Firearms are tools, a piece of mechanical equipment, metal and/or polymer parts working together to provide the user with a potentially lifesaving device. While practicing with it and then putting it away would be convenient, it’s not practical nor is it safe. In order to be able to depend on a firearm to function when needed, maintenance is necessary.
In order to maintain a firearm in good working order, you must clean it and lubricate it. So if you are new to firearms, how do you learn how to clean your firearm? First, the manual that came with your firearm has some very basic instructions for maintenance. Start there. If you find that information is not comprehensive enough for you, check with your local gun store. Many of them not only have gunsmiths on site that will clean and lubricate your firearm if you don’t feel up to the task, but some also offer a gun cleaning class for a reasonable fee. Another resource to learn about maintaining your firearm are videos. Check the manufacturer’s website or YouTube channel for a video specific to your firearm, because they all have features that are different and unique to the firearm. Avoid less than professional videos that teach gun cleaning!
So let’s start! Today’s cleaning process is for a semi-automatic handgun.
First, decide where you are going to clean your handgun and gather all the necessary equipment. You will need:
A cleaning mat of some sort to lay all your equipment on. The cleaning mat can be an inexpensive rubber doormat or something similar. Some people use carpet samples but they can add lint and fuzz to the equation which is not desirable.
A bore rod and brush. The bore rod and brush are generally caliber specific.
Some cotton cleaning patches and jag. Cotton cleaning pads can be purchased in bulk at most sporting goods stores that carry gun supplies along with the jag which is a tool that holds the patch.
A nylon bristled brush. Do not use a metal brush.
A microfiber towel or washcloth. Microfiber has less lint, but a cotton washcloth will work fine.
A pair of nitrile gloves. Most cleaners are not toxic, but they generally aren’t very good on your skin. And you’ll find that as your cleaning your firearm, a lot of that dirt and grime will end up on your hands.
Safety glasses. These are a good idea to keep the cleaning products or the dirt from getting into your eyes.
Gun cleaner. There are multiple brands on the market that work well. Preferred gun cleaner is a personal decision so go with what works for you. If the bottle says it is a CLP, which stands for Cleaning, Lubricating and Protecting so you don’t have to get a separate product for cleaning and one for lubricating.
Cotton swabs or sponges (like a makeup applicator) on a stick.
How often should you clean your gun? That depends on who you ask. The National Rifle Association Basic Pistol Class recommends that you clean your firearm every 200 rounds. Some prefer to clean it after every trip to the range. In order to clean your handgun, you have to disassemble it. Before you do that, clear the firearm. Make sure there is no ammunition near you, in the room, in a magazine…anywhere.
Take the magazine out, pull the slide back and check that it’s clear. Have someone else check for clear if you can. Recheck for it to be clear yourself. You just can’t be too careful here. Follow the instructions in your manual or the manufacturer’s video. Take your time. There is no rush. As you disassemble, lay the parts on your cleaning mat. Put a little bit of the firearm cleaning product or CLP on your nylon brush. Gently scrub the parts of the action that are visibly dirty and accessible with the brush. No need to dig or super scrub. Gently wipe down those parts with your microfiber towel or Q-tip without leaving lint behind.
Place a few drops of the cleaning product on the bore brush attached to the bore rod. Pick up your barrel and run the brush in ONE direction from the chamber side of the barrel to where the bullet comes out. Do not scrub back and forth as this can damage the rifling inside the barrel. Make this pass several times, always in one direction, exiting the barrel where the bullet would normally exit. Next, put a cleaning patch into the eye on the end of the jag. Run it in the same direction down the bore. Repeat until the patch comes out clean.
With a little bit of CLP on your microfiber towel, clean the underside of your slide and the recoil spring and guide rod. These should not be wet with CLP when this task is complete. Wipe everything down until the rag you are using doesn’t pick up any more grime. Now that your firearm is clean, it’s time to lubricate.
If you are using an all-in-one CLP product, you’ll use the same thing for lubricating the firearm. Lubricate in accordance with the handgun manual. They normally tell you where you need to lubricate and how much. You will likely want to lubricate on the metal parts where the slide runs along the frame. And there may be other places recommended by the manufacturer. There is no need to add lubricant inside the barrel. A very light coat of lubricant on the outside of the barrel will protect it from wear.
Once you have cleaned and lubricated your firearm, it’s time to reassemble. Once you have it back together, with NO ammunition in the room or near you, visually and physically check to make sure the gun is not loaded and manipulate the slide a few times to make sure it is functioning correctly. Check that your safety is working correctly.
Congratulations! You have completed the cleaning and lubricating of your firearm.