Beginners Guide to Gun Cleaning

Cleaning your gun

Before, after and sometimes during a fun day at the range, it’s important to clean and maintain your firearms. This will ensure that they are in good working order and will prevent excessive wear. There are several steps you should follow to ensure that your firearm is properly cleaned and maintained. Let’s take a look at some of the products you will need and the firearm cleaning process.

What You'll Need: Gun Cleaning Products


Solvents are the cleaning agent for your firearms. Solvent will help remove any caked-on carbon and powder residue, and will loosen up dirt and debris. You can spray solvent on the dirty parts of your firearm, such as the barrel, slide and other parts of the action, and let it sit for a while, or use it in conjunction with a nylon brush for a good cleaning. It’s important to also clean any magazines you used while shooting every once in a while.

There are many different types of solvents from various manufacturers. Most are incredibly similar, but some should not be used on more sensitive parts of your firearm, such as polymer or titanium components, because they can cause damage.

There are also specific copper and lead cleaners that can help remove copper or lead fouling from the barrel or chamber. These are good to use on occasion if you start seeing an excessive buildup.

Hoppes gun cleaner

Additionally, there are CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant and Protectant) sprays that act as a one-step, all-in-one solution.

They contain a chemical mixture that cleans, lubricates and protects your firearm in a single step.These are good for a quick wipe-down, but tend to not clean or lubricate as well as purpose-designed solvents and lubricants. If your firearm has been sitting in the safe for a while and has started to accumulate dust, using CLP is a quick way to refresh everything.

Further, if you clean your firearms after every trip to the range, CLP is a good way to prep your firearms the day of your next outing.

Solvents I Use

When cleaning my firearms, I either use M-Pro 7 or Hoppes gun cleaner in a spray-type bottle. This helps get an even distribution on small parts and into areas that are harder to reach. I spray it down and over the barrel, and on all the small parts like the recoil spring, guide rod and takedown lever. I also spray it on the front portion of the slide, frame, AR-15 bolt carrier, shotgun action and other large areas that seem dirty.

If I am applying it to an area where excess solvent is a concern, such as the firing action near the rear of a pistol frame and slide, I spray the solvent on a cotton patch or scrap of old t-shirt and wipe it down by hand. This limits the amount of liquid getting into the action.

I also keep a spray can of Break Free CLP on hand for when I only need to do a light cleaning or wipedown.

Specific Recommendations:


Lubrication will help keep the moving components on your firearm operating smoothly. It will keep your firearm operating reliably and will prevent excessive wear on the moving parts. Lubrication can also prevent rust on your firearm and protect the metal. Firearm lubrication can be in the form of oil or grease.

  • Oil is thinner and tends to be more slick, but it can run off the firearm, so you’ll need to apply it more often.
  • Grease is thicker and tends to stay on the firearm longer, but tends to have a bit more friction than oil.
Lucas Gun Lubrication

Both are effective and people will have their own preference. However, you may want to consider adding some grease to spots where you start to notice a lot of wear. It’s important to not use too much lubrication as it will attract dirt and debris and can gum up the action. It’s also important to avoid lube in some spots like the firing pin channel, trigger action, magazines and small springs to avoid gunk in these areas. Just place drops at friction points and spread it around with a patch or your fingertip.

For lubrication, I use Hoppes or Lucas gun oil in a squeeze bottle with a pointed tip to help control the amount of oil that comes out and where it goes. A couple drops on the slide rails of a pistol works wonders and spreads out evenly. In areas like a semi-auto pistol barrel or AR-15 bolt carrier, I place a few drops and spread it around with my finger until it’s evenly applied. RemOil seems to work fine, but in my experience, it tends to run off quicker. I’ve also tried Tetra Gun Grease on the slide rails of my pistols and it has worked well.

Specific Recommendations:

Other Instruments and Materials

When you are cleaning and maintaining your firearms, there are some specific tools that will make the job easier and more effective:

  • A cleaning rod with brush or a boresnake will help you scrub the barrel and chamber clean. A polymer cleaning rod is preferred, but if you choose a brass or steel one, just be careful that it doesn’t scratch against your barrel when you use it.
  • On rifles and shotguns, a chamber brush will help get all the nooks and crannies of the chamber. The length and size of the cleaning rod will depend on what type of firearm you’re cleaning, the caliber of the firearm, and the barrel length.
  • Cleaning mops or wads, along with patches, can also be used with your cleaning rod to help apply solvent and further clean out your barrel. For cleaning the firearm’s receiver, slide or other parts of the action, you can use a nylon brush (bronze brushes are useful if you have residue that is difficult to remove, but steel brushes should be avoided because they can damage your firearm’s finish), polymer picks, a microfiber cloth, Q-tips and patches to remove powder residue and dirt.
  • You may also want some wipes that have been pre-soaked in solvent, a flashlight or fiber-optic tube to check your barrel rifling, and a silicon cloth to wipe the firearm down before returning it to the safe. It is also important to have any disassembly tools, like punches, a bushing wrench or a screwdriver, needed to take down your firearm. It may also be helpful to have a cleaning mat to help you keep track of any parts you have to remove for cleaning.

Specific Recommendations:

Gun cleaning brush set

What You'll Do: Approach & Process

The Approach

There is no real set process for cleaning your firearm, but here is a good outline on the steps you should perform and an order that works well.

A lot of new gun owners wonder how often they should clean their firearm, but there is no set amount of time. Some people clean more often than others. However, a good rule of thumb is to clean your firearm after you shoot it, unless you’re doing some sort of specific endurance testing.

If you don’t shoot your firearm frequently, you may want to pull them out of the safe a few times a year just to give them a quick wipe-down to remove dust and reapply oil to prevent rust. On firearms with removable grips, like revolvers or 1911 pistols, you should remove and clean under the grips occasionally. (When replacing the grips, you may also want to use a little temporary threadlocker on the screws to keep them in place while firing).

The Process

Here’s the general process for cleaning most guns:

  1. 1. Clear the firearm of ammunition and double-check that the chamber is empty.
  2. 2. Fieldstrip or disassemble the firearm.
  3. 3. Soak the parts in solvent and then scrub them clean.
  4. 4. Wipe everything up and dry the parts.
  5. 5. Inspect the firearm for damage or excessive wear.
  6. 6. Lubricate the friction points on the firearm.
  7. 7. Reassemble the firearm.
  8. 8. Function check the firearm to ensure it’s in proper working order.
Cleaning the magwell of a handgun

Conclusion: Cleaning Your Gun

Some firearms will require more maintenance than others. For instance, a 1911 generally needs more upkeep and care than a GLOCK or a revolver. Everybody loves shooting, but not everyone loves cleaning, so this may dictate your firearm choice. With these firearm cleaning and maintenance practices, your guns will be well protected and ready for anything.