gun cleaning kit beginner universal
Otis Elite cleaning kit courtesy Amazon
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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.

  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, 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.

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  1. Any product from Bore Tech. They make the most amazing solvents, jags, brushes, and AR kits. Rods are amazing too.

  2. While I’ve had many over the yrs, cleaning kits have evolved immensely…For all around rifle cleaning, I have some Tipton CF rods, Tipton jags and bore brushes, etc…I also use bore snake(s) for a quick cleaning, and last but not least, I have some Otis setups, specifically for .223/5.56, and .308…IMO, if one were to get just one cleaning “system”, I’d recommend Otis Elite, very well made and complete, just like the one pictured for this article…

    The only chemicals I use are Shooters Choice…

  3. imo, there’s no need to get a giant universal cleaning kit when you have one pistol. Get the Otis kit that is specific to the caliber of that pistol and you’ll be good

    • Later, if you get that AK, you’ll already have the patches, solvent, lube, essentially everything except a cleaning rod.

  4. I use that very Otis cleaning kit in my shop.

    If you shoot shotguns and rifles a fair bit, you’ll want to get one-piece cleaning rods. Do not ever use those mil-spec jointed cleaning rods for cleaning a rifle if you have any other alternative. Yes, they’re what Uncle Sugar taught you to use in the service. But guess who buys a new barrel for your rifle when the joints screw up the crown or the chamber? That’s right – Uncle Sugar buys a new barrel.

    When you’re the one paying for your barrel, avoid jointed cleaning rods the way you would avoid herpes.

  5. Little known fact; Hoppe’s #9 will attack your nickel plating if not thoroughly removed. Clean, then lube while removing all #9. Yes, I found out the hard way, 8 3/8″ S&W .41 Mag, the only one I could find was nickel (WTF kind of choice is a nickel .41 Mag?), has had a blurry little spot (not mirror brite) on the barrel for the past 30 years. Still shoots good, tho!

      • Pimp, drug dealers and politicians. All of God’s critters need eat too…

      • There’s one at my local, LNIB, getting steadily cheaper. Another hundred bucks and I won’t be able to help myself. Probably shoots great,but damn it’s shiny.

        • Just wipe it all down with #9, leave it wet and pack it away for a week! Not so shiny any more!


    • Yeah, you and everybody else!

      On the subject of solvents, I’ve found Breakthrough Clean works much better than Hoppes 9. Some the new new polymer guns recommend against using anything with ammonia in it and I think that the original Hoppes 9 has ammonia in it.

  6. Those pull thru cables are a PITA but I know some folks pretty high up in service rifle shooting that is all they use. Not for me. Maybe as a bug out kit or something you keep in your trunk for just in case. Nothing but Dewey rods and jags for me. Buy once cry once. Why would you want to recommend something to a newby that less than the best. Nobody I know in F class or benchrest uses that stuff.

  7. Let ya in on a secret….hit up goodwill now and then
    and I bet you find a full blown cleaning kit for 5$ sooner or later plus all the other goodies you might find?

  8. I’ve used pro shot brushes and a rod for 20 years. I also get 3 brushes from harbor freight for 2 bucks that had a brass, steel and nylon. Disposable.

  9. Some other quick thoughts:

    – MPro-7 is an excellent product in my experience for removing powder fouling in most guns, and plastic fouling in shotguns.

    – Hoppes #9, the old favorite, works and works well, but there is increasing evidence that the hydrocarbon products in it are not good for you, and are absorbed through the skin. Wear gloves while handling it.

    – Use lapping compound products (eg, Butch’s Bore Shine) sparingly.

    – Do not “saw” a brush back and forth in the bore. Clean from the breech to the muzzle, then unscrew the brush or jag, and pull the rod back. Don’t pull brushes or patches over your crown.

    – To detect copper fouling, send a patch through with a copper cleaning product on it. Most of them that contain ammonia will turn blue/green if there is copper in your bore. Follow the instruction on how to use these products. Do not allow these products to just sit in the bore for an extended period of time; they will “fog” or etch your bore, and then you’ll really have some fouling.

    – Use a bore guide with your one-piece cleaning rods to protect your chamber features.

    – Bore snakes are a good field expedient – much better than jointed cleaning rods.

    – CLP isn’t the best product at cleaning, lubing or protecting (from rust), but it is better than most “do it all” products. I use CLP in the field.

    – If you’re cleaning a revolver, invest in a Lewis Lead Remover.

    – Shotguns are one of the few applications where I recommend stainless steel brushes. You should not use a steel brush in a rifled bore. For cleaning plastic residue out of shotguns, a stainless steel brush can be useful.

    • “– Hoppes #9, the old favorite, works and works well, but there is increasing evidence that the hydrocarbon products in it are not good for you, and are absorbed through the skin. Wear gloves while handling it.”

      Avoid latex gloves if at all possible if handling organic solvents (like what’s in Hoppes #9) you don’t want to be exposed to. Organics zip right through them.

      At a minimum, use the blue Nitrile gloves…

    • Fuggitttaboudt any stainless steel brushes for firearms except for cleaning the chambers of stainless steel revolvers. Plastic gunk can easily be cleaned from shotguns with Ballistol. Let soak awhile with same and use the miracle product elbow grease along with a brass brush.

      • I”m guessing you’ve not seen the level of plastic fouling I have. I’ve seen plastic fouling so bad that the gun owner could no longer eject a spent shell from the chamber.

        Most gun owners don’t see what I see come across my bench.

        • … for which, should it continue for this gun owner, I would be profoundly grateful. 🙂

          Your stories and notes always make me grateful for the modicum of care I usually take.

    • Somebody theorizes that a brass/bronze brush can damage a steel barrel crown? I don’t think I’m buying that. I guess I could sign on due to developing a good habit pattern, but I have been “sawing” with brass brushes for 60 years, haven’t noted any accuracy degrade yet.

      • Agreed. The Bore Tech people said there is no issue with bronze brushes going down the bore all the way out and then back the other way. Totally safe for the crown. Same with nylon brushes obviously.

      • It isn’t theory. You can see what dragging the crap that is on the brush (or the patch) back over the crown does to the edge of the crown if you use high magnification to examine it.

        It isn’t the brush itself – it is the stuff that the brush dredged up as it went down the bore that is now on the brush (or patch) after it exits the muzzle.

        Again, the benchrest guys/gals have looked into this decades ago.

  10. Only comment I’d make, for about the same price you can get a set of brass cleaning picks from Amazon, instead of the stainless steel ones.

    Brass is a softer metal so there’s less chance of scratching something than with the stainless picks from Harbor Freight. You do, however, need to be a little careful, and they will bend if you push on them too hard. The plastic picks also work pretty well and reduce the scratch potential to just about zero.

  11. I was relieved we weren’t talking about whole kits. If you have all of those calibers – knock yourself out with a whole set of jags, most of my set from years ago still never saw the light of day. My “kit” consists of rags (old tshirts), q-tips, brushes (old toothbrushes work, but sometimes a brass bristle is good), and bore snakes for the calibers I have. Then solvents and lubes, or CLP. I’m dead set on Ballistol (thank Hickok45 if you disagree). Everything, new or used, gets the Ballistol treatment on day one. If it’s used and already fouled, you might want something stronger , or if you plan to use corrosive ammo. I believe it does coat or embed itself in the surfaces so that it does make cleaning easier over time.
    Anyway, it’s only a few things you “need”, with the right bore snake (or jag and patches) being the main variable between firearms. You might want a certain screwdriver, punch, etc, etc for a certain thing. Kits tend to have things you won’t need.

    • Ballistol is ph neutral,one of the reasons it very good at corrosive primed and black powder.

  12. I guess I’m a cheapskate. I have two small plastic bottles from the $1 store. One with motor oil, one with auto transmission fluid. A couple of shop rags and some old baby toothbrushes. A length of orange weed trimmer string with one end hooked to hold wipes to run through the barrel (works great on my rifles). All in a tub that I also got from the $1 store.

  13. Sweets 7.62 solvent. Also dissolves copper fouling. So powerful only 5-10 minutes soaking time from the last patch is needed.

  14. One word: Ballistol. Non toxic and both cleans and lubricates firearms. Beneficial to both wood and leather. The ONLY product you should consider if you have youngsters about since it is NON TOXIC.

    • Rubbish. There are tons of non toxic solvents and lubes on the market. Bore Tech solvents are all non toxic and Slip2000 lubes as well. And they shit all over Ballistol in terms of cleaning/lubrication. Ballistol is a compromised product as are all “all in one” products. You will never get the cleaning/lubrication nirvana with an all in one product when compared to dedicated solvents/lubes. Chemistry 101.

  15. One great way to test all these cleaning products is on muzzleloaders, which get much dirtier much faster than smokeless firearms. What you will find, though, is that 95% of these cleaning products are bullshit. The manufacturers know that most modern powders are barely fouling at all and that there are no established testing protocols for their industry. So they sell you something that lifts a little powder out and for most intents and purposes you never notice. It’s almost all comedy. Some of these wonder cleaners will literally take next to nothing out of a muzzleloader. In that world we have discovered this breakaway substance called warm, and sometimes hot, water.

    • “I Put KY Jelly in a can and sold it to you for your gun”

      Oh, so it’s you that put the kitchen Crisco in a bottle and called it “FireClean”…

    • If you want to learn how to properly clean a black powder firearm, read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Engels Wilder. If it was good enough for Pa, it’s good enough for me.

      Materials required: ramrod, funnel, thin wooden pick, boiling water, bore jig, cotton cloth, bear grease (I generally use buffler grease instead, as I have a limited supply of bear grease.)

      That said, smokeless powder is not the same as black powder, and is not removed with water nearly as easily.

  16. If your starting out in the shooting would and you just want a simple basic cleaning kit,like you suggested.i would go with hoppes pistol kits they make a decent product and it wont break the wallet.i do agree ottis is a very good one ever said you cant get a basic kit and build on to it.get a bore snack when you get your cleaning kit.when you get more into the sport then go to the ottis and on to your kit.thats all i gotta say besides have fun and enjoy the sport and always be safe.

  17. I like the Otis cable kits, partly for portability, and partly for cleaning my 10/22 breech to muzzle. I was lucky enough to find the military IWCK with rifle and pistol caliber brushes etc. and a bonus Gerber multitool. Their shotgun patch tool does a good job too

  18. Use the brush that can with your gun to clean the barrel after each session and soak it in some ballistol every now and then. Done.

    I have thousands of rounds through many pistols with this protocol.

      • My Gen 1 Glock 19, purchased in ’86, came with a plastic brush and a plastic rod with a slot for a patch.

        My Glock 36 didn’t have this.

        My S&W 41 had a mop and a aluminum rod in the early 90’s.

      • Every handgun i ever bought minus the taurus in 38 sp. came with a brush but thats buying brand new not on the use market.

        • and i’ve bought … many new firearms, and the only one that came with a brush was a surplus one that came with a cleaning kit. even my roomate’s rather pricey Sigs didn’t.

  19. TTAG should give the Dyspeptic Gunsmith some column space once in a while.

    I do run my bore brushes both ways and they last many uses, but I’m sure they’ll last much longer running in one direction only.

    I would highly recommend buying pre-cut cotton patches. Though I like mine to fit a bit on the snug side, and use 1-1/8 inch squares for .22, and 2-1/4 inch squares for 9mm.

    I put a small amount of Mobil 1 motor oil in my Rem Oil, which I use on slides and such. I don’t use Rem Oil or anything with Teflon in it, inside the bore. When you burn Teflon it makes small amounts of hydrofluoric acid.

  20. Add me to the Ballistol camp. I used Hoppe’s #9 and Break Free CLP for decades, and still use Hoppe’s after heavy shooting, but for everyday cleaning and protection I find that Ballistol does the job just as well and isn’t as messy in terms of heavy fumes and excessively oily residue. It’s also a little stress relief knowing that it’s less likely to be affecting any nickel finishes, leather, wood, cloth case linings, etc.

    After cleaning, I also put a light coat of gun grease on a few internal points with heavy wear, like where the slide or bolt contacts the frame.

    Haven’t tried Slip2000 yet, but some hardcore shooters that I know like it a lot, also.

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