Cleaning: Part 2 = Developing your cleaning process.
Updated: May 2
Cleaning. Oh the drudgery. Actually, if you have the proper equipment and use the correct techniques, cleaning a rifle really is not that bad. In this writing, I want to explain the procedures I use to clean my competition barrels. You can then adjust this information to develop your own process for cleaning any bolt action rifle.
Phase 1 = Protect
When cleaning your rifle you need to protect your action, trigger, barrel, stock, scope, and most importantly, yourself. Let us start with protecting ourselves. Make sure the rifle is unloaded. This is common gun safety. However, every year people get hurt or killed because they did not check to make sure the rifle was unloaded. Always check to make sure your firearm is unloaded.
Cleaning is made easier and more safe by using some sort of rifle rest or cradle. There are all sorts of these products on the market. I use Tipton’s Best Gun Vise for most of my cleaning needs at home. When I go to tournaments, I simply use a rifle cradle made out of bent aluminum. Putting the rifle directly on a bench or in your lap may work in a pinch, but having a cleaning cradle makes the cleaning task so much easier, which may entice you to clean a little more often.
Next, protect your scope. There are many scope/lens covers on the market. These covers will protect that expensive glass from solvents and cleaning rods. I am a big fan of Scope Shield scope covers.
Many solvents can ruin the finish on your stock. Take care protecting the beauty of your firearm. Simply place a rag or towel over your stock and under your bore guide.
Picture of a properly protected rifle and scope ready for cleaning
A bore guide is a cylindrical tube that replaces the bolt in a rifle. The action, trigger, and barrel can all be protected by a quality bore guide. The bore guide protects your action by keeping solvents and all the nasty stuff from your barrel out of your action when you bring the cleaning rod through. It protects your trigger by not allowing the same materials to drop down through the action into the inner workings of your trigger. The bore guide also protects your barrel because it aligns the cleaning rod to be parallel with the bore of the barrel, hence the name. This proper alignment makes sure the cleaning rod does not touch the inside rifling of the barrel.
There are many different manufacturers of bore guides. I am a believer in Dave Halblom’s bore guides, but this will be your personal choice. If you are willing to spend hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars on your rifle, you should be willing to spend fifty on a quality bore guide to protect that expensive rifle. Once you use a bore guide, you will wonder why you have never used one before.
Picture of a bore guide. This particular one is Dave Halblom's from Flying Fish Fundamentals
Phase 2 = 8 Steps to Cleaning
Many people, myself included, believe you can do more harm to a barrel by improper cleaning that by not cleaning it at all. The main culprits of harming your barrel while cleaning would be; improper use of chemicals, improper jags and brushes, and/or improper technique.
To be blunt, use chemicals designed for cleaning barrels. Chemicals found in your garage to work on cars may work on your rifle, but could also fail miserably. Why risk it? Buy chemicals made for cleaning firearms.
These are the main products that I use for cleaning and protecting the firearms I shoot. There are many great products out there. Find what works for you.
Using the wrong sized jags and brushes can not only be frustrating, but also detrimental to your barrel. If you have ever stuck a bronze brush in a barrel you know what frustration means. (yea…been there) Use the correct size jags and brushes.
Improper technique can also hurt your barrel. When possible, use a bore guide and clean a rifle barrel in a direction from the action out to the muzzle. For this write-up, I will be cleaning a custom, 30 cal. barrel on my heavy varmint rifle. If you are cleaning any other sized barrel, you will have to adjust the sizes of the patches and brushes. This is the procedure I use regardless if I am cleaning a competition rifle or hunting rifle.
After firmly securing the rifle in the rest, removing the bolt, and inserting the bore guide, I wrap a cotton patch around a nylon brush. For my 30 cal barrels, I use a 1 ¾” cotton patch wrapped around a 26 cal nylon brush. I then soak the patch with Bore Tec Eliminator. I make one, single, smooth pass down the barrel with the patch (Patch #1). When the nylon brush exits the muzzle I take the patch off and unscrew the nylon brush from the cleaning rod. I then withdraw the rod back through the bore guide.
Solvent being added to a cotton patch wrapped around a nylon brush.
Many shooters (OK…most shooters) use a pointed jag and simply poke the middle of the patch. The benefit of using a pointed jag is decreased time with patches. I use my method because I believe it gives me a tighter fit and more cleaning surface area of the patch, therefore decreasing the amount of patches used. The drawback is that it takes me a little more time wrapping the patch around the brush and unscrewing the brush when needed.
Experience Tip: Do not forget to wipe down your cleaning rod. Every time I unscrew a brush, I clean the rod. You may be surprised at how dirty the rod itself can get.
I screw the nylon brush back on the cleaning rod, wrap another patch, soak the patch with Eliminator (Patch #2) and repeat the previous step. The only difference is I use a quick back and forth motion (short stroking) as this patch goes down the barrel. Both of these patches are usually pretty dark showing powder fouling. I will leave this solvent in the barrel while I complete step 3.
While the barrel is soaking, I take out the bore guide and clean the chamber. I use an undersized bronze brush (for my 30 cal rifles this bronze brush has a diameter of around .350”) soaked in Eliminator and gently scrub the chamber. I then scrub the chamber with a 1 ¾” cotton patch wrapped around a 45 cal. nylon brush to clean up any left-over mess. Some of this “mess” will go into the barrel itself which is OK.
Action/Chamber cleaning tools.
Top: Lug recess tool. Middle: 45 cal nylon brush.
Bottom: .350" bronze brush
I reinsert my bore guide and, with a clean patch, (Patch #3) clean out the Eliminator that was left soaking in the barrel. No short stroking on this step, you could redeposit the grime. This patch is usually blue on the end showing copper left from the bullets in the barrel.
To get the majority of the powder and copper out of the barrel, I use a bronze brush soaked in Eliminator. It is important that you use the correct sized bronze brush for the caliber of barrel you have. I will make ten to fifteen smooth passes down and back through the barrel. Do not attempt to short stroke this, you will get the brush stuck. Complete, smooth passes is what you are after. Be careful when you come back through the crown (muzzle) of the barrel. Take your time and slowly insert the bronze brush back into the barrel.
Take off the bronze brush (Do not forget to wipe down your cleaning rod) and reattach the nylon brush with a cotton patch wrapped around it. Make one trip down the barrel. Patch #4 is usually one of the nastiest ones. This patch should be dark grey showing powder fouling coming out of the barrel and also dark blue showing copper left in the barrel from the bullets and also the bronze brush.
Bronze is an alloy consisting mainly of copper with other metals added in. If the solvent is made to dissolve copper left from the bullets, it will also dissolve some of the copper in your bronze brush. Take off the patch, unscrew the brush, and withdraw the cleaning rod.
I then wrap a clean patch around the same nylon brush and make another single pass. If this patch comes out dirty, (Patch #5) I repeat the scrubbing with a bronze brush and cleaning with a nylon brush wrapped with a cotton patch. (steps 5,6,7) (For this cleaning, I repeated steps 5,6,7 one more time = Patches #6 & 7). Essentially, I repeat that series of steps until I am confident the barrel is clean.
Experience Tip: This patch (#5 &/or #7) will never be completely clean because the solvent will always dissolve some of the bronze brush. The nylon brush can also become saturated with solvent and grime which will show up on the cleaning patch.
Once the cleaning patch is decently white (Patch #7) I will the scrub the barrel with a short stroking motion with a clean cotton patch wrapped around the same nylon brush (Patch #8). Pay attention to how the brush feels when you are bringing the brush back towards the action. You will be able to feel if it catches or is harder to pull (not push) close to the action. If so, that is an indication the barrel is still dirty. If the patch glides consistently from muzzle to action, you are getting close to being done. The outcome of this step will tell you if you need to scrub again. In this particular case, Patch #8 was almost totally clean. That indicates I am done with the inside of the barrel.
Cotton patches in order of cleaning
Phase 3 = Protect for Use or Storage
When I am not going to shoot a barrel again for an extended amount of time, or for my competition barrels after every tournament, I will use Wipe Out with Accelerator. I soak a cotton patch wrapped around a nylon brush with Accelerator and scrub the barrel. I then squirt Wipe Out into the barrel. Wipe Out is a foam cleaner that you can leave in the barrel overnight. It does a thorough job of cleaning and conditioning the inside of the barrel. When I use Wipe Out, I always want the foam to run out the muzzle instead of back towards the action. I ensure this happens by un-leveling the barrel in my gun rest. I want the muzzle slightly below the action. I also insert a cotton ball in the action just to make sure nothing comes back into the action.
Picture of a barrel pointing slightly downhill towards the muzzle to ensure no solvent runs back into the action.
The next day, I will use the same nylon brush with a clean cotton patch wrapped around it and clean out the Wipe Out. It may take a few patches to completely get it out.
Side note: After every other tournament and for stubborn hunting barrels, I will use Iosso Bore Paste. If you choose to use Iosso, follow the directions printed on the tube.
I use my action cleaning brushes and clean the inside of the chamber including the locking lug area. Lots of grit and grime can accumulate in this area and it is important to get it out.
I use CLP for rust prevention and lubrication for anything metal on a firearm. There are lots of good rust preventers/lubricators out there. Find one that you like. A couple things to consider; first, make sure these products do not “gum up” in cold weather. Second, I never spray the product directly on the firearm. Spray the product on a rag then apply to your firearm.
The last thing I do, before shutting off the lights, is to clean my brushes. I simply hold all the brushes over a garbage can and squirt isopropyl alcohol over the brushes. You will be able to see all the nasty stuff come off of them into the garbage. This also will stop any chemical reaction between the solvent and your bronze brush.
Cleaning all brushes with isopropyl alcohol
Cleaning a rifle barrel does not require a degree in nuclear engineering, but there should be some sort of scientific process involved. I have proven that the above outlined process works by inspecting the bore of the barrel with a borescope before and after cleaning.
There is more than one way to “skin a cat” when it comes to cleaning a rifle. Many top competitors use other methods, but they still have a process that works for them. My hope is that you can take something from this blog and make your own process better. Bottom line, you want a barrel that is clean, yet unharmed from chemicals or improper technique, so you can find your accuracy window. Until next time, enjoy the experience.