A clear and concise how-to guide to cleaning your handgun in 5 easy steps.
In this article, we’ll show you how to clean a semi-automatic handgun. This will give you a step by step process and can serve as a checklist for your next gun cleaning session. Keep reading to find a full list of gun cleaning supplies you need and a link to purchase an all-in-one gun cleaning kit.
Short on time? Watch the summary video.
Step 1: Prepare For Cleaning
Before you begin, it’s extremely important to ensure your firearm is fully unloaded. Accidents can and do happen all the time. Remove the magazine, lock the slide to the rear, and check visually and physically that the chamber is clear. My suggestion is to remove all the live ammunition from the room. Place loaded magazines, boxed ammo, and any loose rounds in a gun safe or a separate room. This will ensure you don’t accidentally introduce live ammo to your handgun during cleaning. During the entire process it’s important to continue to practice trigger discipline and muzzle control. Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded, even if you know it’s not.
Next, you’ll want to ensure all your supplies are together before you disassemble your handgun. Here is a list of everything you need and nothing you don’t. This comes from years of experience and hundreds of handgun cleanings.
Supplies You Need:
Small Plastic Bucket or Pail
BoreBoss Bore Snake (be sure the caliber matches your handgun)
Utility Mat (optional)
Step 2: Disassemble Your Handgun
Now that you have all of your supplies ready, let’s get to work. We recommend wearing gloves during the cleaning process to avoid transferring any oil, lead, or fouling to your skin, eyes, or mouth. It is also important to NOT clean your firearms on surfaces you eat on such as a counters or a kitchen table.
Your owner’s manual will explain exactly how to properly and safely take down your handgun and clean it’s parts. For purposes of this article, we will go over general guidelines for take down and cleaning.
Let’s start by disassembling your handgun. We’ll use a Glock as an example. First, double check the gun is unloaded. Pull the trigger, pull the slide back by about a quarter of an inch, and pull down on both sides of the slide releases located on the frame above the trigger guard. This unlocks the slide and allows you to push it forward and off the frame. Once the slide is off the frame, there is a barrel and a recoil spring assembly located inside the slide assembly which come right out.
Step 3: Begin Cleaning
Once your handgun is fully taken down, we start cleaning by soaking the parts in the Lucas CLP oil. We like to apply a light coat of the CLP to the barrel, spring, inside of the slide, and internals of the frame, letting them sit in a plastic bucket for a few minutes to allow the CLP to take off any oils and leading.
After a few minutes, take out your barrel and wipe off the outside with clean Cotton Patches until the patches stop collecting dark residue. Then using your Bore Snake, clean out the inside of your barrel by running the bore snake through the barrel. Be sure to run your snake from the feed ramp end (the same direction bullets travel) to avoid marring the exit end of your barrel. To remove any remaining debris, dampen a clean patch with your Hoppe’s Cleaning solution and wipe down the outside of the barrel. Do the same with a Q-tip to clean out the grooves in the feed ramp and around the outside of the barrel.
Next, remove your spring from the bucket and wipe off any excess CLP with clean cotton patches. If there is any visible leading, dirt, or residue, be sure to remove that as well with cotton patches and a Nylon Brush if needed.
Next, you’ll want to be sure to clean the inside of your slide out very well. This is what gets the most build up. Start out with a wet patch (use Hoppe’s Cleaning solution) and wipe down the inside of the slide and the rails. You can also use your brush to push the patch into hard to reach areas. Be sure NOT to get any chemicals near the striker housing on the slide. Once you get the majority of the fouling out of the slide with your wet patches, switch over to a wet Q-tip to get the inside of the rails and remove all the build up. Once your Q-tips are coming out clean, be sure to go over the striker housing with a dry patch or your nylon brush to knock down any build up.
Finally, you’ll want to take your frame out of the bucket and wipe down any excess CLP with a cotton patch. Then with a wet patch, clean out any dirt, lead, or fouling from the frame. Be sure to get all the hard to reach places. It’s also important to run a patch through the magazine well as gunpowder can get caught in there and build up. Similar to cleaning the slide, you’ll want to go over your frame again with wet Q-tips to ensure you pick up all the fouling from the slide mounts, and small parts.
Step 4: Apply Oil
Before we put things back together, we want to make sure they run smoothly. Every handgun operates differently so we suggest you refer to your owner’s manual for exact lubrication directions. However, general practice is to lubricate your high traffic areas before reassembling your handgun. This include the barrel, slide rails, and trigger action.
Sticking with Glock as our example, you’ll want to apply one drop of lubricant to the exterior of the barrel. You can use Lucas Gun Oil OR Hoppe’s No. 9 Lubricating Gun Oil for this. Apply the lubricant to a patch and apply on your barrel or you can apply it to the barrel directly. Next, add a drop on the top of the feed ramp where the ramp and the top of the slide come in contact. Next, add a drop of oil to each side of the slide rail. Again, be sure NOT to get any oil inside the striker housing. Lastly, add a drop of oil to each slide rail guide on the frame as well as the trigger action near the rear of the frame. Once all of your parts are oiled, you can reassemble your handgun.
Step 5: Reassemble Your Handgun
Start by inserting the barrel back into the slide and placing the recoil spring assembly back into the slide. Now you can attach the slide assembly to the frame. Line up your slide rail guides to the slots on the back of the slide assembly and pull your slide back into position. Rack that slide a couple of times to work the lubricant into the railing.
Now we want to ensure we have a properly functioning trigger action. After racking the slide, pull the trigger to ensure your striker functions. Now rack the slide again to ensure the trigger resets properly. You should hear a click and the trigger should tension back into position.
Once your handgun is assembled and working properly, lightly wipe down the exterior with a Silicon Cloth to remove any smudges or oils and apply a protective coating. Just like that, your handgun is clean and ready for use!
Bonus: When should you clean your gun?
A very common question we get is “how often should I clean my handgun?”. While there are many varying opinions on when to clean your handgun, you can never keep your firearm too clean. Some people only clean their handgun after every 500 rounds, while others clean it every time they use it. The good news is many modern handguns are designed to operate even after hundreds of rounds if they need to. However, it’s not a good practice to get into.
When you need your handgun most, you want it to be in the best working condition possible. That means being cleaned, maintained, and fully loaded. This is why we suggest cleaning your handgun after every trip to the range. If you carry your handgun, we suggest cleaning it every month whether you’ve fired it or not to remove any lint and dirt build up.
Remember, a clean gun is a safe gun.