When To Clean A Shotgun

Hi Bruce,

I seek your advice on WHEN to clean a shotgun. The process of HOW to clean a shotgun is well documented.

As I currently see it, situations triggering a shotgun cleaning event can be either number of rounds fired or elapsed time. There are some questions that come to mind when trying to establish this cleaning regime/schedule.

* What is the MINIMAL amount of rounds fired that should trigger a cleaning event? For example, must I thoroughly clean my shotgun after firing only 3 shots? or is it 25? or 50?…..

* Can I ACCUMULATE shots fired leading to a cleaning event? For example, if I fire only 10 rounds every week – should I clean the gun after, say a month, when I have accumulated the minimal number of rounds (hypothetically 40 rounds) to require basic cleaning?

* With cars, mileage accrued triggers a different maintenance event. Is this the same with shotguns regarding number of shells fired? should the basic shotgun components: barrel/choke, bolt/receiver, trigger assembly, magazine tube; be treated differently when it comes to cleaning? Should these components be cleaned at different shell intervals?

What I would like to arrive at is a set of guidelines we could all use and are easy to follow. For example:

* Shotgun cleaning events are triggered by minimally xx rounds fired.

* Must clean shotgun barrel and choke after xx rounds fired.

* Must clean shotgun bolt/receiver after xx rounds fired.

* Must clean shotgun trigger assembly after ?? rounds fired.

* Must clean shotgun magazine tube after xx rounds fired.

* Must perform semi-major cleaning after xxx rounds fired, or semiannually. Semi-major cleaning is comprised of these steps…….

* Must perform major cleaning after xxxx rounds fired, or annually. Major cleaning is comprised of these steps…….

Looking forward to any helpful comments.


Dear Spinacia,

When do you clean a shotgun? When it’s dirty! I don’t meant to be a wiseacre, but that’s really sort of the truth.

Cleaning situations differ with the particular gun, shells and environment. I have lots of friends who clean their guns every time they shoot them. Others (like me) clean our guns only when our friends who clean their guns every time start to point fingers at us and move to the other side of the room. Something in between probably makes sense. I think that my partner here at ShotgunReport, Roland, is much better about cleaning his guns than I am. He’s even experimented with sonic cleaners for small parts. I’m a “clean it when it stops” kind of guy. Well, maybe not that bad, but I’m no immaculate paragon either.

To me, it all depends on what the gun needs. As an example, take trigger groups on semi-auto guns.If you shoot a clean burning powder, your trigger group should remain cleaner longer than if you shoot a dirty powder. That said, I don’t think that I have ever seen a trigger on a Beretta gas gun so dirty that it wouldn’t function. I’m sure it’s happened, but I’ve not seen it. That doesn’t meant I haven’t run some “dirt tests” of my own too. I can’t really say how long this part of this gun should go between cleanings.

On my O/Us and SxS guns, I usually don’t pull the stocks until something breaks inside and I have to do repairs anyway. The exception may be if I’ve been hunting in wet weather, but usually I just put the gun in a warm area to dry and fuggedaboudid. The interior of my O/Us and SxS guns are carefully coated for rust prevention when they are disassembled, so interior rust usually isn’t an issue.

Cleaning barrels depends on two things: how dirty the shells are and how rust-prone the barrels are. Some shells (Victory Dispenser spreaders being the best example) can be filthy. Those spreaders deposit both lead and plastic in monumental amounts. Other Victory shells shoot really clean. With most shells, the real dirty stuff depends not so much the powder as on the quality of the wad. A little burnt powder doesn’t worry me, but gross plastic or lead build-up does.

The best way to determine when to clean your barrels is to shoot a bit and then clean them properly with a Tornado brush. Take careful note of what comes out. If a whole bunch of bad stuff comes out, then you have to clean more often. If very little comes out, then clean less often. Pretty simple. With chrome-lined bores I never worry about rust, just lead and plastic. The bores of my Superposed guns will rust while you watch, so I am much more careful about cleaning, or at least running an oily patch down the barrel paying particular care to the chamber.

The gas systems of my gas guns don’t get cleaned as often as they should. I generally just flood everything with BreakFree CLP and leave it soaking wet. That always gets the dirtiest Beretta working just fine. I’ve taken range rental Berettas that had ceased to function reliably due to massive build-ups of caked carbon, sluiced them down with BreakFree CLP and returned them to normal function without so much as the swipe of a cloth. Of course, they SHOULD be cleaned properly, but that oil is amazing.

The one area where I do clean carefully is on the bearing surfaces of my SxS and O/U guns. I generally do not break my SxS and O/Us down after shooting. I transport them on long gun cases. When I do take the guns down, I ALWAYS carefully clean and regrease the hinge pin and any other bearing surface where metal rubs against metal. As an admittedly slothful gun cleaner, this is the one area I do not compromise in. It isn’t so much the grease, it’s the cleanliness. One bit of grit can gall the shoulders or hook of a nice gun.

As to the exterior, I always wipe down the exterior of the gun with an oily rag before I put it in the safe. I will permit dirt on my guns, but I will not permit rust of any kind, ever. I also store my guns muzzle down to take the pressure off of the stock. My safe has a “Golden rod” heat element to lower the dew point.

So, bottom line, back to what I said. Clean your gun when it’s dirty. What’s “dirty” to one person is “still perfectly fine” to another. Dirty to one person means the presence of anything other than gun metal. To another it means that the gun won’t work any more because it’s clogged with stuff. Some guys just like to clean gun amidst the attar of Hoppe’s #9. Others don’t.

There. That’s settled.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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