanings can help you get to know your weapon so you’re as comfortable with it as possible. On top of that, when you routinely disassemble to clean, you’re naturally giving your gun a good look-over, so this is a great way to ensure that you stay on a proper maintenance schedule and address any issues that could cause trouble down the road. Gun cleaning is a 10-minute chore that can buy you extra years with your firearm, all while enhancing safety and performance.

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