Super-Clean Your Guns The Easy Way

Follow this simple step-by-step cleaning process to get your guns sparkling clean.

Super-Clean Your Guns The Easy Way
Whenever possible, always clean from the breech end of your firearm. A bore guide is highly recommended to ensure proper alignment of cleaning rods straight down the bore and to protect the bore from scratches.

There is an old saying in the gun world, “Firearms have only two enemies – Rust and Politicians.” Be kind to your guns and they will be kind to you. Politicians? Perhaps not so much. 

Guns are an investment and just as you wouldn’t abuse a new truck you just bought, keeping your firearms cleans will guarantee you years of shooting enjoyment. Like most things in life, however, there is a right way and a wrong way to clean firearms. Learning to clean your guns the right way is something every shooter should know and it’s easy to do once you get a routine down.

The following are some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep my firearms super clean and the gun-cleaning regimen I use to keep them operating to perfection. 

Before we start, this is so obvious that I wish it didn’t need to be said, but always check to make sure your gun is unloaded and that the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction whenever you pick it up.

Now, onto the good stuff. Keeping your guns clean requires both internal and external attention. Let’s start with the outside. 

Exterior Cleaning

Photograph Courtesy Vista Outdoor
For quick wipe downs on the range or after a hunt, an oil cloth or lubricated gun wipes work great, but they are no substitute for a proper cleaning before guns are stored away.

All guns can rust, even those made of stainless steel. Simply handling the gun is enough to cause rust because your fingerprints will leave salt and other corrosive substances behind. You must prevent that by using a product that provides a barrier of protection on the metal. 

I just returned from the Old Hemlock Setter annual reunion where the bird shooters were often using shotguns that cost more than my first house. After hunting they tended to their dogs first, their guns second and then to themselves. Every gun was wiped down before casing it for the night.

The market is full of protective products. My current preference is Clenzoil, because it works and because I like the smell. I usually spray down the metal (protecting any optics from the spray) and then wipe with a cloth impregnated with the oil. Spraying ensures that the protection gets into all the nooks and crannies that are missed with a simple wipe down. 

If I have an old gun with a wood stock with a beat up finish, or any oil finish, I wipe the wood down with boiled linseed oil. This will often restore, at least temporarily, a rough looking stock. Brownell’s is a good source for this and many of the other cleaning products mentioned here.

Quick tip: Quick Tip: To clean a scope, use optical-quality cleaning pads and cleaning liquid. These can be found at any camera shop. Blow off all dust, wet a pad and gently wipe the glass to clean it.

Internal Cleaning

The larger issue, though, is the internals of the gun. The bore being the most important. Many “Bore Cleaners” are formulated to remove powder fouling, but they do not effectively remove metal fouling. If you are shooting a centerfire rifle, you must periodically remove all of the copper fouling in the bore. For that you need a strong copper-cutting solvent like, Montana Copper Killer, or Barnes CR-10

Always use a high-quality, one-piece, coated, cleaning rod and, if possible, clean from the breech end of the barrel with a bore guide.  Use a jag that’s slightly small for the bore and double the patches so they will get down into the grooves of the rifling. 

Photograph Courtesy of Howard Communications, Inc.
The wide variety of gun-cleaning products on the market today make caring for your firearms easy. The trick is finding the right kinds of solvents and lubricants for your purposes.

The process to clean a bore properly is a bit complicated. I go into this in great detail in my book, Gunsmithing Made Easy, but this video covers the basics for rifle shooters.  

Handguns (or rifles) that have been used with lead bullets require a lead-removing solvent in addition to a powder solvent. Shotguns often need a plastic-removing solvent to clean out the fouling left behind by the wads. Work the bore with the solvent and a brass brush. 

It’s important after any cleaning that you remove all traces of the cleaning solvents and then treat the metal with rust protection. Before shooting the gun, wipe out the bore with a clean patch to remove the oil.

Quick tip: Quick Tip: One old trick to get the trigger mechanism super clean is to flush it with lighter fluid. This washes out the gunk and leaves a light lubrication coating behind when it dries.


While wiping off the metal and cleaning the bore will cover the day-to-day maintenance of your firearms, they should be field stripped and cleaned on a regular basis. If you shoot a lot, the carbon and crud will build up inside the gun and must be removed. (If you are not comfortable doing this, bring the gun to a qualified gunsmith who will deep clean it for a reasonable price.) 

Cleaning by the Numbers

Photograph Courtesy Vista Outdoor
Shotguns often need a plastic-removing solvent to remove residue that’s left behind by plastic wads.

Here is the gun-cleaning regimen I like to follow:

      1. The first step is to take the gun apart, which is commonly called “field stripping.” Each firearm has a different approach, which should be detailed in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have that, go to the manufacturer’s web site and find a download.
      2. Make sure you wear safety glasses, as some guns have springs and parts that can turn into projectiles if you are not careful. Also, later in the process you will be spraying some nasty liquids. You don’t want them to splash into your eyes. Trust me; it’s a very unpleasant experience.
      3. You should also wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the solvents. And always do your gun cleaning in a place with good ventilation.
      4. Put all the small parts in a container of some kind. (I use a stainless steel salad bowl that I “liberated” from my wife’s kitchen.) Then spray them with solvent.
      5. Scrub them with a nylon-bristle brush, and spray again. Now let them soak while you clean the bigger parts.
      6. Next, turn your attention to the larger parts, the slide and frame on a handgun or the receiver and action mechanism on a rifle or shotgun. Be aware that some materials, like fiber optics and some stock finishes, can react to some of the solvents, so be careful.
      7. Spray the parts with a cleaning solvent, letting it drip off and carry away the gunk.
      8. Scrub with a nylon brush, spray with solvent and repeat. It might be necessary to use a dental pick or similar tool to scrape away some of the tougher carbon deposits. Let the parts soak so the solvent can loosen the grime and dirt.
      9. As you work, be careful not to allow the goo that you are flushing out to wash into the trigger or any other mechanism. Hold the part so the solvent drains away without problems.
      10. Finally, finish with a grease-removing solvent that dries without residue. There are a lot of name brand gun cleaning solvents on the market, but Brakleen, available at any auto parts store, works great and is inexpensive.
      11. Let it all air dry. The metal is now clean, but unprotected.
      12. Spray everything lightly with a low-viscosity lubricant and protector. I like to spray the action mechanisms and and then use shop air to blow out the excess lubricant so only a thin film is left behind. If you lack an air compressor, wipe off the excess with a cloth that’s been dampened with the same oil. This leaves a nice protecting film behind.
      13. Lubricate any friction points on the moving parts with gun grease. When in doubt, look for shiny places, which are usually where contact is happening. A gun is like any other machine; it needs lubrication. You don’t run your car without oil, so why run a gun without lubrication? Oil provides some lubrication, but I like to supplement it on the friction points with light gun grease.
      14. Put the gun back together and rack the action several times. It’s likely with some firearms that grease will squirt out in several places. Clean it up while you wipe down the gun with your rag.
      15. Put it all back together and function check once more to be sure the parts are in the right place and everything works. Wipe it all down again with the oily cloth and store the gun safely for the next shooting session. 

Fast and Not-So-Furious Protection

Photograph Courtesy Vista Outdoor
Running a bore snake, impregnated with protectant, through your gun is a great way to do a quick cleaning job in the field after a day of shooting. Just make sure you purchase the right size for your firearm.

Often, after a day of shooting or hunting, you may not have the time or energy to do a full cleaning job. It’s still important to protect the gun from rust, however. Here are three quick steps you can take to protect your firearms without a lot of fuss.

Spray and wipe the outside.

For the bore, a pull-through bore-snake that has some protectant on the last part of it will protect the bore until you can get to a full cleaning. Make sure you buy one that is the correct diameter for your firearm.

For shotguns, fuzzy sticks work great. They remove much of the carbon and grime. Mine have a small extension stored in the cap. This has a hook to attach to the eye at the end of the stick. After running the stick in and out a few times, I wet this extension with a protectant and hook it on the end of the fuzzy stick that is protruding from the end of the barrel. When I pull the stick out, the extension leaves a nice film of protection. 


About The Author: Bryce M. Towsley has been writing about guns for 36 years and has published thousands of articles in most of the major firearms magazines. He has hunted all over the world and is a competition shooter in several disciplines. Towsley has several books available on guns, shooting and hunting as well as an adventure novel, The 14th Reinstated. Signed books are available on his website