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Gun Cleaning Tips for Proper Care and Storage

Proper care and maintenance of your firearms will ensure they are ready to go when you need them. Whether its deer hunting in the cold, target shooting for fun with your friends, or, God forbid, your defense weapon in a dark parking lot (or even worse, your living room), a properly maintained firearm will never let you down. I clean my firearm even if I only fire one round. I clean and function check my EDC (EDC) every day carry gun weekly, regardless if it has been fired or not.

In another section discussing what NOT to do, we touch upon a few negligent practices that commonly occur in cleaning and care. This section is devoted entirely to the cleaning and care of your firearms.

author's well used cleaning kit gets replaced every couple years

What do You Need?

Basic cleaning and maintenance is generally all that is necessary if you carry a weapon for self-defense (and it hasn’t been fired thousands of times).

A good gun cleaning kit should contain the following items:

A quality made cleaning kit with these items will do a good job of keeping your firearm up and running. My personal favorite is Rem-oil to clean my firearms as it is a solvent, protective oil, with lubricating Teflon all in one handy spray can.

the chamber and the gas tube of the author's Ar-15

How to Clean Your Firearm

It’s pretty simple really: unload the firearm (check the chamber in your autos), disassemble the weapon (a simple field strip will suffice). I prefer the bore snake as it is quicker. Spray cleaner down the barrel from the breech and pull the snake through a few times, done.

If using the brush and jag method: spray the cleaner, run the brush through from the breech end several times, then push cloths through until they come out clean. A final oil soaked cloth to protect the bore, done.

Spray all parts with cleaner, use the brushes, spray with more cleaner, and use the cloths until they can wipe a part and come back clean, then oil the part. Reassemble firearm and function check.

Special Details

Some guns that I have I may use regular gun oil on the key friction points, such as the roller cams in the CZ52’s and the bolt track in an AK47. Overall I just clean them with the Rem-oil and then gently wipe it down leaving a slight coating. For longer term storage, I give a good coating of gun oil.

Remember that whenever you fire black powder, you should use black powder solvent. When you use corrosive ammunition you should use a solution of 50/50 ammonia and water. I always follow up with a regular cleaning after the ammonia for good measure.

Firearms prone to issues with dirt, such as the gas impinged AR15, I clean as normal and then wipe it dry so that there is no buildup of oil to catch and hold particles and carbon from the gasses. I use graphite to lubricate the action in gas impinged weapons as it is a dry powder and will not hold particulates.

The gasses actually contain molten metal and particulates of powder, so extra care should be taken when cleaning these rifles or other gas impinged weapons. I suppose I should say for those that don’t know: gas impinged means instead of gasses acting upon a piston to drive the bolt back, hot gasses from the barrel are actually blown through a tube into a recess on the bolt carrier to push it back to eject the spent casing and load a new round. In so doing, the hot gasses are actually released into the receiver.

You should also be sure to clean this gas tube thoroughly. If it narrows from build up your rifle will experience failures. There is a pipe cleaner type deal just for that purpose. It’s basically the same as a pipe cleaner only longer.

I also like to spray the Rem-oil generously through that tube. I also spray Rem-oil liberally down the piston tube of the AK to make sure the gas ports are clean. Hold the gun muzzle down and spray until it runs out of the barrel clean.

the bolt carrier with gas port showing

You may also find that there will be an excessive amount of buildup inside the bolt carrier where the bolt seats. There is a special tool for cleaning that area as well (although in a pinch you can scrape it out with a screwdriver or similar).

Another spot that likes to collect buildup is at the barrel breech where the bolt closes into the battery. If this area is neglected eventually you will experience failures because the bolt will not close fully into the battery. AR’s are fun to play with, but I prefer the AK platform as it is a more robust system, a more powerful round, and it can take more abuse and neglect.

Basically, the point is that you need to know your firearm inside and out. You need to know all the little nooks and crannies where buildup may occur to make sure you thoroughly clean it to keep it running.

When All Else Fails, P**s On It

I have been told about AK’s that were being cleaned by “the bad guys” simply by pulling a piece of oil soaked rope through the bore and that’s it. I have also heard stories about urine being used to clean AK’s and SKS rifles. The ammonia in the urine removes the corrosive compounds left by the corrosive military ammunition used. I’m sure in a pinch this would work on any gun.

Keep It Going

When you are cleaning your firearm this is a good time to inspect it for wear. Rifles that are expected to experience a high use such as the AR and AK for example, (I’m sure all guns do actually), have “round counts” that dictate when you should replace internal parts and the barrels to maintain optimum performance.

But now that we are on the subject of polymer guns (we are now), keep in mind the idea behind the use of polymer is that firearms that are carried daily (EDC) are more often exposed to the elements. For this reason, polymer is the ticket to a firearm that doesn’t rust, keeps the finish looking good, and keeps the weapon serviceable under adverse conditions with less maintenance. But I still prefer my stainless steel over all others.

When Not in Use

This brings us to storage. Too many times someone has put a gun in a case or a safe only to find the finish ruined a year or so later when they pull it out. That pesky humidity did a job on the piece and now your pretty new gun (or favorite old one) isn’t so pretty any more. This is an easy fix.

When you put a gun away for long term storage make sure to put some silica packs in the case with it to keep the moisture off (the silica packs are technically a de-oxidizer). If you have a gun safe you would do well to purchase a dehumidifier for it.

At the very least, if you plan to store a gun long term make sure it is very well oiled. Military surplus guns stored for 50 yrs come out just fine because the armorer put Cosmoline on it. Cosmoline is a thick, sticky grease that protects the gun from the elements. It’s probably not what you want to do to your gun for EDC, unless you plan to bury it in a tube in the woods. Then by all means, put Cosmoline on it.

Just like changing the oil in your car or painting the shutters on your house, keeping your firearms cleaned and maintained will ensure they last and serve and, most importantly, work reliably when you need them to.

Cleaning tips for proper care and storage of your firearm part II (What you should not do)

This section is sort of an overview of the previous and gives examples of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to the care and maintenance of their firearms, or rather the lack of care and maintenance of their EDC firearms.

Really, Don’t Do It

It should be common knowledge to clean your firearm after a trip to the range. But what a lot of people do not realize is that regular maintenance and inspection of your carry firearm is necessary to ensure that it will function properly if, and when, the time comes that it is needed.

So often one will pack around a pistol for months on end without doing anything more than putting it in a holster, tossing it in the glove box, or sliding it under the seat. This practice allows dirt and grime to build up. Not to mention the damage that may be caused by latent moisture either from sweat, mist, or humidity in the air.

SW 357 magnum

Poor Little Fella

An example is the Smith & Wesson .357 magnum I picked up on the cheap a while back. A window left open in the rain, combined with a gun in a leather holster left forgotten under the seat equals a rusted revolver that was once worth $800 or better, but is now sold for $200. This is the perfect example of how not to treat your firearms.

The revolver was left in a sad state. The action was locked up from rust because all of the internal parts were rusted. A little elbow grease and a refinish kit brought it back to a presentable status. It still shot excellently, but it had to be completely disassembled and wire brushed on the inside and out. Steel wool and sandpaper had to be used on the outside, virtually destroying the value of the piece.

All of the springs were rusted and had to be cleaned or replaced as well. It was a rarer version with a 5 inch barrel and in perfect shape it would have been worth $800-1000. It could have been worth well beyond the $200 I paid for it and the $400 value it was allotted in a trade.

This is a why I always recommend a weekly, if not daily, inspection and cleaning, breaking the gun down as you would for normal cleaning after range time.

Mmm, Salty

Military Surplus Ammo

Another unfortunate occurrence is when people use military surplus ammo that is corrosive and have not properly cleaned their piece after range time. Corrosive ammunition requires that you clean the piece with ammonia to remove the caustic material left behind.

My Ammonia and Water Remedy to Clean Corrosion

I use a 50/50 (-ish, maybe a little stronger) mix of ammonia and water. One of my favorite military surplus pistols is the CZ 52. This is a powerful handgun that fires the 7.62×25 cartridge and the military surplus ammo was cheap. Military surplus ammo is corrosive, so it necessitated using the ammonia solution.

On one particular occasion I obtained another fine example of this weapon, but unfortunately whoever possessed it before I did was obviously oblivious to the necessity of cleaning with ammonia, and so the chamber was “swollen” from rust. This necessitated the purchase and installation of a new barrel. Fortunately, one of my favorite online stores had new barrels for the CZ 52 for a mere $40 at the time (those were the days).

Corrosive Black Powder

The same holds true for black powder guns as well. Black powder is very corrosive and most people do not properly clean their muzzle loaders before storage. Because of this they often find the next deer season a rusted and (most likely) less accurate bore, or a rusted nipple that may cause the gun to not fire at that critical moment.

Even a massive amount of bore butter will not prevent this so it is recommended to use proper solvent intended for black powder, or, if that isn’t readily available, ammonia, to get the caustic material off of the steel.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Another problem that arises (a friend once told me about his discovery of a rusted favorite gun in his safe), is that when people store guns in a gun safe or in gun cases for long periods of time and expect that when they pull the gun out it will be in the same condition as when it was placed in the safe or case.

Unfortunately this isn’t always so. That pesky humidity is up to its old tricks again.

Silica packs in gun case

Silica Packs to the Rescue

If possible, you should put a dehumidifier in the safe or at the very least put those silica packs in it as well as in gun cases. I put those packs in all of my cases and in my ammo cans to make as sure as I possibly can that moisture does not adversely affect my guns and ammo so that they are ready to go when I need them.

In Closing

Suffices it to say, if you take care of your gun it will take care of you or at least it will be able to take care of you. However, if you neglect it or ignore it, you may be in for a bad surprise when the time comes to drop that big buck, or hog, or if someone demands your wallet.

Keep it clean, keep it well oiled, give it regular inspections and function checks, and your gun will last longer, shoot better, and be there when you really need it.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms. A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method. The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

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