A reader asks,
I’m just getting into the shooting scene, and have only been out to shoot my new pistol a couple of times, 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 plan on expanding my collection to rifles (specifically an AK since I’m going to be looking around for one used) so I could use a kit for both.
Good news! You don’t have to invest in a universal cleaning kit like the kit above. While that Otis Elite kit is undoubtedly great — with all its assorted jags and bore brushes — and will handle just about any gun you ever own, a suitable, affordable pistol, rifle, or shotgun cleaning kit is easily put together and will handle lots of different calibers. Here’s what I’ve found works best for cleaning my guns.
Whether it’s pistol or rifle cleaning you’re doing, any gun, can really be broken down into three steps.
- Cleaning the barrel and chamber
- Cleaning the operating mechanism
- 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, a semi-auto or a fiddy cal bolt rifle. But some additional tools will make it easier.
The basics of a good cleaning kit are pretty simple and fairly universal.
- Cleaning Patches — Just about every gun store sells little white cloth patches specifically for cleaning guns. They’re only a few bucks for a good size pack. The patches are usually single-use, though. I get the biggest ones I can find, they seem to be easier to use and I can cut them down to size for smaller calibers if need be. Like these. You can even use 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 a good old fashioned reliable lubricating oil like Rem Oil. Others (crazies) prefer to use 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 rifles 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. To that, you’ll attach the appropriate slotted tips and brushes for your caliber(s).
Some companies, in an attempt to make a buck off our laziness, make kits that include all three basic elements of a cleaning kit in one easy, affordable 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 broke 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. As you accumulate more guns and get more into shooting, you’re going to accumulate more cleaning accessories, tools, spare parts, and lots of little gubbins that like to run away and get lost in your carpet. Think nylon brushes, bronze brushes, steel and brass cleaning brushes, slotted tips, brass cleaning rods, utility brushes, cleaning solvents, greases and oils. The list goes on.
That’s why I always recommend shooters have a dedicated box or tool kit for their 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 my cleaning box.
- White Towels — Wherever you clean guns, it’s going to get messy in a hurry. A good inexpensive way to keep your desk or counter 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 where I stayed for a 3-gun competition. They’re reusable and great for wiping residue off of larger parts. I keep a couple in a pile next to the box (not inside) but I think it still counts. As an alternative, you could invest in something like this Real Avid cleaning mat to keep track of everything.
- Q-Tips — Nothing gets the residue off a bolt face and the inside of an AR-15 chamber quite like Q-Tip cotton swabs 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. Less than eight bucks.
- Bore Snake — Running patches down a barrel gets boring and messy. And you need a long cleaning rod for rifles and shotguns. Bore snakes make the process faster and a lot easier. You’ll only need one or two passes through a barrel to get it clean. The best part is that they’re reusable. You can 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 No. 9 Bore Cleaner — 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.
It seems every shooter likes their guns cleaned a different way. All gun owners have their own preferred tools and methods. And some don’t like to clean them at all. There are lots of universal gun cleaning kits out there, but in the end, the best gun cleaning kits are usually the ones you assemble yourself.
You just have to figure out what works best for you when it comes to gun maintenance, cleaning and gun care tools. That will take some time and experience. But this should get you going in the right direction.