Sign up for U.S. LawShield

Firearm Care

Firearm maintenance is a periodic preventive maintenance procedure to ensure the proper function of a firearm. Typically firearm maintenance is performed by the owner of the firearm using simple methods such as cleaning the firearm with gun oils, and lubricating with similar oils and greases. When a firearm presents with physical damage related to the ordinary use of the firearm, or when a firearm malfunctions in a life-threatening manner a professional gunsmith should perform advanced maintenance to determine if the firearm is repairable and/or safe to shoot. The consequences of neglecting such maintenance can be serious, and can lead to damage of the firearm, injury or death.


It is critically important that a firearm is free of ammunition before beginning maintenance. The National Rifle Association teaches gun owners that "before cleaning your gun, make absolutely sure that it is unloaded. The gun's action should be open during the cleaning process. Also, be sure that no ammunition is present in the cleaning area.


The ordinary action of a firearm releases fine particles of gunpowder, metals, and other contaminates into the inner-space of a firearm, which may cause malfunctions, or in rarer cases of extreme buildup may cause the firearm to explode upon being fired. It has been widely reported that firearms without a spring to control the inertia of the firing pin require constant cleaning of the bolt assembly; as extremely dangerous phenomena such as slamfire may occur. Slamfire is a malfunction in which a firearm which is normally semi-automatic may temporarily and involuntarily become fully automatic, firing repeatedly—without another pull of the trigger—until the firearm is out of ammunition.

Every major firearms manufacturer provides detailed information on the proper methods used to disassemble, clean, and reassemble a firearm they produce. This information is usually packaged with the firearm. In the event that this information is not present with the firearm at the point of purchase, it is advisable to ask the manufacturer where this information may be obtained. For safety reasons the manufacturer's directions for cleaning, maintenance, and care should always be followed.


Firearms produce massive momentary forces upon firing a bullet. A typical 9mm projectile produces a maximum of 34,084 psi of pressure in the instant of firing. The amount of pressure a firearm may endure for the first few milliseconds after the cartridge fires can be over 230,000% more than the normal atmospheric pressure of one atmosphere. Therefore it is important for the safety of the shooter, and the longevity of a firearm that it is properly lubricated as per the manufacturer's specifications.

When in an extreme and life-threatening situation such as preparing for combat the manufacturer's recommended lubricants may not be available to soldiers, or others who may enter these scenarios. If there is time to perform firearm maintenance before a life-threatening emergency (such as daily cleaning of a rifle in a combat zone) it may become necessary to use other sources of lubrication, as a firearm will function better with some lubricant than it will with none.


WHAT YOU WILL NEED


Major Materials:

  • A Cleaning Rod - The most important thing to know about using a cleaning rod is that it can damage the barrel of your gun. The slightest nick or ding on the crown—the end of the barrel--can impact the accuracy of a rifle or handgun. For this reason, you should use a cleaning rod made of a material that’s softer than the steel of the barrel.  For handguns, consider a brass cleaning, and for rifles, a one-piece carbon fiber rod is a good choice.
  • A Jag or Loop - Jags and loops are just fancy words for the little attachment that goes on the end of a cleaning rod. All these parts do is hold a cleaning patch on the cleaning rod while you push it through the bore. A jag has a small point on the end. Stab the middle of a cleaning patch, and push it through the barrel. The point keeps the patch in place while you push it through.
    A loop accomplishes the same task in a similar way. As the name implies, it’s a hole, much like that on the thread end of a sewing needle. Pull the patch through the hole halfway, and it’s secured for a pass through the bore. Pick ones made of brass or plastic. If you prefer a simple jag; neither will damage the bore.
  • Patches You need to run a clean patch through the bore with every pass of the cleaning rod. Re-using a dirty one will just swirl the fouling around. Cotton patches are inexpensive and available in bulk just about everywhere. I even use them to wipe down other parts of the gun like the action and frame.
    Use a cotton patch first on a dirty bore. Coated with solvent, it will loosen powder and bullet fouling in the barrel and leave the chemicals to work. That first pass also will remove some of the less stubborn debris, so when you move to the brushing stage (that’s next), you’re not grinding dirt against the bore with the bristles. You’ll also use a patch after brushing to remove now-loosened dirt and apply a light coating of oil or protectant after cleaning.
  • A cleaning brush is as simple as it sounds. However, as with rods, jags and loops, you want to pick a brush that won’t damage the inside of the barrel. For lighter duty cleaning, you can also find brushes made of nylon.
    While they don’t offer the abrasiveness of brass, they’ll last longer. One more thing: buy more than one brush for each caliber and gauge of gun you own. Brushes wear down and become less effective with use, and you should discard worn ones.
  • The Right Goo - The inside of a gun is a harsh environment. Extreme heat, high-speed movement of parts, friction, and susceptibility to fouling and rust place big demands on cleaner and protectant products. Gun-cleaning fluids not only have to work in a tough environment, they also have to stay there over long-term exposure to continue protecting sensitive parts. That’s why common household products like WD-40 are not suitable for use with guns.

    There are four types of fluids used to clean a gun. Each has its own job:

    - Solvent - A solvent such as Hoppe’s #9 removes carbon, lead, and other fouling from the bore.

    - Degreaser - A degreaser, such as Gunslick Pro Gun-Flush, removes existing dirt and oil from the moving parts of a gun, creating a fresh, clean surface for application of a…

    - Lubricant - A lubricant such as Gunslick Pro Gun-Foam lubricates parts and provides protection against rust.

    - Protectant - If your gun will be exposed to harsh or ultra-wet environments, consider using awater-displacing protectant like Gun-Dri. Products like this repel water, preventing the beginning of rust and corrosion.


  • A Gun Toothbrush - While you can use an old toothbrush from your bathroom, a brush that’s designed for use on guns, such as the Hoppe’s Utility Brush, is designed to reach all the nooks and crannies. It’s perfect for cleaning out slide grooves and trigger parts. You can get these made of nylon for general use, or brass for tough, carbon-caked areas.


  • Extras - The products above will handle most cleaning chores, but investing in a couple of additional products can make the job easier.

    - Bore Guide - A bore guide like this Hoppe’s Universal Model does two things. It keeps the cleaning rod centered in a rifle’s bore to help prevent damage to the rifling, and prevents bore cleaning solvents from dripping into the receiver of your rifle. A bore guide keeps the cleaning rod centered in the bore and prevents solvent from dripping into the receiver.

    - Gun Cleaning Pad - This is more useful that it might sound. A proper one will prevent solvents from leaking onto your workspace. More importantly, it will give you a soft surface to hold parts during cleaning, which easily get lost on a hard and slippery work surface and puts a real damper on your ability to reassemble your gun!

    - Picks and swabs - These are handy for cleaning small, hard-to-reach spaces on a gun. While you can use household Q-Tips instead of swabs, they’ll leave cotton fibers all over. That’s why I prefer reusable foam swabs. When the swabs get dirty, wash them with warm water and dish detergent and let dry for re-use.

    - Cleaning Cradle - If you’re going to clean rifles, especially Modern Sporting Rifles, you’ll soon want a cleaning cradle to hold it in place while you scrub the bore. It makes the job a lot easier. A cleaning cradle like this is a big help, especially when cleaning an MSR.

    If you want to simplify things, consider getting a complete kit. You can acquire a caliber-specific kit for ten bucks or less. Better yet, get a multi-caliber kit that will cover handguns, rifles and shotguns. This Outers 32-piece kit will clean most any common handgun, rifle and shotgun.

    If you want to go deluxe, consider this nice wood case 62-piece kit. It adds additional caliber options, muzzle protectors, polishing cloths, and of course, an attractive storage case.