If My Gun Can Run Dirty, Why Must I Clean It?

Here’s why you should do as the gun writers say, not as we (sometimes) do.

by posted on October 12, 2020
Becky Yackley Holding Two Pistols

If you’re looking for the best new defensive gun, chances are you’re reading gun reviews to see what the professionals think—and of course, that’s always a great idea. But you’ll notice that many such articles will include “torture tests” in which the writer puts however-many-thousand rounds through the gun without cleaning it. There’s a reason why we do that, and it’s pretty similar to the reason why the gun manufacturers do it: So you don’t have to!

The pieces of a firearm fit together in a specific way. The industry term for it is “tolerances”: measurements, spaces, spring pressures, clearances, points of contact and the like. All of these things are changed by built-up dirt, carbon and grit that can mix with the oil or grease on your gun. When your gun is so dirty that tolerances are changed, you will wear the parts of your gun prematurely. This shortens the lifetime of the gun, and increases the risk of malfunctions.

When it comes to preparedness, you know the importance of keeping your home-defense firearms staged. You can’t consider those guns (or yourself ) “prepared” if those guns aren’t clean. That’s because you cannot consider your defensive firearm at the ready unless you’re sure it works … and you can’t be sure your gun works if it hasn’t been cleaned and maintained. Here’s what you need to do to keep your firearms in good working order.

The Essential Supplies
Aside from gun oil and a cloth, there are a few tools every firearm owner should have. At a minimum, you must be able to clean and oil your gun. The products that you need to do that are a cleaner/degreaser, an all-purpose oil and a cloth to wipe down guns. You will also want some pipe-cleaners / swabs / brushes, as well as either a bore brush and cleaning rod or a pull-through bore cleaner. You may consider a bore guide, because it will help guide your brushes and protect the accuracy and longevity of your barrel.

The Basic Tasks
What you are doing when you clean your gun is scraping off all the carbon, old oil and gummed-up areas where the two have mixed. What doesn’t come right off will usually come off with the addition of oil to my cleaning tool, be that a cloth, swab or pipe cleaner. Anything that’s really stuck will come off with a dental pick or another such tool. (When this happens, it’s usually carbon stuck on an extractor or feed ramp.) A very important note: If your gun is blued or has a finish that can be damaged, you need to use a tool that won’t damage the finish. Pipe cleaners with stiff plastic bristles are a great choice.

You also need to be aware that degreasers can damage the finish of a wooden stock or sometimes dissolve or damage a synthetic stock. Use degreasers by applying them to a swab or rag, then to the gun. Avoid spraying degreaser directly on a gun with a stock you don’t want to damage.

When cleaning any gun, stripping all the oil off the metal isn’t actually necessary. I will only do a cleaning with a solvent that goes to shiny bare metal every 1,500 rounds.


Before You Store
Keeping firearms organized usually means storing them in a safe. Whenever you put your guns back in the safe, ensure the chamber is empty, then wipe the metal parts of the guns down—especially the parts you touch—with a light coat of oil to get rid of any sweat or oil on the gun. An interesting note is that some people’s body chemistry is more acidic than others’. My handling a shotgun might not react with the metal the same way it would for my son. Regardless of who handled it, any gun handled in the heat and humidity generally requires a good wipe-down with oil. 

For most gun owners, you stand to gain nothing by running a dirty gun … and there’s plenty to lose. There are different specific steps for cleaning a pistol, rifle or shotgun, so keep an eye on this space for our step-by-step instructions for each.

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