There are a lot of opinions on when and how to clean firearms, but most agree on the “why”—to maintain accuracy, assure proper function and protect your investment.


But let’s start by asking an expert, Tom Griffin, technical manager for Lyman Products, a leading manufacturer of innovative tools for serious shooters and reloaders, why regular maintenance of firearms is important.


“A clean bore will maintain its accuracy,” Griffin said, “while a fouled bore can cause accuracy to decline, particularly if copper or lead fouling is allowed to build up.” Don’t expect cleaning to provide accuracy of which the firearm is not capable, but it will give your firearm its best chance at consistent accuracy.


And that’s not all dirt, grime and fouling can foul up. “A really dirty action can eventually cause malfunctions as it becomes too dirty to operate smoothly,” Griffin said. “Just like any mechanical item, dirt and residue building up on moving components will eventually increase friction and slow or stop them from moving properly.


Plus, taking care of your firearm—keeping it clean, rust-free and in good, safe working order—helps ensure it remains valuable. “A dirty looking gun looks like one that has not been properly cared for and could affect value,” Griffin said. “Of course, if it is also dirty enough to cause the action to not function properly, this would also be a real concern.”

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How often should a rifle be cleaned?


This depends on a lot of factors, including the type of shooting being done, and the firearm and the caliber, Griffin said. “Many benchrest shooters will clean their barrels after 15 to 25 rounds, some after as little as five or 10,” he said. “A big-bore shooter, a 3-gun shooter or many varmint hunters might fire 100 or more shots without cleaning. A good rule of thumb may be to clean after each normal shooting session providing fouling is not affecting your accuracy or results.”


A pistol?


“Since most pistol calibers are firing lower velocity and lower pressure rounds, copper fouling tends to be less of a problem with pistols than rifles,” Griffin said. “It can still occur, but is not as common. Lead fouling is much more common with pistol calibers, as lead bullets are used in lower velocity and lower pressure cartridges much more frequently than in rifles.”


“How often to clean would depend on the ammo being used and if any fouling occurs,” he said. “If shooting lead bullets, you should watch for a buildup of lead.”


“If lead or copper fouling is not a problem, you could fire 100 or more rounds without cleaning,” Griffin said. “Some pistol shooters rarely clean their pistols, but cleaning after a normal shooting session is the best way to go for most handgunners.”


A muzzleloader?


“A muzzleloader will need to be cleaned much more often, as powder fouling builds up much quicker with black powder or black powder substitutes,” Griffin said. “With regular black powder, you might be only able to get off four or five shots before the fouling gets heavy enough to make it difficult to properly seat another round.” Many black powder substitutes claim the ability to fire many times without cleaning, he said. “With a muzzleloader, watch for signs of difficult loading and/or accuracy drop off,” he said. “If you see either, clean the barrel.”


What is a good firearm-cleaning procedure?


Griffin recommends starting with a clean patch saturated with a good all-purpose cleaner, such as Butch’s Bore Shine, which will remove powder and copper fouling.


Run the soaked patch through the barrel, then repeat with another clean, saturated patch. Do this several times with new saturated patches until a patch comes out clean. “In particular, look for any blueish coloring on the patch as this will be a sign of copper fouling,” Griffin said. “You get the blueish color when Butch’s or other copper-removing solvents dissolve copper in the barrel.”


Once the patches come out clean, run a couple of dry patches through the barrel. Then run one patch with a quality gun oil, like Butch’s Gun Oil, on it through the barrel.”


If you’re dealing with a heavy buildup of copper or lead fouling, you may need to use a bronze brush on your cleaning rod. Run the brush, soaked in solvent, back and forth in the barrel a number of times, perhaps 10 or 20. Then clean with patches as described. “If patches still come out with blue coloring, more brushing may be needed,” Griffin said. “You could also run a saturated patch through the barrel and let the solvent set in the barrel for several hours. For heavy fouling, letting it set overnight could help. Then brush the barrel, followed by patches.”


Lyman has handy kits for cleaning firearms, such as the Essential All-in-One Kit; the Multi-Caliber Pistol Cleaning Kit and the Muzzleloader’s Maintenance Kit. Griffin recommends starting with a kit, and augmenting it with Lyman’s Universal Bore Guide Set and their 26-Piece Jag & Brush Set.


Lyman’s QwikDraw Barrel-Cleaning Rope is a good in-the-field cleaning option for shooters, for instance, rifle shooters at a match or in a prairie-dog town, Griffin said. Using a QwikDraw is “a good way to keep a barrel clean during breaks in the action,” he said. “For less demanding cleaning, like pistols and shotguns, the QwikDraw would likely be all that is needed.” But, getting back to rifles, “a good cleaning at the end of the day using a bore guide, rod, jag and patches would be the best way to do a really good, complete cleaning,” he said


Tip: To stay out of hot water at home, use Lyman’s Essential Rifle Maintenance Mat (or Essential Gun Maintenance Mat for handguns) to protect your work surface from your firearm (and cleaning chemicals) and your firearm from your work surface. The synthetic rubber mat is chemical-resistant, cleans up easily and features molded-in compartments to keep small parts organized.

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