How To Clean a Rifle Barrel The Right Way

When people think about getting themselves a rifle, they may think about the thrill of hunting or the joy of hitting a bullseye in a competition. Alas, being a precision shooter is not all fun and games. From time to time, you will have to perform some routine rifle maintenance, including cleaning.

This may not give you the same rush as shooting for sport, but it is important to do. Your rifle can get quite dirty as you use it, which can affect your performance. Here are some tips for how to properly clean your rifle, so you can keep it in peak condition and remove an obstacle for your precision.

Make Certain that the Rifle is Not Loaded Before You Start

The most important thing for anyone to know about cleaning their rifle is that you need to be extremely cautious, no matter what. You must check, double-check, and if necessary triple-check that the rifle is not loaded — saying “I think it’s not loaded” or “I’m pretty sure it’s not loaded” won’t cut it. Remove the magazine, and remove every bullet from that magazine.

Even if you just finished triple-checking and stored all your ammunition in another room, you must always act as if your rifle is still loaded. Hundreds of people die every year from accidental shootings, and many more are hospitalized for injuries. Please be careful.

Basics for Cleaning a Rifle

After you ensure that the rifle is not loaded, you need the proper cleaning supplies. These include:

  • A cleaning rod — preferably single-piece, because sectional ones can cause damage. Beginners should use a cleaning rod guide so they can learn how to properly use it.
  • A bore brush — if it doesn’t come with your cleaning rod, buy one. Make sure it’s the right caliber or it might not fit in the barrel.
  • Solvent — find some that can remove fouling and/or powder from the barrel. You may also want to get related cleaning supplies like a lubricant, grease, and rust protector.
  • Cleaning patches — it should be a cloth material, and it should be absorbent. 
  • Something to hold the rifle in place.

Before you really get started, you may need to adjust or even remove certain parts of your rifle, such as the bolt (if applicable), the magazine, and the magazine floorplate. You’ll find more exact directions in the manual that came with your rifle. Abide by the manufacturer’s recommendations — it’s their gun, after all, and they know how much you can disassemble it without causing serious damage.

Cleaning the Bore

To actually clean the bore of your rifle, you need to get some of that solvent inside there. You can do this by using a bore snake, pushing in a soaked patch with the cleaning rod, or employing a solvent spray. If your gun allows you to enter the bore through the rear and towards the mouth, clean it that way for better results.

Once the solvent’s inside, give it a few minutes to dissolve the fouling and absorb some residue. Remove the cleaning rod, dip your bore brush in cleaner, and run it all the way through the bore a few times. Don’t scrub too hard, as the solvent has already done most of the work.

This should be enough to loosen the fouling, which you will then remove by using more patches. Treat them like Q-tips and keep using more until one comes out clean. That’s when you know you’re done.

Can You “Over Clean” Your Gun?

Contrary to what some may believe, you can’t really clean your gun too much. However, you may still damage your gun while cleaning it if you’re using improper techniques — or worse, improper equipment. Here are just a few examples of what to avoid while cleaning:

  • Scrubbing too hard with a bore brush can damage the grooves within the bore.
  • A cheap and inflexible cleaning rod could also scrape against the bore walls or even break off inside the barrel.
  • Improper disassembly can mess up the screws and parts of your gun.
  • Poor-quality cleaning solvent can gum up the works as badly as powder residue and copper fouling.

As for how often you should clean it, there’s no firm rule. If you only fired a few rounds over the course of a day, you only need to do routine cleaning. If you’ve used it constantly over several days or weeks, or if it’s obviously dirty (for example, after dropping it in mud or water), then you should be more thorough.


This basic guide to the tools and techniques should be enough to help you get started. Cleaning your gun isn’t enough to count as proper maintenance. You need to know how to clean it well, so you can make sure that your rifle is in tip-top shape and your accuracy is unhindered.

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