Learning how to clean a bolt action rifle is one of the first things you should do after acquiring such a weapon.
It is best to give your rifle a proper clean right after acquiring it, especially if you are buying a used weapon. While these projects may take a bit of time, they can be quite fun. It is a challenge to figure out how the mechanical parts of your weapon fit together and how to properly clean the individual components. Cleaning sessions also help you become more familiar with the finer details of how your weapon operates.
Why Clean a Rifle Properly?
Cleaning your rifle is an important part of gun maintenance and safety. Experts also believe that a clean barrel offers better shooting accuracy since dust and gunpowder deposits can alter a bullet’s intended direction.
The time spent taking apart and cleaning your rifle is a good investment that helps you learn more about the mechanical functions of your weapon. This is also a good opportunity to check for flaws that could pose the potential for danger.
Proper cleaning, including mitigating the two mortal enemies of firearms—salt and water—also ensures that all mechanisms function as intended, preventing seizing, prolonging overall condition, and protecting the weapon’s aesthetic appeal.
How To Clean a Bolt Action Rifle
Before you can get to work on cleaning your rifle, you will need a quality rifle cleaning kit. There are quite a few different types of kits available on the market.
You can get a small compact cleaning kit that is easy to take along on hunting expeditions so you can clean your weapon during the hunt. These kits usually include an easy-carry storage bag, weapon oils, various cleaning tips and brushes, buffing cloths, cords, and other accessories you might need to get dirt, rust, and gunpowder out of all of those hard to reach areas.
Or you can choose to get a larger universal gun cleaning kit that has multiple tools for cleaning a bolt action rifle as well as tools that can be used on the other weapons in your collection—like a handgun. Universal cleaning kits are usually bigger but also come in easy carry cases. These sets usually include a wider range of brush tips, buffing tips, cleaning rods, brushes, cleaning cloths, polishing cloths and some of them might even include gun cleaning products and oils that are ideal for maintaining your weapon.
Basic Cleaning Tools You Need for a Bolt Action Rifle
To effectively clean bolt action rifles like the .22 caliber, .30 caliber, .45 caliber, and others, you will need the following tools:
- Old towel
- Disposable gloves
- Q tips
- Cleaning rod
- Bore snake (optional if you have a long bore guide)
- Different-sized cleaning brushes (to suit your weapon caliber)
- A cleaning jag
- A flashlight or headlight
- A gun vice (if you need to loosen some components)
- A bore guide
- A multi-tool
- A cleaning rag
- A barber brush
- Brass picks
- Nylon and brass brushes
- Cleaning solvent
- And a good-quality weapon lubricant or oil
The type of cleaning solvent and lubricant you use doesn’t matter, but it should be a product that is specifically designed for firearm care and maintenance. You don’t want oils that are going to create clogs or increase grime deposits on your firearm.
The Pre-Clean Steps for Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance
Once you have a complete cleaning kit or all the cleaning accessories you need, it is time for you to get that rifle out of the safe to start cleaning. Here is a quick look at the best steps for cleaning a firearm.
Step One: Set Up Your Cleaning Space
The first step is to find a good place to sit. Ideally, since gunpowder residue can be challenging to spot on your weapon materials, find a spot with plenty of natural light.
Grab an old towel and throw it over the table you will be using for cleaning. But If you want to ensure nothing gets down to the finish of your wife’s new table check out these gun cleaning mats. It is best to find a large table so you can have plenty of room to turn your weapon in every direction and lots of space to place all of your cleaning tools.
Next, you want to put on an apron and some cleaning gloves. Many gun cleaning solvents have toxic ingredients that can damage your skin. It is also pretty hard to get old oil, gunpowder, and other deposits off your skin and clothes. A good pair of disposable latex gloves will keep your hands clean and safe while an apron will protect your clothing from black oil splashes while you scrub your weapon.
Step Two: (Very Urgent) Make Sure Weapon Is Unloaded
This is one of the most important steps. Always unload and double-check if your rifle is unloaded. Grab it from the safe and remove the magazine (if your rifle has a detachable magazine) from the weapon. Next, open the action and inspect the chamber for a bullet. If your weapon has a fixed magazine, then you should ensure that all rounds have been extracted.
This may seem like an obvious step, but it is often overlooked. Failing to check if your weapon is loaded is one of the biggest culprits for shooting accidents.
You also want to remove the ammunition from a loose magazine because this part also needs to be thoroughly cleaned.
Place all of your ammunition in a separate workspace away from your cleaning area.
Step Three: Double-check
Yes, we can never stress the importance of gun safety too much. Check your weapon once again—just to make sure. Even the best hunters and tactical experts can make a mistake. Double-checking won’t hurt anyone but failing to double-check could cost a life.
Step Four: Determine the Level of Cleaning
There are two different weapon cleaning strategies:
Routine cleaning should be done after every firearm use, even if you only fired off a dozen of non-corrosive shots at a shooting range. This form of cleaning is not quite as extensive and is nice and quick.
A thorough cleaning should be done after an extensive hunting trip if your weapon happens to get wet or dirty. It is also good to clean your weapon thoroughly if you have had it bottled up in a gun safe for a year or more.
In these steps, we are going to show you how to do a thorough weapon clean.
The Steps for Cleaning your Firearm
Once your space is ready, have all the tools and products needed, your gun is safe, and you know what level of cleaning you want to do, it’s time for you to get cleaning. Here is a quick look at the best steps for cleaning your gun.
Step One: Disassemble Rifle
By now you should know how to disassemble your weapon. If you don’t, then it might be a good idea to book a weapon handling course at a local gun ranch so a professional can teach you how to properly handle your firearm. Your rifle should also have a rifle’s manual that you can follow for reference.
You will need to remove the bolt by removing the magazine or by opening the magazine floorplate depending on the type of weapon you have. Also, remove the stock, scope, and disassemble the bolt.
Step Two: Dust Off Weapon
Now dust the rifle off on the outside. You can use a barber brush to get any dirt and deposits off your weapon exterior. Use a small rag to reach in small nooks and crannies.
Step Three: Clean the Bolt
Place a few drops of weapon-cleaning solvent on a 12-gauge patch and wipe down your bolt. You can also dip q-tips in the solvent to clean the bolt face and the extractor base. If you have a spray solvent, then you can spray some down the barrel. Allow the solvent to sit for a couple of minutes.
Step Four: Scrub the Barrel
Now grab your cleaning solvent and put a little bit of the product on a matching jag. Run this jag up the barrel. Replace the patch with a fresh, clean one and add solvent. Run it up the barrel again. Repeat this step three times.
Next, you can use your bronze brush along with the bore snake and pull it 15 strokes up and down the barrel. You can apply a bit of cleaning solvent to the brush before you use it. Remove the brush and hose it down with gun scrubber solvent and put it to the side so it can dry off. You can also wipe the cleaning rod or barrel snake with a paper towel.
You can also use an old toothbrush to clean tiny crevices behind the extractor.
Step Five: Clean Out the Barrel
Next, you need to take a patch rod and pull three solvent patches up the barrel. The last one should be nearly white because your bore should be clean at this point. Follow with a dry patch to remove any chemical cleaning solvents from your weapon.
Now, wipe off your muzzle using a paper towel to clean off any gravy that might have come out the front end during cleaning.
Step Six: Apply Copper Cleaner
Use a 12-gauge Kroll patch and wrap it around an old bronze brush so you can put it up the barrel. Place some copper cleaner on the patch and give it 20 strokes up and down the barrel. You don’t have to pull the patch from the muzzle. Just keep pushing it forward and reverse it backward. By now the patch should be black and your copper cleaner should be evenly distributed along the inside of the weapon.
Step Seven: Clean Weapon Exterior
Now grab a soft cloth and put a bit of solvent on it so you can wipe down all the metal parts of your weapon. Clean all parts that remain after you properly cleaned out the bolt. You should pay attention to the bolt exterior, bolt tracks, magazine, floorplate, and barrel exterior.
Step Eight: Lubricate
Before you place the bolt back in your weapon, you need to lubricate the rear locking lugs. Some people use grease to do this, but a specialized weapon oil might be more appropriate. Add just a little lubrication because too much of this oily substance can attract dirt.
Step Nine: Reassemble
Once your weapon is lubricated and clean, you can reassemble it. Take your time doing this and follow the instructions carefully—especially If this is your first time cleaning or assembling your weapon. When your weapon is reassembled, you can return the magazine or reload your built-in magazine. Your weapon will now be ready for storage or for use.
If you don’t feel too confident about cleaning your weapon yourself, then you can always ask a local gunsmith to do it for you or to show you how to properly clean a bolt action rifle.
These experts can give your weapon an extensive clean and they can also identify potential flaws in your weapon. It might, however, be a good idea to sit in while the gunsmith is cleaning your weapon. You can get some valuable tips as you watch him professionally clean and maintain your weapon.
We do hope that this guide taught you how to clean a bolt action rifle so you can give your expensive weapon the best possible care. And if you need other weapon maintenance tips or if you are shopping for the best cleaning kit for your weapon, then you should have a look at some of our other guides. GunCleaningHQ is packed with the best weapon cleaning and maintenance tips and we also frequently review weapons accessories and other gear that you could get to ease cleaning or to take the performance of your weapon to the next level.