Keeping your rifle clean is not just a matter of aesthetics. Dirt can significantly reduce your weapon’s performance and cause irreparable damage to some of its parts.
No one wants a wrecked weapon. A rifle must be reliable and precise, otherwise, what’s the use of it?
No matter what kind of rifle you own, regardless of its cost or age, you need to know how to clean it properly. With proper maintenance, it will serve you for a lifetime.
If you’re not sure where to begin, follow this tutorial to learn how to clean a rifle.
Before you begin disassembling your rifle, make sure you have all the necessary products. An essential rifle cleaning kit consists of a cleaning rod, copper brushes, cleaning patches, a solvent of your choice, rust protector, rifle holder, and some basic tools.
- Solvent is the key cleaning agent that does all the chemistry work. Most rifle owners prefer to use two different solvents – one for powder removal and another for barrel fouling maintenance. How to use these two solvents correctly will be further explained in the next section of this article.
- Rust protector is extremely important. Not only does it prevent environmental moisture from damaging your rifle, but it removes all the traces of the solvent. Solvents are made of powerful chemicals that eat away dirt and, sometimes, can start a chemical reaction with the surface of your weapon. Rust protectors are also high-quality oils that will help give your weapon a nice finishing touch and make it look like new.
- Cleaning rod, patches, and brushes are some of the basic tools. A rod can be made of aluminum, other metals, or covered with nylon. Bore brushes should be made of copper and bought especially for the proper caliber rifle. Brushes and cloth patches are for single use only, so you’ll definitely need lots of those. Fortunately they’re usually not too expensive.
- Regular tools and appliances that you already have might come in handy. You’ll probably need a Allen wrench to check if your scope mounts are properly tightened. Also, ordinary paper towels can help you remove any dirt before you begin using the more expensive cleaning stuff. Some people even love to use everyday accessories, such as old toothbrushes, to clean the metal parts of a rifle.
- Rifle holder or a gun vise may seem unnecessary, but if you want to make sure you don’t accidentally drop your rifle, you’ll need to immobilize your weapon properly. Make sure to get one that’s made of solvent resistant material, otherwise you’ll end up buying one often.
Before we get to the how, think of the where. You can’t clean your rifle just anywhere. Your cleaning place needs to be safe. Ideally, no one should be able to get near you as you’re cleaning the rifle. A worktable is a must, as well as decent ventilation. Cleaning agents are toxic chemicals, which tend to vaporize, so you have to ensure that you don’t inhale too much of those. Protect yourself by wearing good gloves and goggles.
Everything checked? Great! Let’s get to work.
How to Clean a Rifle: 10 Steps to Perfection
There’s no single way to clean a weapon. Different people have different routines and that’s perfectly fine. But, there are some steps that everyone needs to follow, especially if you don’t have much experience in weapon maintenance. To make it easier for you to follow the instructions, we’ve broken the procedure into 10 steps that are easy to follow. So, here’s how to clean a rifle!
1. Unload the Rifle
You’ve probably already unloaded it at this point, but you need to double-check anyway. This step can’t be stressed enough. Too many accidents were direct consequences of someone forgetting to make sure their firearm was unloaded. Don’t end up on an obituary. Unload your rifle. Turn the barrel to a safe direction, release the action, and have a close look before you go ahead to the next step. Remove any ammunition that may be inserted within the rifle. Once you’re positive that your weapon is unloaded, you can proceed cleaning.
2. Partially Dismantle the Rifle
To clean your rifle, it’s enough to dismantle it partially. To do that, place your weapon in a rifle holder, take out the bolt, and put it on your work table.
If your rifle is semi-automatic you might need to check the instruction manual prior to taking it apart. Prepare a cup or can to prevent small parts from disappearing.
Once in a while, you’ll probably want to remove and inspect the trigger assembly and take your firearm apart completely. That’s a good thing to do at the end of the season. Also, if the rifle has been exposed to heavy rain or dropped into water or mud, you should make sure all parts are clean and dry. However, completing dismantling your rifle shouldn’t be a part of a regular maintenance routine.
3. Inspect the Parts of the Rifle
While this isn’t an entirely necessary step to make your rifle tidy, you should still treat it as a habitual step. If you follow this step every time you’ll always know the condition of your firearm, so there will never be any unpleasant surprises!
4. Wipe it with a Paper Towel
Paper towels, along with toilet paper, are probably amongst the most useful human inventions. You can use them to remove loose dirt from all kinds of surfaces – including your valuable firearm. Continue wiping the dust and dirt away as long as the towel gets stained.
5. Clean the Barrel on the Outside
This step might seem complicated for a beginner, but it’s actually quite simple. Start from the rear end of the barrel. Take a clean patch and attach it to the end of the jib on the tip of the cleaning rod. Take the bore cleaner and soak the rod with it. Push the cleaning rod through the barrel. Before withdrawing it completely, remove the patch.
6. Clean the Barrel on the Inside
Now, take a bore brush (as we’ve seen, it has to be a copper brush compatible with your rifle caliber) and attach it to the rod. Put some cleaning solvent on it, a few drops should be sufficient, and brush the inside of the barrel. Once you’re done, take some clean patches to remove the remaining dirt in the barrel. Do this until a patch comes out spotless. You’ll need plenty of these every time you clean your rifle.
Pro tip: When you use solvent to clean any part of the rifle, make sure that it doesn’t stain the wood stock and ruin the finish.
7. Polish Metal Parts
Take some more paper towels or a clean rag, soak it with solvent, and swab the inner area of the magazine box. Do the same with the trigger guard, bolt face, and the rest of the metal parts. If they’re particularly dirty, you can use a toothbrush to loosen the gunk. After you’ve finished, continue wiping those parts until you’ve removed any remaining traces of the solvent.
Pro tip: If you need to clean the firing pin quickly after a shooting session, you can spray some solvent directly in it and then blow it out with a can of compressed air.
8. Apply a Lubricant for Rust Protection
Use a lubricant specifically made for rust protection to wipe all the parts of the rifle that you cleaned with the solvent. Don’t apply it directly on the surface. Take a paper towel, spray some lubricant on it, and wipe each of the parts. Make sure the lubricant doesn’t end up inside the barrel or on other surfaces that aren’t supposed to be treated with it.
9. Put the Parts Back Together
Now that you’ve cleaned all the parts, it’s time to reassemble your rifle. In order to make sure that everything is in perfect order, cycle the rifle and dry-fire it a couple of times. Your rifle is now clean, safe, and ready to be used or stored away.
10. Clean Up
Cleaning a rifle creates a lot of mess that you should handle without delay. Put all the cleaning utilities into an appropriate box. Wipe the surface of your worktable. Make sure there aren’t any traces of the solvent or the lubricant on your table or the gun vise. Done cleaning? Now you’re good to go!
Some Extra Tips
Now you know how to clean a rifle. Here are some additional facts that you should keep in mind.
- Make sure to clean it often. Otherwise, it could fail you when you least expect it.
- Sooner or later, you’ll notice that some people have a different firearm cleaning routine. That doesn’t mean that either of you are incorrect.
- You can invest in a borescope to see what the inside of the barrel really looks like. They are not as expensive as they used to be, so you should be able to afford one if you want.
- When buying bore brushes, you’ll find several kinds of brushes of different materials on the market, such as phosphor-bronze, nylon, and stainless steel. You should know that nylon brushes are completely useless. Stainless steel brushes can ruin your barrel’s surface. Phosphor-bronze brushes are both efficient and safe to use.
- Cleaning rods should be coated with nylon and you should wipe them thoroughly before and after every use. That way, they’ll never damage a bore.
- Some labels might be confusing. Learn the difference between CLP and LP. LP denotes a 2-in-1 product containing lubricant (L) and rust protection or preservative (P). CLP is a 3-in-1 solution that also contains a cleaner (C). Both CLP and CL are useful, and you should get one can or squeeze bottle of each.
- If you use a borescope, make sure that the oil or solvent doesn’t touch its lens.
Science and History Facts About Rifle Cleaning
- Cleaning rods similar to what we use today, but much heavier, were designed and used hundreds of years ago for canon maintenance.
- Ballistol, a widely used multi-purpose mineral oil, was invented in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, before World War I. Its original purpose was cleaning and protection of German military firearms. The word Ballistol is derived from ballistic oil.
- Cosmoline, a rust protection chemical that the US army has used since the Spanish-American War to protect the weapon, was invented in the 19th century. However, its origin has nothing to do with weapon maintenance. It had been used as a pharmaceutical product for centuries, before the military realized it could be used otherwise.
Knowing how to clean a rifle is essential if you care about the durability of your weapon. As we’ve seen, the cleaning process is not too complicated, but it does require time and care, especially due to the safety aspect. You can never be too careful when handling firearms, whether you’re just using it or cleaning it.
Let’s go through the basics again. The rifle must be unloaded before it’s dismantled. Once you’ve set it apart, check all the elements and wipe them. Clean both the inner and the outer part of the rifle using appropriate tools and solvents. Clean and lubricate metal parts. Make sure everything is clear, dry, and that there are no traces of cleaning chemicals that can potentially damage your rifle. Then reassemble your weapon and clean the mess that’s been made during the process.
We know you love firearms just as much as we do. So, we hope you found this article helpful!
There are all kinds of products available that can help make this job easier and much more pleasant than it used to be a hundred years ago. We’ve tried out and reviewed many of them, so feel free to check out our other gun maintenance product reviews to see if they fit your needs.
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