How To Clean A Handgun

How To Clean A Handgun: The 6 Step Guide

Your carry gun may very well save your life one day, so make sure it is clean and well maintained. Because getting yourself killed because you were too lazy to properly care for your firearm would be an embarrassing way to die. 

Keeping a spotless firearm in good order and maintenance takes very little effort and should be done frequently.  A good rule of thumb is to clean it every time you fire.  

If it is your carry gun that has not been fired recently, don’t just leave it neglected sitting in the nightstand.  It will need cleaned every couple of weeks as well.  It's easier if you do it before it gets bad.

What You Need

So, what are you going to need to get your gun clean?  Well, that depends on how you want to do the job and how much detail you want. 

The items listed below will do the job. For some, I have listed ways to get around needing to purchase them. However, in many cases the items are so inexpensive that you might as well just get it to make it easier on yourself.

I have divided them into three categories. 

  1. Tools
  2. Consumables
  3. Cleaners and Lubricants

The Tools

The tools will be the items from the list that last you the longest. In fact, they could last you a lifetime if cared for properly.

We chose these items because they do the job well, and they are inexpensive. 

Cleaning Picks

You need a good set of picks...and you want to make sure they are not metal. Stick to the polymer picks like the ones listed above. Using metal picks will scratch the surface of your firearm. In other words, you will be inviting rust to set in.

Brush Set

Like the pick set, you want something that won't scratch the firearm.  Here is a good nylon brush set to get your scrubbing done without scratches. 

You can use a toothbrush, however you may as well get these as they cost close to what 1 toothbrush would cost but comes in a set of 10.

Battle Rope

While you COULD skip this and just go with the cleaning kit listed below, I wouldn't. Buy this...you will thank me later. At under $20 this will save you a lot of time and energy.

This Battle Rope is really my miracle product. It does all the work for you when cleaning the bore. It has two sets of brushes attached to it that will thoroughly clean your bore with minimal effort.

Pro Tip: I recommend putting a little lubricant near the end so that you lubricate as it is exiting.

Handgun Cleaning Kit

For the price, this kit is a steal.  The rods are much better than those old crappy rods that came in kits at the big box store.  

As much as I talk up the Battle Rope, there is a lot of sense to having a good set of bore brushes.  Grab one of these for those times you need to get out tough fouling.


The Consumables

There are a few things in gun cleaning that are throw away items.  It’s just part of the cost of gun ownership. My father used the same old towel on his shotguns for decades, but we are more civilized than that now.  Let’s invest in some good products to keep the gun up and running.

Cotton Patches

You have to use cotton patches to clean a gun… I think it’s written in stone somewhere. For getting in the bore or taking the crud out of the receiver, these are very useful and very, very cheap.  You can get nearly a lifetime supply for next to nothing if you get the right ones.

Make sure they are cotton flannel like a t-shirt and not just cotton gauze.  Those are horrible for gun cleaning.

If you want to get away as cheap as possible, cutting up a clean used soft t-shirt is another option.

Cotton Swabs

For getting in those tighter places with your solvents or CLP, you need some sort of applicator. While they are not absolutely necessary, they do make the job MUCH easier. 

Shop Towels

I love my Scott towels for everything.  They don’t fall apart and can handle the rigors of gun cleaning as long as you keep them away from too much solvent.

For less than 15 bucks you can get enough of these to last you for years.  They are great applicators for oil and do a great job at wiping up any inevitable messes that may happen. Well worth the money.

To avoid purchasing this item, you can use an old t-shirt. However if you shoot as much as I do, you will go through t-shirts fast!


The Cleaners and Lubricants​

Some people go nuts with chemicals and throw so much crap on their guns that it causes issues.  The appropriate level of chemical should be just enough to clean, lubricate, and protect...but not so much that it causes fouling to stick in the lube.  You can end up with more problems than you start with if you start smearing it on like icing on a cake.

Breakthrough Solvent

I recently switched over to Breakthrough products for cleaning and lubricating my firearms. I loved their battle rope listed above in this article so much, I gave their other products a shot. So far I have been very impressed.

Their cleaners are non-toxic, non-staining, odorless, and non-flammable...and they work extremely well! Not only that, but they are safe to use on all parts of your firearm and made in the USA.

A 6 ounce bottle of this will last you a good while and is well under $20 as of this writing. 

Breakthrough HP Pro Oil

With the same safe characteristics as their cleaner, Breakthrough's HP Pro Oil is my oil of choice.

Make sure you get the 2 ounce bottle so that is comes with the precision applicator. It is perfect for use on handguns so that you can put the oil right where you want it. Also, this size should last quite a while as you don't need much lube for handguns.

CLP

If the Breakthrough cleaner and lubricant is not for you, then go with Break Free CLP.

CLP stands for Cleaner, Lubricant, Preservative. Before I switched to Breakthrough, I only used CLP on my handguns, and it worked just fine. I just feel that the Breakthrough goes a little above and beyond.

This is also available in a spray bottle as well. However, you can just buy this and put it in a small spray bottle of your own, either way will work.

There are other CLPs on the market, and most will get the job done. I have used Ballistol in the past as well.

How to Clean A Handgun

Setup is everything… You can’t do a job without the tools.  The bulk of this article is devoted to making sure you have everything you need to get your pistol back in pristine working order.

The only other thing you will need is a clean space that will not be destroyed by oil or solvents. Make sure you have plenty of room and it is free from clutter.

Unfortunately, this part of the article will require some generalization. Because each handgun is very different in how it is built, we will stick to the basics.

6 STEPS TO A CLEAN GUN

Step 1:  Disassembly

This is on you.  You bought the gun, you will need to know how to disassemble it.  For revolvers, there is virtually no disassembly, however a 1911 will take some know how.

There are a ton of resources on how to disassemble any gun.  Try YouTube for some good video resources. Just make sure you are always following The 4 Rules of Gun Safety.

You only want to field strip your gun, there is no need to get into the smallest pieces unless you have a real problem. This guide is for the most common basic cleaning.

Step 2:  Remove Buildup

Using the tools at your disposal, get all the gunk, old lube, and fouling off every part of your pistol. You can start with some cleaner on a Scott towel or cotton patch and then move on to the brushes and picks if needed.

Pay special attention to the feed ramp, spring, areas around the safety and mag release, behind the trigger if you can get to it, and most importantly the areas where the upper and lower frame meet.  

Go through each part of your handgun until you can swipe a piece of cotton patch over the area and it comes away clean.

Don't forget to clean the easy to forget parts such as the outside of the slide, as well as the magazines.

Step 3:  The Bore

I have often found that an application of cleaner inside the bore, followed by the bore snake, is often enough to get everything out of the barrel and leave the inside shiny and polished looking.  You can run patches through and use the brass brushes if need be, but I rarely ever need to do so.

If you have tenacious fouling in your bore, saturate a small patch with solvent and run it through the bore then let it sit for several minutes before scrubbing it with a brass brush on a rod.  Run several clean, dry patches through it to remove the excess solvent and debris then repeat Step 3.

Once you have a clean bore, apply just enough oil to cover a small cloth patch and poke it through the barrel.  Don’t let the steel contact the barrel, use a tip on your cleaning rod or a plastic pic.  This is just to provide a protective coating to the bore.  After this step, the bore is done.  Don’t mess with it anymore.

If you have a revolver, clean the inside of the cylinders the same way you do the bore. They will often be easier to clean.  Yes, I run the bore snake through each cylinder.

Step 4:  Lubrication

Use the precision applicator to oil your spring and any external parts including the outside of the barrel, the spring, and the rails.  Anything metal should have lube. 

We are trying to prevent friction. If you see areas of wear or rubbing, make sure add some lubrication. Keep an eye on those areas for future reference. 

The cardinal rule of lube is to apply just enough to make sure your firearm cycles without impedance, but not enough to catch grime.  The U.S. Military had severe issues with firearms jamming during Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom because soldiers over-lubed their rifles and they collected so much dust they couldn’t cycle.

Step 5:  Reassemble

Much like Step 1, this is on you and is very specific to your firearm.  Check YouTube and other online resources for the process and any tips and tricks that may make it easier.

Once reassembled, make sure to wipe down the outside. Check for any areas that oil may have dripped and get those cleaned up as well. 

Step 6:  Check for Function

Once a gun is clean, it is vital to check all the components of the gun to make sure it is properly reassembled.  The slide should rack smoothly, and the trigger should not have a gritty feel.  Finally, check the safety, mag release, slide stop and any other buttons or levers that your pistol may have.  Feel for anything that feels gritty, rough, or harder than usual.

If you find any issues, disassemble and go through the process until you find the issue. Sometimes it’s easy to get a large buildup of fouling behind the trigger so be cautious of this.

A Final Word

As a gun owner, you should have pride in your firearm, and keeping it clean should become second nature.  This pride should not come from a sense of beauty, but rather of having a gun that will function flawlessly should you need to use it.  It’s the pride in being prepared.

If you are a concealed carrier, you will find your gun gets dirty without even using it. Sweat, dirt, fuzz, and all kinds of gunk will build up over time if not properly cleaned. Make sure you take some time every couple of weeks to give it a quick cleaning.

I hope this guide has helped you. If you are a concealed carrier, or looking to become one, make sure to download our FREE Concealed Carry Guide.

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