If you pay attention to shooting oriented materials on the web (and obviously you do!) you have probably come across a thread or two on or forum or maybe a video or article about gun maintenance. Cleaning a firearm may not be the most glamorous thing to do with a pistol or rifle, but just like any party, you need to stay around and clean up after to make it a good one.
How often and how much do I clean mine you may ask? Well, that's a hard question to give an answer to that covers all of my various firearms, but in general I give the following adivice....
Clean as needed, and is practical, as often as you can.
WTH does that mean? Well lets break it down by parts....
"Clean as needed..." Despite was I was taught as a young private, weapons do not necessarily have to be cleaned after each use. Especially some weapons made specifically for use in battle (and whose basic designs many of us own as civilians) were designed to go for some prolonged time without maintenance and still function to some minimal level. Take that infamous Glock 21 torture test I have posted before. That pistol went years with abuse with not formal cleaning other than being dunked in salt water with barely any issues. The AK pattern rifle is another example of a platform that has multiple examples of it being run dirty for weeks, months or even years with very minimal cleaning (famous story about fighters in Afghanistan using knotted shoelaces with motor oil being pulled through the barrel as their only maintenance) Even 1911's and AR's - both which have reputations for being "prima donna" weapons that need to be meticulously cared for - will both function without maintenance for quite a bit before any issues may be experienced. I think it is sufficient to say that a quick wipe down of the exterior to remove any powder residue, a quick brushing of the bolt and chamber and a quick bore snake through a barrel is enough of a minimum allowable maintenance schedule for most modern weapons to keep operational without doing a detailed cleaning. This is not to say weapons don't require or need a good detail cleaning every once in a while, its just not an imperative to do so after every trip to the range.
However, some weapons may, based on other factors, need to be cleaned right away. Take my M44 Mosin-Nagant carbine for example. I, like most people, get my ammo as surplus Eastern Bloc military ammo that uses corrosive primers that disperse salts along the chamber and barrel while firing. these salts will react with moisture and start to promote rusting if left on bare metals surfaces for more than a few hours. With many of the M44 variants using non-chromed lined barrels this presents a necessity to clean the rifle as soon as practical following shooting to remove these salts. I don't necessarily do what some people recommend and shoot Windex down my barrel on the range (the ammonia "myth" as I call it does not hold water in my opinion) but do sometimes run a quick patch soaked in water down it for the trip home, and try and clean it the same day if at all possible.
"...and is practical..." Obviously, cleaning your firearm as a civilian in the safety and comfort of your home is a far thing from cleaning your primary weapons system as a soldier or marine (or any other service member for that fact) in the field under combat conditions. While most of us "civvies" have ample time and resources to clean our weapons at whim, military members don't always have that luxury. During a firefight you are not going to take your weapon down and clean it just because "gee, it looks kind of dirty in there". Part of the reason I think the military tries to drill an anally retentive mindset when cleaning your weapon into your head is the realization that when in combat you will not always have the adequate opportunity to do so. When that time comes they want each and every weapon utilized to be as clean as possible. Of course, nothing ever happens like in the movies where guys draw their rifles and head directly to the front lines. During pre-deployment/mobilization training you clean your weapon multiple times, used or not. Still, even in the field a quick "wipe down" of your weapon can be accomplished with minimal time or disruption to your mission. I used to carry a piece of old brown t-shirt material tied through my sling swivel on my M-16 to give the bolt and chamber a quick wipe whenever I ate (when others were pulling security) and kept a bottle of CLP in the buttstock to squirt some lube. I rarely ever had issues with my rifles, even with blanks and I credit this simple practice.
|me and my cleaning rag (indicated by arrow)|
"...as often as you can". Means just what says, just because you don't necessarily think your weapons doesn't need a cleaning doesn't mean you shouldn't clean it. Like I stated above, the military has an anal retentive approach to weapons maintenance for a reason, the same reason you should. While I feel comfortable that my G19 does not to be white glove clean (and probably never will be that clean!) to run reliably, if I choose to stick it into my Adam's Holster and head out the door with it, I feel better knowing its clean when I do. Now I am not saying to clean them just for the sake of doing so. If you have cleaned it sufficiently once, that's good enough until the next time you take it out to bark at the range. Personally, I take mine out of the safe at least once a month, fired or not and just wipe down the exterior to remove any dust and check to see if the weapon needs to be lubricated since its last inspection.
Some Stuff I like to use.
A bit of free advertising to some of the products I like to use and have on my bench or in my cleaning kits. I am not saying you need to have all of this stuff, or any of it for that matter, but they have worked for me in the past, and present.
MPro7 cleaner. Came across this stuff a few years ago and it really does seem to do a good job breaking down carbon build up and getting crud off of the metal parts of my weapons.
Hoppe's 9. 'Nuff said..and its like aftershave for gun nuts to boot!
Break Free CLP. Good old military Cleaner, Lubricant and Protectant. Its not as good as any dedicated product to any of those, but its a good "one stop" solution that isn't cost prohibited and is good enough for the military, so it should be part of your cleaning kit too, especially if that kit is your "partisan" or "field" kit where space is limited, the small bottles you can pick up for a buck at the check out counter of your LGS are invaluable.
Crusader Slipstream and Slipstream Styx Lubricants. One of the most overlooked area of weapons maintenance is lubrication. While cleaners can clean, a dry weapon causes friction, which causes heat, which causes metal fatigue which can cause failure. Proper lubrication will prevent this, and Slipstream has proven itself to me to be the best out there. I use grease on my rails and oil on the other parts that move in non-linear paths (link pin on a 1911 barrel for example). If you are in a maritime environment, their Styx lubricants are designed with protection against moisture threats as well.
Hoppe's Bore Snake. This product is a really good take on an old idea. There is no reason that you shouldn't be carrying one of these in your "field kit" for doing maintenance in the field. Run a few drops of bore cleaner on the section below the bristles, run it through a few times and then put oil on the fatter sections towards the end of it and run through a few more...instant bore maintenance. Oh, I still have metal rods on the bench for certain tasks, but for a "quick and dirty" clean, these do nicely.
Otis cleaning kit for .223/9mm. I got a kit a friend who was overseas with me that got issued one. This small, compact kit is in my "rifleman's bag" or range box every time I take my AR out shooting. Its got a pull through cable thats paired with a bore brushes and a unique patch that can be used for both .223 and 9mm barrels depending on how its folded on the jag. Also has a few short rod sections that can be attached to various brushes and scraping tools for getting carbon out of the tiniest crevices.
GI nylon weapons cleaning brush. Issued to the US miltiary, I pick these up surplus at places for a buck or so a piece in most cases. You can find them online for $2 - $5 for one, but much better deals can be found elsewhere at gun shows and your LGS. One will last quite a while as the bristles on the (actual GI) surplus models are well made, stiff nylon. One of the cheapest items to acquire, yet still gives a huge return in a cost vs. benefit ratio.
Remington Squeeg-E Universal Gun Cleaning Kit A recent addition to the bench, this system uses the now familiar pull through style cleaning method but with polymer "squeeg-e" heads to wipe down the residue left behind by cleaning with such efficiency that a couple of trips down the barrel does what a handful of cloth patches used to accomplish. I have tried it on several of my guns and find that the system does a fairly decent job. Look for a more detailed review in the next few weeks.
Silicon Gun Cloths. Never used them until I got one in the above kit, now I have several bought at Wally World. They do wonders on external surfaces that need to be wiped down and leave a silicon protectant that helps prevent rust. What's not to like?
Old T-shirt material (Rags). For some reason, using old brown Army undershirts for rags just makes sense and works well for me. I have tried various types of shop rags and paper products, but the t shirt material just seems superior in so many ways. Best part is that when dirty I soak them in a solution of water and Lestoil and then wash and dry them and they work good as new. I have had the same bag of rags going on more than 5 years now and I am always adding more.
So there you go, cleaning in a nutshell...yeah a big nutshell but still a nutshell. I expect that if you are reading this you already knew how to clean your own guns, but now you get a glimpse of how I do it. If you have any products that you use or methods I may not be aware of I would love to hear about it here on or my Facebook page for the blog.