Stop overcleaning your guns
Even if you hit the range every week and put your gun through the ringer, there’s a big difference between maintaining a firearm and cleaning a firearm.
We’re sure you’ve seen it. That buddy, or that guy at the range, who finishes shooting and breaks out a cleaning kit that needs its own range bag it’s so big. He’s got dental picks, blades, scrapers, and—God forbid—a Dremel with dozens of brushes for that deep, deep, oh-God-please-stop clean. Guy pulls on his white gloves, sets up his eight or nine different solvents and oils, and dives in with the zeal of a mad surgeon.
Here’s the thing: If his AR, pistol, or rifle could talk, it’d be yelling at him to put the dental pick down and put that scraper where the sun don’t shine. Why? Not only is it possible to overclean your guns, it’s almost the norm. Captain Dental Pick is just the extreme; at one point or another, many of us have been guilty of overcleaning our guns.
Here’s what can go wrong, and what you can do to practice better gun maintenance.
- Maintaining a firearm and cleaning a firearm are not necessarily the same thing. Rather than thinking of your routine as “cleaning your gun” start thinking of it as “maintaining your gun.” What does that mean? Instead of just ramming a brush in your barrel and hosing your bolt down with solvent, take a quick look at every part of your weapon. Is your AR’s charging handle in good order? Is your optic clean? If you rely on a red dot or other battery-powered device, how long has it been since you replaced the battery? Cleaning a gun is only a part of gun maintenance; don’t spend all your time picking that speck of carbon off a lug when the bigger picture is so much more important.
- This one is so basic, we almost don’t want to say it, but, you know, people: Don’t clean barrel to breach. That little tiny space at the very end of your barrel? That’s called the crown, and it’s the last part of your weapon that touches the bullet. Like a quarterback’s index finger, it can be crucial for imparting that list touch of spin for a more accurate shot, and jamming a cleaning rod down your barrel can jack that crown up. Clean breach to barrel and, better yet, use barrel snakes for those quick cleans to avoid the risk of a cleaning rod jacking up the rifling or other parts.
- Some parts in your gun—we’re thinking rings and springs, but others too—can be damaged by too frequent/overzealous cleaning. What thousands of rounds of high velocity ammo can’t do to your gun’s insides, ten minutes of dental picking can, causing irreparable damage to the small parts that together, make your gun go bang. Absolutely use a high-quality oil and rag to wipe away any loose carbon or debris, but use those picks and scrapers with extreme caution. Sure, you might scrape away that little bit of carbon, but you’re just as likely to scrape away your component’s finish, setting the stage for even more damage down the road.
- Lubrication, lubrication, lubrication. Sometimes, lubrication is even more important than making sure a gun is super clean. You’ll hear it all the time: “Running a gun ‘wet’ will wreck it.” Debris will get all caught in the oil and cause all kinds of problems. But here’s the thing: A gun simply and positively runs better wet than dry. That debris will get in there anyway, so make sure your gun has the lube it needs to cycle smoothly.
For frequent shooters, every weekend can be a torture test for your gun. But remember: It’s built for this stuff. You don’t have to break out the deep-clean kit every week.
In the end, it isn’t necessarily overcleaning that causes the damage, it’s improper tools and techniques; if cracking open your weapon after every range session makes you trust your gun more, more power to you. However, most today’s weapons do not need to be cleaned with the ferocity you often see at the range, or online.
It’s always a good idea to wipe down your gun if you shoot in the rain, or if you notice a change in performance or extra buildup. But when it comes to cleaning your gun, a little carbon is way better than a lot of damage.
To learn more about proper gun maintenance, check out our podcast on proper rifle maintenance.
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