Should you clean your handgun after every use? Most modern-day service handguns are built to handle a tremendous amount of use and abuse. They’ll continue to function even when they’re filthy dirty. Just Google your favorite polymer pistol and the words “torture test.”
So why not wait for a leap year to clean your handgun? Or simply don’t clean it at all?
Most folks clean their handgun(s) because everybody tells them if they don’tthe Baba-Yaga will come for them. They’re told that a dirty handgun is a hundred thousand times more like to malfunction than a squeaky-clean pistol. You’ll aim your filthy firearm at the bad guy and…CLICK.
That ain’t it.
Guns are mechanical objects. Mechanical objects degrade with use. Parts can and will give out. It’s only a matter of time. Maybe a lot of time. Maybe a little. But there’s no avoiding it. In some cases, when these small parts break, they render the weapon inoperable.
The real reason you should clean your handgun on a regular basis: so you can inspect small parts for normal or indeed abnormal wear and tear…to avoid a catastrophic failure when you really need your firearm.
Even the simplest handguns are relatively complex machines at their heart. When you have the important bits he bench in front of you, take a look for cracks in the plastic pieces, metal burrs developing or what looks like excessive wear. You can replace mission-critical parts before they give out.
A lot of folks reading this have no idea what parts they should be inspecting. While the basic concepts are similar across most types of handguns, they’re all slightly different.
You can find most modern service handgun owner’s manuals online. YouTube is lousy with gun-specific cleaning and maintenance videos (no guarantee as to their validity). Gun-specific forums can be a useful resource, too, as is a quick heart-to-heart with your favorite local gunsmith.
Once you figure out what replacement parts your handgun may need, I suggest keeping a small parts replacement kit in your range bag. If you have a mechanical problem away from home, you’ll have a chance to make it right and keep going.
[NB: Some manufacturers only sell spare parts at armory levels or require the user to ship them the handgun for repairs. If you can’t find, at the very least, a replacement recoil spring, you might want to question your purchase.]
I recommend creating a regular maintenance schedule. What’s an appropriate cleaning and inspection interval? That’s mostly down to round count.
Your round count at range sessions will vary. Sometimes you’ll only fire 50 rounds. Other times — say, during training — you might send 500 rounds downrange. Set a standard. After X rounds, I’ll clean and visually inspect my firearm for potential issues. For me that’s every thousand rounds.
That’s when I fully disassemble, clean, and inspect my everyday carry handgun. I replace any part I feel has reached the end or is near the end of its service life. (In between this interval, I oil the crap out of my guns. I put way more stock in a dirty gun properly oiled, than a clean gun with little to no oil.)
Take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you. Truly knowing your gear is the real secret. If you know and understand how your firearm operates — which parts do what, where they go and what they should look like — you have the ability to keep your handgun in its highest state of readiness.
Most gun owners don’t have the time or the inclination to gain the knowledge and practice the discipline required to properly maintain their handgun. It’s really not that hard. Don’t be that guy.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.