How to Clean a Handgun | Regular and Proper Cleaning Will Keep Your Gun Reliable and Accurate

While today’s handguns are undoubtedly reliable, they need to clean and regularly maintained if you want to keep yours functioning correctly.

And while it’s true that most shooters are careful in keeping their guns clean and dry, it’s actually pretty common for many gun owners to fire their handguns without the value of consistent cleaning and lubrication.

Did you know that firing your guns dirty, dry, or both can cause serious malfunctions? In some cases, it can lead to permanent damage.

You want to ensure that you are avoiding these potential problems. Recreational guns need to be cleaned and lubricated as soon as you can following firing your gun. If you plan on putting your gun in storage, the same applies. It doesn't matter if you own/want a 44 mag revolver, a single action revolver, or an AR pistol.

Taking Care of Your Handgun

If you have a defensive handgun, it should have an even stricter cleaning schedule. It needs to be cleaned right away following a session at the range. What’s more, it should be stored clean, handled clean, and checked for dirt and other buildups on a regular basis. Your handgun also needs proper lubrication.

There isn’t a single good reason why you should be sacrificing your handgun’s reliability when all it takes is just a few minutes of your time to clean a gun.

Before you clean a gun, it’s essential to spend some time checking over the owner’s manual. If you didn’t get a manual with your gun or pistol, ensure that you order one or find it online. And while you are there, you may want to look for a replacement for your pocket pistol, or a gun for women with some of the top picks here.

Handguns typically need disassembly for cleaning. As such, you need to ensure that you understand your pistol’s layout and the necessary procedures for disassembly. You’ll also want to ensure that you know what tools are needed, as well as proper reassembly.

It also pays to know where to lubricate your gun. This will go a long way in helping you avoid potentially damaging your pistol or failing to lubricate it properly. And once you go through the maintenance 101, next step should be how to improve your skills in pistol shooting drills.
chose the right kit

The Right Cleaning Kit To Clean A Gun

A basic cleaning kit for a handgun will come with a solvent, which is needed to work out any lead and powder fouling, gun oil, a cleaning rod, a patch holder (with patches) and a bore brush.

Other handy items that you might want to pick up include a nylon cleaning brush, cotton swabs, and a good flashlight or bore light.

The specifics of cleaning your handgun will depend on the model that you own. You can't clean all pistols the same, which ties back to getting your hands on your gun’s owner’s manual.

Preparing the Work Area

First of all, you want to ensure that you are working in a well-ventilated area. One that has been prepared for cleaning guns.

The chemicals that are produced after shooting are toxic and need to be handled with the utmost care. A quick and easy way to get a workbench or table ready for gun cleaning is to cover its surface using a large plastic trash bag.

On top of the bag, lay down a couple of layers of newspaper.

Follow that up with a layer of paper towels.

When they become dirty and soiled, simply lay down a new paper towel layer. When you are finished cleaning, simply turn the trash bag inside-out, and you will effectively and efficiently pick up all of your mess in one fell swoop.

do it right

Gun Cleaning 101

Now you are ready to start cleaning your gun. Begin by ensuring that the gun is unloaded and the magazine is away. You also want to always ensure that it is pointed in a safe direction, well before you begin cleaning.

You have likely heard plenty of horror stories of someone getting shot in an accident while cleaning their guns. Your safest bet to remove all ammunition from the work area. You can’t have an accident if ammunition isn’t present.

Field Strip

It usually isn’t necessary to take your pistol completely apart unless you are making repairs. Whenever you perform a partial disassembly for cleaning purposes, you are field stripping your gun.

The pistol needs to be broken down into its main components for semi-automatics. This includes the other parts of the gun like slide, magazine, frame, guide rod, and barrel.

Semi-autos come in many different configurations. As such, you need to ensure to read your owner s manual carefully. Single-action revolvers, for example, need to have the cylinder removed from the frame.

And if you have a double-action revolver, all you need to do is swing the cylinder out into its open position. Any of these three styles of handguns may need you to remove the grip or the grip panels for proper cleaning.

Clean the Barrel

Inside the barrel is perhaps the single most important part of a gun that needs to be properly cleaned. It is also the most challenging. After shooting sessions, the layer of material left in the barrel can reduce the pistol’s accuracy and corrode the rifling.

You need to always ensure that the barrel is dry and spotless. Brush and push as much as it takes to get the barrel clean. Use a clean rag to wipe off any excess cleaning solvent and follow up cleaning a gun this way going forward.

To start, attach your bore brush and cleaning rod together. Next, apply solvent to the brush. Now, push it back and forth through the barrel’s bore several times. Continue adding solvent occasionally to ensure good cleaning.

After you have thoroughly scrubbed the barrel, take off the bore brush and attach a clean patch holder. With it, run the patch through the barrel. Your first patch is going to get really dirty, so you want to clean it with a fresh one.

Next, swab the bore using more patches. Keep doing this until the patches come out of the barrel looking clean. Use your flashlight to examine the bore.

If you can still see fouling stuck in there, repeat the cleaning process by rerunning your brush and solvent through the barrel. Follow this up by using more patches until they come out clean and the bore is spotless.

Lastly, treat a patch with some gun oil and run it through the bore. The gun oil serves to protect the rifling from any moisture.

For semi-automatics, you only need to do this once. Revolvers, however, are a bit more detailed. Each chamber of the firearm needs to be thoroughly cleaned, so you’ll need to spend a little more time on those types of handguns.

Cleaning the Rest of the Gun

Using your nylon brush, add some solvent and scrub all of the remaining areas of the gun. Then use rags to remove any solvent and residue that is present.

You need to be very thorough when inspecting your pistol. If anything looks dirty, make sure that you clean it. Double-check all of the nooks and crannies, looking for any buildup of fouling. With cleaning semi-autos, you need to pay close attention to the interior grooves of the slide.

You should also check under the ejector, as well as the contact points between the frame and slide. You want to keep an eye out for any buildup near the forcing cone and the cylinder face on revolvers.

You want to ensure that you never use too much solvent. Doing so will only serve to complicate the cleaning process. If you have too much oil on your gun, use a rag and cotton swabs to collect any excess. Make sure that it is free of the extra oil and move on to the next step.

The lubrication points are different from gun to gun. For the most part, semi-autos should have lubrication on any parts that rub against each other during action cycles.

Only a small amount of lubricant is recquired when cleaning revolvers. Single-action pistols require lubricant on the cylinder pin and ratchet, and double-action handguns require lubricant on the ejector rod, as well as the cylinder ratchet.

Always make sure that you don’t use too much lubricate. Excess oil will attract gun fouling. Use cotton swabs to help you evenly apply lubricant to the key points on semi-automatics, using very small drops on the revolver’s correct points. Additionally, in order to protect the exterior of your gun, put a  light coating of preservative.

Finishing Up

With the barrel bore clean and treated with oil and the handgun’s main parts scrubbed with solvent, you are ready to wrap things up.

Put everything back together and cycle the action to help clean and lubricate. Double-check to make sure that all parts of your gun are functioning correctly. You may notice lubricant coming out of certain areas. If this happens, simply wipe it off using a rag.

Now it’s time to reassemble the pistol. Once it’s all back together, cycle the action a few times to spread the lubricant evenly, and to ensure everything is working correctly. If any lubricant oozes out of joints, wipe it off with a rag or cotton swab.


Knowing how to clean a handgun the correct way will go a long way in prolonging the life of your firearms (see also 'Why Do Guns Jam?' post). Gun cleaning is important to get into the habit of. Regularly cleaning all of your weapons will ensure that they work properly and provide you with the best performance.

cleaning the gun

If you aren’t already practicing good cleaning habits, take the time to do so. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in the quality of your firearms. Clean your gun regularly and it will provide you with years of service.

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