How to Clean A Rifle: Tips to Keep Your Firearm in Perfect Condition

Any rifle owner needs to learn how to clean a rifle! Actually, cleaning is a paramount step as it ensures proper gun function. Like any other tool, a firearm has to be maintained in order to operate the way it was designed. Otherwise, you might end up with a very fancy and expensive club when you need it the most.

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In a survival situation, the difference between life and death can be a firearm. A firearm can always be used for the purposes of personal defense due to its ability to offer some protection level that cannot be matched to any other type of personal defense. Firearms can also be used when you want to diffuse any dangerous situation much faster without engaging in some close combat.

Most of the time, just by the presence of the firearm, the attacker might be forced to re-think if at all he is planning to attack you or your family. However, a gun can be useful in a wider variety of scenarios like hunting or even survival in an emergency situation.

Why Learn About Rifle Cleaning?

There are a few important reasons to clean your rifle on a regular basis.

  • First, when you clean your gun, you are guaranteeing it will last for many years to come. This is how firearms last for generations.
  • Second, you will gain a strong understanding of how your gun works. This doesn’t mean you have to know how to build your own firearms, but being able to strip your firearm, clean and oil your rifle is great to know.
  • Cleaning your rifle also helps ensure the reliability and safety of the firearm, which alone is a great reason.

For you to be called a responsible owner of the gun, you must start by keeping it clean and also ensure it always functions optimally. Dirty rifles are always unpredictable, unreliable and can also pose some threat for the people around you.

When to Clean Your Rifle?

If you ask three people how frequently to clean a rifle, you are likely to get three different answers. Some people believe you need to clean a firearm after each use, whereas others think you could get away with two to three months. Then, in the middle, some people advise cleaning every three to four uses.

See also: Best Gun Oil: Keep your Weapon Clean

This is because it will depend on the usage of the firearm. For instance, even though they aren’t common now, black powder rifles were cleaned quickly. The powder was corrosive, and, if left, it would corrode the barrel. Luckily, the powder in modern times isn’t corrosive.

Clean your rifle after the shooting

If your primary use is target shooting, you can avoid frequent cleaning. However, if you use a rifle for defense or for hunting, cleaning more frequently is wise because it removes the dirt and fouling left in the barrel.

Fouling is the concern because it affects the reliability of your rifle. In situations when a gun jam would be detrimental, fouling can cause serious issues. A dirty rifle with fouling is more likely to jam, causing you to miss your mark. This happens most frequently with semi-automatic firearms. The crud left behind can slow down the ejection of cartridges.

You may be able to get away with cleaning every other firing, except in circumstances. Here are a few situations when it’s advised to clean your rifle each time:

  • When your rifle was exposed to water or moisture, which can damage parts of the firearm.
  • If you opt to use corrosive ammunition, cleaning is very crucial for your firearm. Most modern ammunition is not corrosive, but if you purchase old military surplus ammunition, check your boxes. If the primer has potassium chlorate or sodium perchlorate, you need to clean your firearm thoroughly after each usage.

If you head out into the woods to hunt deer and it rains, you need to clean your rifle, even if you never fired a shot. Moisture in the barrel can lead to corrosion and premature barrel wear.

If you take your rifle to shoot clay targets, it should be fine to wait to clean after 2 or 3 trips. However, keep an eye on your performance and reliability, which may indicate excessive fouling.

The Basics of Cleaning A Rifle

Since there are a lot of rifles out there, which are also different, we are going to look at only the basic bolt action rifle. For more instructions on cleaning a specific rifle, you will still need to refer to your manufacturer’s manual.

Basics of cleaning a rifle

The following are some of the basic things that you will need when you want to clean your rifle:

  • Safety goggles
  • A way of holding your rifle in place
  • A small container to put the parts
  • Screwdrivers
  • Gloves
  • A basic kit for cleaning rifles
  • A well-ventilated area

Most basic gun cleaning kits include items such as:

  • Lubricating oil
  • Solvent
  • A rod
  • A jag for the end of the rod
  • A patch holder
  • Patches

The only other item you need to purchase is a bore cleaning brush. They connect to the rod. These brushes are not included in the basic cleaning kit because they come in many different sizes and you have to pick the right one for the caliber of the gun. This is an easy task because the caliber will be listed on the package.

When you go to purchase your bore cleaning brush, there will be a few options: bronze, plastic, and stainless steel. Most gun owners use brushes made from bronze, but, if you use a solvent that dissolves copper fouling, using a bronze brush would not work because it will dissolve as well.

In these circumstances, a plastic brush would work just as well. The bronze brushes are the easiest option, and they require less work to clean the rifle.

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Stainless steel brushes aren’t used as frequently because they can cause damage to the barrel. You will notice these are designed differently than other brushes: they are looped, not bristles. However, they tend to not clean as well as the bristles.

Safety measures

The first and most important thing that you will have to do is to ensure that your rifle is unloaded. This is usually a simple step that will only take ten seconds of your time but it can save your life or the lives of those around you.

To do a quick cleaning, you will just have to remove the scope and the bolt but if you want to be more thorough, a complete takedown is recommended and this is the part where you will need the manual.

You must also use a special container for the small parts you remove from your rifle. This usually protects them from getting lost thus offering some ease to the workflow. Remember also to put on the safety goggles so that you protect your eyes and skin from coming into contact with the harmful chemicals contained in the solvent.

AR 15 cleaning with gloves

It also is a wise idea to protect your hands from the solvent. For females who get manicures, this is especially important because solvent will dissolve your fingernail polish. The best gloves to use during the process are made from nitrile. While latex gloves are popular, they are not as durable and will likely fall apart before finished.

Before you start to clean your rifle, you have to prepare the area. You are going to need to lay either several layers of newspaper or a plastic garbage bag over your work area. The solvent used to clean your rifle can also destroy the finish on your wood, so take care to protect it.

Cleaning step-by-step

If the gun is unloaded and the area is prepared, it’s time to start. First, field strip your rifle. This is the time when you are going to understand the parts of your rifle. If this is your first time taking the rifle apart, the owner’s manual should give a great explanation how to do so properly. For a bolt action rifle, all you have to do is release the bolt

You must first check the inside of your rifle just to ensure that everything is in place – use a paper towel or a soft rag to carefully do a wipe down. When wiping down, just make sure that you take out any grease or dirt that might be visible. Covering your wooden stock would be such a good idea because it will help in protecting the finish away from the gun oil or the solvent you are using.

Continue by soaking the cleaning pads in the solvent then run all the way through the muzzle clear down to the butt of your rifle. Make sure you don’t pull back the patch through the barrel – you will need to take off any dirty patch then you will be able to pull back the rod through.

You should repeat this procedure a few times just to check and see that the excess solids and gunk are all removed. After finishing this, use a light to check down your barrel and ensure that everything is taken out or removed. A copper brush can also be used in this situation.

Cleaning rod alignment brass

One important note is not to change directions while inside of the barrel. Push the rod and bore brush all the way through the barrel and out at the other end, then pull it back. The bristles change direction outside of the barrel, not inside, and this reduces the chances of damaging your barrel.

Next, take some patches which are dry and clean and run them through the barrel until they start coming out a little bit cleaner. While cleaning the barrel, you can use the solvent to spray or soak the other metal parts. For the painted parts, you can do some spot testing just to make sure that the finish won’t be broken down by the solvent.

This is now where you can add some treatment or wood cleaner on your rifle’s stock if you want to. Always keep in mind that your rifle is also an investment and so its value can be preserved if you maintain it in good condition.

Once done, you will have to spray the metal parts of your rifle with a rust protector. Many people usually forget to do this but it’s very important if you want a good functioning and looking rifle. You should lubricate all the moving parts of your rifle before reassembling it. Finish up by wiping down the whole gun to remove any extra oil.

To oil or not to oil

There are some disagreements about whether or not to oil your bore. Some people prefer not to use any adding oil because it can lead to the buildup of dust, which can lead to more jams. However, many believe oiling is an important step for storage and proper cleaning.

If you feel as if you want to oil your bore, use an oil patch through the barrel. Then, follow it with a dry patch; this will leave only a thin layer of oil and shouldn’t contribute to excessive dirt buildup.

How to Clean A Semi-Automatic Rifle

One of the most popular and used semi-automatic rifles today is the AR-15 and this is the rifle we are going to use to give out instructions. Over the years, we have seen a lot of ARs being purchased but the funny thing is that most owners have no idea on how they can disassemble and clean it safely.

It’s important to know the structure of your rifle well because when you incorrectly reassemble the rifle, you might end up causing fatal injuries to yourself and those around you.

Tools for cleaning a rifle

Now for the cleaning instructions! As you can see below, the basic items you will need are mostly the same with the bolt action rifle:

  • Patches
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Gun oil
  • Disassembling tools
  • Soft clean rugs
  • Cleaning kit
  • Copper solvent
  • Solvent

Step by step cleaning

The first thing you will need to do after making sure you have an unloaded rifle is to remove the bolt carrier. Then, take apart the bolt, including the firing pin with the cotter pin holding it in. Unless the rifle is too dirty, removing the handguards and trigger mechanism usually isn’t that necessary. Before storage, though, it is advised that you clean the hand guards and the trigger mechanism.

The next step will be spraying the solvent in the chamber then lock the lug recesses of the rifle. Leave it for a few minutes as the residues and dirt are being dissolved. Proceed by cleaning the chamber with the chamber brush then flush it out using more solvent.

When everything is looking shiny and nice, you can use the soft clean rag to dry the rifle elements. Compressed air can also be used to dry up the area.

The most tedious step of cleaning a rifle is when you want to clean the chamber, but with just the correct tools this whole job can be a lot easier.

For those who usually do rapid firing, the barrel must be given serious attention. You will need a good-quality solvent and a lot of scrubbing. Start by ramming a few patches that have already been soaked in solvent.

Leave them inside for a while, then remove them and use dry clean patches to wipe everything out. Apply a little more solvent and run your brush down the bore a few times. This should be followed by a few soaked patches that will get out the loose grime.

Next, use some copper solvent soaked patches and ram them through the rifle’s bow. Leave them in for a few minutes and then clean the area with patches soaked in gun solvent. It is necessary that you use the gun solvent since it neutralizes the copper solvent. This should then be followed by some dry patches but if you plan on keeping your rifle for a little longer, you can use a patch soaked with gun oil. This will help in protecting the barrel.

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The firing pin, bolt carrier, and cam can also be wiped down using a rag. The bolt should be thoroughly scraped and scrubbed after a hardcore use. For the magazine, both the upper and lower receivers should be wiped with a rag. This should also include the recoils and buffer assemblies.

The outside of the barrel should then be buffed using a very clean rag. For your rifle protection purposes, you will need to apply a light coat of oil on it.

A Few Final Words

You have done it! You cleaned your rifle! Chances are it wasn’t nearly as complicated as you assumed. We know that the article was a bit long, but there are a few important things you need to remember when cleaning a rifle.

First, you should clean your firearm after 2 or 3 uses, unless it is for personal defense or it was exposed to moisture. Any firearm reserved for personal defense should be cleaned after each use.

A basic firearm cleaning kit should contain most of the tools needed. However, it will not have a bore cleaning brush, which you need to purchase based on the size caliber of your rifle. This is an important tool so don’t skip this!

Make sure to take care as you prep your area for cleaning. Spilled solvent on your beautiful kitchen table can cause a lot of damage. Follow the steps, and you will have a thoroughly cleaned rifle in less than an hour.

Always remember to check and make sure your rifle is not loaded when you want to clean. This usually sounds to be a very simple thing but this can always be the difference between your life and death. Be safe when dealing with your rifle and remember that proper maintenance means longer service.

And now, that we’re finally at the end, we’re waiting for your opinion on rifle cleaning? Is it something you do often or now is your first time? We’re looking forward to hearing your stories!

Check out our expert reviews of the top gun cleaning kit to help you maintain a clean weapon system.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.


  • In the cold season, before you bring the gun (without a case) in a warm room, it should be wrapped in a jacket or blanket so it doesn’t get “sweat” and warmed up slowly: only then, wiping and cleaning the gun, as described above, put it in the case. After the hunting, a shotgun is best kept in a case and assembled not to put in a corner or leave laying on the bench, but be sure to hang on the wall. And always remember safety first.

    • We all care about safety, and this is a great reminder for rifle enthusiasts because this basic protocol is often missed which can compromise both the rifle mechanism and the owner’s safety.

  • Many hunters are not careful with the process of cleaning the weapon. To wipe a couple of times until it “shines”, and that’s it. Unfortunately, this attitude to cleaning can lead not only to the loss of accuracy but also damage the rifle itself. The cost of weapons can compensate for the need to care for it. Some somehow think that buying an expensive rifle or carbine, they did everything possible and more to serve him not to come. They are absolutely wrong.

    • Some hunters tend to be overcritical when cleaning their rifles. Too much, even in cleaning, can indeed damage a rifle and its mechanisms.