Share the Proper Gun Cleaning Process

Gun cleaning and maintenance items are a never-ending sales opportunity — but make sure your customers are buying what they really need.

Share the Proper Gun Cleaning Process

Gun maintenance, for most, ranks up there about as high as cleaning out the gutters. Simply put, it is easier to ignore and procrastinate rather than complete. But the results of improper maintenance will show their face at the most inopportune moment. 

To ensure your customers’ firearms remain in top shape, understanding the different levels of maintenance will go a long way to ensuring that failures are minimized. 

Just like an automobile, most firearms can be put on a maintenance schedule. All vehicles come with a manufacturer’s suggested maintenance schedule including everything from changing engine oil and spark plugs to adjusting the timing belt. These intervals of maintenance used to be based solely on mileage, but many are now based on sensors and algorithms that consider mileage, temperatures and other factors to inform the consumer more accurately when to complete maintenance without overdoing it. The bad news is firearms don’t have this monitoring equipment but would benefit greatly from being put on a schedule, based on their frequency and harshness of use, to minimize unnecessary maintenance while keeping them in top condition. 

To better maintain the performance and condition of a firearm, there are three levels of gun maintenance that users should deploy: routine, preventive and invasive. As retailers, being armed with this information helps to better serve customers and to make the sale of secondary items, helping your bottom line. 

Routine Maintenance 

Routine maintenance it just as it sounds: Maintenance that occurs regularly, and at the minimum, after every time the gun is handled in the field or at the range. While after-use is a good rule of thumb, users should also remember that their safe kings and queens need oil regularly to minimize risks of corrosion.

Wipe Down: It goes without saying that oily-rag exterior wipe-downs should be completed after every gun is handled. This task can be handled with a soft rag and gun oil. For those who want something more portable, companies like Remington manufacture pre-packaged oily cloth wipes. These wipes are especially handy for hunters who travel, ensuring that moisture is displaced before a gun is stored in a gun case or sock.

While a quick wipe-down with gun oil will suffice for short periods, for guns that will see harsh conditions or be stored for long periods of time, the use of a Rig-Rag with Rig Universal Gun Grease will add a more robust layer of protection to exterior metal surfaces. While most consumers own gun oil of different types, most are not aware of the benefits of gun grease, and for blued guns, it really helps stave-off corrosion. 

Internal Cleaning: At a routine level, internal cleaning can be basic. When it comes to breaking down internal components, they should be divided into two categories: barrels and actions. 

Barrels: For routine maintenance of barrels, a simple bore snake is a quick and easy way to remove any moisture and fouling and add a protective coating of oil. Bore snakes include multiple components into one snake, including a soft “snake” to attract fouling, a soft brass brush to help knock off loose powder and debris, and a smaller-diameter pull rope that allows you to easily feed the snake into the barrel. These can be used dry, but users can also add some bore cleaner to the front and oil to the back to improve cleaning efficiency. The only downside to bore snakes is they are caliber-specific, but companies like Otis and others make flexible kits like a bore snake, but with more multi-caliber functionality and bells and whistles. 

Actions: For routine action cleaning, that same oily rag can be used to wipe down the bolt and internal components. Additionally, a small syringe of gun grease can be used to add lubrication to the bolt lugs and other mechanical components to ensure their functionality. It should be noted that too much grease or oil can absolutely be a bad thing, so it should be done with moderation, generally adding a small amount, and then wiping it back off, allowing the oil/grease to spread into a very fine layer to build up. Additionally, those who hunt in sub-zero conditions should be aware that some oil/grease can freeze, so extra caution should be used for hunts in these conditions.

Preventive Maintenance  

Preventive maintenance takes routine maintenance to the next step. All the above routine maintenance actions remain in place, but users add additional steps to the process helping to ensure that barrels remain clear of fouling for consistency, and actions remain smooth and operating like they did the day they were new. While gunpowders of today are non-corrosive and significantly cleaner-burning than those of the early 1900s, that doesn’t mean that they don’t leave residue and can attract buildup that causes actions to grind to a gritty halt. This level of maintenance should be done, at the minimum, after every other range day for the barrel and after every day in the field/hunting for the action. While firearms lack advanced sensors, users should gauge a firearm’s level of need based on experience and severity of use. For instance, if you are hunting and it is raining, the gun needs a good dose of preventive maintenance when you get home. 

Barrels: Preventive barrel maintenance goes a step beyond bore snakes, though that doesn’t mean that a snake can’t be included or used. For most, barrel cleaning consists of metal or composite cleaning rods equipped with rags, bushes and jags in addition to bore-cleaning solvents and oils. 

Solvents: There is a plethora, maybe more than plethora, of gun-cleaning solvents available. Everyone, and rightfully so, loves the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9, and it certainly has done the job for many years, but ask 10 different gun maintenance freaks what their favorite gun solvent is, and you likely get five or six different answers. The main things users should consider when selecting a solvent is the solvent’s ability to remove lead, copper and powder fouling and how it is to be applied/used for best results. While solvents remove different levels of each contaminant, understanding the proper way to use them is what makes them effective. Simply put, some require more interaction to be effective, while others are simple to use, but potentially less effective, their type and use-case depending on the severity of the fouling. Additionally, consumers should not be afraid to use more than one solvent during the cleaning process. This is especially true for firearms that use a lot of lead ammunition or shotguns with plastic wads, as lead/plastic can build up and fill/file the barrel’s bore. 

The main goal of solvent-based cleaning on a rifle’s bore is to clean out fouling, including lead, copper, and powder or plastic residue, to keep a bore clean and as close to “new” as possible. “Fouled” barrels can lead to inaccuracy as the bore’s rifling continues to gather additional fouling over time. While there is a balance between having too clean and too dirty of a bore, it remains important to occasionally clean a barrel back down to clean metal to ensure that corrosion isn’t given a suitable environment to form. 

In terms of selling these solvents, it is important to make it clear that some solvents are used for different reasons and that the user needs to clean out more than just powder residue to be effective. That is why it is important to use solvents, not just oils, that remove lead, copper and plastic fouling and to use fresh solvents on clean patches until they stop coming out of the barrel “dirty.” 

Oils: While some solvents include rust-inhibiting properties, users should run a lightly oiled patch down the barrel once the solvent patches come out “clean.” This will add a layer of protection to the raw steel, helping to stave off any surface corrosion that may occur during storage. This includes both carbon and stainless steel barrels alike. 

Accessories: It goes without saying that protecting your gun’s bore, crown, rifling and chamber is of paramount importance during cleaning. As such, always use materials that are softer than those that you are cleaning (nylon and brass are softer than steel) and be careful when entering and exiting the bore to not damage the sensitive crown and chamber areas. Bore guides, nylon brushes and composite rods are all a good starting point. Tipton makes a universal bore guide that not only protects critical components, but also keeps solvents and debris out of the action.

Actions: Preventive maintenance on actions goes beyond simple wipe-downs, adding nylon brushes and chamber-cleaning supplies. For most end-users, cleaning out the gun’s chamber and/or brushing out the action is far down on their priority list. The reason this area is often overlooked is a lack of general knowledge on how the gun can be disassembled. For rifles, it is important to show your buyers how to remove the bolt to allow a chamber-cleaning brush access to the action and for a nylon brush to knock out/down any dirt/buildup. By being able to remove the bolt, users can then add lubrication to critical points to keep their rifles in perfect working order.

For shotguns, without getting invasive, there are action cleaners that are good at breaking down residue; however, they can also damage gun stock finish, so use with caution. For a quick and safer way to clean out actions, compressed air, either canned or from a home compressor, will help dislodge gunk and debris. While that will work for a short period, more invasive cleaning is required, especially for semi-automatics, to ensure reliability. 

Invasive Maintenance  

In many cases, invasive maintenance may be better left to gunsmiths, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done by those with some mechanical skill. This type of maintenance aims to really break down the rifle into more individual components for a more thorough cleaning. The good news is that all of the info required to complete this task is available on Google and/or YouTube, allowing the end users something far superior to a reference manual. This type of maintenance should be done, at the minimum, on a yearly basis for casual users. For users who hunt or use their firearms in hard conditions or compete in competitive shooting competitions, the frequency could increase to every six months or after X number of uses, based on personal experience.

Barrels: For barrels, this level of maintenance was previously completed using an electro-chemical system like Outer’s Foul Out Bore Cleaning System, but this system has been discontinued. While there are replacement systems out there, most are not applicable to shooting sports retailers. That said, these systems are a good option for cleaning dirty and neglected firearm barrels, so it is good ammunition to have in your back pocket if someone brings in a “smooth” rifled barrel and asks for assistance. There are also some other, more specialized systems for lead and plastic, but they are made for very specific use cases. 

Actions: For rifles, to conduct a thorough cleaning, it is important to strip down a rifle’s bolt to clean the firing pin and other internal components. Users will be very surprised about what gets inside a bolt body, and most bolts can be disassembled with some simple tools. Again, Google is your buyer’s friend here. Once disassembled, a nylon brush, some solvent, a cotton brush/swab, and some oil are all that is required. Just make sure not to overdo the oil. While this can be accomplished by a handy person, it does require some skill.

For shotguns, disassembly can be more complicated. Some firearm manufacturers have seen the need for easier levels of disassembly, especially for semi-automatics that require high levels of cleanliness to operate flawlessly, but it still can appear overwhelming to the consumer. It is important for all users to understand how their firearm’s action is disassembled, not just for cleaning, but in case of a malfunction. Armed with this information, during preventive maintenance cycles, users can disassemble their actions and use a nylon brush, dipped in solvent, to clean out any debris and residue. Aerosol Gun Scrubber is also effective at cleaning out debris, breaking down residue, and cleaning out gunk. Once the brushing and/or Gun Scrubber treatment has completed, a light coat of oil should be wiped onto the action to help resist corrosion, but it shouldn’t be overdone. While oil is good for lubrication, oil is also great at capturing and retaining dirt and residue that can lead to mechanical failures. 

By preparing your consumer to maintain their firearm, you are not only ensuring a lifetime of use, but making the extra sale of critical items that the users will need throughout the life of the firearm. 


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