Firearm maintenance: How to clean and care for your guns

November 5, 2020

This hunting season, brush up on your firearm maintenance and cleaning knowledge before you head out!

Firearm maintenance and gun cleaning kit next to a rifle

Hunting is a time-honored tradition as old as humanity itself. In the past, it was the primary way for our ancestors to provide food, clothing, and tools for their communities. Today, many Texans look forward to hunting season as an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, test their skills, and provide food for their families. While some hunters use modern takes on traditional hunting implements, such as bows, firearms remain one of the most popular methods. 

But with every advancement comes a tradeoff - firearms require thorough cleaning and care in order to maintain functionality and safety. Before you head out on your next hunting expedition, read on as we brush up on some essential firearm maintenance, care, and cleaning tips!

Why is it important to clean your firearm?

Safety. As any hunter, marksman, or firearm enthusiast knows, safety is one of the most important factors to keep in mind when discussing anything firearm-related. Whether you have a shotgun, bolt-action rifle, or semi-automatic rifle, firearms are carefully-crafted, precision instruments. 

Over time and with use, unburnt powder, dirt, and small bullet fragments begin to build up, not just in the action, but the barrell. It doesn't take much to cause a jam, a misfire, or even a bullet stuck in the barrell. Any one of these can create unsafe scenarios and could potentially render the firearm a hazard to the operator. 

Performance. In addition to safety concerns, a firearm that is not properly maintained can cause performance issues. A dirty firing pin may cause a light striking, preventing the primer from igniting the powder within the bullet. 

The rifling within the barrel of a firearm is precisely crafted to put a stabilizing spin on the projectile, which greatly increases accuracy. Having dirt and grime in your barrel can potentially throw off your marksmanship, which can have all sorts of negative consequences downrange. 

Of course, the more complex the firearm is, the more opportunities it has to fail. For example, a semi-automatic firearm has a far greater number of moving parts when compared to something more simple like a breech-loaded gun. A buildup of dirt, old lubricant, or burnt gunpowder can cause your action to malfunction, resulting in frequent jams. 

Protecting your investment. Whether you are a collector, hunter, or simply a firearm enthusiast, firearms of all kinds are a type of investment. When properly maintained, they tend to hold their value fairly well, and don't depreciate like a vehicle might. 

But even if you're not looking for an eventual return, firearms aren't exactly cheap, and replacing a broken one can be costly. That's why maintaining and cleaning your firearm is a key part of making the most out of your purchase.

Are you supposed to clean your gun after every use?

So we've established why cleaning is an important part of maintenance, but how often should you clean your gun? As you can imagine, the answer depends on what you use it for, and how frequently you use it.

In general, it is recommended that you give your gun a basic cleaning after about 300 rounds have been fired through it, and a thorough, deep clean after around 3,000. 

After target practice and range time. If you frequent the range for practice or recreation, you're more than likely going to put a larger number of rounds through your firearm than you would if you were hunting. For this reason, it's usually a good idea to clean your gun after each session at the range. 

After hunting. Even if you have an extremely successful hunt, you are unlikely to go through anywhere near the same amount of ammunition as you would at the range. On a more moderate, or possibly unsuccessful hunting trip, you may only fire your gun 5-10 times, or possibly fewer. 

However, hunting expeditions often expose your firearms to other environmental sources of dirt and possibly corrosion. Outdoor humidity, grass, dust, mud, and rain can all quickly impact your firearm, which means it may be a good idea to clean it after each outing whether you were successful or not. 

Of course, you can mitigate much of this by properly storing your firearm while on the move. For example, when you're hiking out to the deer blind, or setting up to wait for some wild pigs, you can reduce the contaminates your gun is exposed to by keeping the action closed, or possibly storing it in a protective carrying case. 

Cleaning a rarely used firearm. Sometimes, we have firearms that haven't been used in a while - perhaps they are part of a collection you don't want to use frequently, or maybe you haven't had the time to visit the range. In any case, some occasional cleaning is still a good idea. Dust, moisture, and other contaminants can collect over time, even if you have it stored in a safe. For this reason, it's always a good idea to your firearm out for cleaning at least twice a year, or once a quarter. 

Steps for cleaning and maintaining your firearm

First and foremost, always make sure that your firearm is unloaded and that the chamber is empty. With the barrel pointed in a safe direction, remove the magazine (if it has a removable one) before clearing the chamber to prevent another round from being chambered. Then, open the slide, action, or bolt to remove a round if one is in place. Check to make sure it's clear, then check, and check again. 

Prepare your space. Once you're confident that your firearm is unloaded, you'll need to prepare your space. You'll want to select a clean area that is well ventilated, preferably in an open garage or outdoors. Then, place a mat down to protect the surface beneath and catch any drips. Be mindful that many gun cleaning materials contain harmful chemicals, both to you and surfaces or furniture.

Gather your cleaning supplies. Make sure to only use cleaning materials specifically designed for firearms. You can often find all-in-one cleaning kits that include everything you need, such as a calibre-specific bore brush or snake, solvent spray, lint-free patches, and lubricant. 

Break it down. Of course, different firearms require different steps to disassemble. While something like a bolt-action rifle may be more straightforward, a semi-automatic rifle may have many parts. That's why it's important to always consult the owner's manual for specific disassembly and cleaning instructions.

Be sure to carefully set aside all of the various parts, pins, and springs so that you can easily put it back together. If necessary, keep a small pan nearby to hold smaller parts. 

Clean the barrel. Once you have safely disarmed the gun, begin by cleaning the barrel. First, use a dry bore brush to break apart some of the larger bits of grime. Then, dip a microfiber or lint-free patch in bore solvent and place it on your cleaning rod. Push it through, applying it thoroughly, and allow about 10 minutes for the solvent to work. 

Afterwards, run the bore brush back through barrel again, and follow it with a new, dry patch. Repeat this process until the patch no longer picks up any dirt. 

Clean the action. After you've successfully taken apart the action (whether it's a slide or bolt), use a nylon or copper brush to give an initial scrubbing to the various pieces. Then, use a can of solvent spray to thoroughly coat each piece. Hold the bolt or the slide in such a way that the solvent drips down onto your mat or into the drip pan. 

Again, allow the solvent a few minutes to work its magic before scrubbing it with your brush again and wiping it all down with your clean patches. 

Lubricate. After you've cleaned each piece of the action, you'll want to apply firearm lubrication. This often comes in a tube with a small applicator, giving you the ability to place it in the precise location where it is needed. 

Of course, the areas that need lubrication will vary based on the specific type and model of firearm. However, in general, you want to gently coat areas where friction occurs. This includes points where the slide or bolt meets the frame as well as other points where movement occurs in the action. Again, check your owner's manual for specifics.

While lubrication is important to the performance of your firearm, too much lubrication can be a bad thing. The excess can collect bits of debris, carbon, unburnt powder, and dust, creating a thick, sticky slime that makes it difficult for your gun to properly function. 

Reassemble and check functionality. Once you've cleaned all of the pieces and parts, you'll need to put it back together. But don't just leave it at that - you'll want to make sure that everything is back where it's supposed to go. Again, make sure that the firearm isn't loaded and the chamber is clear, and wrack the slide or bolt back several times. Not only does this help evenly distribute the lubrication, it shows you that everything is functioning properly. 

Furthermore, you may want to toggle any safety switches and check the magazine release button if necessary. Before inserting the magazine to test this functionality, check and double check the magazine itself to ensure it is empty. 

Wipe down the exterior. The last maintenance step requires a lint-free cloth, but a reel cloth, which is treated with silicone lubricant, is preferred. Using your lubricated cloth, gently wipe down the metal parts of the exterior of your firearm. Not only does this remove any leftover dirt and fingerprints, it provides a protective coating.

Now you're ready to safely store your firearm! 

Storing your firearm

Part of maintaining a firearm and keeping it perfect condition is properly storing it. Ideally, this should be a place with minimal exposure to dust, particulates, and moisture. A gun safe is the perfect place, not just for avoiding contaminants, but for the purpose of firearm safety. Additionally, certain safes can provide protection that other lockers and totes can't. For example, some safes are rated to withstand floods, hurricanes, and fires - up to a point, of course. Most safes have ratings that indicate how long they can withstand certain temperatures. 

If you do store your firearms in a safe, you can help protect them from moisture in the air by placing packets of silica gel beads at various places around your safe. These beads are often used to prevent moisture from affecting products during shipping, and can absorb water from the air in your safe, too. 

Are firearms covered under homeowners insurance?

No matter how carefully you clean and maintain your firearm, unexpected things can happen. Even if you store them in a fire-resistant safe, there is no guarantee that they won't be severely damaged in the event of a disaster. 

For this reason, many people choose to purchase insurance for their firearms. There are a number of companies and organizations that provide speciality firearm insurance. However, before you purchase a separate policy, make sure to check with your homeowners or home insurance company and ask if they provide coverage for firearms. 

Most home insurance policies have a section called "unscheduled personal property" which provides some amount of coverage for personal belongings that aren't otherwise listed. This might include items such as computer equipment, but can often cover firearms as well. 

That having been said, keep in mind that insurance companies often have coverage limits for firearms, not just in terms of a dollar amount, but the specific quantity of firearms. In other words, they may place a limit on the number of guns the policy will replace in the event that they are destroyed in a covered disaster. As always, policy specifics vary from provider to provider, so be sure to ask yours about firearm coverage limits.

A hunter walking down a wooded path during hunting season

For many Texans, firearms are an important part of life. That's why Germania doesn't put limits on the number of firearms our home insurance covers.

For more information about our insurance products, request a free quote online, or reach out to one of our trusted agents today!

Read more: Firearms aren't the only things that need regular cleaning! Check out our blog for some essential car cleaning tips!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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