Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun


A firearm is no different than any other man made machine, it requires proper maintenance at regular intervals. Firearms, especially ones used regularly, accumulate a wide variety of dirt, grime, carbon, and all sorts of other nasty stuff.

Failing to perform proper maintenance can lead to various issues with a firearm, from degraded accuracy to decreased reliability. To keep your firearm in tip-top shape it’s advised to clean and inspect your firearm regularly.

A new gun owner may be a bit confused on how exactly one should do that. This guide will go over the ins and outs of proper maintenance of both an automatic pistol, and a revolver.

Necessary Supplies

Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

  • Small Rag
  • Cleaning rod
  • Cleaning rod attachments including appropriate caliber bore brush, and tips to hold patches (jags)
  • Bore patches
  • Solvent (AKA Bore cleaner)
  • Gun Lubrication
  • Access to soap and water in case of any materials get into the eyes or a pair of safety classes.
  • Cleaning brush (AP Brush, soft bristles.)

Step 1

Step 1 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

The absolute first step in cleaning your firearm is to ensure it is unloaded.

With an automatic pistol you’ll need to eject the magazine, and pull the slide to the rear and then visually inspect the chamber to ensure it is clear.

With a revolver you need to activate the cylinder release, a Colt pulls back, a Smith and Wesson and Taurus pushes forward, and a Ruger has a button to press. Open the cylinder and ensure it is empty.

Now if you have cleared your weapon and it was loaded you need to gather your ammunition together and place it in either a closing container, or in another room.

You may think this is overboard, but the moment you leave the weapon alone to get a rag, or some oil, etc. then you are no longer in control of the weapon.

That and some weapons like Glocks require you to pull the trigger to disassemble it.

Safety should always be the number one priority when it comes to firearms. With firearms there is no such thing as over cautious.

Step 2

Step 2 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

With an automatic pistol you’ll need to disassemble the weapon. Firearms are different and may have different methods of disassembly. You should disassemble your firearm in accordance with your owner’s manual.

If you have purchased the weapon second hand, or you are missing the manual for any reason you can find nearly any manual online. Often the manufacturers will place the firearms manual on their websites for reference.

For basic maintenance on a revolver all you need to do is open the cylinder. Revolvers are considered simple for a reason.

Step 2 b - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

After the weapon is disassembled you need to go ahead and wipe it down briefly, removing any outside irritants like dirt. Then go ahead and attach your bore brush to your cleaning rod and lightly moisten it with cleaning solvent. Run the bore brush through the barrel from the chamber until it exits the opposite side. Repeat between 7 to 10 times going back and forth through the barrel.

In a revolver you’ll need to run the bore brush through each cylinder approximately 5 times, since the cylinders do not receive as much fouling as the rest of the weapon.

Step 3

Step 3 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

Next remove the bore brush from your cleaning rod and attach the jag.

The jag has a point on it and this point should be placed into the center of a bore pouch and wraps around it. The bore patch should be lightly coated with solvent. Again you’ll run this patch through the barrel, changing the patch every three or four run throughs. Clean until the bore patch has very little, or no carbon on it.

With a revolver you’ll also need to run the patch through each cylinder until the patch comes out clean.

Step 4

Step 4 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

Lightly douse your cleaning brush with solvent and begin brushing the slide and internals of the weapon. On an automatic you’ll need to clean through the inside of the slide, the rails the slide rides on, and the exterior of the barrel. Using your cloth wipe after you finish brushing the weapon. Pay attention to the internal mechanism on an automatic and ensure they are brush as clean as possible.

On a revolver you’ll need to apply the brush to the frame, the front and back of the cylinder, and the internal frame that houses the cylinder. Pay special attention to the action pieces of the firearm.

Step 5

Step 5 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

Now you need to apply lubrication to some key points of your weapon. Lubrication will help ensure the weapon runs reliably and will help give a longer life to your weapon.

On an automatic pistol you’ll need to apply lubricant to the slide and frame rails, and the area where the barrel meets the frame. On the inside of the frame apply lubricant to any action pieces including the trigger area, as well as the hammer.

On revolvers you’ll need to apply lubricant to the ejector rod, the cylinder release, the cylinder lock, and the back side of the frame. You can also apply lubricant to the left and right of the hammer, and then the trigger.

Step 6 – Automatics Only

Step 6 - Cleaning and Maintaining a Handgun

Automatics have an additional step that one should take to ensure proper function.

This is the magazine.

In fact the majority of malfunctions that occur within a firearm can be traced back to the magazine. Like firearms, magazines are different in nature, and one should consult the manual for the proper disassembly steps.

Most often the magazine requires its baseplate to be removed. As one removes the base plate be careful and ready for the spring to fall out, followed by the aptly named follower.

Once these pieces are removed you need to clean the spring thoroughly. Next uses your rag and wipe down the inside of the magazine to remove any dirt and debris. If combat reloads are part of your training you’ll quickly notice the amount of dirt that builds up in your magazines. Brush off the follower and reassemble the magazine.

Simple right?

That’s it, simple enough right? You can disassemble your weapon further if you are properly trained. However you should never go beyond the manuals advised disassembly without proper training. I advise cleaning your weapon after every range trip, or at least every 250 to 300 rounds.

Do you have any tips for keeping your weapons in tip-top shape? Let me know in the comments below.

Images by Travis Pike


About Author

Travis Pike is a veteran Infantry Marine and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. He lives deep in the woods of North Florida, where he can shoot at his leisure. He has been hunting since he was 8 and has always enjoyed the outdoors. Travis is an NRA certified instructor and loves teaching others anything and everything about firearms. He splits time between writing, running a training course, and of course a 9 to 5 job. He is a vocal gun rights activist. When he’s not writing, shooting, or working he is often found sipping craft beer on his porch

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