How frequently do you clean your firearms? This is a gun topic people seem to like to debate. Do you clean them every time you shoot them? Or do you clean them on a schedule? Are you one that cleans your guns based on use, or just whenever you get around to it?
Your guns are your guns, and you should definitely do what you think is right. However, here is what I do. I'm sure some of you will strongly disagree. That's okay, right?
Firearm Cleaning and Maintenance—
No longer am I subject to weapons inspections like I was when I was in the Marine Corps. And for quite some time after I left active duty, I maintained a stringent view of firearms maintenance. Sure, there may be benefits to cleaning firearms after every use, and sometimes just because there isn't anything better to do. But I no longer feel bound to follow the same standard I did while in the Marines.
Generally, quality guns will still reliably run even if they are filthy. Here is a link to a post talking about what makes a quality, everyday carry (EDC) gun. Lubrication is far more essential to keeping the gun functioning than being so clean that you're ready for a white glove test.
Cleaning vs Inspecting—
Cleaning guns is a great time to inspect them as well. But it shouldn't be the only time we look to see if various components work before using a gun, especially if we are taking a gun to the range that we don't normally use. And we should inspect our EDC regularly.
For example, it only takes a moment to ensure your optic battery is functioning, the glass is clean, and the optic isn't loose. Similarly, check your iron sights for damage, or if they've shifted or loosened up. I conduct this quick inspection along with a chamber or press check on my EDC before I leave the house. Some other things you should check routinely is to make sure if you have a manual external safety, it works. And if your gun has grip panels, they aren't loose, etc.
Cleaning guns is important, no one questions that. But the frequency we clean guns is the focus of this article. Regarding cleaning, you likely fall into one of these 4 primary groups.
Clean Your Guns After Every Use—
As I mentioned, this is the stance I held, and if you spent time in the military, you might see firearm maintenance this way. There are benefits to cleaning a firearm after each range session.
First, it is likely easier to clean a gun that's only had 500 rounds shot through it than one that's seen 5000 rounds in between cleanings. The flip side is that if you shoot a lot, you're constantly cleaning guns. For those who enjoy the act of cleaning their firearms, or don't shoot often, frequent cleaning isn't an issue. But for others, this isn't sustainable.
Another positive of cleaning after every use is that cleaning your guns after every use likely means you're looking at the components on a more consistent basis. This way, you may notice a worn component sooner or before you have a failure. Keeping a log of how many rounds you've fired and following the manufacturer's recommendation for replacing parts is the best method for staying up on component wear. Regularly performing a functions check should uncover a significant issue.
So, can you clean your guns too much? Probably not. But you have to balance your time with the actual benefit of cleaning guns after every trip to the range. A clean gun looks nice, but not at the expense of important responsibilities.
Clean Your Guns on a Routine Schedule—
Depending on the frequency of use, you might clean your guns every month, every 3 months, or some other pre-determined frequency. In determining the schedule, you'll likely take into consideration the frequency of use and round count.
This strategy lightens the burden of a trip to the range for people who shoot several guns. But, clearly, cleaning 4 or 5 guns takes longer than one. So you may start limiting the number of firearms you actually shoot because you're calculating the added time of cleaning yet another gun.
This strategy isn't as time intensive as cleaning after every use, but still doesn't allow your guns to go too long between cleanings.
Clean Your Guns Based on Usage—
This method works best for me.
I don't clean my guns after every trip to the range. I'm also not waiting for a specific date to start a full-scale cleaning of all my guns.
Instead, I perform general “field strip,” cleaning somewhere in the ballpark of 3000-4000 rounds. I clean any gunk from the rails, feed ramp, and breach face. When I have time, or the gun looks exceptionally dirty, I'll break it down for a more thorough clean.
Because I don't clean my guns regularly or on any set routine, I apply light oil after shooting them unless they don't need it. Then, before shooting them the next time, I check to see if they need any lube.
When it comes to my EDC, I inspect it daily like I described earlier. One maintenance issue I didn't mention above is checking around take down pins or your iron sights for signs of surface rust. You can take care of this with an all purpose brush and some CLP.
I mentioned this is the method I use because I think it balances the necessity of keeping the gun running and lubricated with the time it would take to clean based on how often I shoot. I can conduct a deep clean when I have some spare time, but I am not beholden to a specific schedule.
My family appreciates this approach as well.
Clean Your Guns Whenever You Feel Like it:
Sometimes folks who realize how dirty their guns can run without issue go to the extreme of just not doing anything with them at all. I would advocate against this process for a gun you use for home or self-defense. You should know the general condition of any firearm you shoot.
For example, I have seen students show up to a class with guns that are filthy. That's cool; I like to see a well-used gun. But when they are bone dry, or have loose sights, or covered in surface rust, it's not a good thing.
First, this is when I typically see more malfunctions. Second, it also shows that the person hasn't handled or inspected the gun in a while.
This specific strategy for gun cleaning is more like no strategy at all.
I'll end by coming back to the main point: we should regularly inspect any self or home-defense gun. While the gun doesn't have to be spotless, we should ensure to lubricate it appropriately. Lubrication is far more important than cleanliness. You also want to examine any components like optics and sights for functionality or damage and ensure the gun is in the condition you want.
If you want a gun cleaning kit that works on multiple calibers, check out this one from ReadyUpGear. I like the stiff all-purpose brush, as well as the dental pick and brass barrel brushes. Snag some Gun Fighter Oil, and you're good to go.