How To Clean A Handgun

Modern-day revolvers and semi-autos are stunning little machines. Many reputable manufacturers design good quality home defense handguns that are perfectly reliable. They are often taken for granted and used under less than ideal situations.

They have become so dependable that the users tend to forget the precision than went into building these mechanical devices. Handguns need regular cleaning and lubrication to maintain smooth functioning, like any other machine. Therefore, it is necessary for every gun user to know how to clean a handgun properly. 

Why Should You Clean Your Handgun?

There are plenty of good reasons to keep your firearm well maintained, from protecting your life to just learning the mechanics better. By disassembling your gun and cleaning the elements thoroughly, you and the weapon, both will benefit in a lot of ways. 

1. Understanding Your Weapon

You will have to take apart the elements of your gun to clean it. Apart from allowing you to clean it, this will also help you get a better understanding of the inner components and how it works when you pull the trigger. At the root, a handgun is a machine that works when different parts in it interact with each other to achieve the end goal of propelling a round. But this might be difficult to visualize as the entire thing appears to be one unit from the outside. 

It may be challenging or easy to disassemble and reassemble the unit, depending on the type of handgun you have. Even if your primary interest is not learning the exact mechanical process involved in making the gun work, basic knowledge about the internal parts helps to gain a new level of respect for it. It will also give you a better perspective about maintaining and cleaning the machine according to the parts that gather more dirt and residue. 

2. Better Reliability

It is no secret that regular and thorough maintenance will help to keep your gun working in top order. Cleaning removes any buildup of gunk from use to ensure top-notch performance. It is crucial to give routine attention to your firearm if you rely on it for home security or self-defense. This way, it doesn’t fail you when you need it the most.

After every shooting session, the burnt gunpowder and bullet leave behind residual fouling particles that stick in the barrel. Even outside dirt and continually applied lubricants can accumulate. If your gun is not repaired when it needs to be, it can even cause firing failures. The collected gunk also decreases the precision of the weapon, which affects the much-needed accuracy for sport shooters and self-defense users alike. 

Regular cleaning and maintenance will give you confidence in your handgun and you can rely on it without any worries, even in unpredictable situations.

3. Increased Longevity

Handguns last their owners several years or generations, according to the care they receive. A simple maintenance routine can lengthen your weapon’s lifetime significantly. Though the frequency of usage determines the frequency of cleaning required, taking the minimum needed care can have a huge impact. 

All you need to do to get the most out of your firearm is clean, lubricate, and store it properly. If your handgun has wood grips, your cleaning routine can also include waxing or polishing. Essentially, the more thorough you are with the maintenance, the fewer will be the parts that need replacement over time.

4. Learning Proper Lubrication

Lubrication is one of the most vital parts of gun cleaning and maintenance. You have to find the correct balance when lubricating- not too much nor not too little. This amount is obviously different for every handgun, but you will find that balance more easily if you get to know your weapon better. 

Over-lubrication poses a problem if the cleaning sessions are not regular enough. The excess oil gets collected in the parts of the gun, which ultimately starts acting as a magnet for debris and particles like carbon fouling and unburned powder. Therefore, continual oiling and rare cleaning of your handgun will result in the action getting stuck. Cleaning ensures this doesn’t happen by removing the dirty lubricant and replacing it with a fresh layer.

Having said that, under-lubrication is way worse for your firearm. A gun that is over-oiled may still operate to some extent, particularly the newer, more forgiving models. But the essential aim of lubrication is to preserve the mechanism of parts that come in contact with each other very frequently by reducing the friction between them. 

Additionally, oiling will also reduce the chances of oxidization. Even if you are not well informed about which part to lubricate, you can get a fair enough idea by taking apart the gun and observing the natural wear marks. 

5. Avoiding Rust

A lot of catalysts are capable of causing rust in your handgun, so it is necessary to know how to clean and oil a handgun. Rust can form both internally (in the barrel) or externally (on the outer body). However, it is most likely that the rust has already formed inside by the time you notice it on the exteriors. This is usually caused by outdoor use and improper storage, as in both of these cases, your gun is exposed to water and humidity in the air.

The primer in corrosive ammunition leaves salts behind when ignited, which can also cause rust inside the barrel. Too much solvent applied without proper cleaning can also cause pitting and rusting because the chemicals are intended to break down tough dirt. Nevertheless, you can prevent all of this by proper storage and routine cleaning in between uses. It is best to clean your gun after every use if you use corrosive ammunition. 

How Frequently Should I Clean My Handguns?

The shooting community agrees that cleaning your gun is indispensable. Nonetheless, they tend to disagree when it comes to the frequency of cleaning required. Some shooters take care of their pistols like race cars and pay strict attention to the condition of their guns before and after every shooting event. 

Others have more of a family sedan approach to their pistols- not washing, waxing, or changing the oil every time you take it for a drive. A lot of people believe that the entire point of buying dependable equipment is not having to worry about its maintenance all the time. 

The tiered gun cleaning follows a gun purpose and usage-based schedule. Whether the gun needs it or not, it gets one bath a year to keep the rust away. Firearms that are used once a while are lubricated if required before shooting and are then stored back after scrubbing and polishing. Those that are used more often but casually are cleaned whenever needed. The need is judged by observing the buildup of dust that can cause it to malfunction or if the lubrication starts to wear thin. 

Defensive handguns, on the other hand, follow a more stringent cleaning schedule. They are immediately cleaned after every shoot, cleaned before storing, cleaned while carrying, and even checked regularly for proper lubrication and any dirt buildup. This is not every user’s approach, though. There are a lot of factors that shape and drive any self-defense situation which is out of your control. Thus, you might not be willing to compromise on keeping your handgun in the best state possible, which is the single factor that you can control.

Getting Started

Your gun’s owner’s manual is the best place to get started about how to clean a handgun, particularly yours. If there is no manual available readily to you, you could check the review online or order one online. There is almost always some level of disassembly required to clean any handgun.

So, it is necessary to understand the layout of your firearm along with basic knowledge about the procedures and tools for disassembling and reassembling. This way you won’t damage your gun or launch springs across the room. Learning a little about the mechanism of the gun will also help you understand and keep track of the important tiny pieces and avoid losing any that fall out. 

Cleaning And Lubricating Your Gun

The cleaning needs and specifics are different for every model of handgun. The following information will touch on some of the general steps on how to clean a handgun.

1. Preparation

Always do any gun cleaning work in a prepared, well-ventilated area. The chemicals and compounds used to lubricate and clean, along with those produced when you shoot a gun, must be handled with care as they are toxic. An easy and fast way to prepare a working area is by covering a bench or table with a large plastic trash bag. 

The bag can further be covered with a couple of newspaper or paper towel layers. Swap these out as they become soiled. After the cleaning is done, the session can be wrapped up by turning the trash bag inside out. This way you can capture the dirt easily without touching, and then tie and throw it away.

2. Engage Your Safety

Before you start cleaning, make sure to unload the gun and point it in a safe direction with any ammunition removed from the vicinity. There are plenty of stories of people getting hurt while cleaning their guns. Not just the gun itself, but even along with safety considerations, if mishandled, the lubricants and solvents could damage the ammunition. This might result in a failure when you need to fire. 

Mark Twain said, “If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” Similarly, it is an enlightening experience when you get a splash of solvent in the eye. The solvent and fouling are flicked into the air at your face when a bore brush moves out of the barrel while cleaning. It is only logical to cover your workplace and yourself too. Never forget to wear safety glasses. Protective gloves and a dust mask can also be worn for additional safety.

3. Field Strip The Handgun

It rarely comes down to taking a pistol apart completely, unless for repairs. The process of disassembling a pistol partially for cleaning is called field stripping. The pistol is broken down into the major components like the slide, frame, guide rod, magazine, and barrel in semi-autos. 

Single-action revolvers, on the other hand, require the cylinder to be removed from the frame. In the case of double-action revolvers, you can just achieve the open position by swinging the cylinder out. You may have to remove the grip or grip panels in all three of these models of handguns as a part of the cleaning process. 

4. Cleaning The Bore Of The Barrel

Most of the action in a gun takes place in the interior of the barrel. As it is one of the most vital areas, its cleaning needs to be proper and is the most laborious. Every shooting session leaves behind a layer of material in the barrel, resulting in a reduction in the accuracy of the pistol and corrosion in the barrel. 

Start by attaching a bore brush to the cleaning rod and then applying solvent to it. Push the brush back and forth through the barrel’s bore several times. You could also clean and add solvent to the brush a couple more times while working. Do not dip the brush directly into the solvent to avoid fouling it. Instead, pour the solvent onto the brush while holding it over a clean container. This solvent in the container can then be used to treat rags and patches. 

After scrubbing the barrel’s bore thoroughly, attach a patch with a holder to the cleaning rod. Then run this patch through the barrel. The first patch will need to be replaced as it would get quite dirty. Continue running and removing the patches through the bore as long as they don’t start coming out of the barrel clean. You can then check the barrel bore with a light. If any stuck fouling is still visible in the interior, repeat the process of running the brush, solvent, and more patches. 

Once all the visible fouling is removed with the bore brush, remove any remaining loose particles by treating a patch or two with solvent and running it through the barrel. Repeat the process again but with dry patches until they look clean when you take them out. Finally, treat a clean patch with some gun oil or lubricant and run it through the bore. This thin layer of lubrication protects the bore from moisture. 

For semi-autos, this process is carried out only once as they only require the barrel to be cleaned. On the other hand, revolvers have a single long barrel with the cylinder containing five or six chambers. So each chamber has to be brushed and patched similar to a barrel. 

5. Cleaning The Frame And Other Components

Scrub the rest of the parts of your gun with a nylon brush and some solvent, followed by a rag to wipe off the solvent and any residue. Check the pistol thoroughly for any dirt, and clean any part that looks even remotely dirty. Inspect for any buildup of fouling in every nook and cranny. 

Pay close attention to cleaning beneath the ejector, the contact points between the frame and the slide, and the interior grooves of the slide in semi-autos. In the case of revolvers, look out for any buildup around the face of the cylinder, the cylinder ratchet, and the forcing cone. Remember to check under the ejector star too in double-action revolvers. 

It is not mandatory to use too much solvent to get the gun dripping wet. A small amount will go a long way. The level of attention needed for cleaning and the point of focus will depend on how much it has been shot. Similar to what you did with the patches, if an area is rubbed with a clean swab or cloth and it comes away smudged, that means it requires more cleaning. Before lubricating, make sure to wipe the pistol clean of any solvents applied. 

6. Lubricate The Handgun

The amount of lubrication needed varies from pistol to pistol. Usually, semi-autos require lubricant as the different parts rub against each other. Revolvers don’t need a lot of lubrication. Single actions require some lubrication on the cylinder pin and ratchet. Double actions require a little on the cylinder ratchet and ejector rod. The key is to not lubricate too much. Over-lubrication will only help in attracting and retaining gun fouling. 

7. Finishing Up

Now that all the internal cleaning is over, it is time to reassemble the parts of your pistol. Once the firearm is put back together, cycle the action a couple of times to make sure the lubricant is spread evenly and everything is working correctly. Wipe off any lubricant that oozes out of any joint.

To protect and preserve the exterior finish of the gun, coat it with a light layer of preservative. This is especially necessary for guns with a blued finish. Apply a small amount of metal preservative or gun oil to a clean rag and wipe down the exterior surface of the pistol. Alternatively, there are also pre-treated clothes available for purchase for the same purpose. This can be thought of as giving a quick wax coat to your car before parking it in the garage. 

Finally, place the pistol back in the designated locking container. Clean up the area of work and then wash your hands and any other body part that came in contact with cool water and soap. 

Products For Cleaning Handguns

There is an astounding array of reliable and popular products available in the market for cleaning guns. The step-by-step process described here uses a simple handgun cleaning kit. However, simple kits are just one of the many choices available.

Different guns require different types of techniques and products. However, here are a few of the essential tools for the process of cleaning. 

  • Bore Brush (caliber specific)
  • Cleaning Rod
  • Cleaning Swab
  • Cleaning jags (slotted and form-fitting)
  • Double-ended utility brushes
  • Mops
  • Luster cloth/ Silicone impregnated Reel and Gun Cloth
  • Cleaning patches (caliber specific, lint and fiber-free)
  • Cotton Swabs
  • Bore Snake
  • Disposable drip pan (to catch any residue and byproducts during the cleaning process)
  • Cleaning chemicals like bore cleaners, lubricants, and action cleaners

A caliber-specific cleaning kit includes most of the above-listed supplies. Some other materials that can be considered are safety glasses, rubber mats, and gloves. A rubber mat will help protect the gun parts and your work surface as well. Cleaning cradles are also available for long guns and can help to secure your gun hands-free, allowing you to focus on controlling other loose parts and tools. 

Safety glasses are an important accessory to protect your eyes against any injury from flying debris/springs, and chemical vapors/splash. Resistant gloves are an excellent option to protect the skin from any contact with toxic chemicals. Use the solvents carefully to prevent them from dripping onto any sensitive, painted, or wooden surfaces.

Make sure to keep your guns properly cleaned, regardless of the products you end up choosing. The important thing to keep in mind is that your equipment will take care of you only if you take proper care of it.