To Clean Guns or Not to Clean Guns, That is the Question

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You just finished a day at the range and the moment you’ve been dreading has arrived: gun cleaning time. Or maybe you’re running your guns in a high-round count class and the first – or second – day has ended, leaving you wondering whether you truly need to polish your barrel until it shines.

The answer to the importance of gun cleaning is a little yes, a little no, and a bit blurry around the edges; if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right you might divine a clear answer. Or not.

To clean or not to clean. That is the question – and here is the answer.

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Yes or No

The necessity of cleanliness has a lot to do with your specific gun and its use. Guns I rotate for daily carry I keep clean and lubed; guns I use for plinking at the range have been known to acquire scary amounts of buildup. During a high-round count class, I’ll typically clean and lube each night to stack the deck in my favor for a good performance; after a day at the range, it’s a toss-up whether the guns will be cleaned.

Opinions from the pros fall on both sides of the aisle. For example, Range Safety Officer and avid shooter David Werner suggests most gun owners consider cleaning their guns with every. Single. Use. David adds “Cleaning frequency varies massively according to usage; there is no standard. Use cleaning as a time to learn about your gun and its parts.” Why does he say most gun owners should clean every time they shoot? Because for a lot of people that translates to cleaning only a few times a year. Remember, the average gun owner only puts a couple hundred rounds through their gun once or twice a year (for real). Your firearms shouldn’t be stuck in a safe coated in grime for months on end. Infrequent shooter? Clean and lube firearms prior to storing them.

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Side note: David has a reminder for lube. He says to keep handguns thoroughly lubed not but not so wet you have gun oil running down the grips and onto your hands. Lube parts of the gun where metal will move on metal (or polymer).

On the flip side, we have Gail Pepin, former Florida State IDPA Champion, and Florida/Georgia Regional IDPA female champion and producer of the ProArms Podcast. Yes, Gail is a serious badass and a hardcore shooter. She’s a majorly high-round count shooter and only gets into full-on cleaning her Glocks once annually. For the yearly cleaning, Gail uses Rogers cleaning products or Dawn dishwashing liquid (yes, really). Using Dawn is something gleaned from Massad Ayoob Group Senior Staff Instructor David Maglio. Gail says she “puts everything in a pan of water and Dawn to soak then lather, rinse, repeat. Then I lubricate the guns according to Glock specs. Throughout the year I bore snake them as needed with some CLP.”

Sound simple? It is. Falls under “you do you.” If this mindset breaks the internet, so be it. There is no hard-and-fast rule for cleaning your guns. You’re going to learn as you go and clean as needed for each specific task.

The Nitty Gritty

When you do break down and clean your guns, take a moment to follow a few rules. First and foremost, respect the four golden rules of guns. I prefer the rules as stated by Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona:

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1)      All guns are always loaded.

2)      Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.

3)      Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4)      Always be sure of your target and what is beyond.

When you are utterly confident your gun is empty, meaning you’ve checked and double-checked by not only sight but by touch, you’re good to go. You’ll need to assemble some cleaning supplies, of course, but that’s easy enough to handle. My cleaning product pile looks something like this: SEAL 1 CLP Plus, cleaning kit including a rod, jag, loops, patches and brushes, paper towels, Q-Tips, and rags.
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Other items you’ll possibly need depending on your gun are a model-specific manual, tools such as a non-marring hammer and/or Allen keys, and gunsmithing screw bits specifically meant to fit the parts in question. If you have a 1911 you’ll want a bushing wrench and if you have a Glock the Real Avid 4-in-1 Glock Tool is pretty awesome. Also, consider using your cell phone to photograph the stages of field-stripping so you can reference the images if need be when it’s time to put your gun back together.

Hard Truths

The cold, hard reality is there is no one answer for gun cleaning frequency. Many shooters – and gun writers – treat it as though it’s their way or no way, which is a mistake. Still others behave as though cleaning requires a full moon, a sacrificial goat, and burning herbs. I have guns so coated in filth the clean-freak side of the industry would be totally horrified but I also have guns I maintain in pristine condition. As noted above the pristine guns include carry guns, home defense guns – basically anything I’m trusting to use to defend my life. Filthy guns include most of my ARs, a collection of various handguns reserved for the range, and a bunch of hunting rifles and shotguns.

Should I be better at cleaning? Possibly, but it doesn’t hurt you if I neglect to clean my G17, now does it? When it comes to cleaning, you do you. You’ll figure out necessity quick enough.

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About the Author:


Kat Ainsworth is an outdoor writer and Field Editor for Bonnier’s Range 365. As a freelancer, she writes for an array of industry publications covering topics from ballistics to hunting to self-defense. Her book, Handgun Hunting, is being published by Skyhorse Publishing and will arrive at booksellers this fall. Kat has been carrying concealed for fifteen years, hunting for over twenty, and has never met a firearm she didn’t want to try out. When she isn’t enjoying the nomadic side of her gun-related lifestyle she calls Holliday, Texas home.

3 thoughts on “To Clean Guns or Not to Clean Guns, That is the Question”

  1. Christian B Jordan

    Previous EDC was a Walther PPK/S .380. I had to tear it down and fine tooth it after every weekly trip to the range else it would start to jam. Now I have a Taurus G3, and I only Field Strip, wipe it down, bore snake, and very light lube after I go to the range. Its runs just fine, 0 jams or malfunctions at this point. I agree with the author, how often you clean is up to you, what type of firearm you’re using, and how often you’re using it.

  2. Glad I saw your thorough article. It didn’t shame me for not having all mine in pristine condition, but reminded me that my daily carry Sig P938 could use a good cleaning.
    I was surprised to read about using Dawn, but it makes good sense to get all old lubes off before new oil and lube.
    – Love, “piece” and safety!

  3. Cleaning firearms has always been a pain for me. In basic and through my 25 years of service, dust is bad, fowling is evil and a dirty barrel was tantamount to a death sentence. I think I’ve read just about every theory about cleaning and I’m a die hard fan of bore snakes. In my current state of inability (no I’m not disabled, just challenged more than 99.235% of the rest of the populace), I haven’t done a Marine Corps basic cleaning in years. It’s usually run the bore snake 4-6 times, hit what I can with the GI toothbrush and add a bit of CLP or equivalent to moving parts. Cleaning takes all of ten minutes. The one caveat is my .338 Lapua. I scrub it bore to butt like the drill instructors are breathing down my neck. It was a might bit expensive so cleaning it severely just makes sense to me.
    You be you; I like it. Now if only the DI in the back of my head will just stop screaming at me for having a filthy weapon.

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