Gun Cleaning Tips for Proper Care and Storage

updated 03/28/2019 by Charles Yor

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, pulling your defense handgun in a dark parking lot, a properly maintained firearm will never let you down.

I clean my firearms even if I only fire one round. I clean and function check my 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. Guns that start to get up into the thousands of rounds may require more detailed disassembly or parts replacement, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

A good gun cleaning kit should contain the following items:

  • Bore brushes, bronze (sized for your firearm’s bore, e.g. .40 caliber brushes for a .40 S&W, etc., plus one size up if you are shooting a revolver.)
  • Bore snake (for quick in the field cleaning of bore)
  • Jags
  • Patches sized for your bore (used to swab out barrel)
  • Cleaning rods (brass or coated)
  • Utility brush or old toothbrush
  • Bore Cleaner
  • Lubricant/Gun Oil
  • Rags (Old t-shirts cut into handy sizes work great)
  • Cotton swabs (for those tight spots)

A quality cleaning kit with these items will do a good job of keeping your firearm up and running. My personal favorite lubricant is Rem-oil, as in a pinch I can use it 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 making double-sure the chamber(s) is/are empty.

Disassemble the weapon to the degree specified by the manual (called field stripping).

To start with cleaning the bore, you have a couple of choices: I prefer the bore snake as it is quicker, and good enough; I can brush and swab the barrel with just one pass of this tool. To use it, simply spray cleaner down the barrel from the breech end and then pull the snake through a few times. Done.

After you have dealt with the bore, lightly spray all parts with cleaner, scrub them with your utility brushes, then give them another light spray with more cleaner, finally using your rags to wipe them down until they come back clean. A final wipe down then lightly oil the part.

When you oil your firearm, consult your manual for information on where and how much lubricant you should use. If in doubt, a light application that leaves the part glistening but not soaking is fine.

Once that is all done, go ahead and reassemble your firearm and then perform a function check. Make sure all parts and controls are moving and interacting as they should. If circumstances allow, test fire your gun.

Special Details

Some guns work fine with lubrication just on the key friction points, but others like to be well-oiled for best results. Again, consult your manual or a knowledgeable expert to discover if your particular gun likes to be run “wet” or not as wet.

When in doubt, use more lube! Also don’t forget to generously oil any gun you plan to put away for long term storage.

Remember that whenever you fire black powder guns or cartridges, you should use black powder-specific solvent. Similarly when you use corrosive ammunition you should use a solution of 50/50 ammonia and water. I always follow up these special solutions with a regular cleaning after using anything with an ammonia component for good measure.

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.

Another spot that you should pay attention to on any firearm is the mating surfaces around the breech and action. Any buildup allowed to accumulate in this area is going to cause issues. If this area is neglected eventually you will experience failures because the bolt or slide will not close fully into battery.

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.

the bolt carrier with gas port showing

Some Guns Are More Robust Than Others

We have all heard stories about AKs that were being cleaned by “the bad guys” simply by pulling a piece of oil soaked rope through the bore and that’s it.

As it turns out, in a pinch you can use nearly any field expedient method with fair results so long as you focus on getting residue out and oil on the parts that need them.

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.

Also consider the subject of polymer guns, keeping in mind one chief advantage of polymer is that it cannot rust, and firearms made from it that are carried daily (EDC) are more often exposed to the elements.

For this reason, polymer may be just the ticket to a firearm that doesn’t rust, reducing maintenance concerns and keeping the weapon serviceable under adverse conditions longer. But even so I still prefer stainless steel!

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 crawling with rust and 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 usually an easy fix. Lucky for you!

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 dedicated dehumidifier system for it.

Also, you should look into specialty rust-preventative paper and wrap your firearm in that before committing it to storage. No matter what don’t store your gun in a leather case or holster, as leather is notorious for leaching tannic acids onto your guns that will seriously accelerate corrosion.

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 they are often sealed in containers packed with cosmoline.

Cosmoline is a thick, sticky grease that protects the gun from the elements. It’s definitely not what you want to do to your gun for EDC, unless you plan to bury it in a tube in the woods as part of a cache. If that sounds like something you are considering doing, you should look into more serious long-term preservatives.

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

Cleaning, Care and Storage Part 2 – What Not to 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 well-intentioned people will pack around their pistol for months on end without doing anything more than putting it in and taking it out of a holster, tossing it on the nightstand, or sliding it in the glove box.

Any gun being carried will quickly start to accumulate dirt, dust and grime buildup. This is in addition to the damage that may be caused by latent moisture from sweat or humidity in the air.

Even if you don’t shoot it, you should be committed to at least wiping down your EDC firearm with an oily cloth once a week.

SW 357 magnum

Poor Little Fella

Here is an example of what neglect and rust can do to an otherwise fine gun. This is the Smith & Wesson .357 magnum I picked up on the cheap a while back.

A window left open in the rain, combined with this gun riding in a leather holster forgotten under the seat equals a rusted revolver that was once worth $800 or better, but is now sold for a measly $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 and more importantly functional 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 to halt the spread of rust, virtually destroying the value of the piece though the damage there was cosmetic in nature

All of the springs were rusted and had to be cleaned or replaced as well. Of note. this gun is a rarer version with a 5” barrel and in perfect shape it would have been worth a pretty penny. At the $200 I paid for it was a steal since I had the know-how and elbow grease on hand to get it running once more.

This is great example why I always recommend a weekly, if not daily, inspection and cleaning of your EDC firearm, and no less than a monthly break down akin to what you would do for normal cleaning after range time.

Dealing with Military Surplus Ammo

Another occurrence that will dictate thorough cleaning is use of military surplus ammo that is corrosive. Corrosive ammunition requires that you clean the piece with ammonia or ammonia-based solutions 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 is cheap. Military surplus ammo of older vintages and from some countries today 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.

Rust is no joke, people!

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 likely less accurate barrel, or a rusted nipple that may cause the gun to misfire 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 in order to get the caustic material off of the steel.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Another problem that arises occurs 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.

A friend once told me about his discovery of a rusted favorite gun in his safe. That pesky humidity is up to its old tricks again, and you must be constantly vigilant if you are going to stop it.

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 any 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. This is one more bit of insurance so that they are ready to go when I need them.

In Closing

Suffice 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 nasty surprise when the time comes to drop that big buck out in the field or the mugger demanding your wallet.

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

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.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    HELLO ERIC:

    I COME FROM A MILITARY FAMILY AND ATTENDED A MILITARY SECONDARY SCHOOL. AS SUCH, THEY REQUIRED TAKING FIREARM TRAINING RESULTING IN MY GETTING MY NRA PROMARKSMAN AT 11 YEARS OLD. SINCE THEN I HAVE HAD VERY LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES FOR SHOOTING. I AM NOW 81, SO NOT PARTICULARILY UP ON FIREARM LORE.
    MY OLDER BROTHER GAVE ME A COUPLE OF GUNS ABOUT 30-40 YEARS AGO AND THEY HAVE HAD ZIP ATTENTION SINCE, TYPICAL ATTIC STORAGE.
    I WOULD LIKE TO GINGERLY REACTIVATE THEM (22 BOLT ACTION RIFLE AND 38 REVOLVER). I AM CONCERNED THAT I WILL FIND A SOLID CHUNK OF RUST, ESPECIALLY WITH THE 38, AND AM VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE CARTRIDGES BONDING TO THEIR SURROUNDS. I AM CONSIDERING SOAKING THE PISTOL IMMERSED IN KROIL (RUST EATING SOLVENT OIL) BUT I NOW AM WONDERING IF THIS WILL ATTACK THE BOND BETWEEN THE CASING AND POWDER AND END UP WITH A VERY VOLATILE MIXTURE. PART OF MY CONCERN IS ANTICIPATING TO HAVE TO DRIVE THE SHELLS OUT OF THEIR RESPECTIVE CHAMBERS. I ANTICIPATE USING A WOODED DOWEL AND PLASTIC HAMMER.

    AM I BEING OVERLY CAUTIOUS?

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