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Gun Guide: Cleaning your firearm safely


Firearm maintenance can be just as important as firearm safety. Knowing exactly how to clean a gun is about more than just having an attractive looking firearm. It is just as much about safety.

The proper cleaning of your firearm helps to ensure that it always operates in a safe and reliable manner. Firearms should preferably be cleaned after every use and also after they have been stored for a very long period of time.

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Unfortunately too many accidents still occur when owners are negligent when cleaning their firearms, although they do it with the best of intentions.

General safety advice when cleaning firearms

Safety should always come first when a firearm is handled, whether it is for using, transporting or cleaning it. The following should always be kept in mind:

  • Ensuring that a firearm is safely unloaded and cleared before proceeding with any disassembly work. Performing a safety check is a mandatory first step that should be done and re-done as a double or triple check to guarantee a clear and safe firearm.
  • Not following protocol when cleaning your weapon can lead to accidental injuries or death.
  • There can be legal implications because the firearm owner is liable for any injuries or damages that may result from a negligent discharge.
  • If you discover a problem with your firearm while cleaning it, take it to a qualified gun Don’t attempt to repair a firearm yourself even if you think the problem is a minor one!

Specific tips for cleaning a firearm

  • Consult the owner’s manual for a specific firearm before you begin to clean it.
  • Always clean from the breech toward the muzzle if possible.
  • Minimize the amount of contact between the cleaning rod and the barrel.
  • Avoid skin contact with any metal parts of the firearm since perspiration can cause rust.
  • Empty all gun magazines and secure all ammunition in a different location or nearby gun safe until the cleaning process is done.
  • Remove any other live ammunition (even if it is boxed) from the room or cleaning area to prevent any possibility of mishandling of live ammunition.

A beginner’s guide on how to clean a gun safely

The number one rule when owning a firearm is safety. It is also worth knowing that a clean gun actually reduces the risk of accidental or negligent discharge. The latter is completely avoidable by following all safety procedures and following the next procedures:

Prepare correctly

Before you start cleaning your gun, you need to choose a clean and safe area with enough space to work. The area should also be well-lit and ventilated to avoid any mistakes or side effects from inhaling the cleaning chemicals.

Tips for first-time gun owners

The best place to work is outdoors or in the garage or special room for this purpose. If you are going to clean your gun inside, do it near an open window and on a surface or table that is sturdy and free of clutter.

Try not to use a kitchen or dining room table, or any other surface used to eat or drink. Gun cleaning materials include oils, solvents, and lead or carbon fouling which can contaminate nearby food.

Consult the manual first

Make sure to keep your gun owner’s manual and read it in its entirety.  A lot of attention to detail and care has been invested in the writing of the information in the owner’s manual, making it a valuable reference during your ownership of the firearm and understanding correct operation and practices to provide you with a safe experience.

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The manufacturer manual also explains exactly how to take your firearm apart safely and clean it. Most manuals offer detailed pictures or coloured diagrams to guide you both in disassembling and reassembling the firearm correctly and safely.

If you don’t possess the manual anymore, you may be able to find written and visual instructions on how to take most handguns, shotguns, and rifles apart from gun shops or manufacturers. 

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Manuals for specific models from various manufacturers may also be available to be downloaded   free of charge from the manufacturers’ websites to be printed.

Cleaning materials

After you have taken all the safety precautions, you can start the process to clean your gun.

Different guns require different techniques but for the cleaning process you will probably need some of the following tools:

  • A cleaning rod
  • A calibre specific bore brush
  • Slotted and form-fitting cleaning jags
  • Cleaning swabs
  • Mops
  • Double-ended utility brushes
  • Calibre specific, lint and fibre-free cleaning patches
  • Lustre cloth or Silicone impregnated Gun and Reel Cloth
  • Cotton swabs
  • A bore snake
  • Cleaning chemicals like bore cleaners, action cleaners and lubricants
  • A disposable drip pan to catch by-products and residue from the cleaning process
  • Safety glasses to protect against eye injury from flying springs, debris and chemical splash or vapours.
  • Solvent resistant gloves to protect skin from contact with chemicals and their absorption.

If you can get hold of a calibre specific cleaning kit, it should include most of the mentioned cleaning supplies. You can also consider acquiring a rubber mat to help protect all the gun parts and your work surface. A cleaning cradle can also be handy for securing a long gun and keep your gun hands-free so that you can more easily control your tools and other loose parts. 

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Use only tools and chemicals designed for the purpose of maintaining firearms and use solvents carefully to prevent drippage onto wood, painted or other sensitive surfaces.


Basic steps to follow when cleaning a gun

Here are the basic steps to properly and safely clean firearms of all types – after you have removed the magazine and ensured that the firearm is unloaded!


Cleaning of the barrel and chamber

  • Dry brush the chamber and barrel with a copper-phosphate or nylon bore brush in a chamber to muzzle direction to loosen and remove some of the large carbon and metal fouling from the bore.
  • Place a cleaning patch that was dipped in bore solvent on the tip of your cleaning rod and push the cleaning patch through the barrel and out the other side and saturate the chamber and bore surface but don’t pull it back since this will redeposit dirt and gunk back into the bore.
  • Leave the cleaning solvent for 10-15 minutes to break down bore fouling.
  • Scrub the inside of the barrel with the bore brush and remove any residue with a new, dry patch. Keep running it through the bore until the patch comes out clean.
  • Use a pull-through tool saturated with a light lubricant, such as a bore snake or equivalent to further clean and treat the bore surface against corrosion. Do not lubricate the bore using gun oil! 
  • If the firearm is going to be stored for a long time, the bore can be treated with a heavier lubricant but remember that this must be removed again prior to shooting the firearm by cleaning the barrel.
  • Lastly, clean the exterior of the barrel, barrel hood, barrel lug, and the feed ramp.

Cleaning and lubricating the action

Cleaning just the barrel of the gun is not enough, you need to clean and lubricate the action (slide, pump, or bolt) to by using a nylon utility brush, dry cloth, and action cleaner solvent. 

  • Spray the action generously from the top of the frame or receiver, allowing carbon and metal debris to be washed into a drip pan.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular model of firearm.
  • Allow the cleaned sub-assemblies to dry properly.
  • Use appropriate disposal procedures for any cleaning
  • Use a needle applicator to accurately apply lubricant drops at the specified lubrication points on the frame or action, slide assembly, and exterior of the barrel, as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Do not over lubricate, as this will attract contaminant accumulation more readily and could potentially cause reliability issues when firing the firearm.

Cleaning the magazines

  • Magazines are the source of ammunition and are responsible for proper feeding of a semiautomatic firearm, therefore a reliable, clean magazine is critical for the proper operation of a semiautomatic firearm.
  • Magazines must be disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Wear safety glasses and take extra care when working with magazines during the disassembly and reassembly process, since magazine followers are spring loaded.
  • Use special purpose brushes for magazine cleaning.
  • Magazines must never be cleaned with petroleum products, as these will contaminate ammunition primers.
  • Magazines must not be lubricated but cleaned with a residue-free solvent or cleaning

Reassemble the firearm and perform a functional check

Anytime a firearm is disassembled and reassembled, a functional check must be conducted to ensure that it operates as designed.  Test the proper functioning of the trigger mechanism, safety or safeties, slide operation and locking, magazine retention and ejection systems. 

Follow the manufacturer’s procedure for the specific firearm and remember to observe the rules of gun safety.

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Wipe the outside of the gun

Once the inside of the gun and its moving parts are clean and lubricated, you should clean the exterior with a gun/reel cloth.

These cloths are soft and pre-treated with silicone lubricant that removes any leftover debris or acidic prints and adds protection to your firearm.

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A clean gun is a safe and reliable gun. Regular maintenance ensures accuracy, reliability, comfort and confidence when using the it, as well as preserving the functionality and appearance of your investment.

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