Gun Cleaning: Do You Have to Clean Your Gun?

Whether you shoot your gun a lot or mostly leave it sitting in the safe, you’ve probably debated the merits of keeping it clean. After all, clean things run better, right? Not necessarily. If you’ve ever stared at your filthy firearm and wondered if it was worth the time and effort to scrub it shiny clean, you’re not alone. Read on to find out when—and why—you should—or should not—clean your gun.

field stripped Glock 48
It’s a Glock. Does it really ever need to be cleaned? (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

The Evolution of Gun Cleaning

It’s not that guns haven’t always been cleaned in some way, because they have. Even back in medieval times it seems likely they occasionally swabbed out a hand cannon. However, a lot has changed with gun cleaning. It went from something basic to a long, drawn-out process involving multiple types of cleaners and lubes and an insane number of tools, each meant for a specific task. Guns fifty years ago weren’t being cleaned with quite the intensity of guns today—when guns get cleaned—so why do we do it?

Sig P226 with Seal 1 gun cleaner and lubricator
Seal 1 is a good all-in-one cleaning and lubing option. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Part of the answer is that as technology advances, we find ways to solve issues that weren’t available to us before. For example, today there are all types of solvents for copper and other residue buildups. Rather than hitting the entire gun with a can of Ballistol, there are now products fine-tuned to remove certain kinds of chemical grime. In many ways, that’s a great thing, but it does seem to have gone down the path of excess.

Friends of the Filthy 14

Filthy 14 was the name given to a Bravo Company AR that was run dirty—really, really dirty—in classes run by the late firearms instructor Pat Rogers. He was the founder of EAG Tactical, and the rifle in question was only run in classes, and it wasn’t cleaned.

The Filthy 14 was a Bravo Company AR that the late Pat Rogers ran without cleaning for tens of thousands of rounds.
The Filthy 14 was a Bravo Company AR that the late Pat Rogers ran without cleaning for tens of thousands of rounds. (Photo credit: Slip 2000 via S.W.A.T. Magazine)

Well, there was that one time it was cleaned, at 26,245 rounds, but then it went right back to being untouched. It was lubed a lot, typically with Slip 2000, but it earned its name for a reason. It was a filthy gun, and it ran fantastically.

A DEA agent runs Filthy 14 in an EAG class.
A DEA agent runs Filthy 14 in an EAG class. At the time, the rifle had around 31,000 rounds through it. (Photo credit: EAG)

In that spirit, there are other guns that went and have gone uncleaned. The Axelson Tactical Black Pearl is a gun that’s been mine for five years, and I decided not to clean it. It gets lubed, but that’s it. First, it was 2,000 rounds, then it was…endless. Not only does the rifle run beautifully, but it’s also capable of sub-half-MOA groups.

Many seasoned shooters decline from cleaning their guns much. It’s dependent on the specific model, of course, but “lube and go” has become increasingly common. Does that mean you shouldn’t bother cleaning your gun? Well, it depends.

Axelson Tactical Black Pearl
This Axelson Tactical Black Pearl gets lubed but not cleaned. This picture was taken to commemorate the first 2,000 rounds through the rifle. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Do you need to clean your gun?

Whether or not you really need to clean your gun depends on various factors. Some people assume it’s platform-specific. For example, a person might believe 1911s must be constantly scrubbed free of even the tiniest speck of grime (I’m here to tell you that isn’t true). Keeping that train of platform-specific thought, it might be assumed Glocks never need to be cleaned, which also isn’t accurate.

What really counts is how often you shoot. If you’re a once-in-awhile shooter with a gun that spends most of its time in the safe, it’s not a bad idea to clean the gun every time you do run it. That means the gun gets cleaned a few times a year and properly lubed before going back into storage. If you’re going to mostly store it, clean and lube it first.

Ballistol is a long-time brand used by a lot of gun owners to clean their firearms.
Ballistol is a long-time brand used by a lot of gun owners to clean their firearms. (Photo credit: Ballistol)

For shooters that run their guns on a regular basis, focusing on lubing rather than frequent cleaning works fine. This is model-specific advice because there are certain models of guns that run better if they’re cleaned at least semi-regularly. But by and large, lubing the gun and keeping on works well.

Dirty Glock
One of those times a Glock really needs to be cleaned: It was coated and filled with North Texas dirt. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Scenarios where you might consider more frequent cleaning, even if you’re a regular shooter, would be high-round-count classes where your gun could probably use a once-over or hunts where there’s a lot of dust and mud involved. For example, even durable, rough-and-tumble Glocks can get clogged up by North Texas dirt during a hog hunt.

Of course, if you’re a precision rifle shooter, odds are you’re going to clean your rifle on a regular basis. Frequency of cleaning truly does depend on how often you shoot, what you shoot, and why you shoot. It’s very shooter-specific.

Do the professionals clean their guns?

According to champion competitive shooter Gail Pepin, she doesn’t bother cleaning much. On occasion, she will run a bore snake through her Glocks, but otherwise, it’s a matter of lubing and shooting. Once a year, she cleans them with a dish of Dawn soap, which is certainly an effective way to cut grease.

Gail Pepin champion handgun shooter
Gail Pepin has won more than one championship title as a handgun shooter. (Photo credit: Gail Pepin)

This isn’t an all-encompassing statement, but in general, you will find most seasoned pros don’t waste a lot of time cleaning. They’ve figured out how and when their guns need to be cleaned, and they don’t typically obsess over it. As mentioned before, perhaps the most frequent cleaners are the precision rifle shooters.

handguns with cleaning brushes
Do you really need to clean your gun? It depends. (Photo credit: Pelican)

Gun cleaning — yes or no?

Generally speaking, obsessing over cleaning your gun is pointless. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning it—and that’s a really good way to check it for wear and tear, too—but there’s no reason to be constantly digging dirt out of every nook and cranny. It’s simple, really. Don’t store your gun filthy if you don’t intend to run it regularly, clean it as your specific model requires to run well, and make lube your best friend.

How often do you clean your gun? Tell us in the comments

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2022 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link