How Often Should You Clean Your Gun?


Maybe I should explain. I’m a gun writer. I’m not a solider. I have firearms that I clean regularly, and those that I consider “control groups” in a long-running experiment. I’ve got a GLOCK 17 that I’ve put more than 20,000 rounds through that I haven’t ever cleaned. This far into its lifespan, I can feel a little hitch in the trigger, but that’s it. The gun still goes bang.

The Kel-Tec P3AT in the Recluse holster.

I do own some guns that I maintain regularly. One is a 1911 built by Colt in 1913. It shoots well, but I don’t shoot it often. I do check in on it monthly, and make sure it stays oiled.

For this piece, though, I want to look at the guns you carry every day.

The P3AT Broken down. Not too complicated.

There are two schools of thought on this question. The first group cleans obsessively.  There’s no such thing as “too clean.” If you shoot your gun, you clean it when you are finished. If you don’t shoot your gun, you clean it anyhow, at regular intervals, just because you should.

Let me be clear on this. I’m a big old hypocrite on this matter. The GLOCK 19 I mentioned earlier is part of my every day carry kit. While I don’t carry it concealed, much, it is a go-to gun. I really should clean it, but I’m curious now about when it is going to fail. So I don’t. But I take it with me everywhere I go, and I shoot the snot out of it. I’m not a GLOCK guy, but I understand why people love their GLOCKS.

I do clean my Kel-Tec P3AT. This little mouse gun rides in my front right pocket most of the time. I keep it in a Recluse holster, and loaded with LeHigh Defense ammo, and I love the humble little underpowered thing. For my shorts-and-a-t-shirt lifestyle, it is often the only gun I carry.

Rust. Not good.

And here it is for its annual cleaning. I’m seeing two things here. The first is a bit of rust. It has been hotter than hell in Arkansas this summer, and I’m sweating more than usual. That rust is a showstopper. It has to go. The conclusion here is that I need to be cleaning more often.

Look at the crap on that spare mag's top round.

The second thing I’m seeing is some ugly crap on the top round in my spare mag. This gets us onto a second topic: how often should you rotate your ammo? But I loaded this round normally, fired it, and the P3AT took it in and spit it out with no problem.

Will it still shoot?

Shoots just fine, even dirty.

The answer to our original question is one you’ll find out through experience. How often should you clean? When your gun needs it, clean it. GLOCKS can take more abuse than most tight-fitting 1911s. If you live in a more corrosive environment, like on the coast, clean more often. Clean when you shoot, for sure, but compulsively clean your carry guns. It would be embarrassing, and potentially deadly, if you locked up on some sort of gooped up pocket lint.

This is just ridiculous. I should be doing this more often.

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife’s tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

1 comment

  1. Brian Mooney 13 August, 2018 at 06:31 Reply

    This is an interesting, laid-back approach in a time when the prevailing mantra seems to be, run your guns “wet,” something I am not quite comfortable with. For most of my shooting life, top gunsmiths and shooters alike favored using a minimal amount of a high-quality lubricant, arguing (correctly, to my way of thinking) that excess only gathered dust and dirt. Minimal lubrication, of course, demanded replacement or “topping up” more often. For a carry gun, once or twice a month was sufficient, while a pistol in the bedside drawer might go six months. But always -always- we expected to clean a firearm soon after firing. The cleaning was careful, but not OCD, unless a firearm was going into long-term storage.

    While we’ve seen improvements in lubricants, firearms, ammunition, etc., across the board, I still think ignoring cleaning a firearm after repeatedly shooting it is asking for trouble. It would be like skimping on engine oil and transmission fluid changes in a car.

    Of course, I also replace recoil springs, magazine springs, and such after a certain number of rounds. Cleaning lets me inspect the guts of a pistol, and that everything is fine and wearing at an excessive or odd rate. To not clean and inspect, would be like pressing my luck on when to change a timing belt. An expensive experiment, to say the least! Cleaning today is easier than ever with bore snakes, foaming bore cleaners, and very effective carbon removers, so not much effort or time is involved. (I prefer cotton patches, one-piece rods, well-fitting jags and brushes, and plenty of solvent, followed by lubricating carefully at very precise points with oil or grease.)

    Mechanical devices, be they cars or firearms, respond to proper care and adherence to sensible maintenance schedules (and keeping at least a rough count of rounds put through both guns and each magazines).

    So on the one hand, I am glad you have shown distain for overlubrication and over-cleaning, but I cannot follow you to the extreme of NOT cleaning a firearm, as I think that is abusive of a costly instrument. But, to each his own. I mean no disrespect. Keep us posted on how many rounds it took to finally jam up the Glock!

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