Standard Cleaning - Handgun

Begin by preparing your handgun for cleaning. With the number of handguns using scopes or electro-optical sights these days, we should mention that this includes protecting your scope with some form of lens cover. Brushes soaked with solvent create a fine spray or mist of solvent upon exiting the muzzle. Some of it will invariably be blown back onto the scope. Modern bore-cleaning solvents are quite strong and can severely damage the lens coatings of a fine scope. This can easily be avoided by simply covering the lenses before you break out the solvent, brushes or other cleaning materials.

Start by wiping the rod thoroughly with a clean, solvent-dampened rag. Make this a habit every time you run a rod through the bore! Standard cleaning techniques usually call for swabbing the bore with a patch soaked with one of the milder solvents, such as Hoppe’s #9 or Shooters Choice MC-7. This is best done with a loop-type patch holder rather than a jag; the patch will hold more solvent and allow better saturation of the bore. The solvent should loosen any powder or metal fouling that may be in the bore, enough that a second patch on a tight-fitting jag will allow its easy removal. If a jag is used to apply the solvent, make sure that it is not too tight a fit. Remember, the solvent provides the cleaning action chemically and does not require scrubbing. A jag that is too tight will merely serve to wring out the patch, actually decreasing the amount of solvent you are applying to the fouling. Leave the solvent to soak in the bore for a few minutes, then swab the barrel out with a dry patch. Repeat this process a second time, noting the condition of the last patch. If there are traces or streaks of blue or green (depending on the type of solvent and its ammonia content) present, this shows copper fouling. You may wish to repeat this process until the fouling has disappeared. At this point, we are ready to move on to brushes. Thread a bronze brush onto the rod and apply a few drops of solvent. In doing this, never dip the brush directly into the bottle, or you will contaminate and weaken the remainder of the solvent. We have found that the small plastic bottles available at drug stores are ideal for this. Equipped with a closeable spout, they will allow solvent to be dribbled directly onto the brush, avoiding the temptation to dip the brush directly into the solvent. Guide the rod into the bore and run it back and forth all the way through the bore for several strokes. When doing this, NEVER try to reverse directions while the brush is in the barrel; instead, run it completely out the bore and then reverse the direction. Repeat this procedure 10 to 12 times or until the fouling is removed. Once you have finished with the brush, flush it thoroughly with Gun Scrubber, MEK, or a similar cleaner/degreaser. Fitting a jag tip to the rod, run a wet patch or two through the bore, followed by several dry patches. Inspect the bore for any signs of fouling still in the barrel and watch the patch for a blue or green discoloration caused by metal fouling. If there is none, the barrel is clean. If this discoloration and/or copper fouling is still present, we have more work to do.

One method of using the milder solvents on badly fouled bores is to use a chamber plug and soak the bore. In practice, a cartridge-shaped chamber plug fitted with a rubber or silicone “O” ring is chambered in the pistol. With the “O” ring sealing the chamber, the bore is filled with solvent and left standing upright (muzzle up) for eight to 10 hours or more if the fouling is severe. After this has been done, follow it up with a normal cleaning as outlined in the previous paragraph. Before using this method, make sure you check with the manufacturer’s instructions, since some solvents need oxygen to work and are obviously not suited to this procedure.

Another option for stubborn copper fouling is to use one of the stronger solvents, such as Sweet’s 7.62 or Shooter’s Choice Copper Remover, which are specially formulated to dissolve copper. These solvents are used with a jag tip and patches only, not a brush. Saturate a patch with the solvent and run it through the bore, discarding it after one pass. Allow the solvent to soak in the bore for 10 to 15 minutes and run a second solvent soaked patch through the bore. If the patch comes out blue, you still have traces of copper fouling present. When the second patch comes out with no blue streaking, the bore is clean. Bear in mind that these solvents are extremely strong and cannot be left in the bore for more than about 20 minutes. We have seen bores etched when ammonia-based solvents were left in too long, so use them with appropriate discretion and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Rubber gloves are strongly recommended with these solvents, as they can irritate the skin during prolonged contact. Proper ventilation is essential when using any solvent.

If you want to avoid the harsh ammonia solvents, you may wish to consider a mild abrasive cleaner, such as JB Bore Compound or Rem-Clean. We have had excellent results with both cleaners here in the Sierra ballistic lab. In use, the cleaning compound is applied to a tightly fitted patch (most manufacturers recommend a patch wrapped around a worn-out bore brush), and run through the bore eight to 10 strokes. In doing this, make sure the patch does not fully exit the bore, or it will be wadded up or stripped off when the brush re-enters the muzzle. Rods equipped with a stop collar or marked with a simple wrap of masking tape will provide a reference point to stop before running the rod entirely out the bore. If the process needs to be repeated, a fresh application of the compound should be made since it breaks down very quickly, rendering it ineffective. As when using the various copper solvents, read the manufacturer’s directions and follow them to the letter.

In review, there are some chores that are essential in order to keep a handgun functioning reliably. Barrel care techniques are more or less universal, regardless of the type of firearm being discussed. However, there are some specific areas that require some extra attention, depending on whether we are talking about a revolver or an autoloader.


1) In cleaning the rest of the revolver, there are certain areas that require added attention for peak performance.

2) The cylinder face and forcing cone area must be kept as clean as possible. This is done to prevent the accumulation of powder fouling from causing a binding problem during cylinder rotation.

3) The recoil shield should be checked for any burrs, powder residue or brass shavings. Any type of foreign debris in this area can cause binding as the cylinder rotates.

4) The bolt/cylinder stop, and interior areas of the frame “window.”

5) In double-action revolvers, the area at the rear of the cylinder beneath the extractor star must be kept completely clean! This is yet another point that deserves meticulous attention in order to keep a revolver functioning reliably.

6) Debris or grit in the bolt cuts on the cylinder will cause timing problems in DA revolvers and may cause lock-up problems in SA revolvers.

7) In a magnum revolver, pay close attention to the individual chambers. If the gun is frequently used with “Special” cartridges (i.e. 38 Specials in a 357 Magnum, etc.), there is likely to be a buildup of powder residue where the case mouth of the shorter cartridges stop. Unless this buildup is removed, it can prevent a magnum cartridge from chambering properly. After you have the chambers clean of any residue, the chambers should be patched out thoroughly and left dry.

8) All exterior surfaces must be wiped clean and given a very light coating of a rust preventative or light oil. A silicon impregnated cloth works very well for this. In selecting an oil, we suggest something like Break Free or military LSA. Avoid penetrating oils, such as WD-40, as they will become “gummy” and cause buildup problems.


1) Clean all interior surfaces, such as the inside of the slide, magazine well and cowling. Foreign matter in these areas can create reliability problems.

2) Thoroughly scrub the feed ramp area of the frame/barrel. The feed ramp must be kept clean for reliable feeding, yet its close proximity to the chamber allows for the accumulation of a great deal of powder residue. Keep it clean!

3) Check carefully for burrs around the lugs, both on the slide and the barrel. In some makes, a small dab of grease might be called for here. For your particular pistol, check with the manufacturer’s instructions.

4) The breech face, extractor and ejector should all be scrubbed thoroughly to remove any powder fouling, residue and foreign matter.

5) The magazine(s) should also receive special attention. Far too many shooters do not pay enough attention to their magazines, despite the fact that magazines are probably the most frequent cause of stoppages in any autoloader. If the magazines are equipped with a removable floor plate, strip it down and clean it inside and out. The follower and feed lips should receive some extra attention as they are critical to reliable operation.

6) The rails of both the slide and frame must be kept clean and well lubricated. This is another area that may benefit from a small amount of grease. Check with the owner’s manual regarding the specific type of pistol you are using before applying grease.

7) Wipe the exterior surfaces with a light oil, such as Break Free or LSA. Again, a silicon impregnated cloth is ideal for this purpose.