How often should you clean your gun? It is a question that is bound to cross the mind of any gun owner.
Often, many casual owners and users are not completely sure of the answer. If you ask every gun owner in the continental U.S., you would probably be surprised how varied the answer is from owner to owner.
While it is common sense that good gun maintenance is necessary to keep a firearm functioning properly and safely, it might not be as clear with regard to how often a gun should be cleaned.
Should it be cleaned after every use? Does it depend on the ammunition? What if the gun has not been used for several months?
In this article, we will look at all of these questions and discuss different scenarios.
How important it is to clean and oil your firearm right away? Can you get away with it sitting in the cabinet for another outing or two?
We always recommend cleaning versus letting it sit. There are few things we enjoy more than seeing a broken down firearm and the smell of cleaning solution and oil in the air.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Note: If you don't have a great gun cleaning kit, then you should consider picking one up along with cleaner and oil. If you just have pistols, you can get by with a smaller dedicated cleaning kit for your Glock, or if you have something like a XDM 9mm.
In looking at how often to clean a gun, we'll discuss should clean and must clean scenarios.
Should Clean Scenarios
When you pull that brand new rifle, shotgun, or handgun out of the box, one of your first thoughts should be to give it a thorough cleaning as if it were dirty.
Even if it is straight from the manufacturer, give the manual a peek and strip that thing down and clean it well.
It is a great opportunity to become more familiar with the firearm as well as check for any cracks or pits that would be troublesome.
For a used firearm, we would even place this scenario in the must clean section.
We put this under the "should clean" because there are probably thousands of owners who have pulled the gun out of the box and gone to the range with everything working just fine.
We do not recommend it, but you can probably get away with holding off cleaning until after you have tested it.
Even if you do not clean it, at least check it for any obvious defects, especially structural integrity.
Any Rounds Fired
A lot of hunters and marksmen practice this option. Anytime a round is put through, that gun is going to get a cleaning when it gets home.
This definitely will not hurt the firearm in any way. However, for most of today’s ammunition, it is not going to destroy your firearm if you put a few rounds through it and do not properly clean it until the next go around.
Most commercially available ammunition does not use corrosive primers and burns cleanly so only a few rounds will not foul up your chamber and barrel.
You can get away with not cleaning it every time you have it out and not risk decreasing the life of your firearm.
Many hunters and range rats will not clean their firearm until they start to notice a drop in performance.
They do this to see how long their firearm would be able to last in the field without cleaning supplies.
While we do not necessarily recommend this or see the benefits of it, we do want to provide you with different views on cleaning your weapon.
With that being said, most owners will clean their firearm diligently except for this one scenario.
Cleaning your weapon after every outing is not going to hurt your rifle, shotgun, or handgun in any way.
I would venture to guess that most of us had the idea of cleaning your firearm every time it was used drilled into us growing up.
I think it comes from a time where most loads were a lot dirtier than they are today and cleaning every time a powder load was burned was necessary.
Several Months of No Use
We think that many firearms are not used for several months at a time, but even more so for home defense weapons.
While you should have home defense firearms at the range often, a lot of us leave them in the drawer or cabinet for an extended time.
For a firearm that you will rely on for protection, and that are often semi-automatic, we highly recommend cleaning and oiling on a monthly basis.
If a full clean seems like too much work every month, you should at least oil the weapon.
If I am using a firearm for protecting myself and my family, I want it to be a well-functioning machine.
For hunting rifles and shotguns, you can get away with not breaking down and cleaning your tool for several months at a time such as in between hunting seasons.
If you have given it a good cleaning and oiling before setting them away, they are going to be perfectly fine.
We do recommend taking some moisture precautions that we will cover in a later section.
If you get worried, you can always take them down and just check for moisture buildup. But for the most part, these firearms are fine to sit for several months after a cleaning.
Must Clean Scenarios
Shooting Corrosive loads
A lot of surplus ammunition that comes in bulk and is cheap often uses primers. When ignited, they give off corrosive chemicals, mostly types of salts.
These chemicals can cause some serious damage to your old military rifle if not cleaned regularly after use including fouling and pitting of the chamber and barrel.
This is without a doubt a must clean scenario if you plan on enjoying your firearm longer than a year.
Shooting Dirty loads
There are certain loads and types of powders that will leave behind a lot more residue than cleaner rounds.
This residue often contains corrosive compounds that if consistently left untreated will corrode the barrel.
When shooting even one round, you should clean and oil your firearm as soon as possible. Cleaning supplies are cheap; firearms are often not.
Dirty loads or loads where not all the powder is burned, is most often associated with hand loaded cartridges or shot shells.
Most of the commercial ammunition you can buy burns pretty cleanly.
Unless you are putting a lot of rounds through the chamber at a time, they are not going to leave behind a whole lot of residue.
Dirty loads, on the other hand, can quickly gunk up your barrel and chamber which will quickly impact performance.
This includes the weapon’s ability to withstand the pressures generated from igniting a round.
Whether you are out on a hunt or at the outdoor range, if your firearm is exposed to rain, mist, fog, or any moisture you need to clean the weapon when back at camp.
Allowing a gun that has been exposed to moisture several times sit in the back of some closet results in a rusted out firearm whose structural integrity is compromised.
If you do not feel like doing a complete cleaning of the firearm, you need to pass a dry rag through it followed with a nice layer of gun oil.
Hunters and marksmen are more concerned with dirt, grime, and other fouling components that come from putting rounds through your firearm.
However, moisture is as much if not more of a problem for firearms. Even when your firearm has not been exposed to rain or other sources of water outside, you might be surprised how much moisture can collect from just sitting inside.
It is important to store your firearms in a dry area.
Also, keeping a light coating of oil on them helps displace any moisture and also keeps moisture from collecting on the surface.
If you are not storing in a gun cabinet, you might consider using a dehumidifier in the room where the firearms are stored.
Using a gun sock can also help protect your firearms from moisture.
Even when in a cabinet, moisture can still be an issue from condensation occurring if the outside temperature fluctuates.
Small desiccant packets are a great option to keep in your gun cabinet to prevent moisture build up.
If you like to oil your firearms heavily, it is also important to think about how excess oil might affect the firearm.
Firearms are most often stored in an upright position with the stock sitting on the ground.
If the firearm is oiled heavily and then placed in this position, you might get excess oil pooling and seeping into non-metal parts of the firearm.
If using a firearm with a wood stock, this oil might eventually warp the wood. After oiling, keep the gun at a horizontal position on a rack overnight to allow the oil to seep into the metal before storing.
We can go back and forth on certain situations about the importance of cleaning your firearm under certain conditions.
While a lot of the time you can get away with just shelving it, cleaning your firearm is more than just a necessary step to maintain effectiveness and increase longevity.
Cleaning your firearm is a practice in discipline as well as showing the proper respect for these tools.
We hope that this article has outlined several scenarios you will probably find you and your firearm in over the course of your partnership and has given you a better idea of how often you should clean and oil your gun.
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