Cleaning (and Maintenance) Schedules; When Do You Do It?

Yugoslavian M56 submachinegun

Another topic wreathed in myth and lore among firearms enthusiasts is the cleaning of their toys and tools. Some say never clean it, some clean every X number of rounds, some clean after every trip. Some swear by Hoppes #9 (and I’ll admit there is something deeply nostalgic about the scent), some by motor oil or crisco, some by lubricant pens, some by dry lube… We can use bore snakes, cotton patches, ginormous cotton swabs, and brushes made of metal and synthetics. Maybe we dip the parts in brake cleaner or autoclave them. Maybe you just take the slide off and bang it on a hard surface until chunks of carbonized filth fly off, reassemble and keep running it.

Honestly I run my guns dirty… Should I? Probably not–but then again who is to say. I run them until they start feeling “dry” or “gritty” (and if I ever had one that started malfunctioning, I’d do it then). But until that point, I drop in a little lube and keep going. I’ve been running SLP2000 for a while now, and just haven’t really needed to focus much on the cleaning side (nor maintenance). I feel like I should have some sort of maintenance schedule, but am also curious to see how long they will run before failure (I keep a pretty accurate log of the round count on all of my weapons). If I ever kept one in storage and pulled it out, I’d give it a once over, but most of my hardware stays in pretty constant usage. Also if I shot corrosive ammo I’d clean after ever trip.

How often do you clean? And why? It is the way you were taught? A routine you have developed? Am I flat wrong (and if so, why, in your opinion, am I)? Do you think pistols need a different cleaning schedule than do carbines? Shotguns? Precision rifles?



Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


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  • Tyler McCommon

    I haven’t cleaned my AR15 in a thousand rounds or so……

    My milsurps guns I usually give quick wipe down with Hoppes and a bore cleaning after shooting just prevent any possible rust but otherwise only give them a real good cleaning when I “retire them” to the safe for awhile. Or AKA I’m out of ammunition for that gun.

  • ostiariusalpha

    Maintenance is more important than cleaning; replacing your springs at their scheduled round counts goes a long way towards sustaining reliability in self-loading firearms. Keep an eye on areas that are prone to wear or peening. If you’re shooting a precision rifle, then clean the bore of carbon every couple of months or so (depending on your shooting schedule), and of copper whenever precision starts to degrade. Otherwise just wipe it down and lubricate it when it feels gritty.

  • USMC03Vet

    I’m not cleaning my AKM to see how long it goes before any malfunction. My carry though I clean every two weeks after I take it to the range.

    • Ratcraft

      When my carry has as much lint in the barrel as my belly button, time to clean.

      • Otm Shooter

        Check that belly button lint! You do NOT want a belly button KB!

  • Tahoe

    I should probably clean them more than I do, but I think I’m mostly on your schedule. Keep them lubed and clean when malfunctions start to occur. I’ll give them a once-over for worn/damaged parts every few months, but generally if they run, they’re good.

  • Max Blancke

    I bring one up every evening, when the family is watching tv or playing cards or whatever. I inspect it, check the action and bore, lube if necessary or polish the stock. I end up rotating through all of them perhaps twice each year. I also clean them very thoroughly after shooting, at most waiting until the next day. But most of my guns are old and expensive, and I shoot lots of different types of ammo.
    That is the way I was taught by my Dad, and I taught my kids the same practice.

    • Navy Davy

      Ditto.
      Way to go dude.
      Lesson from farm: one farmer said “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
      He spent lots of valuable daylight summer time awaiting parts and fixing.
      Another farmer cleaned and repaired all winter, had great crops on time.
      Lesson for gunners there somewhere?

  • Evan

    I clean my guns when I’m bored, or when they’re exceptionally filthy. Or when I’m desperate to shoot but can’t afford ammo. I haven’t cleaned my SKS in like eight years.

    • datimes

      I got my first SKS in 1991 for $99. A few months later I bought another one for $79 thinking when the first one broke I could throw it away. #1 still functions perfectly with very little maintenance.

      • Evan

        I got mine for $200 in like 2006. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a Mosin Nagant for $78 when they were that price. I don’t care how good it is, a gun for under $80 and you WILL get your money’s worth.

        • derpmaster

          I bought mine for $90+tax and transfer and sold it for the same. It made a lot of noise but just was not accurate. Minute of paper plate at 50 yards and a set of improved peep sights costs as much as the rifle does.

          • Evan

            Not a tack driver by any means, but it’s still fun to shoot. I can usually hit a beer can at about 50yds with it. It’s certainly more of a playing around gun than a serious precision gun, but there’s always room for both as far as I’m concerned.

      • Don1974

        Bought my first one when I turned 18 in 1992 for $99. Beautiful Soviet made SKS. The Chinese ones were $69 if I remember correctly.

      • jerry young

        I got mine for $79 back in 83 it still works great, I clean it whenever I shoot it or whenever I’m just cleaning my other guns, but I wish now I had bought a few more at that price

  • Greg Thompson

    I clean after every session and use Gunzilla to do it. If I know I’m going to be shooting it again tomorrow, I won’t clean, but oftentimes when I put something back into the safe, I have no idea when I’ll get to it again, so it gets put back in as good condition as I can reasonably make it. Everything is stored in a humidity and temperature controlled environment that I monitor regularly to make sure it’s dry as a bone. There are several 750 gram silica canisters in each safe

  • Rob

    I clean everything after shooting, that’s how I was raised, and I enjoy it. Unlike some, I don’t “play” with my guns at home, but as an enthusiast I like handling them, so that means I enjoy the quiet time of cleaning them as much as the loud time firing them.

    Exceptions exist, I don’t mind some “testing” here or there, but I don’t understand the “I never clean it, its an (fill in the blank).” I always wonder what these peoples other possessions look like…how clean is their home or car, etc?

  • Nathan Harris

    I lube them and run a bore snake down my pistols and rifles a couple of times after I shoot if I am shooting pretty regularly (Except for when I shoot corrosive ammo; pretty important to get that stuff out if you want to keep from getting corrosion). I thoroughly clean them if I’m not planning on taking them out for a while.

  • Bob

    I haven’t cleaned my AK for a few thousand rounds now. I was thinking I would keep shooting it until it choked, but now I feel like I should clean it just because…

  • Lance

    Like to use MPRO 7 and MPRO CLP on my none surplus arms since they don’t use corrosive ammo. For older weapon I use hoppies 9 which kills corrosive residue.

  • Bill

    I like mine to build up a protective dirt crust.

    But seriously folks, I have a cleaning/maintenance conundrum: I won’t carry a gun that hasn’t been test-fired for reliability’s sake, so if it’s been disassembled/serviced/cleaned, I’m just going to shoot 50 rounds or so through it anyway to make certain it’s properly reassembled/serviced/cleaned, so “clean” is relative.

  • Tim U

    I got into the habit of cleaning after every range trip, because I never knew wgen the next trip might be.

    I still do that, more or less. I occasionally skip cleaning if the round count was low and I know it’ll come out again soon enough.

  • Paul White

    I gave in at like 1500 rounds and cleaned my Ruger SR9c because it was so dirty picking it up left my hand nasty (shooting mostly cheap as hell steel cased).

  • Anomanom

    I treat it like the dishes, clean after using. I still use Hoppe’s #9 and I love their lubricating wipes since the lube goes where i want it and doesn’t leak or drip.

  • Tom – UK

    All my rifles are bolt action or straight pull rifles.

    With my historic rifles I wipe down the bolt and all the surfaces , then a clean oil wipe over the bolt. The barrel gets a dry boresnake through the barrel two to three times before a lightly oiled pull through.

    With my modern rifles, the barrel get’s a dry boresnake through two to three times before a lightly oiled pull through. Once the rifle get’s really dirty on the inside it gets a really thorough dry then oiled wipe down on all the surfaces.

  • codfilet

    I take care of my stuff. My weapons are clean and serviceable at all times. My Dad was a WW2 combat vet, and he taught us to shoot at a young age, and cleaning after use was part of that training.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    I like tearing down my SBR and cleaning the sh-t out of it.
    Its a decent way to spend quality time with my gun when I cant afford ammo.

  • Modern guns are exceptionally reliable as long as they are lubricated, and there are some modern lubes that very resistant to burn off and migration. In particular greases.

    So my cleaning regime is pretty fluid.

    My typical schedule is that 1,000-2,000 I will wipe the old grease off, and apply new grease. And at 5,000 rounds I will dump the gun in my ultrasonic cleaner. Also at the 5,000 rounds mark I will replace any springs or parts that need replacing.

    Before a major match I will do a little more in depth cleaning. I will clean the bore, and do a better job wiping the old grease out before applying the new grease. I will also check extractor tension, wipe off the breech face, and clean the magazines.

    This cleaning schedule has worked very well for me, and gun issues are extremely rare.

    Right now I am in the middle of a torture best of sorts. During practice for the steel nationals I shoot 4,000 to 5,000 rounds. So I decided to clean it once before my practice, and shoot the entire week without cleaning again until Saturday before I shoot for score. So far I am up to 2,100 rounds with only a failure to extract, and a failure to fire. And I can’t blame the FTF on cleaning or lube.

    As far as products, I am sponsored by Lucas Oil so naturally I use their products. But I wouldn’t use them if I didn’t believe in them. And their Extreme Duty Gun Oil, and the Bore Solvent are the two best I’ve used.

  • 6.5x55Swedish

    I clean it every time I have had it outside my home. I walk in a lot of dense forest so I usually
    get stuff in my rifle; only way not to get stuff in them is to have it in a plastic bag. I also clean them once a month, with a decent coat of oil, both on the inside and the outside because they weapon room is kind of damp some days when the dehumidifier can’t keep up. I’ve had tools rust in a few days. I’d rather have them too oiled up when in storage than having the rifles rust. It is easier to wipe off oil than to get rid of rust.

  • mosinman

    Comrade, Russian weapon is not of needings this “cleaning”

  • Boomer

    I clean every 2-300 rounds in my handguns and AR. Long guns @ 1-20 rounds. In the past I used oil on the inside n outside, after visiting with a g smith he told me oil on the inside wax on the outside? Seamed realalistic too me, so I use a high grade gun wax n my usual oil, this is the way to go! Not only that you need to apply the wax only twice a year but my guns look Great, better then new! The wax filled the pours so the finish is like the shine of a new car. So “Oil on the inside, Wax on the outside”

  • Treyh007

    I’m probably a black sheep in this conversation but I like cleaning my guns, I do it after every range trip (which is usually 2 to 4 times a month). I’m the same way with my vehicles and ATV’s though, a clean car is a happy car, lol. Call me weird but I just enjoy keeping my hard earned investments clean. 👍🏻👍🏻

    • Nashvone

      You’re not alone. I clean my guns as soon as I get home from the range.

  • Roy G Bunting

    After every range trip and if it looks like it needs some corrosion protection.

  • Andrew Dubya

    After every trip, weekly or the times I get bored in between. Like Treyh007, I like cleaning too. If I put on some music that`ll be my evening. It`s nice having my evening planned and already set to go before I even get home.

  • Will

    After each trip to the range and or serious training I clean them three times.
    Immediately after firing them and the following two days.
    Hoppes 9 and Break Free CLP.
    Every gun gets at least a detailed strip and inspection/cleaning once a year.
    OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK.

    • Mike Lashewitz

      It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks… Hoppes #9 by the quart and CLP works fine. I have tried other products and always come back to Hoppes. However I do a fine wipe down with a pork based lubricant on all rounds and housings. It is a thing I do “religiously” . . . .

  • Marcus D.

    I too enjoy cleaning my guns. All are cleaned after every range trip (for the black powder guns, that goes without saying) as just something that should be done. My carry piece gets a wipe down, patch and lube every month or so, whether I’ve shot it or not. I live in a very dry climate, so rust is not an issue, but lubes do dry up. The exteriors all get a wipe of KleenBore silicone gun & rod cloth, which works exceptionally well.

  • Bjørn Vermo

    First I got proper cleaning drilled into me, later I drilled it into others. It would take a conscious effort not to clean a gun before and after each use.

  • Travis

    No way that MP38 needs any cleaning just yet. You could probably run another 3,000 rounds through it, easily.

  • jerry young

    I always clean my guns after every use, when in the military the first thing you did when returning from the field is stow your gear and clean you weapons and if you had time you would field strip your weapon and clean and perform any maintenance needed while in the field, I also clean my guns whenever I have extra time just for something to do, some is a matter of choice some is necessity depends on your gun and what ammo and how much you shoot

  • BrianZ

    I clean after every outing. It may be up to week but I make the time to do it. Other weapons that are not used are cleaned once a year. (Yeah I don’t get out as often as I want) To me the upside to cleaning is becoming familiar with the working of each and knowing they are as ready for action as they can be.

  • Flight Er Doc

    I keep mine appropriately lubed, and if I shoot them much, detail clean them once a year or so. I do clean the ones that are going into long-term storage. For cleaning I use brake cleaner, bore snakes, and for lubes I use Mobil synthetic grease and Turbine (Jet) engine oil.

  • ruinator

    I used to clean every weapon, every time i took it to the range. Now with kids, i slacked off to every other time. I have to admit if I open a bolt at home and it is dirty, I feel guilt and usually end up cleaning it

  • Rodford Smith

    Guns I shoot often I give at least a minor cleaning and a touch of lube after a range session. Guns I don’t shoot often get a thorough cleaning and lubing, because I don’t know how long they will sit in the gun safe before they’re touched again.

  • raz-0

    Anything I don’t shoot often gets put away clean if they aren’t coming out again within the month, so they get cleaned every time they are used, or close enough.

    Things that get shot a lot get shot until they either become disgusting, get rained on or otherwise wet, or experience a failure. After that point they get cleaned for the first two reasons, or because they are approaching their service interval that was previously determined, or once a year. Because everything gets dragged out once a year and gets cleaned and lubed even if unused.

    Most things can go 1000 rounds or more between cleanings as long as you ad some lube appropriately.

  • Devil_Doc

    Every time I shoot.

  • Drunk Possum

    Hoppes #9 usually before I go to the range, the night before. But I usually shoot every weekend so they don’t go long without a good cleaning. I usually clean just the barrel and the breech face. If I’m feeling particularly bored I might clean the slide and some of the frame guts. I run a plastic fantastic, and I don’t think I’ve ever lubed it since I got it. Zero malfunctions that weren’t ammo related.

  • Pranqster

    I think its funny that somebody who cares enough to keep a log of the number of rounds fired though all of his guns doesn’t care to clean them regularly?

  • Mike Lashewitz

    I clean my weapons after every range trip ans they are kept in a dehumidified safe when not in use, oh except for those located strategically around the house. Which too go to the range every trip.

    With recent videos showing typical AR platform failures, EG galling and meltdown I prefer properly cleaned and lubed rather than guessing, “Is it OK?” Also I want to make sure the pork based lubricants are fresh. I most certainly would not be accused of rancid lubricants causing infections in self defense scenarios….. One has to set their priorities somewhere.

  • Brian M

    I only clean my weapons under 3 conditions:
    1. I’m using corrosive ammo.
    2. I’m going away for a prolonged period.
    3. I’m seeing lots of unexpected malfunctions.

    I do not clean after every range trip. The only time I clean immediately after a range trip is if I’ve been using corrosive ammunition, because that’s the cost of maintaining a functional weapon while saving meaningfully on ammunition.
    I’m a student who is gun owner, which means I’m without my firearms for prolonged periods of months on end. Naturally, I clean and lubricate them before I go off so as to make sure the guns are in proper working order before I leave, to make sure they are lubricated before I go, to protect them from rust in my absence, and to ensure that if anyone in the family somehow has need of them, or wishes to go shooting they’re all good to go. That is actually why I refrained from buying corrosive ammo for a while until I had set up a permanent range bag with commercial ammo ready to go.
    I will clean if a weapon suddenly starts malfunctioning a lot. I did this only one time, and that was when I first shot my M57. The factory lube, if it was even present in the first place, was simply not cutting it. So I took it home, took it apart, and gave it a bath in automatic transmission fluid. So nowadays, all new acquisitions get a nice soak in a bucket of ATF.

    I won’t lie — I am one of the world’s laziest men when it comes to routine tasks. I do something like cleaning when it’s clear I need to do it, like when I’m seeing carbon deposits in a shiny barrel, or I’m wondering if I’m looking at rust. Part of the reason I make use of corrosive ammo is not just the savings, but also so that I guarantee that I will end up ultimately ramming the responsibility of proper maintenance through my thick skull. So far, it’s worked.