Ask Foghorn: Cleaning Kit for Firearms

SneakyArab over at Reddit says “I’ve got a Bersa Thunder 9 and as of right now no cleaning supplies. I’m just getting into the shooting scene, and have only been out to shoot it a couple of time, a few 17 round mags each time. Any recommendations on a cleaning kit that’s good for a beginner? I’m not looking to spend a whole lot on one, I just need the basics I guess. I do plan on expanding my collection to rifles (specifically an AK, most likely a WASR since I’m going to be looking around for one used and that seems to be the most common) so I could use a kit for both.” Good news! A suitable cleaning kit can be used for all different kinds of guns. Here’s what I’ve found works best for cleaning my guns . . .

Cleaning a gun, ANY gun, can really be broken down into three steps.

  1. Cleaning the barrel and chamber.
  2. Cleaning the operating mechanism.
  3. Lubricating the firearm.

Each of the three steps requires a different approach, but really only one tool is required — a cleaning rod. Cleaning and lubricating the operating mechanism is something that can be done with a rag and a finger whether it’s a little snubby wheelgun or a fiddy cal rifle. But some tools do make it easier.

The basics of a cleaning kit are pretty simple and universal. Here they are, listed in order of the ratio between usefulness and price:

  • Cleaning Patches — Just about every gun store sells little white cloth patches specifically for cleaning guns. They’re only a couple bucks for a pack and last a good long while. The patches are usually single use, though. I usually get the biggest ones I can find, they seem to be easier to use and I can cut them to size if need be. Like these. Old thin shirts can be used in a pinch, specifically white undershirts.
  • Lubricant — The enemy of mechanical devices is friction, and the enemy of friction is lubricant. While shooting, as grit and grime builds up on the mechanisms lubrication becomes increasingly important. Some prefer good old fashioned Rem Oil, others (crazies) prefer transmission fluid or motor oil. What I found works best for me is CLP for the guns I shoot a lot and white lithium grease for those I don’t shoot often.
  • Cleaning Rod — A part so important that most Russian and Soviet weapons come with one attached to the weapon itself. I always keep one in my range bag, just in case I have a stuck case or some other malfunction. This one is pretty good, and cheap too.

Some companies, in an attempt to make a buck off our laziness, make kits that include all three basic elements of a cleaning kit into one cheap package. This kit is the one I got when I first started shooting, and it has proven to be useful and fairly rugged. The cleaning rod did break after about a year, but that’s because one of my friends tried to use it as a javelin.

Whatever you decide on, another critical element of the cleaning kit is the box. Cleaning and maintaining firearms requires tools, spare parts, and usually lots of little gubbins that like to run away and get lost in your carpets. That’s why I always recommend shooters have a box dedicated to cleaning supplies and spare parts. This one is cheap and close to what I use.

For me, I like to keep a couple extra things in the box. Again, ranked by the ratio of usefulness to price.

  • White Towels — Wherever you clean guns is going to get messy in a hurry. A good way to keep your desk clean, keep track of all the parts and clean off some of the larger bits is an abrasive white towel. Not the soft and fuzzy ones, the “discount airport motel” level of discomfort is what we’re looking for. I actually absconded with the ones I use from a hotel in Texas where I stayed for a 3-gun competition. They’re reusable and they’re great for wiping the residue off the larger pieces. This one actually sits in a pile next to the box (not inside) but I think it still counts.
  • Q-Tips — Nothing gets the residue off a bolt face and the inside of an AR-15 chamber quite like a Q-Tip can. They’re cheap and plentiful and you have no excuse not to own some.
  • Dental Picks — Your fat stubby sausage fingers can’t always get the patches into those little nooks and crannies, so it helps to have some metal friends that were designed to do just that. Five bucks.
  • Bore Snake — Running patches down a barrel gets boring and messy. Bore snakes make the process a lot easier, only needing one or two runs through the barrel to get it clean. The best part is that they’re reusable, so throw them in the washing machine once in a while to clean them up and you’re good to go.
  • Screwdriver — Things break, and usually a screwdriver is all that’s needed to put things right again. It can also be used as a punch, a lever, a pick, a hammer… The list goes on.
  • Hoppe’s #9 — Awww yeah. The solvent that smells so good they actually make an air freshener out of it. If there’s ever a bit of residue that won’t come off or some other fouling on your piece, slap some of this sweet, sweet stuff on there and it’ll be gone in a flash. I use this to clean out my Mosin Nagant after firing “corrosive ammo,” and it works well for that too. Just don’t leave this stuff in too long as it might eat away at your gun. It’s a solvent, not a replacement for CLP.

Every shooter likes their guns cleaned a different way. Some don’t like to clean them at all (John Hollister I’m looking at you…). In the end you just have to figure out what works best for you and your firearms. But this list should get you going in the right direction.

Send your “Ask Foghorn” questions to guntruth@me.com

comments

  1. avatar Brice says:

    I like brass jags over copper brushes or patch holders. I think they do a better job of reaching into the lands of the barrel.

  2. avatar GS650G says:

    I had to find an airgun cleaning kit for my .17 HMR, everything stopped at .22.
    I use brake cleaner on some parts, cheaper that Gun Scrubber aerosol, just keep it away from plastic.

  3. avatar New2This says:

    Pipe cleaners are great for getting into deep nooks and crannies that even Q-tips have trouble finding. I always have on hand a good supply of those blue paper shop towels you can find in the automotive section at Walmart. Beats re-using or having to clean dirty/greasy rags.

  4. avatar Tyler Kee says:

    Hoppe’s #9 does smell delightful. I’d also recommend some inexpensive latex gloves and a set of small brushes for those hard to reach spots.

    1. avatar Van says:

      I use the nitrile gloves that are chemical resistant. Hoppes will eat holes in regular latex gloves.

  5. avatar Drew says:

    “The best part is that they’re reusable, so throw them in the washing machine once in a while to clean them up and you’re good to go.”

    Take them to the laundromat. (if you’re married, that is) Trust me on this one.

    1. avatar William says:

      +1

      Yes sir, I have learned that lesson

  6. avatar sdog says:

    good comprehensive list here NL.

  7. The picture looks like he’s giving that gun an enema. Heh heh. Heh. heh.

  8. avatar Sutton says:

    Can you add to this by listing any cautions that newbies should keep in mind? I notice you don’t mention a brush–I bought a brass one on someone’s recommendation and can’t help but wonder if there is a wrong way to use it. It seems so rough and abrasive. And also, you say everyone does it differently, but what do YOU do, after a range trip, say?

    1. avatar Pete says:

      Not sure if my prior comment was posted, but I use old toothbrushes for scrubbing out the odd corners inside the action, plus cylinder faces on revolvers. A brass brush SHOULD be soft enough that it won’t scratch any metal surfaces, but I’m not sure what it would do to plastic parts.

    2. avatar Nick Leghorn says:

      I didn’t list brushes because I don’t really use them that often. Sure, if there’s a large buildup of carbon I’ll break out my brass brush and go to town, but it’s not an everyday thing.

      Here’s my post-shooting ritual:

      – Completely disassemble firearms one at a time.
      – Rub down all surfaces (bolts and mags included) with a dry towel.
      – Use a rag with CLP to wipe down all dirty parts, then dry with towel.
      – Run the boresnake through the barrels 3x.
      – Use Q-Tips to clean chamber and locking lug area.
      – Lube the reciprocating bits with a healthy dose of CLP.
      – Reassemble guns, wipe off excess oil with towels.
      – Blue Moon with a slice of orange.

    3. avatar ankle says:

      I’d like to see some discussion of rod guides or crown caps or whatever those things are that are supposed to keep you from messing up the crown of your muzzle, for those times when you’ve gotta clean from that direction.

  9. What is that…a giant Q-Tip?

  10. avatar Pete says:

    Keep your old, worn-out toothbrushes. EXCELLENT gun cleaning tools for the odd corners of all guns and the cylinder faces on revolvers. Toss them when they start losing bristles.

  11. avatar Martin Albright says:

    I love bore snakes. In fact, I rarely use a cleaning rod anymore. Even when I was overseas in 2004 I took along a .22 cal bore snake to augment my GI cleaning kit. Three or four swipes through the barrel and it’s clean as a whistle!

    As a bonus, for guns that are difficult to “rod” from the breech end (like lever-action rifles, some semi-autos, and all revolvers except breakopen models) the snake makes it easy to clean the bore the right way – breach to muzzle, not the other way around (which is how you have to do it with a cleaning rod.)

    Some older cleaning kits have a “pull through” which is like a bore snake but without the snake part (it’s basically a cable with a round tip to put a patch into.) Bore snake is better IMO because it has so much more surface area than a patch.

    Cleaning revolvers: I find it a good idea to get a dental pick or scraper to clean around the forcing cone of the barrel, also the frame above the forcing cone will get powder and lead buildup that can cause the cylinder to bind. The pick is good for that, too.

    As for my kit, I keep it in a watertight .30 ammo can. Also my Hoppes #9 and oil are in zip loc bags inside their to catch any leaks. Since the wife is apparently not as big a fan of the scent of Hoppes as I am, I usually do my cleaning in the garage.

  12. avatar Donovan says:

    All your missing is a…

    Toothbrush

    Windex (Ammonia solvent for gunpowerder)

    1980s SciFi B movie

  13. avatar Greg in Allston says:

    If you’re handling solvents (either a lot or a little) it’s a good idea to get yourself a box of nitrile exam gloves that fit well. Your internal organs will thank you later in life.

    Always be careful with any solvent around the plastic parts of your firearms, lest they become goo or worse.

    An assortment of brass/bronze bristle brushes in various sizes often come in handy.

    Consider a small, portable air compressor with a blowgun; generally a great thing to have around, with many uses. As always, be careful using compressed air and/or solvents; wear your safety glasses.

    Lastly, if you’re using water or soapy water to remove corrosive residues or what have you, follow that step with some denatured alcohol to remove moisture in those hard to get at places. Allow the alcohol to evaporate, or blow it out, prior to applying lubricant.

  14. avatar Graybeard says:

    Good list.
    I use old socks for the initial wipe-downs – cut up & rough side out. Including the 1st run through the barrel.
    For a newbie, a Hoppes’ basic gun-cleaning kit is not a bad start. I’d add the bore snake option as well. I recently started using one, and am convinced they are better than just using the cleaning rods. I’d save the cleaning rod for really dirty barrels.
    One mistake to avoid is over-lubrication. Many newbies fall victim to this. A very light coat of lubricant is all that the gun needs. Too much can cause more problems.
    Otherwise, I agree with most of the comments here. The old toothbrushes, wire brushes for those times you need to really scrub, the wonderful smell of Hoppes No9 (which my wife loves, btw) . Never needed the dental pics, however. Q-tips can leave some cotton “hairs” if one is not careful. I don’t use ’em personally.
    Have fun.

    1. avatar Brad Kozak says:

      I like GunButter – a synthetic lubricant that comes in a squeeze bottle with a needle applicator. It makes it easy to get just the right amount of lube, with never a worry about overdoing it.

      1. avatar Todd S says:

        Mmmmm… Buuuttteerrr (slobber)

  15. avatar Todd S says:

    Don’t forget something to protect your work surface (if you care.) I use old Shotgun News issues. I get one every 10 days and they work great.

  16. avatar mikeinid says:

    I’ve started using Hornady one shot gun cleaner and lube — it evaporates without a residue, and seems to be a good lube. I originally got it for my reloading equipment, and like it on trigger groups and pistol slides. I like that it doesn’t pick up fine grit and sand like oil. For bores I still use Hoppes #9. Lately I’ve used one shot in a couple of mechanical applications, but it is pretty expensive, so I don’t use it for everything. I wonder if it is a teflon based lube and what you all think of it.

  17. avatar virtualjohn says:

    I use the Otis System. I pull everything from breech to crown. 1. Patch soaked with Sweet’s 7.62 2. Wait 3. Nylon brush 4. Dry patches til clean 5. Repeat 1-4 if not coming clean (Usually after having shot corrosive ammo. If lead or moly bullets I use Kroil, copper, Sweet’s.) 6. Patch soaked with Butch’s Bore Shine 7. Wait 8. Nylon brush 9. Dry patches til clean 10. Patch soaked with Remoil 11. One dry patch I, too use pipe cleaners and Q-tips. Bore Blaster heps in those tight spots, too.

  18. Those gun cleaning items that was in this blog are the most important things to have when cleaning a gun. In what brand of cleaning kit have all those items that was written above?

  19. Good article and good advices about firearms cleaning. It will be extremely useful for newbies.

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