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Basic Guide: Cleaning a Firearm

Firearms control act

Table of Contents

Cleaning a firearm like a handgun; an important guideline 

By: Conway P. Evertson

For many years and in whichever format we might see it, has a firearm been synonymous with either being a lifesaving tool as personal protection or an aggravated tool in terms of violence.

One of the most important factors for gun owners in possessing any firearm is its safekeeping and wellbeing in terms of maintenance, like regular cleaning. Many firearm owners at times omit either one or both of the above mentioned and very often firearm maintenance.

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In good sense, it’s appropriate to comply with both when you consider purchasing your own firearm. The lack of or just plain omission to see to the proper maintenance of a firearm could in all essence put your own life in danger by which the firearm at discharge might fail to shoot, meaning it might jam or there’s a danger that it can explode in an attempt to shoot.

When troops are doing musketry during military training, instructors exercise their brutal authority over these troops when demonstrating the importance of cleaning their firearms. You would normally hear the instructors fiercely shouting at them and instructing the troops to apply a name to the very same firearm in their possession as if it’s a living being.

At the same time, inspections are so brutal that failing to clean it properly may lead to “punishment”. It’s the serious nature of these instructors’ approach that in many instances qualifies the troops to be fit and competent handlers to possess and use such firearms.

The same principle applies to any civilian or person wanting to own a firearm. What is really waiting for the potential firearm owner and what should a potential firearm owner be aware of before their purchase?

There are various steps which should be followed before you can start to properly clean your firearm.

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First time or potential owners of firearms must from the onset, note that cleaning does not mean just taking a cloth and wiping the firearm clean. It’s also not appropriate to give your firearm to somebody else to clean.

It’s a fact that you have to be fully familiar with what it is you own.

Due to the variety of firearms by definition and including handguns, we’ll follow the following steps as a guideline when cleaning:

  1. Completely unload the firearm or handgun

    1. The primary rule to follow and to apply is that you should never attempt to or clean a fully loaded firearm. Unloading your firearm is the most crucial step in the entire cleaning process. This is to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
    2. Remove your magazine and any ammunition that may be loaded within the firearm.
    3. The firearm must be pointed in a safe direction with the barrel pointing to the ground.
    4. Make sure no ammunition is left in the chamber hence it’s advisable to cock the firearm more than once.
    5. Do a thorough check by visually looking down the chamber of the firearm.
    6. A safety drill should be done every time you handle your firearm.
    7. Never take it for granted that your firearm is safe all the time while in your possession. Safety clips can be adjusted without knowing, especially during movements.


  1. Cleaning the firearm or handgun

    1. It is always advisable to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
    2. Always make sure that you have a clean piece of fabric cloth or even a face towel with you in order to pack all components of the firearm on it.
    3. The first step would be to remove the slide from the frame.
    4. Be particularly vigilant for any bushings, springs or other small parts.
    5. You could put them into a jar, a jar lid or any other container to keep them from getting lost.
    6. Use a cleaning tool, such as a utility brush or cleaning patches to remove any loose particles that may be found within the slide, cylinder (revolvers), frame and chamber.
    7. Also check carefully for fluff and dust/dirt inside frame areas.
    8. Heavy carbon can be removed with a light application of cleaner prior to brushing.
    9. Remove cleaned carbon with a cleaning patch.
    10. Do not use any cloth as this could cause erosion by leaving marks normally not visible to the naked eye.


  1. Cleaning after intense shooting

    1. After intense shooting at the shooting range and for those not attending to their firearms for weeks or months to end (hopefully this is not the case) it’s normally the barrel which suffers most. In some instances rust can set in.
    2. A golden rule, if done properly, is to let hot water run through the barrel. To dry the barrel inside, attach a cleaning patch to the cleaning rod and pull it through the barrel.
    3. Repeat this exercise until the barrel is dry. Apply some bore cleaner on a cleaning patch, and using a cleaning rod run the patch through your barrel.
    4. Monitor the amount of debris or residue that comes off the inside of your barrel.
    5. This will be an indicator as to how clean the barrel of your firearm is getting. When using a brush to clean the barrel, run it one way completely through the barrel.
    6. Never push the brush down the barrel and reverse it again. Ensure the brush never gets stuck.
    7. Follow up your bore cleaner soaked patch with several dry ones to make sure you’ve left your barrel clean and dry.
    8. Patches are used to clean hard-to-reach areas in the frame and slide to ensure you get your barrel/chamber as clean as possible.
    9. A heavier duty cleaner can be used for badly carbon barrels and chambers.

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  1. Apply lubrication where necessary

    1. At this stage, the slide, frame, barrel and chamber of the firearm is completely cleaned.
    2. The next step is to properly oil or to lubricate all the parts of the firearm as mentioned. It’s important that parts do not remain dry as this could lead to the firearm getting rust and not functioning properly.
      • It will also cause erosion pertaining to metal on metal movement. It will also depend on the type of firearm you are cleaning and the recommended lubrication per the manufacturer.
    3. Not any type of lubrication which is not recommended or oil must be used. In most instances, the following needs to be lubricated or oiled:
      • Bearing surfaces (metal-on-metal, slide, rails, guides)
      • Outside surface the barrel (on semi-automatic handguns)
      • Slight application of lubrication on the outside of the firearm
      • Springs
    4. Do not apply lubricants to the inside of the barrel or chamber except for long-term storage, a slight application of lubrication is necessary. Too much lubrication or oil can lead to high pressures when shooting and can lead to the potential for catastrophic failure. It must be avoided in all instances, to apply lubricant on ammunition. This can lead to misfires or malfunctions.
    5. A common myth is that more is better when it comes to lubrication of your firearm. You want to adequately lubricate where needed, but too much can lead to excessive residues. This can lead to malfunctions and handling issues and can become extremely slippery to handle.
    6. Lubrication cloths and even cleaning patches are excellent tools to use. They help control the amount of lubrication or oil being used in any given area of your gun. It’s easily noticeable that they absorb a certain quantity of the lubrication or oil.
    7. Take good care at any signs of worn metal areas on the bearing surfaces such as your slide, frame, rails and barrel.
    8. On a well-used firearm you’ll see bare metal through the finish in some places. That’s not necessarily a problem as it means your firearm is adjusting itself to work more efficiently. Worn areas require light lubrication or oil.

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  1. Wipe down all components

    1. After the firearm has been cleaned and lubricated or oiled, wipe it down with a clean, soft, dry cloth. This removes residue, oils or moisture from any fingerprints that you may have missed in steps two and three.
    2. Once you’re done wiping down all components, you can use wax treated gun cloths to help polish and protect your firearm.


  1. Reassemble and check for any irregularities 

    1. At this stage everything is cleaned and wiped down.
    2. It’s time to start reassembling your firearm or handgun. Before the assembling process starts, carefully inspect each piece as you put it together and make a note of any damage, irregularities, or excessive wear or play (unbalanced movement).
    3. In some instances, the occasional dents or scratches happen especially to firearms which are long in use or service. Other damages not only hurt the value of your firearm but can lead to potential safety concerns.
    4. Should you find anything questionable in your inspection, it’s highly recommended you take it to a local firearms shop or competent gunsmith. As experts in their field, they’ll do a closer inspection and advise you on how to move forward to ensure continued safety and reliability.
    5. The firearm can be stored fully assembled as a preference by many owners which makes them ready for use or, all parts can be stored in a disassembled format.
    6. For long term storage of firearms, you can use this step and apply preservative oils and then utilize a storage system at your convenience.
    7. Upon successfully applying steps 1-5 during the cleaning process remember to wipe down your hands and work surfaces after the firearm cleaning. This can be done with a cleaning cloth to remove lead and other heavy metal residues.


  1. Specified detail of firearm kits

    1. It must be noted that manufacturers have various variants available when it comes to cleaning kits to be used for maintenance on the firearm.
    2. In most instances it will also depend on the type of firearm you might have. Some might be in a position to purchase more variables in addition to what is being prescribed. It’s always recommended and regarded as very good additions.

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  1. The Firearm Utility Brush

    1. The utility brush can do the job of two conventional brushes cleaning everything from large bores to small and hard-to-reach spaces.
    2. Use the larger bristled end of the brush to clean larger areas and let the small bristled end of the brush clean grime and debris out of tight spots.
    3. It’s available with phosphor bronze or nylon bristles.
      • Each brush has two bristled ends
      • Larger bristle end can be used to clean large areas
      • Smaller bristled end will clean tight or hard-to-reach areas
      • Nylon bristles will clean without scratching metal
      • Available with bronze or nylon bristles


  1. Cleaning swabs

    1. Firearm cleaning swabs make cleaning hard-to-reach areas of a firearm much easier.
    2. The extended stick allows easy access to small areas while cleaning a firearm. The cotton end wipes carbon and debris away quickly.
      • Allows better access to hard-to-reach areas of a firearm while cleaning
      • Cotton tip wipes away carbon and debris
      • Comes in sealable bag
      • Available in packs of 50 or 100, sometimes even more, depending on the manufacturer


  1. Cleaning patches

    1. Cleaning patches are specially manufactured synthetic material which is ultra-absorbent; uniformly pre-cut and it effectively clean firearms. The synthetic patches are available in smaller count packs in five different sizes.
    2. The cotton patches are available in four different sizes, come in bulk quantities, and are packaged in a sealable bag for easy storage.
    3. Cleaning patches can be used with cleaners, lubricants and oils to ensure a thorough clean of any firearm.
      • Uniformly woven and pre-cut patches
      • Available in synthetic or cotton
      • Synthetic available in five pre-cut sizes depending on manufacturer
      • Cotton available in four pre-cut sizes depending on manufacturer
      • Cotton patches are packaged in a sealable bag


  1. Lubricant and oil cleaner

    1. A must have as per manufacturer prescription for any firearm.
    2. Lubricant and oil cleaner can be used to clean all pistol, rifle, and shotgun bores and penetrate deeply to remove carbon and powder.
    3. It also loosens abrasive debris to prevent wear and tear on your firearm. They normally are standard in range bags. It’s very safe and easy to use.
    4. Most variables of range bags are available at firearm stores with preferences available on request suitable for your firearm or handgun.

Having followed these guidelines, your firearm or handgun is ready for use.

Conway Evertson

Conway Evertson is a former Director of Community Safety, a Senior Lecturer (Criminal Justice), Forensic Expert (SAPS), Head Investigations (IPID) and an Infantry Instructor (SADF). 

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