When you pull the trigger, you want your gun to go ‘bang’ safely and effectively. Cleaning your gun regularly will ensure that outcome.
As we saw in The Anatomy of Ammunition, when you pull the trigger, the firing pin strikes the primer, which creates a small spark, igniting the powder charge. The powder charge (gunpowder) explodes, propelling the bullet through the barrel and out the muzzle.
Every time you pull the trigger, this explosion is repeated. Each explosion leaves a residue of gun powder not just in the chamber and barrel, but also in other parts of the gun, dirtying the gun. When the gun gets extremely dirty, this residue can interfere with the proper functioning of the gun, causing mechanical failures like a jam, or a failure to feed a new cartridge, or a failure to extract a new cartridge. Sometimes the failures can be considerably more dangerous.
That is why it is recommended to clean your gun after you use it, especially after a session at the range, when you’ve used it dozens of times. Even if you don’t use your gun and just carry it around for personal protection, the environment could get it dirty enough where you need to give it a quick maintenance cleaning. My general rule of thumb is to clean the gun once every two weeks, or after you’ve shot it, whichever comes first.
You should always clean your gun in a well-ventilated area. The solvents and oils you will use smell rather bad, and are also bad for you if you inhale them. Good air circulation will eliminate the risk of inhaling those fumes directly. Don’t eat or drink while cleaning your gun—you don’t want to risk ingesting solvents, gun oil, carbon residue, etc. Make sure you don’t have distractions like the TV on while you’re doing this. Focus on cleaning your gun, and nothing else.
To be very safe, clean your gun in a room that doesn’t have any ammunition in it, so you can be sure that you won’t accidentally discharge the gun. And make sure the gun is safe (no magazine, and nothing in the chamber) before you bring it into that room.
There are several tools you will need to clean your gun. The gun store from where you bought your gun should be able to sell you a kit containing everything or, preferably, sell you the best versions of individual components of the kits. Here’s what you will need:
- Cleaning solvent
- Gun oil
- A bore brush
- A cleaning rod
- Patches of cloth to clean the barrel and exterior surfaces
- A flashlight
- Cotton swabs
- Microfiber cloths for the exterior
You should be able to find specific instructions specific to your gun online, or at your local gun store. These are the main steps:
1. Field Strip the Gun
You don’t need to disassemble it completely. You only need to dismantle the gun to the extent specified by your owner’s manual.
2. Prepare the Barrel
Insert (spray) some cleaning solvent into the barrel, and let it sit there while you move to the next step. The solvent will help dislodge debris from the inside of the barrel.
3. Clean the Recoil Spring
Apply a little bit of solvent to the recoil spring. Wipe it down with a patch.
4. Clean the Slide
Apply solvent to a patch and clean the slide and thoroughly. Make sure you get all the little crevices, using a small wooden stick or a toothpick to help the patch get to the tiny areas. I use cuticle pushers that I bought from Amazon for a couple of dollars for this purpose. You can also use cotton swabs with solvent on them to get into some spots. Make sure you clean the ejection port as well.
5. Clean the Trigger Mechanism
I’ve noticed that a lot of residue winds up in and around the trigger mechanism. You can use cotton swabs that have solvent on them to clean out those areas.
6. Clean the Barrel
All this time the barrel has had solvent in it, dislodging the debris on the inside. Now, use a bronze brush properly selected for your bore size (e.g. 9mm) and brush the inside of the barrel by inserting the brush into the breech end (the chamber end). This should further loosen up the debris. Do this a few times. Use a dry patch to remove the loosened fouling. You do this by screwing the jag onto your cleaning rod and pushing the patch onto the jag before inserting both into the barrel. Ask the folks at your local gun store to show you how.
After you’ve wiped up the inside of the barrel with a dry patch, do it again with a patch soaked in solvent, followed yet again with a dry patch. Repeat this a couple of times, until the dry patches come out clean.
Also clean the muzzle and breech as well as the outside surface of the barrel, including the area behind the cartridge feeder. Use a wet patch for this.
7. Wipe down the Magazine Well
It’s a good idea to wipe down the magazine well with a patch that has a little bit of solvent. You want your magazine to fall out easily when you press the release button.
8. Lubricate the Gun
Now that you’re done cleaning the gun, it’s time to lubricate it. Check your instruction manual to determine what needs to be lubricated. Usually it’s those parts where metal moves against metal. Just a little bit of lubrication is enough. You don’t want your gun dripping with lubricant. You can use a single purpose gun oil or lubricant, or you can use the same solvent you had been using earlier, as long as the manufacturer says it works as a lubricant as well. I use a wet patch to apply the lubricant.
9. Reassemble the Gun
Reassemble the gun. How you do this varies from gun to gun, but is usually the same steps you took to field-strip the gun, but in reverse order.
10. Wipe the Gun Down
Finally, wipe the outside gun down with a soft cloth to get rid of oily fingerprints, or oil or solvent that made its way to the outside.
Congratulations! Now you have a clean gun that will continue to function well.
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