Owning a firearm comes with a lifetime of cleaning and maintenance. Strapping on your everyday carry (EDC) gun each day exposes it to a host of issues that those range or safe guns never see. Things like body oils and sweat, condensation from changes of outdoor and indoor weather, lint and other debris can quickly turn your pristine sidearm into a gun with spots of surface rust, as well as dust and debris in its nooks and crannies.
For obvious reasons, this is not something we want happening to a tool we are going to rely on to potentially save our lives.
There are lots of cleaning kits out there that come with ‘everything you need' to clean your gun. Some fit the bill and some fall way short. When you don't have the right tool for the job, you can't get it done right. So I thought I would put together a little list of some items you definitely need if you want to maintain your firearm.
Of course, there are going to be many additional items that can help make the job easier, or can be used for specific maintenance on specific parts of specific guns. But if you grab this stuff, you will be able to tackle nearly any task associated with keeping your gun in good condition.
I know there are some that swear by CLP (cleaning lubricating and protecting), all-in-one product. ‘It was good enough for us in the military and it's good enough now.' And there is some truth to that, but also understand the military doesn't always purchase the best products. They purchase the cheapest and simplest options.
The reality is task-specific products, like those that work only to clean or designed only to lubricate, perform better than a general purpose product. But if Marines can carry one product that will clean and lubricate ‘well-enough' rather than two products that will do ‘an outstanding' job, what do you think the Marine Corps is going to choose? Especially if buying two products costs more than good ol' CLP.
So if you're not forced to pack all your cleaning gear on your person, choose a good product that is designed specifically for cleaning the bore and bolt. These products are great at breaking down carbon that builds up from use.
Chamber/Barrel Brush –
The chamber of your gun, especially the feed ramp, is susceptible to carbon buildup. And the barrel becomes fouled with unburnt gunpowder residue. A good copper chamber and barrel brush do great work at cleaning these areas.
The brush should be sized for the caliber of gun you're using it on, so it fits exactly in the barrel and can clean the grooves inside the barrel. A clean and smooth feed ramp is important for proper feeding and chambering in a semi-auto. And I like to use the stiff, copper of the chamber/barrel brush on this area.
Alternatively, you can use a bore snake, which is a nylon rope with copper brushes attached. They work well for a quick clean, and if your firearm isn't that dirty they do a great job. But if you have had a good range session or attended a high round count class, you're going to have to bust out the brushes.
AP (all-purpose) Brush –
Typically a two-sided, nylon-bristled brush with one side having a small tapered brush end, and the other an end similar to a toothbrush. In a pinch, you can use an old toothbrush, but the AP Brush is better.
Its bristles are much stiffer and not as densely packed together. This facilitates reaching down into the crevices of the gun. It also has a narrow end, that can get into hard to reach areas. You can get these brushes with copper or stainless steel bristles in addition to the nylon. You need a nylon bristled brush, the other ones are nice to have, but make sure you are using them on appropriate areas of your firearm or you could damage the part's surface.
Eyelet/Jag, Punch rod & Patches –
Patches, or clean squares of cotton cloth, are attached to an eyelet or jag and pushed down the barrel to clear out all the gunk you broke down with the cleaner. Clean patches are continually passed through the barrel until they come out clean. There is something satisfying about holding a perfectly clean barrel up to the light and seeing the lands and grooves shining. Or maybe it's just me.
Oil/Grease Lubricant –
A lubricant applied in between to metal parts that rub against one another, will protect them from excessive wear. In my experience, most quality guns will function even if they become excessively dirty. However, a gun that is run for excessive periods without lubricant is more likely to have a part fail, or a spring break, causing a malfunction. Not only does a good lubricant protect the gun from wear, but many products are also made from products that don't turn into gunk themselves as the gun cycles repeatedly.
Which products are the best? Look on the internet and you will find a lot of anecdotal evidence on what lubricant is the best. There are a lot of great products, there are a lot of decent products, and then there are products that are not even designed for firearms that people use like vegetable oil, motor oil, and WD-40 to name a few. I ran a test on a few different brands of lubricants and here are the results. Not surprisingly, grease lasted the longest before it burned up, but was a little messier when cleaning it from the gun.
Oil also works great for lubrication but performs another important task as well, preventing rust. As mentioned carrying your firearm every day exposes it to body oils and sweat. All of this is bad for the exposed metal of your firearm. Areas that are treated such as the slide, are unlikely to start having surface rust.
Look out for areas around the base of your sights, slide stop, grip screws and anywhere that the firearm was dinged at all. Leaving a very light film of oil on the exterior of the gun is great (please not on the grip), but still inspect your firearm regularly for rust. Especially those areas.
It may seem strange to list a rag, but honestly an old t-shirt is something you can't clean your firearms without. Also a great ‘tool' for applying that light film of oil over the exterior of your gun.
Cotton Swabs –
Yup, Q-tips. The things made to clean your ears, that doctors say not to use to clean your ears. While there are gun cleaning specific ‘Q-Tips' that are longer and have denser cotton tips, the box of 500 for like two dollars at Wallyworld work just fine. Just make sure when you're getting down into the small areas of the gun, that strands of cotton do not come off and stay in the action of your gun. Obviously not a good thing.
Most firearms do not need any tool to be basically taken apart or ‘field stripped', but some do. Make sure you have the right size so you don't damage the frame. Also, if you learn how to strip your firearm down even more for maintenance or a deep clean, almost inevitably you will need a punch for the pins that hold things together.
Dedicated Space –
Not necessarily a tool, but you should use a dedicated space to clean your firearms. This way you can leave your gear there, and don't have to worry about not having what you need on hand. Also, in that designated space, you can place things like a sign that reminds you to make sure the gun is clear, which can't hurt.
You can also have a dedicated surface, like an armorers mat. These soft mats are rubbery and help not only to protect the gun's finish from the table you're working on, but it absorbs some of the excess cleaning products that may drip off. These oils and cleaners are not always healthy for humans or kind to finishes of furniture.
And it can't hurt to have a tray for the small items you may take off your firearm. Little pins and springs can easily be lost. Any sort of tray or container will save you hours of frustration searching for the pin that rolled off the table, trust me!
Tool/Tackle box –
Maybe I am an organization freak, but I find I am more likely to put things back if they are organized. That means I don't lose them … and then blame my wife. So get some sort of container you can store all your gear in, and you're likely to have it when you need it.
Every gun comes with a manual explaining how to clean it. But maybe you lost it or bought the gun used and you don't have it. Or maybe it's from one of those manufacturers that make terrible manuals. Most companies have online videos explaining and showing the best way to dis/reassemble, function and safety check your firearm.
Okay I'm sure you got it. Now go out grab this gear and hit the range!
Here are links to some of the products pictured or spoken about in this article: