Cleaning your gun is an important part of responsible gun ownership.
Regular cleaning ensures the firearm stays in top condition, maintaining accuracy, reliability, and lifespan.
However, the question of how often to clean a gun is not always straightforward, as the answer depends on various factors such as usage, type of ammunition, and environmental conditions.
In this article, we will discuss these factors and provide general guidelines for determining the appropriate cleaning frequency for your firearm.
I want to make it clear that you should always consult your owner’s manual and company directives for your particular firearm, that is the ultimate authority on this subject.
How Often Should You Clean a Gun?
Let’s face it, we are busy people and we lead busy lives.
That means do our best to manage our day to day responsibilities and cleaning our firearms isn’t usually at the top of the list.
With this in mind, the purpose of this post is to be a practical guide for how often you may want to consider cleaning your firearm.
Factors Affecting Cleaning Frequency
Many manufacturers and authorities on the subject suggest cleaning after every range trip, or every month if not shot regularly.
I’ll be honest, I don’t do that, and not because I think I know better, but because that isn’t realistic for me.
I do however, think cleaning this often discounts the quality manufacturing of modern firearms, many of which will run for thousands of rounds between cleanings.
This is not ideal, or a particular good idea, but many firearms are more than capable of it.
Because of this I have researched, talked to many people in the field, and come up with my own guide for cleaning frequency that I have used for years.
Gun cleaning based on usage
The more you use your gun, the more carbon build up will occur. Residue from gunpowder, bullet fragments, and other contaminants accumulate inside the firearm as it is used.
Consequently, if you are a frequent shooter it stands to reason you will accumulate more buildup quickly.
Modern firearms, for the most part, are designed with reliability in mind, meaning they have greater ability to handle build up and will still function for extended periods of time.
That said, lube becomes critical to keeping the gun running if it is not thoroughly cleaned often.
Glocks will typically not need to be cleaned as much as say a modern 1911, which is built for accuracy with tighter machining tolerances that can be gummed up by carbon build up more quickly.
Ammunition Type and Cleaning
The type of ammunition you use can significantly impact the amount of residue left in your firearm.
Some ammunition produces more residue, such as older powders, or lead projectiles (Non-FMJ rounds).
Most high quality ammunition such as Federal, S&B, Fiocchi (and many more) produces less residue from power burning.
As a personal example, I have a semi automatic 22lr that will only reliably feed Federal ammo for these reasons.
22lr is known to be a finicky caliber and requires more cleaning to run properly.
Additionally, it is very common to find 22lr ammo that is not FMJ, and has an exposed lead projectile, leading to more barrel fouling.
This impacts the accuracy of the weapon and should be cleaned more frequently than if you use full metal jacket rounds.
At the very least, a patch or barrel brush should be used after every range trip to clean the barrel and remove fouling if using exposed lead ammunition.
Yes, there is in fact ammo that has corrosive properties, although it can be misleading as only the primer is corrosive.
When fired, the primer produces salts that mix with air and ambient humidity to begin corroding your chamber.
Oil will not clean this, you will need water to effectively get the salt off, then thoroughly dry and add a protective oil to prevent rust.
Corrosive ammo is typically surplus ammo, but the U.S has not used corrosive ammo since Korea.
I won’t speak to surplus ammo from Eastern Bloc countries, but I prefer to avoid this ammo personally.
Environmental factors such as humidity, temperature, and dust can all affect your firearm.
If you live in humid or dusty environments, moisture and dirt can accumulate in your gun, leading to corrosion, reduced performance, and potential reliability issues.
In such cases, it is essential to clean your firearm more frequently to prevent damage and keep the firearm functional.
Breakfree CLP is very beneficial for environments that are humid, damp, rainy, or for carry guns where skin oils become a factor.
CLP stands for Clean, Lubricate, and Protect, meaning it also protects the firearm from rust.
I use this primarily on all my firearms, some shooters claim there are better cleaners and this is likely true, but by cleaning my firearms before carbon build up becomes severe, CLP is more than capable of effectively cleaning them with the added benefits of lubricating and protecting the firearm in an all-in-one package.
If you have significant carbon build up you may need to use a solvent, any reputable brand should be fine.
General Firearm Cleaning Guidelines
While specific cleaning intervals depend on the factors mentioned above, here are some general guidelines for various types of gun owners.
If you are a casual shooter and use your gun occasionally for target practice or recreational shooting, cleaning your firearm after every 300 rounds or so is a reasonable guideline.
If the firearm will be stored for long durations between shooting (Let’s call this more than a month) it is best to clean the gun after shooting so it is not stored with all the chemicals, carbon, and dirt still inside it.
Many competitive shooters who use their firearms often do not clean them all that often, instead they use lots of lube to keep them running.
A good rule of thumb may be to clean it before each competition rather than after every range session, to ensure there will be no hiccups on competition day but without needed to clean 4 times a week.
If you are a hunter, hunting firearms are often exposed to harsh environmental conditions.
As a result, hunters should clean the exterior of their gun and add a protectant after each outing in a damp climate to prevent corrosion and maintain performance and accuracy.
Hunting firearms should definitely be thoroughly cleaned and oiled at the end of the season.
Home defense firearms should be cleaned, or at least oiled every 3 months to ensure proper functioning and reliability.
If you practice regularly with your home defense firearm it would be ideal to clean it after every range trip to optimize functionality.
Concealed carry firearms are exposed to skin oils, sweat, and all the same environmental factors you are in.
They should be oiled and cleaned monthly, I mean you are staking your life on it so why skimp on the maintenance?
If you notice your firearm’s performance is struggling, or cycling slower you should clean and lubricate your firearm thoroughly.
If you plan to store your firearm for an extended period, clean and lubricate it thoroughly before storage to prevent rust and corrosion.
I have seen family heirlooms that were stored somewhere for two decades and now show significant rust.
It’s also a good idea to check on the firearm periodically to ensure it remains in good condition.
Other Benefits of Cleaning
In addition to proper functioning and extending the life of the firearm, cleaning your firearm increases your knowledge of the mechanisms, and method of function.
With knowledge you will be able to diagnose problems, or more likely prevent them by recognizing parts wear.
Always wear eye protection when assembling and disassembling a firearm.
If utilizing cleaner, clean in a well ventilated area per instructions.
Regular cleaning is important for maintaining the performance, safety, and longevity of your firearm.
While the guidelines provided above can serve as a starting point, it is essential to consider your specific usage patterns, ammunition types, and environmental conditions when determining the appropriate cleaning frequency for your gun.
Always remember that responsible gun ownership involves proper maintenance.