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Old September 16, 2012, 03:13 AM   #1
marine6680
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Join Date: July 24, 2012
Location: Greenville, SC
Posts: 1,483
Firearms cleaning How-to

Firearm cleaning:

Its important, and there are many questions from new firearm owners. Improper cleaning can harm a firearm... and so can excessive cleaning... So here is an attempt to provide the information in one place, in an unbiased manor, and covering many different ways/guidelines that various people use.

There are two trains of thought for gun cleaning, Minimum and Full.
Minimum cleaning is just that, cleaning just enough to ensure proper functionality. Full cleaning is also as it implies, it is more thorough cleaning than the minimum cleaning. There is also a “detailed” cleaning, I will talk about it more later, but it is only used in rare circumstances.

There are also two ways of thinking about how often you should clean.
The first is... Clean after every range trip. (or if the gun is fired at all) The second is... only cleaning every few hundred rounds or more.

My personal view on this subject... For a brand new firearm, during the first few hundred rounds, cleaning after every range trip is a good idea. If you shoot several hundred rounds in your first range trip, maybe disassemble the firearm every hundred rounds or so, give it a quick wipe down and add a little more lubricant. After the "break in" period (about 500 rounds give or take) the firearm has done all the initial wear fitting of the parts, and you can hold off cleaning as often. I would say, every few hundred rounds is fine. 500 rounds, maybe more if you are so inclined.

I also feel the minimum or full cleaning are both good methods. If you do not want to clean after every range trip, and you wish to shoot several hundred rounds before cleaning, a full cleaning is a good idea. The minimum method is good if you wish to clean after every range trip, or just fired a few rounds, and want to put the gun away for storage for more than a week or two. If you use the minimum cleaning method, after several range trips or every couple thousand rounds, a full cleaning may be a good idea.

Personally, I do not clean after every range trip. I wait until I fire 500 rounds or so though the firearm first, then I do a full clean.

If the firearm is to be used in any defensive role... like home defense or concealed carry, then I feel it needs cleaned at least to some degree after every range trip, and the exterior wiped down regularly to prevent corrosion. A CC piece needs checked though regularly as well, because dirt, lint, and crud can get into the firearm much easier due to it being carried daily. Plus being carried and exposed to skin and sweat, means a wipe down to prevent corrosion is very important.

I will give the basic steps to cleaning, then give some more info and detail below that... some people have trouble reading long posts, so at least they can read some of the important bits before they stop. The steps are broken down to make them simple, some could be combined, but I want this to be easy to follow.

Steps to actual cleaning: (Details, like how to disassemble, vary depending on type of gun, the steps are consistent though)

At the range before I leave (or soon after getting home) I spray CLP down the barrel from the breech, and let the extra drip out of the barrel. I let this soak in until I get ready to clean. I find this helps loosen up the crud and make cleaning easier. If I put a lot of lead rounds through the gun, (say several hundred) I let it sit overnight muzzle down, so the CLP can soak in and break up more crud. Lead fouling can be a bit of a pain to clean out sometimes if it builds up. This is an optional step, but one I find makes cleaning easier.

Minimum Cleaning: (light use, a couple magazines fired, less than 100 rounds...)

1) Open the action
2) Run a wet patch of cleaner/bore cleaner/CLP through the barrel a few times.
3) Run a bore brush through the barrel a few times (personal preference, you can skip the brush)
4) Run a wet patch through the barrel again (can skip this if you skipped the third step)
5) Run a dry patch through the barrel to remove the left over cleaner, then run a patch with some lubricant through the barrel, this is to protect from rust. Use gun oil, CLP, or other quality oil or protectant
6) Use a clean rag to wipe out the action and breach area of the firearm, as well as the outside of the firearm.
7) Function check
8) Give the outside a light coat of oil/protectant and wipe off the excess before storing


Minimum Cleaning: (more than a couple magazines/100 rounds or so)

1) Field strip
2) Run a dry patch through the barrel, then a wet patch of bore cleaner (the dry patch is only necessary if you spray CLP in the barrel like I mentioned above)
3) Wipe all the loose crud from the frame/slide/parts with a rag, then wipe the parts clean with a second clean rag. (getting them perfectly clean is not required)
4) Run another wet patch of bore cleaner through the barrel
5) Run the correct size bronze brush through the barrel a few times, then run a clean patch wet with bore cleaner. Repeat this until the bore is cleaned to your satisfaction.
6) Run a dry patch through the barrel to remove left over cleaner, then run a patch with some lubricant through the barrel, this is to protect from rust. Use gun oil, CLP, or other quality oil or protectant
7) Give all parts a coat of gun oil (or CLP, protectant, etc) then wipe off the excess with a clean rag
7a) Some gun finishes require a light coat of oil/protectant to prevent rust, if your finish requires, coat and wipe off excess (example: blued guns)
8) Lubricate as required (you may only need minimum lubrication as you did not use cleaner that removed existing lubricant)
9) Reassemble the gun
10) Function Check
11) One final wipe down with a clean rag before storing

Full Cleaning:

1) Field strip
2) Run a dry patch through the barrel, then a wet patch of bore cleaner (the dry patch is only necessary if you spray CLP in the barrel like I mentioned above)
3) Wipe all the loose crud from the frame/slide/parts with a rag
4) Using my chosen cleaner, clean all the parts and frame/slide as required. Paying more attention to overall cleanliness. (some parts will be very dirty and can not be simply wiped clean, these are the areas/parts that need cleaner to be cleaned properly)
5) Using aerosol CLP (or other spray cleaner) spray out the trigger group and fire control group (FCG) areas
6) Wipe all cleaned parts dry with a clean rag
7) Run another wet patch of bore cleaner through the barrel
8) Run the correct size bronze brush through the barrel a few times, then run a clean patch wet with bore cleaner. Repeat until the patch comes out clean, or until the bore is cleaned to your satisfaction. (I find that the patch rarely comes out perfectly clean even after excessive cleaning)
9) Run a dry patch through the barrel to remove the left over cleaner, then run a patch with some lubricant through the barrel, this is to protect from rust. Use gun oil, CLP, or other quality oil or protectant
10) Give all parts a coat of gun oil (or CLP, protectant, etc) then wipe off the excess with a clean rag
10a) Some gun finishes require a light coat of oil/protectant to prevent rust, if your finish requires, coat and wipe off excess (example: blued guns)
11) Lubricate as required
12) Reassemble the gun
13) Function Check
14) One final wipe down with a clean rag before storing

Notes:

*Clean from the breach end of the barrel whenever possible. Breach to muzzle is generally considered the preferred method.
*when using cleaner, apply it to a patch or rag, it should be damp but not dripping. Then wipe the parts clean. Cleaner does not evaporate well or completely, and excess left in the action can cause grime to collect.
*I find bore cleaner cleans barrels faster than CLP or general purpose cleaner, because well, that’s what its designed for. As there is lead and copper fouling that regular cleaners have more trouble with. But you can use what you want. Do not use bore cleaner on the whole gun, some are bad for plastics or some finishes/coatings. If you go too long without cleaning the barrel, it may take a while, you may even need to let the barrel soak overnight.
*I use bronze brushes, I find it cleans faster than nylon, and I feel it does not damage the barrel.
*Running a patch with oil is not as necessary for chromed lined barrels, but it doesn't hurt.
*As far as lubrication, there are oils and grease. Some use only oil. Others use grease in high stress areas and large bearing surfaces like slide rails, and oil everywhere else.
*Even when doing a full clean, I do not overly worry about perfect, thorough cleanliness, just cleaned well.
*Personally... I am currently using an ammonia free foaming bore cleaner that is low odor and effective, I just spray some in the barrel at step 2 of the detailed cleaning. I skip step 7 because the foam sticks in place in the barrel. I use CLP or general cleaner to wet the patch now that I use foam bore cleaner.

As far as "detailed" cleaning I mentioned... that usually involves a full tear down of a firearm to individual parts. This is rare, usually reserved for very old firearms that have been sitting stored for several decades like some surplus firearms. Some people also do this detailed cleaning when they need to do preventive maintenance/parts replacement on high round count firearms. Say 10,000+ rounds. Sometimes they put the parts into an automotive type parts cleaner machine when doing a detailed clean.

Other things to consider about cleaning and lubrication:

New in box firearm? New to you? (purchased used) Well before you hit the range, there are some things you need to do.

If it is NIB, you need to field strip the firearm, wipe it down well with a clean rag, then properly lubricate. The assembly oil/grease used at the factory is not sufficient lubrication, plus it will drain away while sitting on the shelf limiting its effectiveness. This step helps ensure your firearm breaks in properly without any unusual wear.

For a used firearm, be prepared to do a full clean. Sure, the shop might have cleaned it before selling it, but it is always a good idea to check it over yourself. This ensures its clean and lubed properly.

There are a couple trains of thought for cleaning extractors and firing pin channels. Wet and Dry... Some say clean them but use no lube, as this prevents collecting dust and crud in these critical areas. Others say to clean and then use a very light coat of oil for these areas.

I would say that any gun that will serve in a defensive/CCW role needs dry, and a range only gun can run with a little coat of oil.

Aerosol cleaners work well for cleaning this area, and aerosol CLP works well if you want to use lube. Using canned air after will force out all but a thin layer of CLP. I personally use an aerosol dry lube, so I at least have a minimum of lubrication for these areas while still being dry and not attracting dirt. I also have less worry about moisture in the air causing rust.

There is such a thing as over lubrication... mostly in the fact that it can attract crud and grime, especially in the breach area of a firearm. Because of this, lube properly, but a thick coating of oil is too much. Blowback style firearms are the biggest culprits for collecting fouling in the action, due to how they function, so be mindful of that.

Trigger groups and FCG can collect a lot of crud and grime as well, and their small parts and design can make them hard to clean. This is why many like to use aerosol cleaners in these areas.

If using aerosol CLP, I find canned air or an air compressor nozzle (set it fairly low, like 15-20psi) will drive out all the excess CLP from the trigger and fire control groups, and makes it much drier so it attracts less grime. I do go over any areas that I feel are critical wear areas with a small amount of oil using a precision oiler nozzle. (like the sear, disconnector, or other part that has higher stress)

Corrosive ammo... You should clean your firearm after shooting any amount of corrosive ammo, or it will cause corrosion. Some surplus and older ammo is corrosive. Some new manufacture Russian made ammo may also be corrosive, but I have not seen new production Russian ammo that was corrosive for some years, but it may still exist. Just be mindful, and when in doubt, assume it is corrosive.

As far as AR style rifles... After cleaning, I use CLP exclusively for lubrication. As the traditional style gas system needs to be run wet for reliability as round count rises. CLP works well for this, because it lasts longer than normal gun oils and the cleaning additives help keep the carbon fouling from seizing up the action. If it is a piston style AR, I use grease and oil like on other firearms, because they run cleaner than traditional gas ARs.

Cleaning kits:

There are many kits and items designed for cleaning firearms. The important things to consider are getting the proper sized bore brushes for your firearms and jags/patch holders to allow you to run cleaning patches through the barrel.

I personally use and recommend an Otis cleaning kit... I like mine a lot. I find it cleans quicker, and I use less patches. The patches can be used three times each, and I may use the patch a couple extra passes if I am just cleaning a really dirty bore and need to wipe out the loose crud from the brush. So I end up only using 2 patches, or 3 if its a really dirty bore. There is a small learning curve for the kit, due to how the patches work. Plus they are designed to fit pretty snug/tight when pulling them through, you will get the feel for this after a few times, and learn when its too tight/loose, and to redo the patch.

Types of cleaners and lubricants:

There are many kinds and brands for each category... some are toxic, some are non-toxic. There are several non-toxic cleaners that work very well, so don’t think you need to sacrifice performance for lower toxicity. There are non-toxic lubricants as well, but they are usually not gun specific, they are usually industrial lubricants aimed at food processing machinery. They work very well though, as they are designed to keep heavy equipment working. Finding them in amounts less than gallons is the problem.

*Standard gun oil: It lubricates decently, its been the standard for a long time. Clear in appearance, may have a yellow tint. (Hoppes is an example) It drains and migrates away from moving parts over time, lowering its effectiveness as you use the firearm, or as it sits in storage. It can dry out and gum up after a few months as well, especially when sitting stored and unused. (I am not a fan of Rem Oil, I find it too thin and a poor performer. The aerosol version can function as a spray cleaner if you do not like the degreasing properties of normal spray cleaner though)

*Gun grease: There are different types of grease... lithium based is the most common, but aluminum based grease is generally superior performing. Some use gun marketed, (grease labeled for firearm use) others use standard grease from the auto store. I find the grease at the auto store too thick. Not a huge issue in warm areas, but cold areas may stiffen up the grease too much and cause cycling issues. Gun marketed grease is a lighter viscosity, so it works well over a wide range of temperatures.

*Gun cleaner: Standard cleaners are good for general cleaning of the whole firearm, even the bore. Hoppes #9 is the old stand by and a favorite of many, but its strong smell turns off some. Some non-toxic options are KG-1 and M-Pro 7 and they clean very well and have low odor.

*Bore cleaner: Some are general purpose bore cleaning, some are specialized and focus on carbon fouling, copper fouling, or lead fouling. Like I mentioned, I find bore cleaner works better/faster at cleaning the actual bore of firearms, but are more harsh than standard cleaner, so do not use them for general cleaning. Some bore cleaners have ammonia in them, which can be harsh on metals if left on them for long periods. There are also foaming bore cleaners, and I like these very well. M-Pro and KG make non-toxic bore cleaners as well.

*Premium gun oil: More expensive, and usually are claimed to have additives that make them work better than normal oil. They usually have a tinted or opaque look to them. Gun Butter is an example... Do they work better? Some people think so.

*CLP: Cleaner Lubricant Preservative... Cleans well if slower than normal cleaners. It is a good lubricant, as good and probably better than regular gun oil. I find that it stays in place better than regular gun oils. As a preservative/metal protectant/corrosion preventative, it is one of the best performing you can get. A good coat of CLP before long term storage will serve very well. It does dry out a little, but not as much as regular gun oil. One benefit of using CLP, is that the built in cleaners help prevent the dirt and grime from sticking in the firearm. Parts tend to wipe cleaner easier. You may not even need a standard cleaner if you use CLP a lot. They make it in bottled liquid, aerosol, and spray bottle forms.

*Balistol: It is a CLP type cleaner, how well it lubricates, I do not know as I have never used it. Its not really a true CLP I don't believe, I know its been around for a long time though, and many claim it smells good enough to prevent dirty looks from others in the house.

*Aerosol gun cleaners: These are good for cleaning into hard to reach areas, and blasting out crud. These are degreasers, they strip all lubrication from the metal, so getting a good coat of oil on the parts again is important.

*Motor oil/Automatic Transmission Fluid: Yes people use these for gun lubricant. ATF is actually very good... One problem... ATF has many additives which are very bad for you, and they can be absorbed through the skin. Motor oil is not as bad, but still not good for you. Some people swear by this stuff... I avoid it because of the high toxicity and the fact that the chemicals absorb through the skin. If you want to use it, its your choice.

Some more things that may help:

If you can find someone with a little experience, have them sit with you and help guide you as you clean your gun. Keep in mind there are some bad habits out there, so if anything they say departs heavily from what you have read in the firearm's instruction manual, here, or elsewhere in the online forums, it may be one of those bad habits. If you are unsure, come here and ask.

If I go shooting, and do not shoot enough rounds to warrant a full cleaning, unless I plan on shooting again the very next day, I do run a patch of CLP through the barrel. That helps make cleaning easier when I do the full clean after the next range trip or two. I prefer CLP because it also protects and lubes while it soaks in and breaks up crud. (As I said above, I use spray CLP, I can just squirt it in the barrel breach without need to break out my cleaning rod)

A set of picks and a toothbrush or nylon utility brush, can really help clean the corners and stubborn crud. Some cleaning kits come with these items. A set of picks made of brass if you can find them is best, but not a must. Also, q-tips/cotton swabs may come in handy to clean and lube hard to reach areas.

There is no need to spend an hour or more cleaning a firearm... (barring a full tear down of really old firearms) Just clean it well, and don't sweat every little tiny spec of dirt. Plus things like aerosol cleaner really help speed up the process. Even a full cleaning can be done in about a half hour or less with practice.

As far as aerosol degreasers... Dedicated aerosol gun cleaner/degreasers tend to be expensive. Non-chlorinated break cleaner works well and is cheap, I find it safe for polymer frames, but some plastic grips or parts may not like it. Do NOT use regular break cleaner or carburetor cleaner, they will hurt your firearm... Usually the finish. Make sure it says “non-chlorinated” on the can. I use and prefer electronics spray cleaner. It works well, and is much more plastic safe, it just costs a little more than the break cleaner. (BTW, it is recommended to test the cleaner on a small portion of the gun first)

As far as lubricants for general gun lubrication use... For me personally, I use a quality grease on slides/bolts and other bearing surfaces like locking lugs. I also use it on the sear where it engages the hammer, I find it makes the trigger a little smoother. I use a quality oil everywhere else. Lately I have been using Lubriplate products that are non-toxic. Lubriplate makes quality stuff, but they sell only in large batches because they are an industrial focused company. I found a repackager that sells smaller amounts though. The non-toxic properties are offset by my continued use of CLP though.

As far as the trigger and the FCG, my personal method, is to use aerosol CLP to clean them out, then use canned air to spray out the extra CLP. Then I use my chosen oil to lube the important parts. The aerosol CLP lubricates the areas underneath that I can't reach easy, I prefer this to aerosol degreaser for that reason. Though some simpler trigger and FCG setups are easier to lubricate fully with regular oil. If the trigger/FCG area is really dirty, I do use aerosol cleaner. The aerosol CLP tends to be low pressure and does not force out grime as well as the aerosol cleaner.

I keep rags separated for cleaning and those used to wipe off excess oil and final wipe downs, and I wash them regularly. (I use a washing machine, and heavy wash cycle with a double rinse, a little chlorine may help get them cleaner than detergent alone)

Principles of lubrication: You don’t need to know this but its good info...

There are two ways/principles to how lubricant works, hydrodynamic and boundary.

Hydrodynamic lubrication is were the parts ride on a thin layer of liquid lubricant. The thin layer of lube separates the two moving parts. This works well for low load/stress parts, but as load/stress increases, the lubricant can be squeezed out and the parts then touch and grind together.

Which leads us to... Boundary lubrication. Some lubricant companies put boundary additives to their products. They call them anti-wear or extreme pressure compounds.

Boundary lubrication uses small microscopic solid particles to provide extra protection from lubricant squeeze out. No surface is perfectly smooth, at a microscopic level there are imperfections, roughness, peaks and valleys. The solid particles fill up these imperfections and help prevent wear. The most popular boundary additives are molybdenum compounds or “moly”.

Lubricants also need to stay where you put them, basically stay where they are needed between moving parts. We also need lubricant to migrate to areas where it is needed. There are many hidden areas that we can not lubricate directly, so we need the lubricant to work its way there. These two properties are in direct opposition, and balancing these two is important.

Want to read more about lubricants, their properties, and how it relates to firearms? See this link It is a good overview... I got bored one day and did some fact checking on some industrial/engineering sites, and he seems to have his facts straight.

Remember, this is just a general guide. Every firearm is different, so where and how to lubricate is different for each. The instruction manual is a good source of info for this. If still unsure, come here and ask.

This How-to is just my opinion and what I find works. Others have their own preferred methods, cleaners, and lubricants. Over time, you may find your own preferences.

Have fun and enjoy your firearms.

Last edited by marine6680; September 19, 2012 at 07:29 PM.
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