Basic Gun Cleaning Information

semi-automatic pistol

If neglected, guns can become caked in burnt powder and fouling. This build-up causes different problems in different designs of guns. Semi-automatic pistols can fail to load rounds or eject spent casings. Revolvers might develop stiff triggers, making them less accurate. Whatever the consequences, the solution is routine cleaning and lubrication. At the very least, lack of maintenance results in a devalued gun that isn’t much fun at the range. However, for some, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.


Always verify that your gun is unloaded before cleaning. Visually and physically inspect the chamber, receiver, and magazine to ensure they are free of ammunition. Point the gun in a safe direction and dry fire it. Remove all ammunition from your work area. After you’ve completed a safety check, continue to observe the four universal safety rules:

1. Treat all guns as if they’re loaded.

2. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.


Most designs require at least partial disassembly prior to cleaning. This process varies depending on design. Generally, semi-automatic handguns break down into four basic parts: frame, slide, barrel and guide rod. Of these, only guide rods do not require regular cleaning. Revolvers do not usually require disassembly for routine cleaning. Shotguns usually only require barrel removal. Rifles are the most complex, often requiring users to dismantle bolt assemblies and gas impingement systems. Consult your manual for disassembly instructions specific to your firearm.

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Only use products specifically designed for gun maintenance. Improvising with household cleansers or lubricants can cause damage to your gun. Guns Magazine recommends having the following items in your cleaning kit: steel-coated cleaning rods slightly longer than the length of your barrel, brass jags, a bronze-bristle and brass-core bore brush, a nylon brush, cotton patches, solvent and lubricant.


Clean your gun as soon as possible after firing it. The actual process depends on your specific model. In general, begin by applying solvent to moving parts and areas where residue builds up. The rods and patches allow you to apply solvent to the inside of the barrel. Let the solvent sit for at least a few minutes after application. Use the brushes to clean away the grime. To clean the barrel, insert the brush at the rear rather than the muzzle end whenever possible to avoid scratching the muzzle. Never change the direction of a brush when it’s inside the barrel. Use dry patches to wipe away as much excess grime and solvent as possible. Check your manual for special recommendations from the manufacturer.


Knowing the particulars of how your gun operates will give you a good idea of where to apply lubrication. Generally, it is important to lubricate bolts, trigger assemblies, barrels, slides and places where you see contact wear. For semi-automatic pistols, use a single dab of gun grease to lubricate each rail. Some designs have gas systems, striker channels or other parts that should not be lubricated. According to Tri-State Gun Collectors, you should never oil a firing pin housing.

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When you finish cleaning, perform function checks to make sure your gun and all of its safeties are working properly.