Cleaning things can be a chore and time-consuming. However, in the case of things like your trusty 9mm pistol, or your ready-to-rock AR-15 with all the trimmings, it’s definitely something that must be done. This isn’t a crock pot or an area rug, it’s something that you need to work, explicitly at a time when you need it to work the most, i.e. when your life is in danger. The worst sound in the world is hearing a “click” when you expect a “bang”. And in the heat of the moment, immediate action remedies may not be immediate enough – especially if the finer points of your firearms education just went out the window due to the speed and surprise of the moment in question.
So yes, clean your guns on a regular basis.
But, what is a “regular basis”?
Conversely, we’ve all seen the blog articles and videos of our favorite guns still going strong after thousands of rounds and no cleaning or service. And yes, a modern duty pistol like a GLOCK 19 or a modern defensive rifle like an AR-15 from your favorite manufacturer can and probably should go for many thousands of rounds while being filthier than a gun control advocate after a three-day bender with their financial backers. Heck, some of the popular “machine gun experience” ranges like Lock & Load here in Miami and the various tourist ones in Vegas report their guns standing up to an insane amount of abuse before failure. And of course the AK community loves to tell tales about rifles found in a landfill outside Budapest still working after 70 years of not being even looked at.
Modern guns designed to be reliable companions to Second Amendment Radicals, armed citizens, and professional users alike are actually supposed to run with a certain amont of neglect. In a real knock-down engagement, it may be a minute before you can clean your guns, after all.
Sure, a firearm from a major manufacturer, especially one that holds professional and government contracts, is designed to operate with a certain amount of neglect in austere conditions. Fights don’t happen in clean rooms, after all. Let’s also be honest as well, most armed government employees treat their guns like they do any other piece of agency-issued property, which is to say they generally only do the bare minimum in terms of care since they know they can just get another one if something breaks. A city cop isn’t gonna take down his issued Colt LE6920 and check the bolt carrier group for cracks. BCG fails, he’ll just turn in his rifle and grab another from the armory.
But, most of us don’t have the option of just going to an armory and swapping out guns when things go awry. Even if we have multiple weapons (which you should work towards anyway), it’s impractical and not recommended to just count on swapping weapons just because your primary has a problem.
Yes – a clean gun is a happy gun. You’ll also get that extra decimal point of reliability. A dirty Heckler & Koch VP9 might go bang 99.999 percent of the time, but a clean one will go bang 99.9999 percent of the time. That extra nine might save your life.
A firearm in it’s most basic form is a mechanical object. Energy is being used to do work. Mechanical objects degrade over time with use. And if you think about it, some of the working components of your rifle or pistol are subject to an insane amount of stress in a very short period of time. Fun fact, your gun’s barrel actually only functions reliably for a few seconds. Think about it, how long is the bullet actually inside the barrel, traveling? 99.9999 percent of the time your gun barrel is just sitting there, doing nothing.
On a more mundane level though, there’s wear on other components which is easier to visualize and think about. Think of stuff like recoil springs, trigger components, and extractors. Anything that moves, is subject to force, or rubs up against another part is a point of concern.
Often, your gun’s owner’s manual can be found online, and is usually a great starting point in terms of firearm cleaning and maintenance. It’ll document where the biggest wear components are, and also detail things like lubrication points. Hint – wherever there’s a lubrication point, it’s probably something that’s subject to wear and stress and may need to be replaced on a regular schedule. Brownells also has an awesome repository of schematics for most common firearms. You can use that to visualize wear points and trouble spots.
A firearm properly lubricated, stored and maintained, but unused, tends to stay in whatever condition it’s in at that point for awhile. A carry gun like your trusty GLOCK or H&K, has “stress” from being out in the elements, but that’s low compared to actual use.
A good maintenance and inspection schedule should usually be based on round count. An exception should be, again, for a firearm that is carried. It might seem like overkill, but I check and give my carry gun a basic cleaning every few weeks regardless of actual use. It gets the holster gak off and all the various sundry specks and motes that seem to find their way into gun.
OCD concerns aside, generally it’s recommended to clean your gun, regardless of whether it’s a rifle, pistol, or shotgun, after every range trip. Sure, the firearm can and should run dirty, but if you have the opportunity to clean, do so. It’s a tool that you’re betting your life on.
On average, cleaning most common firearms shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Take down, clean, and lube up. Whether your preferred solution is the standard CLP or the exotic solvents and magic from companies like Breakthrough Clean, the cleaning ritual should take about that long, if done right.
However, every so often, it’s good practice to really break things down and inspect those wear components for issues. A good guideline is after every 1000 rounds, or after an especially grueling training session in austere conditions. 500 rounds in one day (in 2021? Opulence, you has it…) out in the sticks – yeah, check your gun ASAP just in case.
Check the little things like springs, pins, and so on. Protip: AR-15 users, check the gas rings on your bolt carrier group. If they are worn, problems can result. However, gas rings are cheap as hell, so you can get a bag of them from most online outlets or well-equipped local gun shops.
A small investment for those deep cleaning cycles is to acquire an ultrasonic cleaner like the Hornady Lock-N-Load or it’s bigger brother, the “Hot Tub”. Coupled with a good dose of quality solvent like Breakthrough Clean, this process will really blast off the accumulated fouling from your firearm’s critical components. It’s a little more involved, but worth it. Plus, it’s actually kind of cool to watch.
Good practice is to keep common wear component replacements on hand, especially considering if one of them fails, your gun is out of the game, and immediate action techniques can’t resolve the problem. No amount of SPORTS moves or banging on your gun with a shovel will fix a broken recoil spring.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve acquired a firearm or three for defense of self, family, and home. That AR-15 you have isn’t just a range toy. That Galil ACE rifle you finally snagged isn’t just for stunting on socials and flexing on the AR crowd. The GLOCK on your hip isn’t a fashion statement. That slick custom Remington 700 setup puts food on the table. Your guns are tools with a utility and purpose. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.
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