I hate cleaning guns
My least favorite thing about shooting is cleaning my guns. While I do think that a gun needs to be cleaned after it’s shot, I’ll also tell you that I’ve at gotten over the whole “the patch needs to come out as clean as it goes in” thing. There needs to be balance in all things, and gun cleaning isn’t immune as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve used a lot of gun cleaning products over the years, although I’ve hardly used them all. I haven’t conducted any sort of exhaustive testing, though I have read a number of tests (and I think I’ve probably blogged a bit on some) and some of them have influenced the products I use. Just to have something to blog about today, I’m going to bore you with just how I’ve arrived at my process for gun cleaning and lubrication.
Back in the days of my youth, it was Hoppe’s #9 and 3-in-1 oil. That’s what my grandfather used, it’s what my dad used and therefore it’s what I used. Of course, they also knew they had to clean their hunting guns after they had sat in those old glass-doored gun cabinets over the summer or they would be gooey enough to be problematic in the woods. I still have a bottle of Hoppe’s around that I use for the initial cleaning of any newly acquired “old” guns.
(Speaking of cleaning newly acquired “old” guns, sometimes harsh methods are called for. For me, that’s Brakleen. (Yes, I can see some of you shuddering. Feel free.) Take the action out of the stock and make sure any plastic or polymer parts are removed. If you think it might be anything other than metal, remove it. Then spray away. Brakleen will remove everything except the metal. Beware, that means every bit of protective lubrication as well, so relube the cleaned parts quickly. Of course, if you have a nice ultrasonic cleaner, that’s preferable, but not everyone has one handy that will handle a barreled action.)
In the military, we were given a CLP, usually Break Free CLP. Yes, it’s been around since shortly after dirt. And it works tolerably well if you do your part and don’t shirk on the elbow grease. It also does a pretty good job on protecting. It never seemed to be so great at lubrication, which is why we all kept a bottle handy. If we were having problems with an M-16, our first action was to squirt a bunch in the ejection port. You’d be amazed how often that fixed the problem.
When I got my first couple of guns, I fell back to old habits, and then I actually read the instructions on the bottle of Hoppe’s. Who knew it would work as a gun oil, if probably not a very good one. I mean, it said right there on the bottle to put it on a patch and push it through the bore to prevent rust after cleaning. Well heck, if it worked there, it ought to work for the rest of the gun. Thankfully I shot enough that I never had to find out just how much protection it did or didn’t provide.
Eventually I had enough guns and shot them enough that I had to put some actual research into the subject. I was spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning guns and I simply needed a better way. Luckily, by then we had this Intertubz thing, and gun forums, and the know-it-alls who infest gun forums. You could ask a question and get all kinds of answers, some of them even knowledgeable. I went through an extended period of trying this and that cleaner and lube and learned a good bit along the way. I finally found some actual good advice and decently done test results, and I’ve wound up with the system I’m using today.
I’m going to outline it, but don’t take it as something Moses brought down the mountain in his back pocket. It works for me. You may think it’s the height of lubrication lunacy, and I’ll be more than happy to listen to anyone who can cite actual evidence that shows a better way.
For cleaning, non-critical lubrication and protection from rust, I use Eezox. It was a little hard to get used to using, because a little goes a very long way–a quart lasts me a couple of years at this point. (I’m not shooting as much as I did at one time.) It cleans everything including lead residue, it has protected my guns from Demon Rust without failure and it doesn’t smell horrible. I clean guns in the basement and so far I have not gotten a complaint from the upstairs inhabitants. You will find that, if you clean a new gun before shooting, clean up goes much easier. An old gun will take several cleanings, the first couple of which you will get crap out of your barrel that you won’t believe, but eventually it will also become easier to clean. For me, a normal cleaning will be a few strokes with a brush and Eezox, followed by alternating wet/dry patches, usually a dozen or so. At that point, it’s as clean as it will reasonably get. Wipe the metal surfaces down very lightly with Eezox and let them dry.
For internal cleaning and lubrication of trigger assemblies, especially ones I don’t want to take out of a gun or disassemble for some reason (or I’m in a hurry), I use Hornady One Shot. It cleans out the gunk and leaves a light dry lube behind. It also seems to be safe on synthetic parts, so you can use it in polymer guns.
On gun rails, I use grease. I’m not super picky on what grease, just as long as it is a reasonable quality grease. When you consider that the environment isn’t some huge number of PSI or temperature in degrees, you really don’t have to be super picky–the stuff isn’t going to break down because of stress. I suspect in a pinch you could use Vaseline. I’ve been using up some Mil-Tec that I got as a sample a long while back, and I’m just about out of it. When that runs out, I’m going to use a good quality, yet inexpensive, general purpose synthetic grease that I already have purchased for the purpose. I figure the 4 ounce tube will last me the rest of my life.
There are a few places on some guns (Hiya, Glock) that actually want oil. Plus ARs like to be wet, although I’ve successfully ran mine with dry lube only for a couple of hundred rounds at a time with no observable wear. So you’ll want some oil on hand. Again, I believe you can go with anything that doesn’t gum up over time–I suspect a quart of synthetic motor oil would work and last a lifetime. I can’t tell you that for sure, since I just take what I need from whatever quart happens to be open at the time. I use Royal Purple, and so far, no problems with weights from 5W-20 – 10W-40. If you’re picky, they do have an oil specifically for guns, if you can find it in a store. I never have. I have a needle oiler meant for machinery; I just fill that bad boy up and lube on.
Bear in mind it doesn’t take a lot of lube to properly lube a gun, even an AR. Too many people over do the lubrication of their guns. Any lube that stays wet will attract dirt and the crap that comes out of the chamber after firing. None of this is good for moving parts. Keep an eye on the parts you’re lubing, and if you aren’t seeing wear, keep reducing the amount of lube until you see a little, then increase one step. That’s how much lube you need. Don’t sweat that tiny bit of wear you’ll cause, it isn’t going to hurt the performance of the gun; at least I’ve never noticed it causing a problem. You’ve probably just scuffed off some high spots.
So that’s how I do it. Your mileage may vary, offer not good in Alaska and Hawaii, so on and so forth.