How Often Should a Firearm be Cleaned?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been lazy and lackadaisical about cleaning my firearms lately. It’s easy to put the blame on the pandemic lockdowns and the fact that I’ve done a lot less shooting recently because of said lockdowns. However, I did some cleaning this past weekend in preparation for an upcoming training course I will be taking. When I field stripped my current EDC, which will be my primary weapon in the upcoming training course, I felt ashamed about letting a significant amount of lint build up in it and was reminded of the importance of properly maintaining my firearms. As such, I figured I’d share my preferred cleaning schedule even though I sometimes let it lapse.

My gun cleaning schedule is pretty simple. Assuming I’m diligent about it, I clean a gun:

  • After it’s been used,
  • a month after its last cleaning if it’s my EDC, or
  • a year after its last cleaning if it’s not my EDC.

That’s it. I track the last time a gun was used and cleaned in a spreadsheet and check it regularly to see if any gun in the collection is due for a cleaning.

Let’s dive a bit deeper in to each of those.

Cleaning a Gun After It’s Been Used

I do try to be really diligent about this rule and I usually am. The reason I do this is because I’ve read and heard from multiple sources that corrosion can start as soon as 24 hours after use. I have no idea if this is true or not, but the fact remains that I value my firearm investments and would really hate to lose them due to corrosion. From a practical point of view, it generally translates to fewer “scheduled cleanings” as cleaning a firearm after I’ve used it resets the clock on the “scheduled cleanings”.

Do I always clean a firearm within 24 hours of use? Generally, yes. However, the primary exception to this rule happens on range days where several firearms were used. These happen when I’m taking a new shooter to try several firearms or a family range day where several family members want to shoot several different firearms. In these situations, the cleaning occurs over several days and sometimes over a couple of weeks. This is especially true during the summer months in Texas where the heat makes the cleaning tasks I perform in the garage less enjoyable.

At Least Once A Month for my EDC

This scheduled cleaning was a rare occurrence pre-pandemic since I regularly shoot my EDC several times a month in IDPA competitions or at the range and promptly clean it within 24 hours. However, I’ve had this scheduled cleaning on my radar because I want to make sure that my EDC is always ready to go and an EDC gets dirty quickly even if it isn’t shot regularly.

By definition, I carry my EDC every day. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, my EDC is typically on my person. There are a few other handguns that aren’t my EDC but are carried with some frequency when my EDC isn’t optimal, these handguns fall under the same cleaning schedule. The reason for this is that carried handguns get dirty and they get dirty fast. They pick up lint and dust quickly. I’ve got a medical condition (arthritic psoriasis) that causes me to shed a lot of skin and that skin finds a way into the firearms I carry as well. From my experience, small debris and lubricants turn into gunk. While this gunk is easy to clean, I’ve read and been told that malfunctions are more likely to occur the more it builds up. Since I depend on these firearms for self defense, the removal of the debris is an important priority for me.

Again like the fast corrosion after use information, I haven’t gathered any empirical evidence that suggest that gunk actually increases chances of malfunctions. However, I’m not willing to take that chance.

Do I actually clean all of my carry weapons at least once a month if they haven’t been used? Generally, yes. However, I am human and therefore fallible. While I’d like the place the blame my recent lapse of following my cleaning schedule on recent events like the pandemic, but the fault is all mine – I got lazy.

At Least Once a Year

Corrosion is a real thing. Neglect anything long enough and nature will do a number on it. There are plenty of firearms in many collections that get shot once a year or less. Examples of these include the good ole hunting rifles that only get shot during deer season and safe queens.

At the end of the day, the protective lubricants evaporate over time and rarely used firearms become more susceptible to corrosion as time passes. For this reason alone, I make it a point to clean and lubricate every firearm in the collection once a year.

Do I all firearms in the collection get cleaned and lubricated once a year? No. Most do. Sometimes, it’s right before the year is up. Other times, it’s just after a year. But on average, most of the firearms in the collection get cleaned once a year. Keeping things real, there are a few firearms that I neglect. The neglect comes from me not really seeing much collectible value in a few firearms, not really being fond of activities/applications with those same firearms, and general laziness. Even so, I can’t think of a firearm in the collection that has gone more than a year and a few months without a cleaning. I do my best not to neglect them, but like I said I’m fallible.

Cleaning Recommendations

Do I recommend this cleaning schedule to others? Short answer is yes. This is entirely based on information I’ve gathered and personal opinion. I’m a big proponent of properly maintaining firearms. They are valuable investments and one may find themselves in a situation where they depend on them for self defense. So as far as I see it, proper maintenance and cleaning is important.

At the same time, I recognize that my approach may not be optimal. For really large collections, my approach may not even be realistic. Perhaps there are better approaches and schedules, but this is what’s worked for me and what I will continue to do. That may change as learn more and my experience grows.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and your practices.

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