Maintaining a Handgun

Maintaining a handgun breaks down into properly cleaning it and properly storing it.

Cleaning your Handgun

Shooting a gun is dirty. Metals like lead and copper can stick to the insider of your barrel (the bore) and you get deposits of unexploded gunpowder all over the inside of your handgun. Over time, those deposits build up. Sooner or later, your gun will stop working. If it stops in an emergency situation, you will find yourself holding a very expensive, very short, metal club for self-defense.

Cleaning a handgun is fairly easy—clean and lubricate the gun every time after you shoot it. If you do that, it will last many years and it will take care of you in an emergency. A handgun is a big investment, like a car. You wouldn’t run your car for 100,000 miles without changing the oil. Handgun maintenance is no different.

The steps in cleaning a handgun are:

  1. Check that the gun is unloaded. VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. Disassemble the gun;
  3. Clean it;
  4. Lubricate it;
  5. Reassemble it.

Disassembly and Reassembly

Revolvers are easy in this regard. Open the cylinder to disassemble it. Close the cylinder to reassemble it.

On the other hand, many semi-automatic owners dread field-stripping and reassembling their handguns. Yet that is a necessary part of cleaning and lubricating your semi-automatic.  You just have to jump in and do it. It may be hard the first couple of times. But after that, it’s easy and even fun.

We have found that, even if you have lost your owner’s manual, almost everyone can figure out how to field strip their gun by using YouTube. Get the make and model number of your gun. Then go to a search engine and type in “field strip a [make][ model number.]” You will probably find 30 or more videos instructing you about how to field strip the firearm. Follow the instructions in the video. In no time, you will be taking it apart with no difficulty.


Cleaning your gun is no different. Type “Clean a [make][model number]” into an internet search engine. Unless you have a very obscure gun, there will be many YouTube videos demonstrating how to clean and lube your particular gun.

What you will find is: (1) Cleaning modern revolvers is easy and very much the same from revolver to revolver; (2) Disassembling and cleaning every semi-automatic is different—they are designed differently and have different nooks and crannies that have to be cleaned; but that (3) Certain steps are common to cleaning and lubricating all handguns.

In general, cleaning breaks down into a repeated process of: (1) Loosening the gunpowder; (2) Cleaning out the loosened gunpowder; and (3) Drying the handgun. You repeat these steps for every part of the handgun until the gun is clean.

Here are some of the tools you will find in your gun cleaning kits.

Various gun cleaning implements

Various gun cleaning implements

Three of the implements shown above are attached to rods. The rods are used to push the implement through the barrel of handguns and through the chambers in the cylinder of a revolver.

The nylon brush and the bronze bore brush are used to loosen gunpowder and other deposits. The loop and the jag are used to push a small piece of cotton cloth (called a patch) through the bore and the chambers. This cleans the loosened gunpowder out of the bore and the chambers.

You may use different cleaning fluids to clean your gun. Hoppes No. 9 is a popular petroleum-based cleaning solvent. Two other cleaners are pictured below.

Various gun cleaning fluids

Various gun cleaning fluids

Three notes:

  1. Traditional petroleum based solvents like Hoppes No. 9 can be quite harsh. So wear gloves and keep the solvent away from your furniture—it will take the finish right off your dining room table.
  2.  The above picture shows two new approaches to gun cleaners—both are detergent based cleaners. They are much easier to use than the petroleum based solvents and reduce buildup over time of petroleum residue.
  3. Resist the temptation to use combined cleaner/solvent and lubricant products. Although they seem to make things easy by combining cleaning and lubrication into one step, solvents are hard on your gun and should be completely removed from your gun by the end of the cleaning process. A separate lubricant makes that possible.

With that said, here are the general steps for cleaning the handgun after it has been disassembled.

Cleaning the Bore and Chambers. You perform the cleaning step on the bore of your disassembled handgun and the chambers in a revolver as follows:

  • Take the bore brush, put a little cleaner on it and push it through the bore of the gun and the chambers of a revolver. This process loosens the gunpowder and other residue.
  • If possible, the bore brush should go through the barrel or chamber in the same direction the bullet travels. You should push the bore brush straight through and all the way out the other end of the barrel and then reverse your pull and pull the bore brush straight back. Don’t scrape the inside of the barrel with the rod.
  • Depending on how dirty the gun is, you might have to do this four-or-five time. Each time you do push the brush through, wet the brush with a little cleaner. The next picture shows a bore brush being pushed into the barrel of a semi-automatic handgun.
Starting a bore brush into the bore of a barrel

Starting a bore brush into the bore of a barrel

  • Clean out the barrel by pushing a patch with cleaner on it through the barrel (for all handguns) and the chambers (for a revolver). You do this using a jag or a loop. The patch goes over the end of the jag and through the hole in the loop when you do this.
  • Repeat this with a clean patch (with cleaner on it) over and over until the patch comes out clean. This process cleans out the gunpowder that you just loosened up.
Pushing a patch into the barrel

Pushing a patch into the barrel

  • Dry the bore by pushing a dry patch through the barrel.

To check that you have cleaned the bore properly, look through the bore at a white surface that has light shining on it. You can tip the barrel and see the light reflect off the sides of the barrel. It should be mirror shiny and no buildup should appear in the rifling. If it is not, repeat the above cleaning steps.

Cleaning the Rest of the Handgun.

Clean the frame, the slide, and the spring of a semi-automatic with the same loosen, clean, dry sequence. But for these parts, you loosen the gunpowder with a nylon brush.

Loosening gunpowder buildup in the slide of a semi-automatic using a nylon brush

Loosening gunpowder buildup in the slide of a semi-automatic using a nylon brush

For hard to get to spots, use the small end of the brush.

Cleaning in the groove that guides the slide of a semi-automatic using the small end of the nylon brush

Cleaning in the groove that guides the slide of a semi-automatic using the small end of the nylon brush

When you use the nylon brush, do not be gentle. Gunpowder deposits need to be roughed up a bit to loosen them.

Once loosening is complete, you clean the loosened gunpowder off the frame, slide, and spring of a semi-automatic using a patch with a little cleaner on it. For hard to get to spots, use the cotton tipped applicators as shown below.

Cleaning a narrow spot in the slide using a cotton-tipped swab

Cleaning a narrow spot in the slide using a cotton-tipped swab

Once the patches come back clean, you then dry the handgun thoroughly using dry patches.

The same loosen, clean, dry principle applies to cleaning the gunpowder from the frame and cylinder of a revolver. Use the nylon brush to loosen everywhere on the frame where gunpowder resides. It will especially build up on the front and back of the cylinder and at the rear of the barrel, as shown below.

Left-cleaning the back of the barrel (the breech); Right-loosening the powder from the front of the cylinder Left, cleaning the back of the barrel (the breech). Right, loosening the powder from the front of the cylinder

You also have to be careful to clean under the ejector rod, as shown below.

Cleaning under the ejector rod at the back of the cylinder

Cleaning under the ejector rod at the back of the cylinder

Of course, once the handgun is clean (patches and applicators coming up white), you dry the it with a dry patch.


Your handgun must be lubricated and oiled before you are done. Here are examples of gun oil and gun grease (the syringe).

Gun oil and gun grease

Gun oil and gun grease

Apply oil to all metal parts by putting a few drops of gun oil on a patch and rubbing a light coat over all metal surfaces. Then wipe the surfaces with a clean, dry cloth. When you have done so, you should not see a fingerprint where you have oiled when you touch the surface with your finger. Avoid oceans of oil. They attract and retain dirt, dust and gunpowder.

You must not forget to oil the inside of the barrel. To do so, put a little oil or grease on a patch and push the patch through the barrel with a jag or a loop.

Finally, apply a small bead of grease to spots where moving parts rub on each other and to places where you can see wear and tear and work it into the metal so that no reservoir of grease is sitting there. On a semi-automatic, this is particularly important in the groove that holds the slide to the frame.

Do not oil or lubricate the firing pin. That can cause misfires

Storing your Handgun

Storing handguns is straightforward. They should be stored in a cool, dry place, unloaded and separate from ammunition. For long-term storage, a safe or some other locked place where unauthorized people cannot get to them is best. For shorter term storage, where the gun might be used for self-defense, a handgun should be kept where unauthorized people cannot get to it.

If children or other unauthorized people are around, biometric safes or quick-open combination safes are a good option. But if you choose one of these “quick” open safes, you must practice getting the gun out many times in order to commit that process to muscle memory. Your ability to get it open in an emergency will depend on that practice.