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How to clean a firearm

Frontier Justice’s Guide to Cleaning a Firearm

How to clean a firearm

A firearm is an incredibly useful tool, but unlike a hammer or any other tool in your toolbox, there’s a lot more to firearm ownership than storage and use. Without proper cleaning and maintenance, a firearm goes from a useful tool to a potential hazard, both to the user and others. 

At Frontier Justice, we are passionate about educating the public about firearm ownership, including how to clean a firearm and keep it working for years to come. 

Read on to learn more about how to clean a firearm, or visit our website or stop by in person to talk about proper firearm cleaning with one of our experts. 

When, where, and how to clean a firearm

Think of your firearm like your car. You want to spend time practicing with a car and get comfortable operating the vehicle so that when a problem happens, you know what to do and how to get through it. You also want to keep your car up to date with regular maintenance, so that it functions properly and lasts for as long as you need it.

The same principle applies to firearm ownership. In this case, practice time comes from visiting the shooting range. If you’re not taking the time to clean your firearm and perform regular maintenance, however, you’re only fulfilling half of your responsibility. 

Here’s an easy breakdown of when, where, and how you should clean your firearm:

When to clean a firearm

Over time, there are multiple factors that can affect your firearm’s function, whether it has been resting safely in a case or if you carry it daily. Debris can get into the nooks and crannies, the oil can rub or wear off, and even sweat and lint from carrying your firearm can cause issues.

Think about your cell phone when you take it out of its case or when you clean the charging port, all the junk, dust, and grit that it collects. That same debris collects in your firearm, so it’s important to clean it regularly.  

How regularly you clean your firearm is up to you. It’s not necessary to clean it every day, or even every week. It depends on how much you use it. If you’re regularly visiting a shooting range, you’re likely putting a couple of hundred rounds through your firearm each month. 

Typically, it’s a good practice to clean your firearm after each shooting range visit. Not necessarily because it needs that much cleaning, but because it’s a good habit and a great way to familiarize yourself with your firearm. Each manufacturer has different recommendations, too, so if you’re not sure how often to clean your firearm, check your owner’s manual.  

How to clean a firearm

Follow the firearm safety rules

Before field stripping and cleaning your firearm, always keep in mind the four fundamental firearm safety rules

  • Always assume the firearm is loaded
  • Always point the firearm in a safe direction
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire
  • Always know what you’re shooting at and what’s beyond your target

Following these rules ensures both your safety and the safety of those around you at all times when using a firearm. For most modern handguns, you’re actually required to hold down the trigger to disassemble the tool. So, making sure your firearm is unloaded before cleaning is incredibly important.

Use the right equipment

We’ve heard and seen so many horror stories about someone trying to clean a firearm with whatever was at their disposal. Some incorrect maintenance required a breakdown and 24-hour soak to get the firearm back in working order. 

It’s crucial to use the correct supplies when cleaning your firearm. We recommend the cleaning kits from Breakthrough, as they have everything you could possibly need for a thorough cleaning, including brass brushes, jags, and mops. 

Step-by-step cleaning instructions

Once you’ve got the right equipment, you’re ready to start your cleaning. Here is a general step-by-step list on how to thoroughly clean your firearm.

  • First, as always, make sure your firearm is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction. 
  • Take apart your firearm and lay the parts out in front of you, where you can clearly see everything and easily reassemble your firearm. 
  • Start by cleaning the bore. Get the barrel lightly lubricated with solvent and gently wet your brass brush as well. Run the brush through the barrel, making sure to break up any carbon buildup that’s accumulated inside the barrel. A bore snake is useful in this situation too, because it acts as a 2-in-1 cleaning tool and replaces both your brass brush and patches. 
  • Follow up by running patches down the barrel. The first couple of patches will come out black, and then they will come through with debris on the rifling lines. Continue running patches down the barrel until they come out almost completely white. 
  • Once the barrel is clean, make sure you clean the feed ramp thoroughly. Take your brush and scrub everything on the feed ramp to break up the carbon buildup, including the little rails on the frame where the ramp is stored. 
  • This is a step that is commonly missed while cleaning, and there can be significant buildup on the slide outside the barrel. Every round goes through this feed ramp, so it’s important to keep this part clean. If you can run your hand down the feed ramp and it comes up black, that’s bad news. 
  • After cleaning the feed ramp, scrub and wipe down the slide thoroughly. You should wipe down everything you take out of your firearm.  
    • Focus on points of contact when cleaning. Everywhere that your firearm has significant friction and movement is where you should put the most time into cleaning. 
  • Now that you’ve thoroughly scrubbed your firearm, it’s time to lubricate. Lightly coat a rag in oil and run it down the barrel a couple of times. Use a patch to evenly distribute the oil. Also, make sure to lubricate the rails on the firearm where the slide rests. You can also do the same on the inside of the slide. 
  • Reassemble your firearm, making sure to carefully put everything back into its place. Once everything is back together, manipulate the slide 10-15 times to make sure everything is back in its place. This will also let you see if you’ve used too much oil, and you can remove the extra lubrication. 
  • Take a silicon oil cloth and wipe down the end of the firearm. A thin layer of oil helps protect the finish of your firearm. 

Firearm cleaning tips from Marketing Coordinator Caleb Daniels

Cleaning tips for specialty firearms

Firearm cleaning isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. There are different aspects to consider when cleaning specialty tools, like an AR-15 or a revolver.

AR-15 cleaning tips

There’s a lot more nuance to cleaning an AR-15. Specifically, when cleaning the bolt carrier group, which does lots of tasks like feeding rounds into the chamber, extraction, and housing the firing pin. The bolt carrier group really does a lot of the legwork, but there are a handful of other parts and pieces that need to be cleaned out. 

There are specialty cleaning tools that can get you into the grooves and cracks of your AR-15 to make sure all of the carbon buildup is stripped away. The firing pin will also have significant carbon buildup, which can cause light striking issues. This means that the friction is so high that the firing pin travels too slowly and won’t strike the primer with enough force to puncture it, preventing the round from discharging. 

Revolver cleaning tips 

Cleaning a revolver or wheel gun is like cleaning six separate firearms. You have to clean the cylinder just like the barrel, and those cylinders can get very dirty. A revolver can be difficult to clean, but investing in a bore snake can make your life easier. When cleaning the barrel, go back to front and never the other way around. You don’t want to go towards the chamber, but instead clean the way that the bullet comes out. 

Where to clean a firearm

Simply put, the best place to clean a firearm is wherever you have the space and equipment to do a thorough cleaning job. You can also clean your firearm at home or at a shooting range. It’s really a matter of where you are comfortable laying out and cleaning your tool. Keep in mind, you will be cleaning lead and other debris out of your firearm with cleaning solutions and chemicals. So if you are cleaning at home, make sure not to get any hazardous debris in your carpet, on your couch, or in any living spaces. 

Extra firearm cleaning tips

Knowing when, where, and how to clean a firearm should be enough to keep your tool working smoothly, but here’s a few extra tips to consider while cleaning:

  • Don’t under or over clean: Obviously, not cleaning your firearm enough poses potential jamming, backfiring danger, or other malfunctions due to built up debris. However, cleaning your firearm too often is just a waste of time, and shouldn’t be necessary if you’re using quality firearm cleaning equipment. It’s best to find a happy medium to make sure that you’re not risking any damage to your firearm, one way or the other.   
  • Don’t lubricate your firearm too much: Lubrication is an important part of firearm maintenance, but using too much lube after cleaning can cause many issues. If your firearm is too wet and you carry it every day, that wetness will draw in more dirt and grime. It’s best to hit the essential points of contact on your firearm with a light amount of oil, and use a patch to evenly distribute the oil across the points of contact.
  • Wipe down everything: When you’ve field stripped your firearm, give everything a good wipe down. Even if the part isn’t crucial to the function of your firearm, doing so prevents any buildup of grime from spreading throughout your tool.  
  • Take a Private Lesson: If you’re a new firearm owner, a great way to really learn about your new tool is to take a private lesson with one of Frontier Justice’s firearm experts. In our private lessons, we can tailor our instruction specifically to your firearm and make sure you know everything necessary for proper cleaning, maintenance, operation, and storage of your firearm.

Trust Frontier Justice with all your firearm cleaning needs

Properly cleaning and maintaining your firearm is a responsibility all firearm owners should take seriously. At Frontier Justice, we provide everything you need for a thorough firearm cleaning, from cleaning kits and lubricants to private lessons tailored specifically to your firearm questions. 

Learn more about what makes Frontier Justice different by reaching out to us, signing up for our membership club, scheduling a firearms class, or simply stopping by and checking out our store, boutique, and indoor shooting range for yourself!

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