While gun cleaning is a fairly simple chore, it really helps to use the right equipment. Improper tools and solutions can make the job harder and even cause damage to your valuable firearm. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to clean a handgun, rifle, or shotgun.

1. A Cleaning Rod

The most important thing to know about using a cleaning rod is that it can damage the barrel of your gun. The slightest nick or ding on the crown—the end of the barrel–can impact the accuracy of a rifle or handgun. For this reason, you should use a cleaning rod made of a material that’s softer than the steel of the barrel.

For handguns, consider a brass cleaning rod like this Outers model.
This Outers brass cleaning rod is softer than the steel of your bore and comes in segments, so you can adjust the length for longer or shorter barrels. mfg photo

It comes in segments, so you can adjust the length to use with longer barrels.

For rifles, a one-piece carbon fiber rod like this Gunslick Pro model is a good choice. The large handle gives you grip and leverage, while the carbon fiber rod won’t damage the bore. A one-piece design is best, because there are no joints that could catch on the inside of the bore.

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A quality cleaning rod can also be used for shotguns. Attachments for cleaning shotguns have larger threads than standard rifle cleaning rods, but you can get a thread adapter like this one that allows you to use attach them to a rifle-cleaning rod.

2. A Jag or Loop

Jags and loops are just fancy words for the little attachment that goes on the end of a cleaning rod. All these parts do is hold a cleaning patch on the cleaning rod while you push it through the bore. A jag has a small point on the end. Stab the middle of a cleaning patch, and push it through the barrel. The point keeps the patch in place while you push it through.

A loop accomplishes the same task in a similar way. As the name implies, it’s a hole, much like that on the thread end of a sewing needle. Pull the patch through the hole halfway, and it’s secured for a pass through the bore. Pick ones made of brass or plastic, like these Gunslick Pro Brass Slotted Tips. If you prefer a simple jag, check out these nylon Outers models. Neither will damage the bore.

jag and loop cleaners
A jag (right) holds the cleaning patch with the point on the end. A loop holds a patch like the eye of a needle holds thread. Both come in brass or plastic. mfg photos

3. Patches

You need to run a clean patch through the bore with every pass of the cleaning rod. Re-using a dirty one will just swirl the fouling around. Cotton patches like these are inexpensive and available in bulk just about everywhere. I even use them to wipe down other parts of the gun like the action and frame.

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Use a cotton patch first on a dirty bore. Coated with solvent, it will loosen powder and bullet fouling in the barrel and leave the chemicals to work. That first pass also will remove some of the less stubborn debris, so when you move to the brushing stage (that’s next), you’re not grinding dirt against the bore with the bristles. You’ll also use a patch after brushing to remove now-loosened dirt and apply a light coating of oil or protectant after cleaning.

4. A Cleaning Brush

A cleaning brush is as simple as it sounds. However, as with rods, jags and loops, you want to pick a brush that won’t damage the inside of the barrel. Bronze brushes like these work well. For lighter duty cleaning, you can also find brushes made of nylon.

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While they don’t offer the abrasiveness of brass, they’ll last longer. One more thing: buy more than one brush for each caliber and gauge of gun you own. Brushes wear down and become less effective with use, and you should discard worn ones.

5. The Right Goo

The inside of a gun is a harsh environment. Extreme heat, high-speed movement of parts, friction, and susceptibility to fouling and rust place big demands on cleaner and protectant products. Gun-cleaning fluids not only have to work in a tough environment, they also have to stay there over long-term exposure to continue protecting sensitive parts. That’s why common household products like WD-40 are not suitable for use with guns.

gun cleaners
L-R: Hoppe’s #9 Solvent, Gunslick Pro Gun-Flush degreaser, Hoppe’s Dri-Lube lubricant spray, Gunslick Gun-Dri water displacing protectant. mfg photos

There are four types of fluids used to clean a gun. Each has its own job:

– Solvent

A solvent such as Hoppe’s #9 removes carbon, lead, and other fouling from the bore.

– Degreaser

A degreaser, such as Gunslick Pro Gun-Flush, removes existing dirt and oil from the moving parts of a gun, creating a fresh, clean surface for application of a…

– Lubricant

A lubricant such as Gunslick Pro Gun-Foam lubricates parts and provides protection against rust.

– Protectant

If your gun will be exposed to harsh or ultra-wet environments, consider using a water-displacing protectant like Gun-Dri. Products like this repel water, preventing the beginning of rust and corrosion.

6. A Gun Toothbrush

While you can use an old toothbrush from your bathroom, a brush that’s designed for use on guns, such as the Hoppe’s Utility Brush, is designed to reach all the nooks and crannies. It’s perfect for cleaning out slide grooves and trigger parts. You can get these made of nylon for general use, or brass for tough, carbon-caked areas.

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7. Extras

The products above will handle most cleaning chores, but investing in a couple of additional products can make the job easier.

– Bore Guide

A bore guide like this Hoppe’s Universal Model does two things. It keeps the cleaning rod centered in a rifle’s bore to help prevent damage to the rifling, and prevents bore cleaning solvents from dripping into the receiver of your rifle.

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– Gun Cleaning Pad

This is more useful that it might sound. A proper one will prevent solvents from leaking onto your workspace. More importantly, it will give you a soft surface to hold parts during cleaning, which easily get lost on a hard and slippery work surface and puts a real damper on your ability to reassemble your gun!

– Picks and swabs

These are handy for cleaning small, hard-to-reach spaces on a gun. While you can use household Q-Tips instead of swabs, they’ll leave cotton fibers all over. That’s why I prefer reusable foam swabs. When the swabs get dirty, wash them with warm water and dish detergent and let dry for re-use.

– Cleaning Cradle

If you’re going to clean rifles, especially Modern Sporting Rifles, you’ll soon want a cleaning cradle to hold it in place while you scrub the bore. It makes the job a lot easier.

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If you want to simplify things, consider getting a complete kit. You can acquire a caliber-specific kit for ten bucks or less. Better yet, get a multi-caliber kit that will cover handguns, rifles and shotguns. This Outers 32-piece kit will clean most any common handgun, rifle and shotgun.

If you want to go deluxe, consider this nice wood case 62-piece kit. It adds additional caliber options, muzzle protectors, polishing cloths, and of course, an attractive storage case.