How to Clean a Gun in 5 Easy Steps in 2021

Mechanical devices demand regular and proper maintenance.  This certainly includes all firearms which do require a good cleaning and lubrication after use to keep their operational performance at a peak for a survival scenario.

Generally, though, regular maintenance does not imply that a firearm needs to be disassembled to the last screw and spring in order to clean it.  Any firearm can get a basic fundamental cleaning in five quick steps.

How To Clean a Gun: All You Need to Know

1. Unload and Remove Bolt

How to clean a gun

Before cleaning any gun, open the action to make sure it is unloaded, and then read the owner’s manual for specific gun model instructions.  Remove clips or magazines.  Take out the bolt in a rifle, or lock open the action of a semi-auto rifle, shotgun, or pistol.  Brush with solvent, clean, dry off, and lightly lube the bolt.  Make sure you brush the extractor and/or ejector as well.

2. Swab Bore

How to Clean a Gun

Set the cleaned bolt aside and working from the breech or chamber end only run a cleaning rod with attached bronze brush soaked in No products found. down the barrel and out the muzzle.  Repeat this same action if the barrel is particularly dirty.  Let it sit for 10-15 minutes.  This allows the solvent to dissolve and soften bullet jacket material, lead, and powder fowling.

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3. Scrub Bore

After the solvent soak, run the solvent soaked bronze brush down the barrel again several times to loosen the gunk in the barrel.  Purists would say to unscrew the brush at the muzzle at each stroke of the cleaning rod rather than pulling it back up and out the chamber.  If you are a professional target shooter, this extra effort might make a difference, however for the average everyday deer rifle or .22 LR, this is not necessary.  You make that judgment for your gun especially if the application is law enforcement or security or the like.

After ten or so runs of the brush, I do recommend next running a cloth patch down the bore to push any excess carbon out the muzzle. In this case do not pull the patch back out.  Take it off the rod, put on a clean one, and then pull the rod back out the chamber end.  Repeat again with the brush scrubbing.  As a rule of thumb on most hunting guns running the brush 25 times should do the job.

4. Run Bore with Patches

How to Clean a Gun

Next run several solvent soaked patches down the barrel and out the muzzle end.  Replace each time with a clean patch, pull back up, and replace patch again. Do this until you are satisfied with the relative cleanliness of the patch. They may never come out completely white, but if they come out black, with shades of blue and green, then keep cleaning. Solvent can turn a lot of barrel fowling bluish or green.

If this continues, you may need to soak the barrel again, rest it, and then brush again. It all depends on how many rounds were shot since the last cleaning.  If you deer hunted and shot the gun a half dozen times in a season that is of course much different than running 500 rounds through a .22 rimfire rifle, or a .223 AR rifle on the shooting range or a 9mm handgun doing police qualification shooting.

Another great tool for cleaning the bore of your rifle or pistol is Hoppe's Bore Snake.  Here is a quick video product review of the Bore Snake.  I own a few of these (Joel) and had success using them.

5. Apply Light Lubrication

How to Clean a Gun

Contrary to popular belief guns do not perform well swimming in oil. After all the swabbing and scrubbing, the barrel just needs a light coat of rust prevention oil as does the bolt. Use a clean soft cotton cloth with oil to wipe down all the metal surfaces of the gun.  A very little on the wood stock does not hurt it.  Don’t overdo oil.

I do this final step wearing those $1 brown cotton gloves to keep fingerprints from ending up on the metal before storage. As to storage, do not put any firearm in any kind of a sealed case, either fabric or plastic for long term.  If you do, add a packet of moisture desiccant in the case, otherwise, just prop the gun up safely locked in a closet or secure area.  Ammo should be kept in a place separate from guns.

Are there other steps that could be added?  Sure.  Use a clean toothbrush to dust in the juncture of the barrel were fitted to the stock.  Brush off sights, mounts, scope metal, too.  Clean optical lenses like any high-quality glass.   Brush around the trigger area.  Clean the clip or magazine and oil lightly.  Brush up into the magazine insert cavity below the action.  Brush off the butt plate that usually ends up in the dirt.

There you have completed a basic gun cleaning to prepare for a survival situation.  Be sure to check the gun ever so often to make sure no rusting has slipped up on the metal surfaces.  It is also a good idea before shooting your gun again to run a dry patch down the barrel to clean out any leftover oil or dust.   If you continue to maintain your guns after each use, they will be ready when you need them.

Use a Gun Cleaning Mat

A gun cleaning mat can keep you organized and provide a soft surface. Check out our favorite pick below:

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Best Gun Cleaning Kits

You also buy ready-to-go cleaning kits to make this process easier. Here are our most recommended kits:

Last update on 2021-05-11 at 18:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Photos by: Dr. Woods, Chris Vesely, US Navy

Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

27 thoughts on “How to Clean a Gun in 5 Easy Steps in 2021”

  1. Watch what type of "oil" you put on your stock. Some of the new "miracle scrubber/cleaner" "oils" have acetate bases that will eat stock finishes if rubbed on. Furniture polish is better than those oils, because it's designed for wood finishes.

    • I try to keep any gun oil off the wood stock. Over time you will get a dark line where to wood and metal meet from the gun oil used to keep the metal clean and rust free. Composite will not give you this problem. Only clean the wood if it get wet.

  2. A tip I picked up for Black powder guns is to use Windex with Vinegar. Mix it about 1 to 4 with water and soak the various parts that you can remove and use as a bore cleaner in the tube. It really cleans up my cowboy guns and Sharps. BP has a reputation for being hard to clean and they simply are not – remember the westerns used BP and their guns worked.
    Caution: Make sure it is with Vinegar and NOT ammonia. Make that mistake and you can really mess up a gun.

  3. Very good article. Would like to mention to be aware how much oil and lubrication you put on your weapon depending on season outside. Over cleaning can be bad too if you are using your weapon. Have "overcleaned" shotguns on numerous occasions only to have them gum up on me when it is cold outside.

  4. Great article! It amazes me how many shooters don't know how to field strip their weapon! There are some decent videos on field stripping on You-Tube. I like Birchwood Casey's "Gun Scrubber" for cleaning hard to get at nooks and crannies. Like the other posters said a little lube goes a long way!

  5. One of the reasons I like my Henry .22 is that it says right in the manual "do not disassemble firearm." Just clean and lube what you can get to and get on with life. I've never had a problem with it.

  6. Good article. There are about as many different recommendations out there for how to best clean guns as there are people who clean guns. The only problem I see is that while there are a lot of specialized solvents out there which have been developed for use in removing powder residue from guns, their availability may be iffy through time. If nothing else purchasing such solvents could be a clue to people that you have weapons. A fact you might not wish to become widely known. With that in mind I will pass on three different recommendations I have been given which seem to me to have enough merit to mention here.

    Source number 1, former DELTA Force, uses the standard cleaning process and powder solvents recommended in the article. While I haven't talked to him about substitutes, I think his reply would likely be along the lines of laying in a large store of such things ahead of time.

    Source number 2, former Marine from long enough ago that he was trained on the M-14 as his issue weapon. He recommended a three step process for cleaning weapons. Step one, disassemble weapon and thoroughly clean all metal parts in diesel fuel. This essentially removes all the old oils and residues that need to be removed. Step 2, clean the metal parts in *hot* water with Tide detergent. This removes any left over diesel fuel from them, and the fact that the water is hot means that it will evaporate quickly. Step 3, as soon as the metal parts are dry, lightly oil them and reassemble the weapon.

    Source number 3, was trained in the U.S. Army as infantry, but was too late for the Vietnam war. He ended up working as a mercenary in the Belgian Congo. He swore up and down that all you really needed to use for weapons cleaning was "Break Free" carburetor cleaner.

    My own opinion is that as long as whatever you do involves removing all the old oil and powder residue, then lightly lubing the weapon afterwards, that you'll probably be ok. One can potentially use just about any good light machine oil to handle the lubrication aspects. As for the solvents, diesel fuel, "Break Free", and CaptBart's suggestion of Windex with vinegar can be obtained almost anywhere without raising any eyebrows.

    • I taught the hot shower method to my Basic Training platoon back in 1969; they loved it, the DI started spreading the word among his peers (after he got over his apoplexy and I got finished with the push ups for getting my rifle wet). I don't remember where I first learned the trick. From my father I think, but it also works on electronics as long as you don't plug them in until they are completely dry. As long as the water is really hot it causes no rust if you oil the gun lightly afterward.
      Folks forget that our heavy use of solvents is relatively new. The westerners didn't have any so they brushed the bores and boiled the parts and oiled. The Napoleon area troops (from all sides) used urine as a solvent on occasion. Solvents just made it faster and easier but weren't absolutely necessary, especially once the corrosive primers were replaced.
      One thing that I heard from a local gunsmith was that the prey animals (most notably deer) have learned the smell of Hoppe's #9 and leave the area when the aroma appears. That smell has been a perfume to gun types for so long, it will be tough to stop using it. There are apparently some order free solvents out there now although I don't know their names. Just a data point to add to the mix.

      • Although I love Hoppe's I hardly ever need it. Most carbon can be removed with some oil and a soft bush. The worst environment I ever put a weapon through was swimming ashore onto a sandy beach. Salt and sand can really jamb up the works so we rinsed with fresh water and I used WD-40 to displace the water. Later when we could clean weapons in a hide site we used CLP (Brake Free). Upon return to ship or base a good wash in the shower followed by a clean and lube. The shower helped blast out the sand and crap from the nooks and crannies as well as remove the salt. Occasionally, after we put a bunch of rounds through a weapon, we used the solvent tank in the motor pool but the solvent really dries out the metal so we had to re-lube everything a lot.

        • Amazing thing is, when I was much younger I thought you had to clean everything within hours of use or it would be ruined. I don't know where that idea came from – obviously the westerners never did that. I learned in the artillery that the big guns needed cleaning after a shoot and then again at intervals to prevent damage but that was different powder and a different schedule. During a hot time, the big guns didn't get cleaned on schedule and still worked. I know of a guy with a $50,000 shot gun, custom made in Italy, that he NEVER cleans. He shoots it with gloves on, then puts it up. It is BEAUTIFULLY made and the owner doesn't want any harsh chemicals messing it up. Don't know if he's right but I understand it. I like to clean and lube (very lightly) every 3 to 6 months even if not shot just because Houston is not a metal friendly environment. That said I THINK I know the most corrosive part was the old style primers and that the non-corrosive primers reduces the need for 'instant' cleaning after shooting. I don't recommend not cleaning but I no longer freak out if I don't clean immediately after the range.
          But I still love Hoppe's!

    • Actually, I disassemble the weapon and spray down the detail stripped parts with Simple Green. When needed, I use an apprpropriate bore solvent for copper or lead fouling. After allowing them to soaf for about 10 minutes, I rinse them in hot water then dry them on a towel. Occasionally, I'll carefully assist drying with a heat gun. When everything is dry, I use CLP to lubricate the parts prior to reassembly.

  7. Tell this to an Afghan with an AK-47 and a shoe string with knots in it. Piss on it is as good as the high prices smelly solvents and oils.
    I've used everything made and for years used 'Break free' all the time on all my guns. My FN-FAL, M-21, AK , M-4, Hawkins, and pistols. It cleans and lubes at the same time.
    Hell, I even use it on my wives and concubines when they get used too much. WWR, CW3, SF ret.

  8. Hey guys, I'd like to add to this conversation a couple of things. One, I have been using a all in one called Ballistol. This item has been around for 90 years and I got told about it from a black powder guy who says it is the only thing he has for cleaning, lubricating in his cleaning kit. It was used during the wars and has a whole bunch of uses. I personally really like it and it works great. Second thing is for AR15 guys, I recently bought a FailZero setup for my AR which 'supposedly' cuts down on cleaning. I haven't had a chance to really check out the reality of it yet but the reviews I have read were good on it. My 2 cents 🙂 BTW, it is environmentally friendly to boot, the Ballistol that is.

  9. Great article!
    Many years ago I did not realize I had ran out of patches, until after I had gone to the range. When I went to clean my pistols, I realized that I did not have any pistol patches. I rummaged around trying to find something to substitute for the patches. I looked around and finally decided on a paper towel. It did not have anything that would hurt the bore and since it had Cellulose, I figured it would have abrasive qualities that would not damage the steel bore. I took diagonal corners of the towel and twisted it until it would fit the bore. Since the bore was wet from the brush passes, I just pulled the towel through the bore of the revolver. It was amazing how much gunk the paper towel picked up. Later on, when I got some patches, I oiled one and ran it through the bore. It was clean!

    I started using paper towels regularly in all semi's and revolvers. They cleaned so well that it was faster and cheaper than patches. In the smaller calibers, sometimes I would have to cut down the length of the towel so it would go through the bore.

    The only thing I added was towards the end of the towel, I would soak a half inch with Break Free LP, not CLP, which put a light lubrication in the bore. The CLP, cleans, lubricates and protects, but because it has a cleaner, it does not seem to last as long as the LP, Lubricant Protectant, especially in select fire weapons, such as the MP5, MP5 SD, MP5 40.

    Another method I used was to fill plastic containers with M-Pro-7, take the barrel, and/or action, and put it in the tubs. I could do other work in the armory while the guns soaked. This stuff does not hurt plastic, but the first time I used it I put in my parts cleaner, I came back the next morning, all the red paint was flaking off.

    Since this stuff is expensive, and I had a boss to worry about, I found out I could re-use it by filtering out the contaminates. It was simple, I just took some 44 oz. cups, cut a few holes in the bottom, put some brown paper towels into the mouth of the cups, used rubber bands to hold them, and put them in a collection container. I ran contaminated product into the cups and got clean product out.
    It is also environmentally safe, until you contaminate it with a gun. I had a new rep come in with the guy I was used to dealing with. She came into the Armory, stuck her finger into a plastic bin which had an MP5 SD in, which is particularly dirty due to blowback, and put it on her cheek , and then she told me it was environmentally safe and non-toxic. I was aghast, and told her it was environmentally safe and non-toxic, until I put the SD in, then it was a toxic soup. She looked a little sick!

  10. Forget patches and use Qtips. I use a bore snake for my bore and a nylon brush for everything else. I like Hoppes Elite as it does NOT smell. I also like Gunzilla as it cleans and lubes in one step. It is a "green" product that is easy on your skin.

  11. Cleaning the gun is always a hectic task for me, however cleaning kits products and brands such as Hopps and Otis has made this super easy. Thanks for the good informational post and good products which can surely help me out in next cleaning.

  12. I use Gun-Coat (by Fluoramics) once I have my weapon(s) clean. And only a little bit! When applied it places a very thin protective layer of protection on your gun. When I first read about it I found that it was "invented" at the request of Federal law enforcement quite a while ago and used Tufoil Technology which is pretty impressive. All without solvents!

  13. I like the tip that you gave to read the owners manual on how to clean your gun beforehand. My wife and I have been talking about getting guns for target practice this summer, and it would be important for us to know that we could find the best tips. If we choose to get the guns, I will be sure to look for the owners manual for cleaning tips.


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