How To Clean A Rifle In 7 Simple Steps

Since rifles came into existence, it has always been encouraged for someone to learn how to clean a rifle properly. A rifle can be many things and has often been regarded as something that shouldn’t exist by those that fear it. However, a rifle is a versatile tool that provides food, provides a defense to the owner and their family, and a sporting item.

Due to the fact that rifles and all firearms are messy weapons and tools, cleaning a rifle is an important ritual. Furthermore, learning how to clean a rifle can be a sign of learning, understanding, and even mastery over the rifle. However, these tools have become a part of life, and it is only fair to learn to maintain them properly. Let’s put it on safe and head down-range to take a closer look.


How to Clean a Rifle: A Brief Overview

All firearms are subject to dirt, debris, and fouling from the environment, as well as the cartridges they fire. This fouling damages your rifles’ barrel, rifling, and chamber, causing a variety of dangerous reactions that are costly and tragically irreparable. Furthermore, continuing to use an unclean rifle can lead to injury and even fatalities, due to the rifle exploding.

Maintaining a rifle frequently and after each use ensures accuracy, safety, and a longer lifespan, for you and your rifle. Additionally, well-maintained rifles are less likely to jam or have a failure occur, ensuring a fail-free fire every time. Cleaning and maintaining a rifle should are the most important things to do when owning a good rifle.

How to Clean a Rifle: Into the Breach

Before you begin cleaning your rifle, a few rules should be considered and followed to ensure safety and space to work. Checking and then double-checking that the rifle is unloaded, magazines are out or empty, and there are no rounds chambered. Empty the magazine by hand and take all the ammunition and store it away from the rifle for added safety.

Whether you are shooting rimfire or a long-range rifle, being safe and mindful of your rifle is excellent. Practicing proper rifle safety is just as good, if not more so than practicing how to clean a rifle. However, we are going to go through a simple guide of exactly how to clean a rifle now.


disassembled rifle

Image: CC BY 2.0, by Bill Bradford, via Flickr

Setting the table up to work on your rifle would be the first task, as to avoid damaging the rifle. The first step is to disassemble your rifle, or field strip, which means removing the bolt, or bolt carrier. You will also want to remove any sight systems, accessories, and gadgets from your rifle to prevent interference during cleaning.

Once you have removed the operating mechanism of your rifle, you can then inspect the mechanism itself for fouling and damage. Depending on the rifle you own, strip the rifle down so you can clean the barrel and chamber safely. Be sure to inspect all the internal parts for dirt and fouling and set them aside to be cleaned.

Cleaning the bolt channel and chamber mouth

At this point, you will begin to remove any course grit and debris inside the magazine well and surrounding areas. All rifles will have grooves and spaces which catch a lot of the dirt and go unnoticed. Therefore, it is a good idea to flush out and clean those particular areas and spaces thoroughly.

With the external areas clean, you will move onto the chamber mouth, carefully and gently wiping the surface down. Also, if you have an internal magazine, it would be a good idea to clean it out thoroughly as well.

Cleaning the barrel with a nylon brush

With the previous step complete, you should move onto cleaning the barrel itself with a cleaning rod and nylon brush. Gently push the rod down the length of the barrel, keeping your hand off the rod itself and on the handle. Afterward, once at the muzzle, unscrew the brush and retract the rod and then re-attach the brush and repeat it.

You should repeat this process several times until you are sure you have gotten the most out of the barrel. Although, it is essential to remember to not pull the brush back down the barrel, pulling dirt back. Be sure to inspect the brush to see the accumulated dirt and dust or wipe it off before returning.

Initial cleaning with a patch

Attaching a jag to the cleaning rod and threading a patch into the jag is the beginning of the next step. Gently push the rod down the barrel several times, repeating the same process as with the nylon brush before. Be sure to inspect the patch for dirt to mark your progress and continue the process until you don’t see any dirt.

Deep-cleaning with barrel solvent and oil

This next step will see you using your brush and patch in conjunction with barrel solvent and oil for cleaning. Add the barrel solvent to the brush and push it down the barrel to break up any built-up fouling. You will want to repeat this process, and to be sure, look down the barrel from the rear.

With the barrel clear and clean, you will want to oil it in the same process as the ones before. Applying oil to a patch or two and running the rod and jag down the barrel a few times. Finally, incline your rifle with the muzzle downwards to allow any run-off to exit out of the barrel and muzzle.

As part of general maintenance

If the rifle has not been fired, you should clean the old oil out of the barrel with a clean patch. And, then run an oiled patch through to lightly oil the inside of the bore of the rifle. This will keep the rifle in good condition for when you do use it, but it is a good practice. Even when not in use for a time, it is also a good idea to oil the barrel and the exterior.

After firing smokeless full metal jacket ammunition

It is a good idea to clean the barrel with a brass brush and bore solvent, as per the solvent instructions. To ensure the rifle is kept clean, run a few patches through the barrel until they are clean. Additionally, it is good practice to oil after every cleaning, as it keeps the rifle in good condition for longer.

After firing smokeless lead bullet loads

For this situation, start by scrubbing the bore with bronze brushes and copper wool to remove the worst lead. Alternatively, use a solvent made for lead bullet fouling, or if using the same solvent as above as per the manufacturers’ specifications. Again, clean the barrel with patches until sure and apply oil to the barrel after the cleaning process.

After firing military surplus ammunition

After firing military surplus munitions, strip and submerge the metal parts of the rifle in warm water and ammonia. To explain, military surplus munitions are highly corrosive and foul the metal surfaces of the rifle. Soaking the parts in water and ammonia already does an excellent job of cleaning, but brushing the parts helps.

You will want to strip your rifle of all metal parts, soak and then brush them to remove all corrosive residue. Alternatively, you can soak patches in the water and ammonia and run them down the barrel to thoroughly clean it. An air compressor will dry the parts and the spaces quite thoroughly, also, remember to oil your rifle when finished.


With the cleaning of the internals complete, you can touch upon the mechanism parts, clean and oil them. It is a good idea to wipe out the bolt race or receiver with a lightly oiled patch. And with all the little bits finished, you can reassemble your rifle while still checking each part for dirt.

Finishing off

Now, with your rifle fully reassembled, make sure to clean the outside surfaces of the bolt, receiver, and barrel. A lightly oiled patch will help to get all finger marks off the surfaces, due to acid in the skin. Wiping down the entire rifle of dirt with a slightly oily rag or cloth to keep it in good condition.

How to Clean a Rifle: The Essential Cleaning Kit

Every quality rifle deserves a quality cleaning and a quality cleaning kit to ensure that it remains a factor. Here we will take a look at what items are found in an essential cleaning kit.

cleaning tools

Image: CC BY 2.0, by Joe Goldberg, via Flickr

How to Clean a Rifle: Summary

rifles and cleaning tools

Image: CC BY 2.0, by Robert Tadlock, via Flickr

To this day, learning how to clean a rifle is still a rite of passage for those who respect what a rifle is. Through the ages, parents have taught their children the importance of firearms, specifically the importance of caring for them. Cleaning and maintaining a rifle significantly influences what it can do and how well it will do it.

Hence, ensuring it is clean ensures that when it’s used, for whatever purpose, it operates correctly every time. Rifle care methods differ from situation to situation, but the core principles remain the same.

However, it is a good idea to keep an open mind regarding your case, before getting out the cleaning kit.

Do you have any tips for those learning how to clean a rifle? Let us know in the comments section.

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0, by Ryo Chijiiwa, via Flickr

Rifle Icon: by Freepik from

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