Clean Up Your Act

The one hard-and-fast rule I have on gun cleaning is: Don’t let the sun set on a dirty gun. And if you work the graveyard shift the rule reads: Don’t let the sun rise on a dirty gun. OK. That said, let’s talk about the process.

Years ago as a diligent new patrol sergeant I had the sad misfortune of conducting my first gun inspection. This was my first squad as a sergeant, and we were assigned the downtown beats of the nation’s eighth largest city.

My 10 officers were lined up out on the patio area of our headquarters building all holding their autoloading pistols at port arms. After years in the Army and 10 more on the department, I was in my element. My squad, my people, my responsibility, all at port arms, I was being a sergeant doing real sergeant stuff. Life couldn’t have been better.

Going down the rank of my squad, I would take each offered pistol and inspect the breach and barrel for obstructions and cleanliness. After performing a function check, I would inspect the magazines and verify that the ammunition loaded was the correct issued type. I’d then hand the pistol back to my officer and make an appropriate positive comment like “Nice job” or “Good work.” After all, that’s the way I was taught to conduct this type of inspection.

A “seasoned” officer had recently been assigned to my squad. He was four years out of the academy. That was really senior for a patrol officer because at the time my department was going through a growth spurt and the average patrol officer’s tenure was about two-and-a-half years.

I stood before this senior officer, took his offered pistol. and conducted my inspection. The gun looked like it had just been picked up off the ground in the Ardennes after the Battle of the Bulge and teleported to the patio. I can’t recall ever seeing a filthier weapon even to this day. The barrel had dust bunnies and chunks of an unknown organic matter in it. Carbon and spent powder were caked in the breach. And when cycling the gun you’d think the rail surfaces were made of 60-grit emery cloth.

I asked, “When did you clean this last?”

His reply was, “Well, they made us clean them in the academy.”

As I said, he was four years out of the academy. So let’s see, that’s four years of quarterly qualification shoots, practice, annual Advanced Officer Training firearms proficiency classes. Wow! No wonder it was dirty.

The moral to this story is, if you really hate your sergeant and want to see him or her blow a brain hemorrhage from a spike in blood pressure, then do exactly what that officer did to me. If not, here are a few suggestions on proper maintenance of the generic autoloading pistol.

Safety First

The one hard-and-fast rule I have on gun cleaning is: Don’t let the sun set on a dirty gun. And if you work the graveyard shift the rule reads: Don’t let the sun rise on a dirty gun.

OK. That said, let’s talk about the process.

First, safely unload the gun before cleaning. I know, it’s silly to have to say this, much less write it. But how many times have we all heard that officer so-and-so was shot while cleaning his gun? If you don’t want to be the subject of such stories, unload your gun and put all the ammunition in another room before you clean it. Then check the gun again. When you are satisfied, check it again. Then do it just one more time for luck.

Now you can disassemble the gun. Your owner’s manual should instruct you on how to properly do it. Just don’t disassemble the gun further than the manufacturer’s recommendations, or you and probably a gunsmith will have a really lovely time trying to get it back together.

Getting Started

Once the gun is disassembled, you can start. It is very important to note that you never run a brush down the barrel first. This can easily damage the firearm and grind in dirt and moisture. Also, if you have dirt or moisture in the barrel, it will get into the bristles of the brush, and the next time the brush is in the neck, it can deposit some of the dirt.

So start with a clean patch. Run it down the bore first and throw it away. A smart gun owner always throws away a patch after using it once. Used patches can redeposit dirt, carbon, and other grime back in your gun. So use fresh patches every time. After all, patches are perhaps the least expensive consumable material in your cleaning kit.

The next step is to take a new patch and saturate it with a good bore cleaner and run it down the bore from chamber to barrel. Remember to always clean in the direction the bullet travels. Remove the patch; remove the rod from the bore, and let it sit for a while to allow the bore cleaner’s solvent to work.

Clearing Out the Carbon

Now you can work on the slide or receiver. The slide is relatively easy to clean on most modern autoloaders. Again, start with a clean patch and wipe down the slide rails and all the flat areas of the slide, then throw that patch away. Using good quality solvents, soak another patch and apply the solvent to the internal portions of the slide. I also like to use a military type, double-ended nylon brush to scrub the slide rails and flat areas. Then I use a stainless-steel brush on the breach face because it normally will collect most of the tough to clean carbon buildup and requires a little more attention.

After a good scrubbing, take another solvent-soaked patch and go over all the surfaces again. Then use a clean patch on the surfaces. Keep alternating a solvent patch and clean patch until the dry patch remains clean.

Next, shift to the receiver. Much of the powder buildup will be in the area of the feed ramp. Use much the same technique as you did on the slide, alternating a solvent patch with a clean, dry patch. The nylon brush works well here, too.

Make sure that you remember to clean down the magazine well. Powder residue can collect in the mag well and, when it builds up, it can cause dirt and grime to be pushed up into critical areas when a magazine is inserted.

Down the Barrel

Once you’ve cleaned the slide and the receiver, it’s time to return to the barrel. Push another solvent-soaked patch through the barrel. (Again, remember to always clean in the direction the bullet travels.) Then take a brass brush and make at least 10 passes with it. Use one more solvent-soaked patch and then follow with clean, dry patches.

The guide rod and spring require attention as well. If your gun has a captured recoil spring and guide rod assembly, use a nylon brush soaked in solvent to scrub the entire assembly. Then use clean, dry patches to remove the solvent and clean the assembly.

On separate guide rod and spring systems, a solvent-soaked patch works well on the rod and the nylon brush does a good job on the spring. Again, remove all the solvent with clean, dry patches.

Finishing Up

You are almost ready to re-assemble the gun now. But first it needs to be lubricated.

The most important thing to remember about gun lube is to use what you need and no more. Have you ever been at the range and looked over at the shooter next to you and noticed that he has little dark brown or black spots all over his face? If that guy looks like he has some unknown type of pox, then he probably used too much lube.

A very little amount of lubrication goes a long way on the modern autoloader. Find where metal rubs on metal and then put a very thin coating of lube on it. The slide rails require only a small drop. The hammer-cocking bar needs a thin coat, and the external portion of the barrel should also be thinly coated.

To lube the inside of the barrel, take one clean patch, put a small amount of lubrication on it, work it into the patch so it evenly coats the whole patch, and run it down the barrel in the direction the bullet will travel. Take it off the rod and then remove the rod. Do not pull the patch back through the bore. Then take a clean patch, attach it to the rod, and pass it down the barrel. This should leave an appropriate amount of lubrication in the barrel.

Lastly, use a small amount of lube on a patch to coat the guide rod and spring. OK. You can now reassemble the gun.

Magazine Care

Your gun is now cleaned and lubed, but you are not finished taking care of your weapon. The weakest mechanism on any autoloading pistol is the magazine. Improperly maintained magazines are responsible for a majority of failure-to-feed problems. So make sure you clean them when you clean your gun.

Disassemble each of your magazines and use a solvent-soaked patch to wipe out the inside of the mag body and a nylon brush to scrub it. Then wipe away all the solvent. Clean the spring with a solvent patch being careful not to stretch it, and clean the outside of the mag as well. Then wipe all the parts with clean, dry patches. The follower requires a good wipe down as well. A thin film of lubrication is all you will now need for both the inside and outside of the magazine.

I also like to replace my magazine springs annually. These springs are not expensive, and replacing them yearly is great insurance against failure-to-feed problems.

Cleaning Supplies

OK, I have one last suggestion: Put together or purchase a gun cleaning kit with high-quality components. They will last longer and actually do a better job for you than the cheap stuff.

There are a number of really good kits and gun care products available. The following is a quick look at some of them.


Birchwood Casey

Birchwood Casey has been making outstanding gun cleaning products since 1948. Its take-along Gun Maintenance Kit delivers everything you need to keep your gun looking and working like new. This is a really handy kit to keep at home or take with you out in the field. The kit includes a complete selection of Birchwood Casey’s quality chemicals and cleaning products, and virtually everything else you need to maintain your firearm’s accuracy.


I waited until my kids were grown and out of the house before I bought my first premium quality set of tools. Dewey Manufacturing Products gun care supplies are in the same category. The company makes the Rolls Royce of gun cleaning tools. Dewey’s cleaning rods are nylon coated or brass to prevent bore damage and the rod rotates on ball bearings contained within the screwdriver-type handle. Dewey offers a 6-inch Handgun complete cleaning kit. It contains an all-caliber looped rod and an all patch loop, half an ounce of Shooters Choice oil, a benchrest-style bronze brush, cotton flannel patches, mil-spec double-ended nylon cleaning brush, silicone cloth, and a brass muzzle guard. Dewey’s handgun rod is the perfect size for law enforcement guns and it’s also perfectly balanced. Dewey even makes a 40mm brush, mop, and rod for your tactical unit’s gas launchers.


The new Hoppe’s Elite technology was originally developed to clean the $28 million F-16 fighter for the U.S. Air force. It penetrates the pores of metal through a non-toxic solvent base. In fact, a firearm treated with Hoppe’s Elite is cleaner than when it shipped from the factory, and the company says the stuff is so non-toxic that you could drink it. I don’t want to drink it and neither should you, but one of the great things about Hoppe’s Elite’s non-toxic formula is that it doesn’t have a smell, chemical or otherwise.

KG Industries

KG Industries, formerly Kal-Gard Coating and Manufacturing Corp., not only makes just about anything you might need to put on your gun, it makes it very, very well. Some of the best gun finishes available on the market today have a big KG right on the label, including KG-1, KG-2, KG-3, KG-4, etc., which when used in conjunction comprise an excellent cleaning system. KG’s superb quality is why gun makers like Accurate Arms Inc. and Browning Corp. use KG products in their research and development departments as well as in their factories. Most of the KG products were developed and improved by the people who use them. For example, when KG’s customers decided they needed a product that would attack copper and not contain ammonia, KG developed KG-12.


Since 1985, it has been MIL-COMM’s mission to provide shooters with some of the highest-quality lubricants, sealants, and specialty coatings. MIL-COMM’s TW-25B and its sister formulas deliver solid performance. TW-25B is an outstanding all-purpose, non-toxic lube that provides protection from extreme operating temperatures, corrosion, high pressure, and excessive loads.



Many military units in Iraq are crying for Militec’s lube, and the company is now producing it in one-ounce bottles and shipping it to our folks over there free of charge. One ounce may not sound like much but, believe me, it’s plenty. Militec is a new type of lubricant billed as a “synthetic molecular bonding” metal conditioner. What that means is that a little bit of this stuff goes a long way. I have been using Militec exclusively for lubricating my guns over the last three years. That’s at least two gun cleanings a week. I started out with a 16-ounce bottle. I still have 12 ounces left.


Many gun cleaners on the market today clean with corrosive and toxic substances designed to corrode copper and lead fouling out of weapons. This, unfortunately, leaves behind the most significant fouling, the carbon residue. M-Pro7 Gun Cleaner was specifically formulated to remove layers of carbon and metal fouling. Non-hazardous M-Pro7 not only cleans the firearm but conditions the bore with non-corrosive technology. The first time a firearm is cleaned with M-Pro7, it may require multiple applications to penetrate all of the stubborn layers of carbon and metal fouling. But once that stuff is removed, subsequent cleaning time and effort can be reduced by up to 80 percent. That's because when the surface is completely devoid of carbon deposits, it takes longer for fouling to build up and adhere to the bore.


The Otis Law Enforcement Gun Cleaning Kit is specifically designed to clean pistols ranging from .22 to .45 caliber, and it meets manufacturer specifications for all the major gun makers. The kit contains an 18-piece tool set with special tools including two cleaning rods, pin punch, scraper, pick, end brushes, “T” handle, obstruction remover, cleaning solvent, special lubricant, and bore reflector/flag safety. The kit also includes a comprehensive instruction sheet, showing how to maintain the performance of your duty handguns. Additionally, Otis produces a solvent, lubricant, and rust inhibitor in one product that contains PTFE, a microscopic Teflon that coats the bore to eliminate lead and copper buildup.


Outers Gunslick Police Pro-Pack Cleaning Kits are industrial strength and contain all the products you will need to maintain your guns. The kit includes a two-ounce bottle of Nitro Solvent, Tri-Lube, gun oil, a nylon utility brush, cleaning patches, a steel swivel handle cleaning rod, bronze brushes, brass jags, a silicone cloth, and a convenient lightweight, zippered nylon pouch.

Shooters Choice

Ventco Industries Inc. of Middlefield, Ohio, was started in 1983 when Joe Ventimiglia began marketing a gun bore cleaner designed by his father, Sal, and some of his “chemist buddies.” Joe’s father and friends were all shooting enthusiasts and not satisfied with the cleaners on the market. Originally starting with only one product, the company has grown to now sell eight gun care products. Years ago, I started using Ventco’s Shooter’s Choice Copper Cleaner on my precision competition rifles for break-in and general cleaning chores. It has been the only cleaner I’ve used since.


Tipton Rifle and Handgun Cleaning Kits are stocked with high-quality supplies. You won't find any plastic jags or plastic slotted tips in a Tipton kit. The company's kits contain only quality brass jags and slotted tips, premium bronze brushes, and lots of other exclusive tools and accessories you never knew could be so helpful. The Tipton Range Box is the ultimate in convenience for shooters and hunters. It organizes everything you need, from cleaning supplies, to rifle rest bags, to targets. It is available with either an empty cleaning kit box, or with a complete cleaning kit that includes Tipton's new carbon fiber cleaning rods. These are really great. The carbon fiber rod won't damage a gun's bore and can almost be bent back on itself without breaking. It turns on ball bearings as it's pushed down the bore to allow the brush to work better in the grooves.

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