This is a question I hear quite often. The answer isn’t the same for every shooter or every gun. It’s important to know the reasons for cleaning your gun and what can happen if you don’t. Understanding these may help you determine when and how often cleaning is necessary. However, there are some basic guidelines for routine cleaning based on how the gun is used.
The Quick Answer – How Often Should You Clean Your Gun
How often you clean your gun depends on how you use it and how often. Below is the short answer to how often you should clean your gun:
- Daily carry – every two weeks
- Range Shooting – after firing 200 to 300 rounds
- Hunting – After every hunting outing
- Competitive Shooting – After every match
Why Should You Clean Your Gun?
I can think of at least a half-dozen reasons why you should clean your gun regularly and keep it clean. Let me share the top three:
- You will become more comfortable with your firearm. During the process of cleaning, you learn firsthand about every part and how they all work together. There’s no better way to fully understand every detail of your weapon.
- You prevent rust and other dangerous residues from building up on the surfaces of the firearm. A little visible rust in areas that don’t affect the mechanics of it might not hurt. But if you can see rust there, then there is inevitably rust in areas that are vital to the gun operating as should.
- You ensure the gun will be operating properly and that means that it is operating both safely and accurately.
What Can Happen if You Don’t Clean Your Gun?
The residues that build up inside the weapon during use are what cause damage, not actually using it. The types of residues depend mostly on the ammunition you’re using.
Carbon is a no-brainer as this is part of the gunpowder used and builds up in the chamber. Some black powder or the powder used in military surplus ammunition may also contain salts that are corrosive and quite damaging if the gun isn’t cleaned soon after use.
Copper from copper-jacketed bullets tends to build up in the barrel of the gun. This can affect rifling which also affects accuracy. If you are shooting a precision rifle or participating in a competition, the buildup can affect performance.
Other types of fouling include lead and plastic.
How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?
There are some factors you want to consider when deciding how often to clean your gun. The biggest one is moisture. Moisture is the enemy of any item made with metal, moving parts. Using a really good gun oil regularly can help prevent damage from moisture when the firearm isn’t being used.
The next biggest factor is how and how often you use the gun. I’ll break those down.
Even though you won’t be using your sidearm frequently, you still need to know that it’s always ready if needed. It’s a good idea to schedule time at the range so you’re always familiar with your daily carry weapon. While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cleaning, I recommend a more consistent schedule when it comes to daily carry use. In addition to a thorough cleaning after every time you take your firearm to the range, you should take the time to break it down and inspect it thoroughly every two weeks or so.
Recreational Use/Range Shooting
Range shooting doesn’t usually require cleaning after every shooting session unless the weather was particularly damp or rainy. A typical cleaning after every 200 to 300 rounds is sufficient with a more thorough cleaning every 3,000 rounds or three months, whichever is sooner.
I recommend cleaning your hunting rifles and shotguns thoroughly before being put up at the end of the season. These guns aren’t fired very often but it’s the environment they are exposed to regularly that can be damaging to them. You’ll have to use your best judgment when deciding if it should be cleaning. If it was laid on the wet or dusty ground, the weather was rainy or snowy, or you’ve taken it out into the elements several times then it should be cleaned.
A firearm used for competitive shooting needs to be in perfect working order every time, but it also needs to be consistent. The best way to ensure both is to clean it thoroughly, down the firing pin, after every match. Another way to ensure accuracy is to clean the parts in the exact same way and the exact same order every time.
Cleaning your firearm should become a ritual that is beneficial for both you and the weapon. Regular maintenance is a normal part of gun ownership and should never be neglected. However, understanding when and how to perform this maintenance is just as important.