What Does “Clean” Really Mean?

posted on November 1, 2023
gun with Ballistol

I don’t trust my husband. When I asked him how to clean my pistol, he replied in a matter-of-fact manner, “just wipe it off, it will be clean enough,” which left me no better off than I was before.

I have taken the time to read the owner’s manual about how to clean and lubricate my little Mossberg handgun, and I know how to take it apart and put it back together again. I’m used to leaving everything I clean spotless and shiny. Is this necessary considering what they say in the manual to lubricate the moving parts, or is my attention to detail over the top?
Name and address withheld by request

For a moment, after reading the first line, I thought I’d gotten an e-mail I wasn’t prepared to address. In reading further, it became apparent that I could be of some help after all.

Let me start by saying that while your husband may lack tact, he is correct in that guns actually function just fine when they are a little oily and well lubricated, and a little fouling in the barrel is not a capital offense, either. In fact, some firearms shoot better when the barrel is fouled just a little bit.

Outside of politicians, the biggest enemies of a gun are rust, oxidation and corrosion. Each result from unprotected metal exposed to the environment of water, unfriendly chemicals or perspiration from contact with the user.

Wiping down the exposed parts of the gun with a quality lubricant specifically designed for firearms will provide a molecular barrier from substances that will attack and harm the metal parts of the gun.

Perhaps by citing an example or two I can help you understand how to properly maintain your pistol so it works when you want it to and remains pleasing to the eye.

In the early 1990s, my wife had a SIG Sauer P226 9 mm as her primary training and demonstration gun. As a side test, we only lubricated the gun without disassembly or cleaning for several months. The gun fired in excess of 5,000 documented rounds with all kinds and brands of ammunition without a failure attributable to the gun. One day, she cleaned the pistol without my knowledge because she said she could no longer stand
to use such a filthy gun. That effectively ended the test, but it was proof that lube was the key to preserve the finish and maintain the function of the gun. Once clean, other than some normal wear marks, the gun looked practically new.

I recently had a Mossberg MC2 sent to me for testing and evaluation. I normally am very kind to my guns, at a minimum wiping them down with each use. Since this Mossberg was a test gun, I took it out of the box, performed a safety check and a function check to become familiar with it and took it to the range. The gun was used primarily by guests and students with a wide variety of ammunition. It performed magnificently until round 996, which failed to fully chamber from the magazine. A light tap on the rear of the slide seated the cartridge and the gun continued to fire and cycle successfully, but with increasing sluggishness. That performance was good enough for me in that it showed the gun would operate successfully for the average gun owner with a minimum of attention.

For a more definitive answer, beyond the owner’s manual, fieldstrip the pistol and wipe or brush any visible carbon or foreign material from the surfaces of the parts. Consider disassembling and cleaning the magazines as well. A solvent or combination cleaner, lubricant, preservative (CLP)-saturated patch through the barrel several times followed by a clean patch to remove the excess material will take care of the inside of the barrel. For metal surfaces, a lightly lubricated cloth or patch can be used to apply a preservative film to protect from rust, corrosion or oxidation.

Lubrication also reduces friction between the moving parts as well. A little goes a long way. If the lubricant runs under the force of gravity from any part of the gun, you have overdone it. Wipe off the excess so you can see and feel the lubricant on the metal surfaces and your little Mossberg will be clean, lubricated and ready for your next trip to the range.


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