Cleaning isn’t the most glorious aspect of handgunning, but it is one of the most important. Semiautos in particular need to be maintained properly in order to function reliably, and plenty of shooters, even some who have been in the game a long time, neglect this chore or don’t do it very well. Considering that in many cases the gun in question is being counted on to save your life, lax cleaning practices just won’t cut it.
The good news is that getting your semiauto or revolver spic and span is easier than ever before, thanks to a wealth of high-tech products on the market today. Couple those with sound procedures, and you’ll be able to count on your blaster to work like it’s supposed to for a long, long time.
Handgun maintenance always starts with ensuring the firearm is unloaded. Next, field-strip the firearm (if it is a semiautomatic) and lay out the parts in a well-lit, well-ventilated work area. Once that’s done, a quick wipe-down and once-over of all the components will give you an idea of where to focus your efforts.
I like to start by running a few solvent-soaked patches down the barrel. You do not need a copper solvent; a standard cleaning solvent or CLP-type product (CLP stands for cleaner, lubricant, protectant such as Break-Free) will usually do the job unless you’ve fired thousands of rounds without cleaning. Let the solvent sit for a few minutes, then run a brass brush down the barrel 10 to 15 times. Next, push a couple of dry patches down the barrel. If they come out dirty, shove another wet patch down the barrel and repeat.
If you fire copper-jacketed bullets through your handgun and clean it regularly, the above routine should suffice for barrel maintenance. But if you shoot lead bullets, special lead solvents and some extra elbow grease are required to get the barrel clean. I use Kleen Bore’s Lead Away (kleen-bore.com) patches to clean lead-fouled bores.
If you shoot lead bullets through a revolver, plain pencil erasers work okay for getting lead off the front of the cylinder and the cylinder flutes, but I prefer Kleenbore’s Lead Away cloth.
For heavily fouled guns, several cowboy-action shooters I know swear by lead remover kits like those offered by Lewis or Hoppes.
Once the barrel is clean, use a brush to scrub the breech face and clean those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies with a cotton swab or crevice tool. Some shooters hose their guns down with harsh automotive products like carburetor or brake cleaner to get the tight spots, but it seems to me that flooding a gun is just as likely to wash dirt and debris into spots you can’t reach as it is to flush them out. It is certainly no substitute for careful, targeted cleaning.
Once every part is clean, lubricate all the key pieces before you reassemble the gun. On a semiautomatic, that means a drop or two of oil or grease on the slide rails, barrel hood and the end of the barrel. If you plan to store your gun for an extended period of time, run a slightly oily patch down the bore to leave a thin, protective layer on your bore. Be sure to push a dry patch through it before you fire it for the first time.
Once you’ve properly lubricated the pistol, reassemble it and cycle the slide several times. This will distribute the oil evenly along the slide rails and give you a chance to verify that everything is in working order.
After checking that your pistol is still unloaded, dry-firing it a few times to further verify function is also a good idea. Once you’re sure your gun is good to go, wipe off any excess oil before holstering or storing it.
For revolvers, apply a drop of oil on the exposed portion of the hand that turns the cylinder and then cycle the action several times. You should also put one or two drops on the point where the cylinder and yoke join. Tilting the gun backwards will help get the oil where it needs to be.
If your wheelgun is a Smith & Wesson, go ahead and add a drop of oil to the end of the ejector rod while you have the revolver tilted. Once again, cycle the action a few times, then tilt the gun forward and add a drop of oil to the point at the back of the cylinder that contacts the frame.
Be careful with the lubricant. Though your handgun needs it to run, you don’t want it oozing out, and you don’t want to squeeze a bunch of it into the trigger mechanism where it can cause dirt and grit to accumulate.
Revolver shooters can put a drop on either side of the hammer and trigger, but don’t get carried away. Few people ever remove the sideplates of their revolvers for maintenance, and over time, excessive oil could lead to a buildup of dirt and crud.
While there’s nothing wrong with the tried-and-true cleaning products many of us have used for a long time, advances brought to us by the aerospace industry–and the demand for more environmentally friendly products–have resulted in a whole new class of cleaners that are safer and more effective. I’ve spent the last couple of years working with many of those new products, and several have earned a permanent place in my cleaning kit.
I’ve tried a lot of bore solvents, but M-Pro 7 Gun Cleaner has become my solvent of choice. M-Pro 7 is nontoxic, biodegradable and odorless. The company also claims the cleaner will not harm your sights or grips.
I’m not sure how such a seemingly benign product is so effective, but M-Pro 7’s chemicals do an outstanding job of removing powder residue and carbon fouling. I’ve become so fond of it I keep a large, 32-ounce spray bottle of it on my bench.
Weapon CLP from Centerfire Cleaning Solutions is another of the new notoxic, odorless, do-it-all products. Like all CLPs, this one is designed to clean, lubricate and protect your firearms.
In my experience, Weapon CLP does a great job of dealing with powder and carbon in handguns, but its best use is as a lubricant and corrosion preventative. A colleague recently compared several brands and found that Weapon CLP came out on top in a corrosion prevention test (it was the only prod
uct that did not allow any rust to form).
It excelled as a lubricant in his testing, too. I keep Weapon CLP in my range bag to clean or lube troublesome evaluation guns.
Ultima-Lube Grease from Wilson Combat is, hands down, my favorite lubricant for semiautos. It is more like a heavy oil than the thick, gooey grease you’re probably familiar with. It is thin enough to spread easily in all the right places without caking, but it is thick enough that it stays put.
For revolvers, consider Ultima-Lube Oil. Both come in a really handy 10 cc syringe that makes it easy to place your lubricant of choice precisely and neatly.
Another lubricant I like a lot is FP-10 Lubricant Elite from Shooter’s Choice. It is a capable general-purpose cleaner, lubricant and protector that really excels as a lubricant.
Rather than relying on Teflon for lubricity, it uses a unique chemical composition that slicks up moving parts without filling the porous parts of your gun’s frame and slide like Teflon.
I use FP-10 as a lubricant on all my semiauto long guns but use it interchangeably with Weapon CLP as an all-purpose cleaner and lubricant for my handguns.
Silicone-impregnated rags such as those offered by Birchwood Casey, Kleen Bore, Hoppes, Outers, and Wilson Combat are a must-have for every shooter. They remove rust-inducing fingerprints and leave a thin, corrosion-resistant film after every use.
I wipe my carry gun down every evening, and every one of my guns gets a quick wipe before I put them in the safe for storage. I’ve never had a gun so-treated show the faintest hint of corrosion.
Cleaning any gun is a whole lot easier if you have the right tools for the job. You can assemble your own kit or start with a quality, pre-assembled kit such as Gunslick’s Master Cleaning Kit or one of Otis’ excellent pull-through kits, but the handgun cleaning kit I keep on my reloading bench was assembled over time. I add or replace things from time to time, but the basic kit never changes.
A good, coated cleaning rod is a must. Metal rods work okay, but they can ding your crown and affect your pistol’s accuracy. I use coated rods from Outers and Kleen Bore to clean my handguns. The coating protects my pistols’ barrels, the T-handle provides plenty of grip, and the swiveling rods allows tight-fitting brushes or patches to turn with the rifling as they are forced down the bore.
I really like Tipton’s 12-piece Ultra Jag Set. The caliber-specific jags ensure that each patch is pressed tightly against the barrel so it does a more thorough job of cleaning. I also use Tipton’s rifle-length bronze bore brush set because the longer brushes increased bearing surface makes them more efficient. I clean more with each pass of the brush.
For cleaning those hard-to-reach places, you need some good picks or crevice tools. Tipton’s four-piece polymer pick set won’t mar your finish, and each pick has a different angle so you can reach practically any nook or cranny. Birchwood Casey’s angled cleaning brushes will also help you clean those tight recesses you can’t reach with your fingers. Hoppes’ Utility Brush is ideal for cleaning your pistol’s breech face. The picks and brushes don’t weigh anything, and they’ll fit in even the smallest cleaning kit.
Old-school gun cleaning chemicals are very harsh, and prolonged exposure to your skin can be harmful. I use Tipton’s pipettes to apply chemicals, especially harsh copper solvents, without having to come in contact with the chemicals. Simply insert the tip of the pipette into the solvent bottle, and then squeeze and release the bulb to fill it with your solvent of choice. Squeeze the bulb again to apply solvent to your patch.
I also wear latex loves to further protect my skin. I cleaned guns without gloves until a few years ago when I developed a burning sensation in my left hand that would last for several days after each gun cleaning session. Wear gloves.
The last part of my cleaning kit consists of a simple maintenance pad. The soft, padded surface helps keep my small parts in place and it protects the surface of my work bench from dings and stains. A maintenance pad will also protect your gun’s finish from hard, metal work benches. I have a Boyt pad that was a gift from an ammunition company, but you can find several different makes and models at Brownell’s or Midway that will probably cost less.
Cleaning guns isn’t rocket science, but proper firearms maintenance is important. A good cleaning and proper lubrication will increase your gun’s service life, make it shoot better and help keep it running under less-than-ideal circumstances. That’s nice in a match, but it’s a matter of life or death for those who carry their guns in harm’s way.