OCD: Obsessive Cleaning Disorder

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Tamara Keel that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 12, Issue 8, Nov./Dec. 2015 under the title, “OCD: Obsessive Cleaning Disorder.” 

You probably clean your gun too much.

Well, I probably don’t clean mine enough, but most people clean theirs too much. I’ve covered this before, but I figure it warrants a closer look at this issue.

A lot of the cleaning habits in the civilian gun culture come from the military, and the military’s gun cleaning habits tend to be holdovers from the days of blued steel and corrosive primers. Lord knows how many military rifles have been essentially ruined over the years with boiling and scrubbing and endless white glove inspections. Heaven only knows what tricks have been used over the years by inventive troops with marginal adult supervision to make those bores shiny and get every bit of carbon out of the corners, but I hear Duraglit brass polish will make a barrel positively gleam and take the edges right off the rifling to boot.

Most modern service handguns are either stainless steel or rendered corrosion-resistant by exotic metal treatments or various coatings, and corrosive primers are a thing of the past unless you’re using antique military ammunition in your self-defense handgun. (And if you are, you need to cut that out.) Further, most modern service-style handgun designs will chug along happily for thousands of rounds with little to no attention to cleaning and lubing.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad idea to at least field strip your gun and run a few patches or a bore-snake through it. Some recommend this after every range session, but it’s hardly necessary from a mechanical standpoint. The biggest reason would be to avoid getting excessive grunge from the gun on your clothes.

I’ve heard it advanced that having a spotlessly clean gun will allow you to prove that you didn’t fire a shot, but that seems far-fetched. You’d have to give it a white glove scrubbing. And if I’m taking my gun apart far enough to do that, I’m going to want to function-fire it with my carry loads afterward. Now it’s dirty again. Lather, rinse, repeat, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

I will tell you that my practice is to, after every match or formal shooting class, hit the gun with a bore snake and make sure it’s adequately lubed. Every few months, I give it a decent field-strip-and-toothbrush job, but I make that easier on myself by doing most of my self-directed practice with my spare gun so that my actual carry gun rarely gets too filthy.

Gun Scrubber or other aerosol cleaners are a boon for lazy people like me but be sure you re-lubricate all the important spots after using anything like that. Oh, and it’s generally important to make sure to use the polymer-safe formulas on your polymer-framed guns. This seems like it’s obvious, but some varieties of polymer frame seem to be less solvent-resistant than others.

Lastly, I have a confession to make: I don’t understand the passion with which people engage in lubricant wars. My favorite lubricant is generally what’s on sale, with a few caveats. First, if someone tells me that their product permeates the pores of the metal or bonds with the metal, I give them a wide berth. You know what bonds to metal? Glue. I don’t want glue on my gun.

The other thing I watch out for are “all-in-one” solutions that have a cleaner in with the lubricant and protectant. I understand that out in the field carrying only one bottle is handy, but the cleaner is a solvent and it reduces the longevity of the lubricant on the gun through evaporation. I’m not in the field. On my workbench, I have plenty of room for my cleaner over here and my lubricant over there and never the twain shall meet.

With all this out of the way, I guess I’ll go clean my gun now. But only a little.

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  • American Patriot March 16, 2019, 6:53 pm

    Your equipment is only as good as you maintain it. It might not be necessary to clean it every time (I do) but if you carry it everyday (as I do) I will clean it if I shot 5 rds or 500 rds, it doesn’t take that long & if you have it apart for oiling why not?

  • Frank St.Clair March 14, 2019, 6:14 am

    I’ve seen extremes either way. A guy came in to the shop where I work whining that his 5906 wouldn’t chamber, so I took a look. My hands got dirty racking the slide. Another came in with the roll pins falling out-he’d detail stripped it until the holes were loose. Both had absolute faith in their methods.

  • Rangemaster11B March 8, 2019, 12:38 pm

    Have to comment. I clean my weapons each time they are used. They require inspection, at least at the “field strip” level recommended for users. If you are wearing out a steel gun barrel with a brass cleaning brush, you’re doing something wrong.

  • KSG March 8, 2019, 11:58 am

    I have a friend that everything he owns is a POS. All his stuff is dirty and neglected. Nothing ever works when he needs it to. All my stuff is clean and maintained. When i need it it works perfect.

  • Vic March 8, 2019, 8:41 am

    Beyond weather and environment and usage rate.. which need consideration.. (Desert vs Tropical Rain Forrest) rounds fired per week…

    Detail stripping/cleaning should be minimized as we literally wear interference fit components out by repeated and unnecessary disassembly reassembly.

    Field Stripping/cleaning, the most common thing .. As citizens after time in the field.. We go home clean our weapons and call it good.. Safety Function check at best..

    Here is the problem..

    Experience has shown that even the most conscientious among us can make a mistake.. Fail to assemble something quite properly.

    A very hazardous situation which may be revealed at the most inopportune time.

    This is true for even the most simple firearms..

    For 30 some years I have suggested Concealed Carriers at the range safely bring their Concealed Carry weapons exactly in the state they are carrying it .. to bear on a target and fire.

    On far too many occasions to count the result was .. a failure to fire.. or a malfunction within the first few rounds fired.

    The failures to fire even the first round were generally assembly problems or ammunition problems that I suspect related to dead primers that had during the cleaning process somehow become exposed to solvents/lubricants. Magazine problems followed (Springs feed lips etc). lack of practice.. Limp wrist-ing and such,

    Potential Remedies:

    I am tempted but I won’t go on a diatribe how infrequent shooters really should shoot more often otherwise they should be using a nice revolver (ideally stainless) of the appropriate barrel length for their primary environment.

    It is a very sound practice to completely separate your cleaning processes and chemicals from any ammunition.. Factory or reloads in any state.

    Finally.. Do consider Field Stripping and Cleaning your weapon on the range..as well as any magazines you carry for self defense purposes..

    Reassemble and lube as appropriate your defensive weapons and magazines.. Then after a safety function test..run both the magazines and the weapon sufficiently to ensure both the weapon and magazines are functioning as intended.

    That really is the State most firearms should remain in.. (of course there are exceptions to anything) If you follow this procedure we now have every reasonable expectation the weapons will operate as intended because we have proved them in their current state.

    There are places in this world where that is doctrine .. for a reason.. It may serve target/hunter/defensive shooters well to emulate the practice.


  • Herb March 8, 2019, 8:40 am

    This is why I don’t buy used guns. I’ve heard this for years. Things like, you can ruin a barrel with over cleaning. No need to clean a gun anymore at all.
    I know the author covered himself by giving the pistol a cursory cleaning and lube after shooting. But the message is “OCD.”
    I don’t much like pistols except for self defense and only shoot them occasionally. But I would never treat a revolver like this. Mine get cleaned after every range session.
    I’ve seen folks who clean a nice rifle by running a boresnake through the barrel and calling it clean.
    I don’t believe it is necessary to strip any gun and clean it as I did in the US Army 50 years ago.
    But I’ve yet to see ANY gun ruined by over cleaning. And I have seen rifles I wouldn’t fire on a bet because the feed ramp had turned green and looked like it might fall off.
    In this day of cheap black plastic handguns maybe the new norm is use and dispose.
    Bottom line for me is; what does the manual say about cleaning?

  • Jumbotuna March 8, 2019, 8:38 am

    Beg to differ. Although running dirty may be fine for modern polymer striker-fired guns (of which I own a few), I primarily shoot 1911’s and .22 target pistols when I go to the range, and your advice just doesn’t work in those cases. If you try to run those guns dirty, it’s been my experience that you’ll just be begging for a malfunction. With the tighter tolerances of a high quality 1911, and the dirtiness of .22 ammo, a thorough cleaning and relubrication is an absolute must after each range session. And as far as whatever carry gun I happen to be wearing, you’d better believe it’s clean and well lubed as I just wouldn’t have the same level of confidence in it if it wasn’t.

  • ukko kotila March 8, 2019, 8:12 am

    Army Basic Training 1963: M1 Garand, final inspection before turn-in. Cotton rope tied to a stanchion at one end of the barracks, fishing line (braided) secured to the other end of the rope. Fishing line through the barrel of disassembled rifle and the rope is then pulled through the barrel (maybe the guy who thought this up later invented the bore snake). Then, the barrel is ran (literally, as fast as possible) up and down the 30 foot rope until it is hot from friction. Viola! You have a bore polished to a high sheen with the rifling starting to look like a smooth bore.

    The next basic training cycle behind ours was issued M14s, so they got to shoot qualification with bores that weren’t worn out from shooting and ridiculous over cleaning.

  • Pat R March 8, 2019, 8:02 am

    Thanks for the suggestions and the history. The old white glove habits have a way of persisting after decades and sure do take time.
    Would like to hear your thoughts on keeping mags fully loaded, cycling mags, etc to reduce mag spring metal fatigue.

  • Rodger March 8, 2019, 7:39 am

    Personally, I love to clean my firearms. Inspection is a must. I even clean once a month whether I have fired a round or not. It sounds to me like the author of this article is a dirty person too along with his firearms.

    • Sideliner 1950 March 15, 2019, 2:16 pm

      Yeah, your remark was uncalled for.

  • Barry Newman March 7, 2019, 6:09 am

    You may want to consider minding your own business.

  • AJ March 7, 2019, 12:41 am

    Great article with great information.

    Although, make sure you check for debris in the action every time you get home at night… Lint can be a bitch.

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