Stop messing around with your gun

Image courtesty Stuck in Massachusetts

Alternate title – “You don’t need to clean your gun every time you shoot it”.  JayG experienced a malfunction with his 1911, according to his post he failed to seat the bushing correctly after the last time he cleaned the gun, which caused it to fail in a rather sporty fashion at the range.  No one was injured and more importantly (I kid) the gun was fine, but it brought me around to a conversation I’d had not too long ago with Todd from Pistol-Training.Com.  The specific topic was cleaning guns, and how often he cleans.  The HK45 he’s currently running he cleans every (I believe) 5000 rounds or so, but more importantly he lubricates the gun quite regularly.  Similarly, I’ll field strip and clean the Ruger SR9c every 1000 rounds or so, but I’ll lubricate the gun every range trip almost.

Which brings me around to my point – stop cleaning your gun so much.  You don’t need to clean it every 50 rounds or 100 rounds, or even 500 rounds.  I actually can’t remember the last time I really thoroughly cleaned my S&W 625.  I’ve run a bore snake through the barrel and the cylinders, but it’s probably been 2 or 3 thousand rounds since I really scrubbed the gun.  The reason is that there isn’t any point in cleaning your guns every 100 rounds or every range trip.  You’re not going to break your gun or hurt it by cleaning it (unless you’re careless during disassembly and reassembly) but most modern firearms do not need to be cleaned more than every 1,000-5,000 rounds.  Lubricated yes, cleaned, not so much.  Unless your gun is a pristine mint condition collectible (in which case I wouldn’t own it, much less shoot it) cleaning your guns every range trip is hardly necessary.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t clean your guns every range trip.  If you enjoy cleaning guns (I don’t) and really like field stripping and cleaning individual parts (I really don’t) then knock yourself out.  Do you also change the oil in your car every 100 miles instead of the 3000 to 5000 that your manufacturer recommends?  To my mind, there are a lot better uses of your time than cleaning guns, like dry fire practice.  Instead of cleaning that 1911, lube it up and do some dry fire practice with it and then clean it after you’ve shot it 1000 times.

44 thoughts on “Stop messing around with your gun”

  1. There may be a little overlap when I say “clean” and you say “run a bore snake through the barrel and the cylinders”…

    But yeah, I know, I need to stop obsessing so much. It’s just that I hear those poor dirty guns crying to me from the safe. “Cleeeeean meeeee”…

    (The model 17 really did it for me – FIVE stinkin’ rounds and I still cleaned it. Now, granted, I ran a snake down the barrel once and cleaned the cylinder with a Q-tip, but still…)

    1. “Hi, my name is JayG and I’m a compulsive gun cleaner”.

      “Hi, JayG!”

      In all seriousness though I used to be just like you in that regard, I would obsessively clean EVERY time a went to the range or something, regardless of how much it had been shot. Now I only clean semi-autos when they start to feel sluggish and revolvers I clean uh….sometimes.

      Caveat: competition revolvers will get their cylinders brushed every 200 or so rounds. That keeps crud out of the chambers and helps me reloads stay speedy.

  2. “but most modern firearms do not need to be cleaned more than every 1,000-5,000 rounds.”

    What do you consider a modern firearm? The original example is a 1911 (albeit a stainless one) which cannot be considered modern at all.

    I clean all my guns to some degree or another before they go back in the safe. It’s usually a field strip, clean, and lube. I don’t do this because they need the cleaning for function. I do this because I don’t want gunk sitting on my guns while they’re in the safe. I’ve had one pistol’s barrel rust spot on me before I started doing this and I have no urge to repeat the experience.

    A related question – how often do you clean your guns when you don’t shoot them? Most of my stuff can sit in the safe indefinitely, but if you carry something, you’ll need to clean it eventually.

  3. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever tried lubing a pistol without field stripping it.

    What do you do? Slap a little lube of some sort on the slide rails with it locked back and let it work itself around as you cycle it?

  4. Clean it if it makes you happy, but realize that far more guns have been cleaned to death than shot to death.

    The guns that live in my range bag (K-22, LTC 9, and 22/45) get cleaned when I go to Tennessee; about once every three months or so.

  5. What do you do? Slap a little lube of some sort on the slide rails with it locked back and let it work itself around as you cycle it?

    For a 1911? I lock the slide to the rear and dribble a little down the cuts in both sides of the slide and smear a drop around the front of the barrel where it rides in the bushing. Let the slide down and smear another drop on the barrel hood. Run the slide vigorously a few times, et voila, she is all oiled up.

    1. I do the same thing to my 1911s that Tam does but I also will put a drop on the full length guide rod that all my 1911s have.

  6. I don’t clean my guns all too often anymore. When I was a new shooter I thought perhaps I needed to keep them clean but then I realized it mostly wasn’t necessary. I have 800 rounds through my CZ-75 so far and I finally wiped the barrel down with a rag a bit but otherwise I still haven’t cleaned it.

  7. I forgot to mention that I do clean my TT-33 whenever I shoot it because the surplus ammo I have for that gun is corrosive but everything else waits.

  8. Jeff the Baptist, I guess when I think “modern firearm” I think “stuff that’s been manufactured in my lifetime” aka about the last 30 years. My current carry gun is the Ruger SR9c. It gets cleaned about every thousand or two rounds, I was probably going to run a bore snake through the barrel this weekend and apply some additional lubrication to the gun, but beyond that it doesn’t really “need” to be cleaned until the slide starts feeling gritty and sluggish.

    Jesse, that’s absolutely fine. If you shoot corrosive ammo or blackpowder through your guns, they do need to be cleaned every range trip or you risk serious long term damage to your firearm. When I was shooting a lot of BP, my cleaning rituals were very dedicated and thorough. I once rusted out a muzzleloader because I left it for a couple of days…that turned in to a week or two and when I finally remembered to clean the thing it was too late.

  9. Barrel bushings fail on 1911’s, always have and always will, if you shoot one alot you should have a spare bushing, spring and cap. As the spring and cap are a pain to find in grass! Toggle link is in the same class, either have a spare gun or spare parts for competition use of a 1911, and buy quality parts not the cheapish crap from an unknown manufacturer.

    And to borrow the car analogy you wouldn’t expect to race a car at it’s max speed for months and not have to replace some parts either, yet we expect out guns to run at full bore for a lifetime and not have anything wear out? Really?

    My guess is cleaning (if it is done properly) will never hurt your guns or cause failures, but rust and dirt will do so!
    I at least brush, swab and oil the barrel and gas piston/tube (if so equipped) of all guns fired that day (my incentive to just take a few on each outing!) before putting them away.

    I just did a full (FULL!) disassemble of my my 1911A1 carry gun, every part taken out, cleaned, oiled and re-assembled. Even the mainspring housing disassembled!
    Function test upon re-assembly, be sure each safety works properly, etc and so forth. I doubt you could re-assemble a 1911 in a way that would cause bushing failure, more likely metal fatigue due to the pounding of 1000’s of rounds finally got it to shear off it’s lugs that hold it in.
    If you find it I’ll bet that the lugs are broken!

  10. They actually did find it, and the lugs were in fine condition. You’ll notice that nowhere above do I say “don’t maintain your firearms” I’m just saying you don’t need to field strip and clean them every range trip.

  11. You don’t mention carry pistols, but I feel that carry guns should be cleaned regularly whether they are fired or not.

    I can’t tell you how much lint, dirt, dust, and grime I clean out of my carry pistols. During the summer I also wipe them down with a silicone cloth before holstering up to keep rust at bay – not cleaning per se, but necessary maintenance IMHO.

  12. Zermoid,

    Read the linked post: JayG’s bushing didn’t fail. The recoil spring plug apparently hadn’t been fully seated.

  13. Considering I shoot a couple times of year, if I’m lucky, I clean every range trip because I don’t want to let that crud sit in my firearm for up to a year.
    And I DEFINITELY clean my surplus firearms, which I shoot corrosive ammo through, every range trip…for obvious reasons.

  14. Also the finish on my Polish Tantal (semi-auto AK-74) is so paperthin (THANKS, CENTURY!) if I don’t clean it within a couple of hours it’ll start rusting big time. It’s to the point now that I give it a preliminary coat of Hoppes #9 in several places at the range so it won’t rust by the time it gets home..and it’ll be easier to clean.

  15. Yeah we all thought the bushing had broken when we saw the spring hanging out, but nope, everything was A-OK and the plug was found, given a quick wipe-down and the colt was again running.

  16. I still don’t know what happened there. I’ve been shooting 1911s almost as long as Caleb’s been alive (only slight exaggeration here – it’s been over 20 years).

    I have literally (note proper use of the term, Caleb) never seen a bushing work its way loose before.

    Until Sunday.

    *shrug* Live and learn, y’all…

    1. Horse Thief – usually the first thing I do is add more lubricant to the gun. If malfs still continue then I’ll field strip it and clean the slide rails and other contact surfaces.

      That reminds me, I need to buy some more brake cleaner.

  17. On the flip side of this discussion, when your 1911 is having FTF/FTE issues the first thing to do is clean the damn thing. It’s amazing how a little piece of schmutz can hold onto the brass and keep it from flying freely from the gun.

  18. daniel wrote: “I can’t tell you how much lint, dirt, dust, and grime I clean out of my carry pistols.”

    The question, though, is whether any of that impacts the pistol’s ability to go through its cycle of operation repeatedly and reliably.

    WANTING a clean gun and NEEDING a clean gun are two very different things.

  19. I strip and clean my guns EVERY time I fire them.
    Early conditioning from family members re-enforced by professional training.
    Dad’s a retired Army colonel. My uncles were WWII vets. SMG Higa was my ROTC firearms instructor. Treasury agents taught me at FLETC.
    Sole exemption is stainless Ruger MkII. That usually gets a flush with Bore Blaster and then lubed. Finally stripped it last weekend. More importantly I actually reassembled it without professional help (not counting the splash of Jameson to steady my hands).
    This tread may encourage my natural laziness over guilt.

  20. Yes, did finally see the linked article. Strange.
    I too have been shooting 1911’s and clones for many moons and never saw that happen. Can’t even figure out HOW it could! Most bushings are fairly tight, they are inserted turned to the Rt (I believe) then turned 180 degrees to the left, spring and cap in and turned back to center. The cap under spring pressure holds it all in place. unless you didn’t quite get the cap snapped into place i can’t figure out how it could fail in that manner.
    I’ve seen them break and eject before but never come out in one piece, no damage to the slide either?

    Just when you think you’ve seen it all………………..

    And daniels, I second “Todd, I’m sure I don’t want to find out the hard way how much lint and dirt is too much lint and dirt…”, especially on a carry gun. Failure is not an option!

    One last thing, on FTF/FTE issues, check your extractor tension. Soooo many people overlook this on 1911’s. Take off the slide and slip a round under the extractor, It should have just enough tension to hold the round on the breech face, too tight and you get FTF, too loose and FTE problems. If your brass lands at your feet to about 3 feet away and sometimes doesn’t clear the ejection port the extractor is too loose. I got a sweet deal on a used 1911A1, a Springfield Armory GI model for $200. Looked new and clean but the guy said it wouldn’t eject empties right and he didn’t trust it for protection.
    Bought it, tried it out, and when I checked it over back home the extractor was way too loose. I am not sure but I think the guy often dropped a round in the chamber and slammed it shut instead of stripping one off the mag. 1911 extractors are alot like Mauser extractors, they CAN be snapped over a rim, but I don’t recommend it!
    Sooner or later it will bite you in the ass!
    (or cost you a few hundred dollars for a new gun to replace one that only needed the extractor fixed!)

  21. Oh, and if you don’t know how to adjust a 1911 extractor go to the Brownells web site, they have a very good description of it there. As well as many other 1911 How-To articles.

  22. Caleb is exactly right when he says “You don’t need to clean your gun every time you shoot it”.

    Unless you’re talking about an AR. Direct Gas is the Kryptonite for reliability in self-loading firearms. The Marine Corps requirement is to clean your rifle not once every 3 or 4 trips to the range, or even once every trip to the range, but to CLEAN YOUR RIFLE THREE TIMES, ON CONSECUTIVE DAYS, EVERY TIME YOU GO TO THE RANGE.

    My Glocks and AK’s, however, are cleaned once a year or every thousand rounds or so, whichever comes first.

    FormerFlyer

  23. Daniels: “Todd, I’m sure I don’t want to find out the hard way how much lint and dirt is too much lint and dirt…”

    While I appreciate the sentiment, my attitude is the opposite: I *do* want to know that a gun my life may depend on won’t be shut down by a piece of lint.

    Not trying to sound snarky, but can you point to a verified instance of a piece of lint being enough to stop the function of a gun being driven by a tens-of-thousands pounds per square inch pressure blast?

  24. Todd – my point was that I don’t want to find out when I really need my gun that it’s been too long since I cleaned it and the action is full of dirt and lint.

    I agree – I do want to know “how much dirt/lint” is too much. If my carry piece can be waylaid by anything other than sterile operating room conditions, that’s a gun I won’t own very much longer.

    I’m not saying that a piece of lint is enough by itself. But I carry a 1911 cocked and locked, and I know it’s sometimes disconcerting to look down at my firing pin and see it covered in a layer of lint and dirt. Swabbing a Q-tip through there every couple of days or so generally keeps it clean.

    You do make a very good point however. How much does the surface coating of dust and lint affect my pistol’s performance? I regularly (about once every three months, carry ammo is pricey) take my carry pistol to the range, take it directly from my holster and fire the magazine that is in it, lint, dirt, and all. I can’t remember ever having a failure.

    Still, I’m of the opinion that it’s a good idea to clean carry guns with some regularity.

    My point is, for a carry firearm that I may need to depend on to save my life, I think it’s a very good idea to clean and re-oil it on a regular basis. For me, that regular basis is weekly or monthly depending on the weather (I tend to need to clean it more in the summer), regardless of whether or not it’s been fired.

    1. When I carry a 1911 (which is my preferred gun) I have been known on occasion to blow the lint out of the hammer area much as I have done to many a Nintendo cartridge back in the day.

      Such are my sins.

  25. “I have been known on occasion to blow the lint out of the hammer area much as I have done to many a Nintendo cartridge back in the day. ”

    Yup, same here.

    The sear and disconnecter are down there, 2 small and majorly important parts.

  26. On the 1911 in question I used Hoppe’s Elite Bore Gel to get the gunk out of the chamber and return it to its previous brass chucking form. That stuff is magical.

  27. daniel — Understood, I’m certainly not advocating that anyone stop cleaning his guns. All else being equal, a (properly) cleaned, (properly) lubricated, and (properly) reassembled gun is going to serve its owner longer than one that’s abused.

    Most people clean their guns because they want to. Whether it’s because Sgt. Bongo taught them at boot camp or because Granddad taught them at Cub Scouts, they’ve internalized the idea that responsible gun owners have spotless guns. But for most people under most circumstances, that amount of attention isn’t *necessary*.

    The gun I shoot 2-3 times per week is also the gun I carry every day. If I took the time to clean it after each practice session, I’d spend half my life at the bench. In my experience, a dirty but well lubricated pistol will gun as reliably as a pristine one…

  28. FormerFlier,

    Unless you’re talking about an AR. Direct Gas is the Kryptonite for reliability in self-loading firearms.

    Google “Pat Rogers Filthy 14″…

  29. Caleb, I agree with your post basically 100% As a uspsa shooter I tell people I’ll clean my gun every 1000 rounds or so they look at me like I’m nuts. I don’t usually give the barrel a real cleaning until closer to the 2000 round mark. One thing you missed was an exception

    1. If you are using corrosive ammo, the firearm must be cleaned ASAP. At least the barrel and gas tube/piston. Failure to do will damage your firearm. I own an ak-74 I made the mistake of letting it sit a few days before cleaning after putting corrosive down the pipe… bad idea, surface rust galore.

  30. Everyone has their own rituals about cleaning. I have a bolt-action .22 that has never had its barrel cleaned, because I shoot lubed ammo through it. I wipe the exterior and clean the crown, and leave the barrel alone.

    But, as someone who carries a concealed handgun at all times (except where prohibited), cleaning a carry gun is mandatory after it has been fired.

    I don’t want the gunk, the soot or the smell on me or my clothes. And I don’t want any lint, threads or other detritus to get caught behind a trigger, jammed in between a slide & frame, or block a hammer from hitting a firing pin.

  31. The Marines are one example of an organization that wears out more weapons with obsessive cleaning than actual shooing. Unit armorers still do white glove inspections on rifles that can go multiple thousands of rounds between cleanings.
    Viewing the results of the previously mentioned Pat Rogers Filthy 14 should put to rest all those “must be spotlessly clean to function” old wives tales. Lube it generously, keep up on your preventative maintenance, and it will run like a sewing machine on crack.

  32. Greb Bestland said:

    “I own an ak-74 I made the mistake of letting it sit a few days before cleaning after putting corrosive down the pipe… bad idea, surface rust galore.”

    74’s aren’t chrome lined barrels? Most AK-47’s are, never had a 74 tho so no experience there. My SKS and AK have chrome, Piston end is chromed but gas tube isn’t, go figure the intelligence there. Especially since Ruskies and Chinese use corrosive ammo. (and now ship it here…..)
    Guess they figured the tube was cheap and easy to replace?

  33. Zermoid, it depends on the AK-74. Mine was a part-kit gun that was built by Century (bleh) and they put a new US made barrel in it (THANKS, ATF!)..and it’s not chrome lined. But there are other places an AK can rust. The gas block, the gas tube, the muzzlebrake(which is MASSIVE on the Tantal), the piston, etc. etc. etc.
    This is why I use Hoppes #9 and an eyedropper before I leave the range.

  34. Ok, folks. Newbie question time. How do I tell what ammo is corrosive? I use a 9mm Beretta type 92F and a PX4 carbine.

  35. If you avoid any steel cased ammo or commie-bloc surplus ammo you’ll be in good shape. Stick to Winchester, Federal, Remington, Magtech, and CCI and you’ll never have a problem.

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