Options for Firearm Cleaning
As part of gunsmith training, and after more than 50 years of cleaning my family’s many firearms, I was exposed to the many opinions on the proper way to clean a firearm. What’s clear is that much of the sticky, black, oily material found inside frequently used firearms is due to powder residue mixing with the oil that was put there for the purpose of cleaning, lubricating and/or protecting (CLP) the firearm. This is particularly true in pistols and revolvers that may get used and therefore cleaned more often.
It turns out that the cleaning product can become as large a problem as the firing residue itself. The more you understand the properties of the many gun-cleaning oils on the market today, the better equipped you’ll be to select the best option for your needs.
The market for gun cleaners, lubricants, rust preventatives and all-in-one CLP solutions is large, representing about 6 percent of the specialty lubricant market. It’s also extremely fragmented, with many brands and types of solutions. Let’s examine some of the options available:
Water-based cleaners are getting more use as they tend to do a good job of removing previous oil. The risk, however, is that you have to make sure the gun is extremely dry and reapply oil immediately after cleaning because a clean metal surface is an active surface for corrosion unless protected immediately.
The “one solution” CLP products are very popular and the easiest to use. Since most of the cleaning is performed by the mechanical action of the patch, the real focus should be in exactly the reverse order. That is, PLC. The fluid should leave a very light residual coating that has anti-corrosion chemicals in it, and it should lubricate all parts of the gun (internal and external). The mechanical cleaning will normally take care of the rest.
Back in the 1950s, I cleaned my father’s guns with nothing but kerosene and gun oil, and they’re still in excellent working order today. In the 1960s I graduated to the CLP products, but like many gun owners I’ve changed products as the formulations have improved.
My own preference is for a CLP product that has a relatively low viscosity that does not leave an oily film on, or in, the gun. Instead, it leaves only a slight film sufficient to serve as a barrier that protects against corrosion. If you can see ridges in the oil after you apply it, and it seems difficult to wipe off from recesses in the gun, it most likely will become a contributor to the dirty-gun problem. Check out the published information about each product you’re considering and opt for the ones that support proof of corrosion protection and lubrication. They still clean very well but do not leave an active metal surface that can corrode easily.
The current military specification for the thickness or viscosity of a CLP product is quite high as they are concerned about reliable functionality in a wide range of environments—from the hottest places in the world to the most frigid. The military specify the viscosity at 104oF. While that insures lubrication above that temperature as the gun heats up, it also can result in firearms collecting firing residue quickly as they cool down because the oil gets progressively thicker at lower temperatures.
It’s important to note that with today’s chemical products, thicker does not necessarily means better lubrication and better protection. There are plenty of lubricants and anti-rust formulations that work with very low surface coverage. As such, a grease is not necessarily a better lubricant or metal protectant than a thinner oil.
Here’s a good test of a CLP product that I’ve used for many years and that tells a lot about how effectively a product and patch will work in combination: I apply product to the patches I’m using, then examine the surface of the patch. If the oil is lying on top of the fibers or on the surface, you must question how that combination is going to draw the firing residue into the patch. After using the combination, look at the surface of the patch again. Firing residue smeared on the surface means that the product and firing residue are smeared on the metal. CLP products need to draw the firing residue into the patch and only leave a light film of oil behind.
If you try this experiment with a few cleaning products, you’ll quickly determine: 1) which ones are cleaning, lubricating and protecting your firearms and 2) which are leaving an oily residue likely to collect firing residue and cake up over time and require a full-scale disassembly and cleaning.
Also, I tend to stay away from products that suggest running a dry patch through the gun after cleaning. If your last patch or cloth rub comes out, or off, with little or no evidence of residue, you should be done. A good modern CLP product is not going to interfere with firing. The idea of firing a “fouling shot” to burn away excess oil has always seemed to me like a fault in the product rather than a good cleaning job by the shooter.
Finally, carbon is a good lubricant, and today’s powders reduce fouling from either lead or copper (or polymer coated) bullets. A final tiny gray streak on the last patch is perfectly okay for both the gun and your accuracy.
My wife and I shoot about 25,000 rounds a year combined and I get to reload all those cartridges and clean all those guns while working full time. Using a good CLP cleaner is a must for me.
Comparative patch tests help you assess results from multiple CLPs
CLPs Continue to Advance
As outlined in this article, I’ve tested QMaxx Products BLU gun-cleaning oil, and found that QMaxx BLU does successfully draw the firing residue into the patch and leaves a light film of protective oil behind. BLU is a CLP described as having 1) patented water-displacement technology that prevents moisture from becoming trapped on metal surfaces and 2) rust- and corrosion-protection that bonds to the surface of the metal. Together these technologies prevent moisture from initiating corrosion. That also makes cleaning the firing residue easier with continued use.
Recently, I’ve also had the opportunity to evaluate a sample of QMaxx’s new milspec CLP. It too satisfies the definition of a good modern CLP product, but MIL-PRF-63460F (released in March of 2017) now includes provision for a Type “B” formulation with greater than 33% bio-derived content.
“Bio” content is an attempt by the military to introduce products with reduced toxicity, enhanced safety and sustainability while meeting or exceeding the stringent requirements of firearms maintenance in the field. QMaxx’s Type “B” bio formulation is based upon its BLU and Black Diamond products that incorporate a rust- and corrosion-protection technology package demonstrated as superior to the competition using ASTM B-117 testing methods.
QMaxx’s Type “B” CLP has a light “feel” with excellent lubricity and leaves a light film of protectant on the metal that will not pick up dust and dirt. Using my patch method of evaluating the cleaning ability of the product, I found QMaxx Type “B” to be an excellent cleaner. In some cases, it removed all residue with a single pass of the patch.
I plan to conduct a long-term test using QMaxx’s Type “B” CLP with our firearms and will report on our experience at the range….and at the cleaning bench.
Dr. William “Bill” Farone is a Certified Gunsmith (AGI) and a firearms enthusiast. Dr. Farone has served in a variety of senior scientific positions throughout his career including experience as the head of Research and Engineering at Lever Brothers and Applied Research Philip Morris USA. More recently, Dr. Farone founded Applied Power Concepts, Inc. a specialty chemical manufacturer and contract laboratory specializing in biochemistry and clean energy new product development. He has over 90 technical publications and US patents. Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry, M.S. in Chemistry and B.S. in Chemistry from Clarkson University. Bill and his wife regularly shoot over 25,000 rounds per year in training and in competition.
(Photo courtesy Thomas Marchese)