Gun Cleaning 101: Top 10 Firearm Maintenance Tools

There’s nothing you can do that’s more valuable to your firearms to take the time to properly clean and maintain them. Without the proper tools, you might find yourself spending more time cleaning your firearms than actually firing them. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the top 10 Firearm Maintenance Tools that you should learn to master if you want your firearms to remain in pristine condition.

We’ll take a look at two of the most popular gun cleaning methods, which include a quick-clean using a bore snake and a deep proper clean using cleaning rods. Each cleaning technique has their place and sometimes it’s not necessary to fully clean your gun.

Full-Clean Maintenance with Cleaning Rods

The most important tool for any gun owner is the cleaning rod. This tool allows you to attach an array of different brushes and jags to make the inside of your gun shine. There are several styles of cleaning rods and each of them has pros and cons.

The most popular option is the carbon fiber cleaning rod. Using a one-piece cleaning rod is the ideal method but this means that you need to purchase a separate cleaning rod for rifles, shotguns, and handguns.

The other option is a 3-piece cleaning rod. This allows you to attach pieces of different lengths to act as a universal cleaning rod that cleans firearms of different lengths. Be sure to use a cleaning rod that won’t easily bend or break! Brass is the idea 3-piece material due to its strength and brass is much less likely to scratch the inside of your barrel.

When to Do a Full Clean?

If you care about your guns, the general rule is that a full clean should be performed after each time you fire. Residue and moisture can accumulate after only one shot being fired. Small amounts of metal carbon and powder stick to the barrel. Small bits of carbon are also blown into the action of the firearms. When this carbon residue combines with lubricants or moisture it turns into a black gunk that will affect your accuracy and your firearms function.

The ideal place to do a full clean is at home, with a good cleaning kit by your side. Depending on the type of firearm, this should be done after many rounds have been fired or when you feel it’s an appropriate time to do some maintenance. Often times when a gun has been stored away for a while it can accumulate dust and moisture and it’s wise to take it out and give it a full clean from time to time.

Quick-Clean Maintenance using Bore Snakes

Sometimes referred to as field cleaning, it only takes a couple of minutes to do a simple barrel cleaning. What this does is removes any powder or carbon from the bore. With every shot that’s fired, powder builds up in the barrel and it can adjust the trajectory of your bullet very slightly. During longer shooting sessions it’s a good idea to take a minute to use your bore snake to clear out any buildup in the barrel. Using a bore snake while at the range can remarkably improve your accuracy.

How to Use a Bore Snake

One of the quickest and easiest tools in your cleaning arsenal to use is the bore snake. Always make sure your gun is clean and empty the chamber and magazine. Take your favorite gun cleaning solvent and spray the brush section of the bore snake. Place the weighted brass end into the barrel and pull it out the other end. It may take a little bit of strength to pull it through if the bore snake size is the same size as the caliber. That’s it!

Once you get the hang of it, you can repeat this process several times if you’re at the range in only a few minutes. Make sure to wipe down your firearm with a rag or old shirt once you’re done with the bore snake. You’ll find that your accuracy immediately improves and you’ll spend less time doing a full clean when you get home.

Top 10 Firearm Maintenance Tools:

1. Gun Cleaning Solvents

A gun cleaning solvent is used to Clean, Lubricate and Protect (CLP) your firearm. When doing a quick clean using a bore snake you’ll need a little spray of CLP on the brush. However, when doing a deep clean you may wish to use a variety of cleaning solvents. When choosing a CLP, be sure to read the label closely. Some solvents are designed only for cleaning, some more cleaning and lubricating and other for all three.

2. Bronze and Nylon Cleaning Brushes

These are attached to your cleaning rod and used remove carbon buildup. They come in a wide variety of sizes but usually are made of bronze and nylon. The first brush you generally want to use is the bronze, which will clear out just about anything in your barrel. The nylon brush comes in next to remove some of the smaller carbon buildups.

3. Gun Mops

In much the same way as the cleaning brush is used, a gun mop is made of cotton and its primary job is to remove moisture and condensation. The gun mop also gets anything that the brushes may have missed.

4. Cleaning Jags and Patch Holders

The cleaning uses a cotton cleaning patch on the center and is then inserted into the barrel. The great thing about these is that cleaning patches are dirt cheap, so you can afford to use as many as you need to clean the inside of y our barrel. Generally, they are sprayed with lubricating oil and then a dry patch is inserted to remove the oil.

5. Cotton Swabs

A tool most gun owners are familiar with, the good old cotton swab allows you to get into hard to reach places. These are the style of cotton swab you would see at a doctor’s office or veterinarian, not a standard Q-tip. They have a long wooden handle, which allows you to reach into the barrel more easily.

6. Double Ended Brushes

Very similar to the bronze brush used to clean the inside of your gun, these are toothbrush style brushes, only you don’t want to brush your teeth with these! They come with a variety of different bristle materials, including bronze, vinyl, aluminum and stainless steel. It’s best to experiment with each brush to find which ones you like best.

7. Gun Cleaning Mat

These can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Basically what a gun cleaning mat does is prevents oils and carbon gunk from getting all over your house. You can use a piece of carpet for this task, or a high-quality cleaning mat with a parts tray, it’s up to you.

8. Gun Vice

Putting your $1,000 rifle into a regular vise might not be the best idea… A gun vise is specifically designed to not have sharp corners that can easily damage the wood and other parts of your firearm. The gun vise is used to hold your firearm perfectly still while you perform maintenance on it. While it may not be 100% necessary, most people that have one (including myself) use them for all full cleaning of long guns.

9. Gun Cleaning Box

Where’s the best place to put all your gun cleaning supplies? A good range box is worth its weight in gold. Something like the MTM Tactical Range Box comes with compartments to store all your cleaning supplies and includes forks for performing simple maintenance.

10. Carbon Removal Tools

This has become a very popular option for many AR owners. Removing carbon after firing a few hundred rounds is not an easy job. The Carbon removal tools are specifically designed to various model firearms. You simply spray your gun with cleaning solvent and let it soak in for a few minutes. Then scrape it with the carbon tool to remove anything in seconds.


The importance of cleaning and maintaining your firearms cannot be understated. If you’re good to your gun it will be good back to you. In this brief guide you learned the basic tools you need to take care of a wide variety of different firearms. If you’re looking to upgrade your gun cleaning gear, always remember to double check the size of the caliber of tools. Many people make the simple mistake of buying a tool, only to find it doesn’t fit their firearm.

About the Author

Frank is a firearms collector, gunsmith, and hunter. He runs the Gun Cleaning HQ, where you can learn everything about properly cleaning and maintaining your firearms and read reviews on the latest gun maintenance products.