A Complete Beginners Guide to Basic Gun Maintenance

Beyond acquiring proper licensing and whatnot, firearm ownership requires a great deal of responsibility. And one facet of responsible gun ownership is maintenance. Like most tools, firearms require regular cleaning and maintenance to function properly.

Cedar mill firearms ultimate gun cleaning and maintenance kit

Cleaning your firearm is not only about its aesthetics but it also increases performance, as well as a safety measure. It serves to ensure the gun functions effectively and fires safely. Every time you pull the trigger, a tiny explosion occurs inside the chamber that leaves gun residue inside the barrel. This residue leaves volatile chemicals behind that accelerate the depreciation of metal components. You must regularly clean it to remove this residue, particularly after you hit the range or after target practice.

cleaning a gun barrel using cleaning brush

Luckily, cleaning a gun and ensuring that it is well-maintained is not too difficult. So, whether you are a first-time gun owner or simply in need of a refresher on how to keep that firearm sparkling, here is a beginner's guide to basic gun maintenance techniques, including the requisite gun cleaning supplies and how often you should clean your firearm.

Why Cleaning Your Gun Is So Important

A dirty gun is an unsafe gun. More specifically, a dirty gun increases the risk of accidental discharge. A firearm comprises many moving parts. Failure to properly clean your gun can gum up the parts, the barrel may corrode, and rust can eat away or weaken the metal.

Of course, one other reason you should clean your weapon is to extend its shelf life. However, the key among them is to remove the powder fouling and make it safe for yourself and those around you every time the weapon is discharged. As we pointed out earlier, cleaning your firearm goes beyond its aesthetics. Here’s why cleaning your gun is important:

  • Safety

The number one requirement of firearm ownership is safety. A clean gun reduces the risk of failure. Shooting your weapon leads to residue build-up inside the barrel due to the explosion in the chamber. This residual buildup – if not cleaned up – can jam up your gun, which can fail to fire when you pull the trigger. This can be a matter of life and death if the failed round fires while you are trying to clean the jam.

cleaning a rifle using toothbrush

If you carry your weapon for self-defense, you want to be sure that it will function reliably and go bang when you need it. To ensure your firearm fires properly and accurately, ensure that all its components and moving parts are clean and well-maintained.

  • Shelf Life

Longevity is another reason you should clean your gun. Failure to do so, particularly after heavy use, can lead to the buildup of moisture, powder residue, and fingerprints. Over time these elements can corrode or rust a firearm's components, which can lead to dangerous malfunctions. Proper gun cleaning and maintenance will not only enhance its performance but will also increase its shelf life.

  • Familiarity

Regular cleaning and maintenance of your firearm will also familiarize you with the assembly and overall operation of the weapon. Disassembling a gun's components and assembling them after cleaning is a subtle skill that could end up being a lifesaver someday.

How To Clean A Gun: A Step-By-Step Process

Is it your first time cleaning a firearm? Whether it is a Glock pistol, rifle, handgun, or shotgun, remember that a firearm isn’t your typical household tool. And, cleaning is a typical household chore. For starters, you must recognize the dangers it presents, especially if safety procedures are not followed to the latter.

In this section, we highlight the step-by-step process for a successful gun cleaning routine, including essential tips to guarantee a safe firearm.

Step 1: Gather A Gun Cleaning Kit

A rifle with a cleaning kit

While cleaning techniques do vary with different guns, certain cleaning supplies are universal and can be used to clean pistols, shotguns, AR-15s, sporting rifles, etc. As a rule of thumb, always consult your gun manual for relevant information before you get started

Some gun models come with caliber-specific cleaning kits. But for the most part, the arsenal of tools you'll need for a firearm of any kind includes:

  • Gun cleaning mats/pads, trays
  • Cotton swabs
  • Liquid cleaning solvent
  • Gun oil/lubricant
  • Gun utility brush
  • Cleaning rod
  • Bore snake
  • Polishing cloths
  • Patch and patch holder
  • Caliber-specific bore brush

Beyond these essentials, some people may prefer supplies like flashlights, gloves, safety glasses, etc.

Step 2: Prepare A Safe Workspace

A gun and cleaning kit on a flat workbench

Gun cleaning should be done preferably on a flat platform in an outdoor space or a garage with good ventilation and lighting. That’s because heavy chemical use shouldn’t come anywhere near your food. A spacious utility room with large open windows is also an ideal location to clean your firearm.

Once a location has been identified, lay down a rubber mat/pad to function as a working platform. This will help protect all your gun components from sliding and disappearing into the crevices. Next, lay out all your cleaning supplies and ensure they are ready for use. It is also recommended that you wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.

Step 3: Unload Your Gun

The most critical safety measure before cleaning your gun is unloading it. Simply remove the magazine, empty it of all ammunition, and double-check to ensure the chamber has no live round in it.

Pro tip: Completely remove all ammunition from your workspace to eliminate the possibility of inadvertently mishandling or re-introducing live ammo into the gun. 

Step 4: Disassemble the Gun

Whether you are a gun enthusiast or a first-time firearm owner, you should keep your manual upon purchase. A gun owner's manual from the manufacturer details exactly how to disassemble and clean it. If you are dealing with semi-automatic rifles or pistols, you will generally have to disassemble those starting with major components such as the barrel, frame, magazine, slide, and guide rod.

If for whatever reason you lose or misplace it, you can consult the NRA’s firearms assembly guide for written and visual universal instructions on how to successfully take apart most firearms. Besides their guides, they provide manuals for specific gun models from different manufacturers. Before you start, ensure you disassemble your gun in a well-lit workspace so you don't lose tiny components.

Here's a 3D illustration of how you can disassemble a Glock.

Step 5: Clean The Bore

Of all the parts of a gun, the bore – which is the inner barrel of a firearm – is the most crucial part to clean. 

  • Attach a bore brush to the cleaning rod (or use a bore snake for convenience).
  • Dip the cleaning patch in a solvent, and run it through the bore (allow the solvent 10 – 15 minutes to adsorb the residue).
  • Push the patch until it comes out the other side of the barrel.
  • Repeat that severally to remove the residue and fouling, and stop only when the patches come out clean.
Cleaning bore of a barrel

    Step 6: Clean The Action of Your Gun

    The action is essentially the mechanical heart of your gun comprising parts that feed, fire, and eject rounds. This section features components like pumps, bolts, slides, etc, and keeping it clean is critical for the functionality and safety of your firearm.

    • Use a dry polishing cloth to scrub away debris.
    • Use a brush and solvent to remove dirt, grime, or fouling from the components.
    • Follow up by wiping down these components using patches or a cloth to remove excess solvent.
    Clean action and chamber

      Step 7: Wipe Down the Rest of Your Gun’s Exterior

      Using a utility brush, remove any dust, dirt, or residual buildup that may have accumulated over time. For hard-to-reach parts, use small brushes or a cleaning pick designed for this purpose. Consider using your manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific model.

      Step 8: Lubricate The Action

      Once all parts of the firearm have been cleaned, lubricate it to ensure it operates smoothly, and that it is protected against corrosion. Apply firearm-specific lubricant to moving parts such as the slide, trigger group, bolt, etc. Ensure you apply just the right amount of oil as too much can attract debris.

      Step 9: Reassemble The Gun, Inspect, And Perform A Function Test

      Ensure all the parts have been cleaned and lubricated andcarefully reassemble the gun by following the manufacturer's instructions. Next up, inspect to ensure no dirt or debris is left behind. Finally, it is common practice to perform a function check every time a firearm is disassembled and reassembled. This is done to ensure a gun’s performance is still intact. Ensure the firearm is still unloaded and:

      1. Apply the safety, then pull the trigger. If the action fires, you have a problem.
      2. If the safety functions correctly, your action will still be unfired. Now take off the safety, pull the trigger again and your action should fire.
      3. With your trigger still depressed, run the action with your other hand and keep the trigger depressed. This will simulate and test your trigger reset functionality.
      4. Finally, with the trigger still depressed and the action cycled, you should be able to slightly release the trigger (resetting it) and depress it again to fire the action.

      This will test your safety function, action, trigger, and trigger reset to make sure they operate as they should. 

      How Often Should You Clean Your Gun (Beginners Guide)?

      Having covered all the basic steps involved in cleaning guns, now it is time to answer the question that firearm owners ask the most: How often should I clean my gun? For starters, no hard and fast rule dictates the frequency with which one should clean their gun.

      However, it is worth noting that the frequency depends on factors such as the type of firearm, how often you use it, storage conditions, manufacturer’s recommendations, and personal preferences. As a general rule of thumb, it is best to clean your firearm every time you shoot it. 

      Some clean their guns less frequently, but regular cleaning is a surefire way to ensure powder fouling and residual buildup don't occur. If you are going to store your gun long-term, it is recommended that you clean it at least once every year to prevent common issues like rust and pitting. However, for regular use, here are the general guidelines based on activity:

      • Shooting competitions: If you participate in competitive shooting sports such as F-class or 3-gun, it is best to clean your gun after every match.
      • Hunting: This comes down to how often you shot as well as the conditions in which you were hunting. If the jungle is muddy, you will need a breakdown and thorough cleaning of your firearm before putting it away for storage.
      • Range Training: It is recommended that you clean your gun every time you hit the range because this exercise involves a lot of shooting.
      • Everyday Carry: If you typically carry your gun around, the frequency with which to clean will generally depend on how often you shoot, and where you carry it. That said, it is best to strip down and clean your gun weekly if its purpose is for everyday carry.


      A gun is not your typical household tool and in as much as it is a valuable weapon, proper cleaning and maintenance is key to ensure safety, performance, and reliability. As to the question of how often you should clean it, this depends on factors such as type, frequency of use, and storage conditions. However, it is best to clean your gun after every shooting session to prevent carbon buildup.



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      Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may receive a commission. This won't affect your purchase price.