How often should I clean my guns? This question is often asked of me by friends and acquaintances who are trying to figure out how to take care of their newly acquired firearms. The simple answer to this question is, after every trip to the shooting range. The reality to this question is, that rarely ever happens. When most people ask this question, they are asking “how long can I go without cleaning my guns before it becomes a problem?” The answer to this question is quite a bit more complicated and depends on the type of firearm and how you are using it.
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Firearms You Need To Clean Most Frequently
For starters, we are going to look at the guns that I clean most often. These are the firearms that get cleaned religiously immediately after every range trip (sometimes even while I’m still at the range) or every month or two if they are not being used. This is any firearm that I am shooting corrosive ammunition out of, and my defensive carry firearms. I also religiously clean my competition firearms and any other firearm whose function I depend on for an important purpose.
For most people shooting modern firearms with off-the-shelf ammo, this is not anything you will ever have to worry about. I, however, am a bit of a history buff and have quite the extensive collection of old military rifles and handguns used in the world wars. Firearms like these, such as the Mosin-Nagant rifle, are most often shot using corrosive ammo. It doesn’t take long for corrosive ammo to completely rot out a bore, and this is both an expensive and dangerous problem. Because of this, any gun that gets corrosive ammo shot out of it gets a quick cleaning at the range, and a complete, thorough cleaning as soon as I get home. This is not optional or a suggestion, if you are not very thorough in your maintenance of firearms that shoot corrosive ammo, they WILL get ruined.
The second type of firearm that I clean meticulously is those that I rely on for an important purpose. This includes my defensive carry firearms and my competition firearms. Whether I shoot it or not, my concealed carry pistol gets cleaned and inspected at least every month or two. This is the firearm that I trust my life with almost every day, and a quick cleaning and inspection every month is not that hard. It doesn’t take much for dirt and sweat to accumulate in the action and cause a malfunction on a sub-compact pistol. I truly hope that I never have to use my concealed carry pistol, but in the event that I do, I would like it to function as it is supposed to.
If you have been to even one competition shooting match, you have probably seen it. The poor fellow who didn’t properly maintain his firearms, and is now having to clear a stovepipe every 3rd shot. These guys typically have a plethora of excuses and will blame everything from light handloads to the temperature. 9 times out of 10, however, they just haven’t cleaned their gun properly. I must admit that I have been there myself a time or two, and I can tell you that it isn’t fun. I try to clean my competition firearms after every shooting match, but in reality, they only get cleaned about once a month (every 2-3 matches) during the season. I do occasionally experience malfunctions during a match, but I also carry an emergency gun cleaning kit to quickly get my guns back up and running in between stages if this occurs.
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Guns That Need To Be Cleaned Occasionally
There are several types of firearms that need to be cleaned occasionally, but they all have one thing in common: if they malfunction, nothing bad will happen. This type of firearm consists primarily of my range toys and other durable, inherently reliable firearms. As long as you keep them oiled and inspect them regularly for rust, these are the guns that I clean about twice a year, or as needed based on the appearance of malfunctions or the conditions they have been used in.
The first type of rifle that only gets cleaned occasionally are my range toys. If one of these starts to malfunction at the range, it is no big deal. More often than not, I just make a mental note to clean it later and put it away for that range trip. One firearm in this category that many of you will recognize is my AK-47 style rifles. This platform of rifle is notorious for being incredibly reliable, and for a very good reason. As long as I keep them oiled and free from rust, they can go a long time in between cleanings. The same goes for many of my pistols as well. The key point here is frequent inspections and proper storage. There is not much harm in a dirty firearm, but the problem many people run into is that a dirty firearm often leads to a rusty firearm. Even minor rust can destroy a firearm quicker than anything, so it is important to keep a close eye on your guns and store them in a cool dry place so as to prevent and control any rust that may occur.
My hunting firearms are another type that only gets cleaned occasionally, due to several reasons. Most of my hunting firearms are much more simple and reliable guns. Bolt action rifles and pump action or inertia driven semi-automatic shotguns are generally pretty hardy, and not prone to many malfunctions. They also get shot far less. A typical session at the range with an AK or AR will often involve several hundred rounds, while my hunting firearms may not even fire that many in an entire season. This causes far less build-up of fouling.
One exception to this rule involves the conditions that I hunt in. Whenever I clean my hunting firearms, one of the primary focuses is eliminating or preventing rust. As such, I will clean my hunting firearms any time they get wet. While this is not very common during early fall seasons such as turtle dove or upland game, it happens much more in the later season. As late season ducks begin to migrate south, I spend a lot of time in late November and December chasing mallards in the public land marshes. This often causes water and mud to splash all over my shotgun and other gear, Which needs to be cleaned off as soon as possible. I also enjoy hunting in extreme conditions, including extreme cold, wind, rain, and snow. There is far less competition for the good public land spots during this weather, and the animals are less pressured and I am more likely to get shots. It is always a good idea to clean your guns immediately after a hunt in extreme conditions such as these.
Gun Cleaning Final Thoughts
If you ever have any doubts about how often you need to clean your firearms, it is best to consult your owners manual. In the manual, you will usually find instructions and recommendations on frequency of cleaning. Other than that, it is always better to err on the side of caution and clean them as often as you can. While one benefit of cleaning your firearms often is that you will decrease malfunctions, the main purpose is preventing rust. In any case, rust is one of the worst things to happen to a firearm, and you should do whatever it takes to prevent it. If you’re looking for more than what you see here, please review our Best Reloading Kit Buyers Guide and our Best Gun Safe Buyers Guide.
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Dan is an avid outdoorsman and shooter who developed a passion for firearms at an early age. When you can’t find him in the field chasing birds or big game, you can find him at the range shooting various competitions such as 3-gun, IPSC, and IDPA. He also enjoys manufacturing his own ammunition, as well as both working on, and building his own firearms. Dan has many years of firearms experience, and enjoys helping people find the right gear and sharing his extensive firearms knowledge.