The Weapon Cleaning Area and Best Practices

Is your firearm cleaning area ready and prepared appropriately for you and your weapon to be effective?



If you ask any firearms instructor to list out the requirements or best practices for cleaning weapons, you’ll get a list of responses in a variety of priority. The one thing almost every firearms instructor in the world will agree on: No ammunition is permitted in your cleaning area—ever. “Accidental” discharges usually aren’t; negligent discharges are. To help avoid the unintentional chambering and discharge of any ammo, it’s simply best not to have any in the area where you clean your weapons.

Hand in hand with that control condition is the rule to always double-check that your weapon is unloaded before you start cleaning. Many dedicated cleaning spaces have a designated clearing area just outside or near the entrance. Make sure your weapon is empty before you enter your cleaning workspace. Look and feel to make sure the chamber is empty, and then do it again. No magazines inserted in semi-autos. Cylinders open on revolvers. Actions open on long guns and shotguns. Look and feel. Do it again. Yes, it can start to seem silly but the moment you take for granted that you’ve checked and all is good is when things start to go south. NEVER take an unloaded weapon for granted.

The last “universal” rule for weapons cleaning and maintenance is to always clean it after you shoot it. That said, what about weapons you don’t shoot? If you’re going to carry it for duty or self-defense, it should be cleaned monthly. There are plenty of folks who don’t follow the monthly guideline but still clean their weapons at least quarterly. If you have a weapon you don’t shoot at least quarterly and you’re planning to carry it (or do carry it) for duty or defense, you really need to re-examine your practices.

Prepping the space

If you have a dedicated space available, it makes sense to prepare it beforehand. If you know this will be the space, workbench, table, or desk used, you can increase your efficiency by making sure of a few things prior to getting that dirty weapon at hand for cleaning.

Take the appropriate steps to protect your health as it relates to chemical exposure while cleaning the weapon(s).

Ventilation is an often-overlooked concern, usually because weapons are cleaned outside or in fairly large areas such as a garage or workspace. However, if your cleaning area is in a smaller area, you need to be cognizant of the vapors, microparticles, and others that will either exist or be created by your efforts in cleaning your weapon. Having a good quality filtered air circulation system or a high volume fan venting to the outside is recommended.ID 163621874 © Alexandr Tsalko | Dreamstime.com

Have at hand and wear proper eye protection.

As you scrub, wipe or otherwise handle your weapon pieces to clean them, the fine spray of solvent, lubricant, carbon dust, etc. all get flung into the air in very unpredictable directions. You don’t want to get any of that in your eyes, so just like you wear protective eyewear on the range to shoot, wear protective eyewear to clean.

Have the proper tools for disassembly of your various weapons available and, to some extent, protect them from other use.

Quite a few gun owners have learned the lesson of using a tool that wasn’t the right one but was forced into use. They buggered up their weapon in some way, harming either function or finish. There are also plenty of gun owners who have properly equipped their workspace with necessary tools only to have those tools “borrowed” by people for other uses. Sometimes those tools just never find their way back and then, during the process of disassembly and cleaning, the wrong tool has to be substituted. Secure the right tools. Organize them. Dedicate them.

The same applies to your tools used for cleaning. From bore brushes to wipes and rods, make sure you have the correct ones for your handguns and long guns in the appropriate calibers. Know the difference between a chamber brush (for cleaning the cylinder chambers on a revolver) and a barrel brush (for cleaning barrels) and don’t confuse them. Have brass or nylon and use them appropriately. Old toothbrushes can be handy, not to mention dental picks. Your local dental office usually throws away the broken ones, but will often hold and gift them to you if you ask. Have the proper variety of wipe sizes available.

Have at hand and properly organize your solvents and lubricants.

There is a wide variety available and you need to know any risks that exist if you use them on your firearms beforehand. For instance, some solvents aren’t safe for use on polymer frames. Some products are sold to “do it all” like clean, lubricate, and protect. Others are sold as metal conditioners. While they can be used for cleaning, it’s not their purpose and they don’t necessarily perform that function efficiently. Know what you’re using and use it appropriately. Be aware of any conflicts or dangers that exist in the chemicals you have at hand. Be sure to keep them separated and used safely.

Cleaning up afterward

Remember that, as you’ve cleaned your weapons, you’ve contaminated your hands, your clothes and all of the consumables—wipes, cotton swabs, etc. Many places consider them hazardous materials (the dirty consumables). If you haven’t been properly disposing of them ​​as you work, clean off your workspace and make sure you’ve thrown them away in a disposable bag. Any rags you’ve dirtied and plan to reuse need to be washed separately in hot water with a good grease-cutting detergent. The clothes you were wearing should be handled and washed the same way you would after you wore them to the range. Before you do anything else, after you’ve cleaned up, you need to thoroughly wash your hands at least halfway up your forearms unless you were wearing long sleeves during the weapon cleaning process.

Whether you are one of those gun owners who hates cleaning their weapons after a day spent shooting or you love to care for your weapons, how you go about it matters. Proper preparation, proper tools, proper safety, and proper procedure can make it a smooth and safe process.  

By Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) | Officer.com

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