How to Clean a Rifle

June 4, 2021

Any hunter or sharpshooter needs to learn how to take excellent care of their weapons, in addition to keeping them in a protective gun case. Whether you are learning how to hunt coyote or practicing your aim for tournaments, having a clean weapon will help you make a clean shot. In this guide, we break down how to clean a rifle with easy step-by-step instructions.

Tools for the Job

Before we get into how to clean a rifle, pick up proper tools. Here are a few tried-and-true suggestions to do the job right.

  • Nylon-coated cleaning rod – J. Dewey offers a quality cleaning rod that comes in both a .22 and .30 caliber size. Ideally, you should get two rods: One for patches and one for brushes.
  • Phosphor-bronze brushes – Stainless steel will damage barrels and nylon won’t accomplish much. Aim for phosphor-bronze brushes instead.
  • Bore cleaner – Shooter’s Choice MC#7 is a wonderful solvent cleaning option.
  • Bore cleaning compound – Brownells J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound is hard to beat for copper fouling. Use a can of kroil oil with it, too.
  • Gun scrubber – Birchwood-Casey Gun Scrubber is a great option.
  • Square patches – Seek out large quantities of Brownells Square Patches – you’re going to need them.
  • Copper bore cleaner – One of the best on the market is Hoppe’s No. 9 Bench Rest. Use this on bores .25 or smaller.

5 Steps to Clean a Rifle

Now that you have all your supplies and gun-cleaning tools, here are the steps you should take to clean your rifle.

#1 Clean the Bolt

Ensuring it’s unloaded and clamping it to a gun vise, your first step is to remove the rifle bolt and place it to the side. Next, you will add a few drops of a CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, Preservative) to a 12-gauge square patch, using it to wipe off the bolt. Your last step to clean the bolt is to dip a Q-tip swab in a powder solvent and clean the face of the bolt (extractor included).

#2 Apply a Powder Solvent and Scrub the Bore

Taking another square patch, wet it with powder solvent and secure it to a properly-sized jag that fits inside the bore snugly. With the jag inside, run it up the bore three times, each time using a new patch.

Take a bronze brush that is super clean and has been recently hosed down with a gun scrubber and dip it in a powder solvent, too. Stroke it up and down the bore roughly 15 times to give it a good scrub. Then, once you remove the brush, hose it down again with the gun scrubber and place it somewhere to dry. Lastly, take a paper towel and wipe off the cleaning rod.

steps to clean a rifle

#3 Remove the Powder Fouling

To remove your powder fouling, you will one-by-one put three solvent patches on the patch rod. Take notice of how dirty each patch is as you slide it up the bore and remove it. The last patch should come out almost white. After that almost-white patch is removed, complete your powder fouling by following up with a dry patch one more time. Last, but not least, wipe off the muzzle with a paper towel, removing any residue that made its way out the end.

#4 Apply a Copper Cleaner

After removing the powder fouling, you want to apply a copper cleaner. To do so, put a kroil patch up the barrel, followed by a bronze brush wrapped in a 12-gauge patch. The fit should feel tight inside the bore. Next, take a scoop of Brownells J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound paste and work it into the patch. With the J-B applied to the patch, rub it up and down the bore for approximately 20 strokes. Eventually, at roughly 20 strokes, the patch should look black.

#5 Remove the Copper Fouling

You’re just about done cleaning your rifle! For this last part, run a solvent patch up the bore, followed by a dry patch. Take a look with a borescope to investigate, inspecting to see that there’s no copper. If there’s only a faint copper, that’s okay. However, if you see lots of gook inside still, repeat the steps with the J-B paste. Once you’ve completed this step, your gun is ready to go back into the rifle case.

Helpful Advice: Avoid getting the J-B paste, oil or any other type of residue-like substance on the scope’s lens. It can be challenging to remove.

If you lack a borescope, run a solvent patch up the bore. Place the rifle muzzle side down, allowing it to sit for several hours. One last time, run another solvent patch. If it comes out clean, you are officially done cleaning your rifle. However, if there are green or blue stains, you will need to do more passes of the J-B paste.

Switch from the J-B to a Hoppe’s No. 9 Copper Killer when cleaning a .35 caliber or smaller barrel. For barrels this compact, you don’t need to scrub. Instead, you simply leave the bore wet overnight, running a new patch the next day. Still, while there’s no scrubbing, this process could take an entire week, so plan accordingly!

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