Should you clean your handgun after every use? Most modern-day service handguns are built to handle tremendous abuse. They’ll continue to function even when they’re filthy dirty. Just Google your favorite polymer pistol and the words “torture test.” So why not wait for a leap year to clean your handgun? Or simply don’t clean it at all?
Most folks clean their handguns because everybody tells them if they don’t the Baba-Yaga will come for them. They’re told that a dirty handgun is a hundred thousand times more like to malfunction than a squeaky-clean pistol. You’ll aim your filthy firearm at the bad guy and…CLICK.
That ain’t it.
While a clean gun is a happy gun — and yes, somewhat less likely to stop working than a dirty gun — as long as you keep it lubricated, the main issue you face is simple wear and tear.
Guns are mechanical objects. Mechanical objects degrade with use. Parts can and will give out. It’s only a matter of time. Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. But there’s no avoiding it. In some cases, when these small parts break, they render the weapon inoperable.
The real reason you should clean your handgun on a regular basis: to inspect small parts for abnormal or indeed normal wear and tear, to avoid a catastrophic failure.
Even the simplest handguns are complex machines at their heart. When you have the important bits in front of you, you can see cracks in plastic pieces, metal burrs developing or excessive wear. You can replace mission critical parts before they give out.
A lot of folks reading this have no idea what parts they should be inspecting. While the basic concepts are similar across various types of handguns, they’re all slightly different.
You can find most modern service handguns’ owner’s manuals online. YouTube is lousy with gun-specific cleaning and maintenance videos (no guarantee on their validity). Gun-specific forums can be a useful resource, too, as is a quick heart-to-heart with your favorite gunsmith.
Once you figure out what replacement parts your handgun may need, I suggest keeping a small parts replacement kit in your range bag. If you have a mechanical problem on the range you’ll have a chance to make it right.
[NB: Some manufacturers only sell spare parts at armory levels or require the user to ship them the handgun for repairs. If you can’t find at the very least a replacement recoil spring, you might want to question your purchase.]
I recommend creating a regular maintenance schedule. What’s an appropriate cleaning and inspection interval? That’s down to round count.
Your round count at range sessions will vary. Sometimes you’ll only fire 50 rounds. Other times, say during training, you might send 500 rounds downrange. Set standard. After X rounds I’ll clean and visually inspect my firearm for potential issues. For me that’s a thousand rounds.
After every thousand rounds I fully disassemble, clean and inspect my handgun. I replace any part I feel has reached the end or near end of its service life. (In between this interval, I oil the crap out of my guns. I put way more stock in a dirty gun properly oiled, than a clean gun with little to no oil.)
Take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you. Truly knowing your gear is the secret. If you know and understand how your firearm operates — which parts do what, where they go and what they should look like — you have ability to keep your handgun in its highest state of readiness.
Most gun owners don’t have the time or inclination to gain the knowledge and practice the discipline required to properly maintain their handgun. Don’t be that guy.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.