Cleaning Your Guns

BY Herschel Smith
2 months, 1 week ago

Goodness, there has been so much ink spilled over this subject I can’t even begin to rehearse it all.  Here is an interesting recent piece.

In past years I have run several series of tests with commercial and experimental barrel-cleaning media in an effort to take barrels that had been fired back down to base metal, with no carbon or copper fouling as a starting point. A part of the test was to see which medium worked as advertised and which was less effective than expected. The tests were divided into cleaners that relied on chemical action to realize the expected results and cleaners that were abrasive in nature to remove the fouling. The results were verified via bore scopes with magnification to validate the findings.

It was no surprise that we found that some barrels responded to some of the chemical cleaners better than others. This was particularly prevalent with the smoothness of the barrel’s interior surfaces. Match-grade barrels that had been lapped to remove any irregularities or imperfections cleaned down to bare metal without too much effort. Run of-the-mill production barrels fouled earlier and were more difficult to clean almost universally, though there were a few notable exceptions.

Upon examining the barrels that fouled quicker, it was found that microscopic voids and tool marks left from the original manufacturing process were the greatest contributors to lead, copper or carbon fouling. The rougher the barrel’s interior, the quicker it fouls.

Even after cleaning down to bare metal with the abrasive cleaners, some barrels still needed chemical cleaners to remove the fouling embedded in the voids and irregular spots.

After thoroughly cleaning a barrel down to bare metal and removing all perceivable fouling and contamination, a tight-fitting clean patch pushed through the barrel still had a very slight discoloring present due to the vapor-thin residues left by the cleaning agents. This was not really a concern because the bore scope verified the condition of the bore to the satisfaction of the test.

Out of curiosity, we tried a few cleaners that had nothing to do with firearms, but were excellent cleaners that left no smudges or residual film in their intended application. What we found worked to enable a clean patch in and a clean patch out was glass cleaner. It removed everything but the shine after the hard work was done by the chemicals and abrasives.

I am not recommending you use glass cleaner on your Ruger, I’m just stating a finding that may be of interest.

We’ve discussed this before, but it doesn’t appeal to me as prima facie wise to remove everything.  I need to be convinced before I believe it.

Microscopic voids, minor erosion, stress corrosion cracking, tooling marks, and the like, are part of the scene.  No surface will be free of imperfections.

The very first round after removing all of the copper and lead will refill all of those imperfections with copper and lead.  Why continue to beat yourself up over trying to get it all out as if the gun had never been fired?

Anyway, I know that Paul Harrell uses soap and water, others use copper cleaners, others use solvents and still others use odorless mineral spirits (I do on shotguns).

I have never heard of using Windex on the inside of barrels.  I’d have to study the effect of ammonia on metals (SS, carbon steel, MoCr, etc.) before I was comfortable with that.  At a minimum I’d make sure to remove every last bit of the Windex with solvent and patches, and then oil it, before setting it aside.

Have readers ever used Windex on barrels?


  1. On January 10, 2023 at 11:59 pm, Trumpeter said:

    No, but.. All my copper cleaners smell like ammonia.

  2. On January 11, 2023 at 2:50 am, Qualitarian said:

    A guy who shoots better and has much more experience than me analogized breaking in a new barrel to seasoning a brand new cast iron pan. Good performance depends on getting as smooth a surface as possible. Part of the task is polishing down the high spots, part is filling in the voids.

  3. On January 11, 2023 at 3:04 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel Smith

    Windex is used by some gunsmiths and shooters to clean their rifles after using corrosively-primed ammunition, typically military surplus going back in years enough that non-corrosive primers were not universal. The ammonia is supposed to neutralize the harmful effects of corrosive primer salts. The Windex isn’t left in the barrel, but once it has done its job, it is removed in turn by thorough washing with soap-and-water, followed by whatever barrel treatment you may elect to use, such as running a lightly-oiled patch down the bore to protect it.

    Two of my mentors, both military men and firearms authorities with impeccable credentials, often debated (without resolution, I might add) the pros-and-cons of cleaning the bore down to the bare metal after each range session, hunt or operation.

    One – a former U.S. Army Special Forces scout-sniper and master gunsmith – held the view that it was vital to clean the bore completely after every use of a precision rifle. The logic being that if he was on an operation and had only one shot to make or break his mission, he wanted to know the behavior of his rifle and ammunition to the finest detail. That meant knowing how his rifle functioned cold-bore.

    Now, fully-realizing that most of us aren’t professionals with those kinds of stakes on a successful shot, that logic also applied to hunters according to this gentleman. You might only get one shot on your hunt, so you’d better know how your rifle will perform on that one shot. The way to do that is to start from the same place every time, vis-a-vis the condition of the bore.

    It is important to note that this former soldier cleaned his bolt-action rifle – the one he used on his operations – down to the bore each and every time he fired it, but he then fired one fouling shot before putting it away. By sticking with this routine, day in and day out, he attained the predictability and performance he was seeking, when added to his dope and so forth.

    The other authority was a retired colonel and expert on small arms ammunition and firearms design, as well as a competitive shooter. This gentleman has several patents to his name in small arms, UAVs, and other military technology areas.
    The O-6 – this colonel – said that the best performance and consistency in terms of muzzle velocity, accuracy and precision on target downrange – was obtained by fouling the barrel to an optimum range during which that barrel’s performance was stable and predictable. He would only clean his barrel of all copper fouling when accuracy and predictability fell off or degraded. The O-6 was a B.S.-level chemist, too, so knew his stuff in that department, presumably.

    Both men agreed on the necessity of routine removal of carbon fouling and combustion products. Copper and gilding metal fouling was what divided them as far as their approaches were concerned. Both men were experts in their chosen fields, so you could say that each used what worked best for him.

    It would be interesting to know the cleaning SOPs (if there are any established) in various kinds of organizations of shooters, i.e., such as military, LE, competition, and hunting communities, and the reasons the guidelines were written as they were.

    Mercury is alleged to be “the best” cleaner of a fouled bore around. You stop up the bore at the chamber, and holding the barrel vertical, fill it with mercury, which dissolves all of the residues, corrosive salts, and the like, leaving bare metal after it is drained off, and cleaned with warm soap-and-water. That’s another method dating back to the old days of WWII… but one no longer much used, for obvious reasons.

  4. On January 11, 2023 at 8:58 am, RHT447 said:


    Point taken from the former scout-sniper. That said, for most of us hacker level paper punchers, consistency over multiple shots is key. If your bore is surgically sterile, it will only be that way for the first shot, so I have never seen the point in doing that. Also, you will have to run an oiled patch through the bore if it is going to sit for any length of time.

    Ammonia cleaners have been around for a long time. Here is one–

    –developed by Australian shooter the late Jim Sweet–

    “…fouling the barrel to an optimum range during which that barrel’s performance was stable and predictable.” There was a time when Molly coated bullets were the new hot ticket to do just that, and I jumped on board setting up to do my own Molly coating. During one season of NRA Highpower, I ran a 308 bolt gun for, IIRC, some 350 rounds without touching the bore, just wiping out the chamber (stainless Krieger barrel). Accuracy held throughout. Out of curiosity I finally ran a tight patch through the bore and could feel it drag on the carbon build up in front of the chamber. I scrubbed the bore with JB. Was it worth the extra effort? It was a wash. I enjoyed the experiment, but was never in a situation like shooting for a week at Camp Perry where it might have made a difference not having to clean.

    My go to bore cleaner has been this stuff for decades–

    I point the muzzle down and flood it with an eye dropper, then follow with a few bronze brush strokes. Then I let the rifle stand on the muzzle over night and let the chemical do the work. Then a wet patch, a few dry patches, and done.

    Agree it would be interesting to know what the Army and USMC rifle teams do.

  5. On January 11, 2023 at 9:46 am, George said:

    nice reply Georgiaboy61.

  6. On January 11, 2023 at 10:10 am, Matt said:

    I shoot surplus ammo in a couple of rifles. When I’m done at the range I run a couple of patches
    with windex and then a couple with Hopps. When I get home I use hot water and dish soap then clean like normal. More work but was worth the effort for price of ammo.

  7. On January 11, 2023 at 10:13 am, Latigo Morgan said:

    Windex if I’ve been shooting older (or Eastern European) milsurp ammo, but then I learned that Ballistol neutralizes corrosive salts, so I now use that almost exclusively.

    But I’ll always find a reason to run a patch or two of Hoppes #9 down the barrel.

    Marketing guys love me. I’m a sucker for snake oil, even though I know better.

  8. On January 11, 2023 at 10:58 am, Grunt said:

    As an M-60 gunner long ago I cleaned the receiver, the asst gunner the barrel. It was nearly impossible to get the receiver cleaned in the time allowed the usual way. I took it into the big sink and after a dose of cleaning fluid I ran it under as hot water as I could get, that with a toothbrush and that was as clean as it had ever been. No magic goo.

  9. On January 11, 2023 at 1:03 pm, Aaron Yetter said:

    Use to use Windex for cleaning muzzleloaders. But know just use plain room temperature tap water and whatever gun oil I have. Next day I check for rust and run another oil soaked patch down the barrel. 25 years of muzzleloader shooting and this works for me.

  10. On January 11, 2023 at 1:03 pm, wes said:

    I grew up on Hoppe’s #9. The smell of it always brings back fond memories of evenings after fall hunts with the old timers sitting around the stove telling lies and us younger guys hanging on their every word.

    As I became a more mature and informed shooter I migrated through many other cleaning supplies and procedures, some more effective than others. Currently in my gun room there are somewhere around twelve different bore cleaners, this one for removing copper, that one for removing carbon, others that claim to do both. All of them work to one degree or another.

    In my sixth decade of life I’ve moved back to using primarily Hoppe’s #9 for the simple reason of time.

    The single biggest problem with many of the other bore cleaners is the time factor. Using just a couple of examples, the above mentioned Sweets for one, I have it and I use it but not that much anymore because it can’t be left in the bore for longer than fifteen minutes. Another example Barnes CR-10 has the same time constraint in its directions. Many of the others have a time limitation as well.

    Life often dictates when and how much time I have for a particular task. With the Hoppe’s I can soak the bore and if life pulls me away I don’t have to worry about damage to the bore from leaving a product in the bore longer than it should be.

    My current cleaning regime these days is to push a patch or two through the bore after each shooting session. I only perform a deep clean when my accuracy window falls off. At that point the rifle goes in the vise for a thorough cleaning. I push a couple of patches through the bore soaked with Hoppe’s to remove the loose crud and then using a slotted jag and soaked patch scrub the barrel. Then I let is set, usually for twelve hours or overnight. The next morning or evening I’ll push a couple patches through the bore, the first of which will come out with green to turquoise slime and repeat the whole process of soak and let sit. It usually only takes a few twelve hour sessions for all the copper and carbon to be removed. Running my bore scope through lets me know if I need to do another cycle of cleaning.

    It always requires fouling shots to bring the gun back to its best accuracy window. The number of shots varies with the particular gun and caliber. My old 03A3 re-barreled with a Criterion barrel takes a few more shots to settle down than the 300 PRC does. There’s an old Mossberg 800B that shoots right at MOA or sub MOA no matter what. Dirty bore, clean bore, new brass, fire formed brass, I wish all my guns would shoot that way.

    But I digress, to get back on track the above routine gets modified somewhat if I’ve been elk hunting in the Pacific Cascades where it can rain all day every day. The same holds true if I’ve been in the scab lands or desert where sand and blowing dust is the culprit rather than rain and snow. In those cases I always run a few patches through at the end of the day but I don’t strip it to bare metal until the gun tells me it’s time to.

    As always YMMV

  11. On January 11, 2023 at 1:58 pm, Bill Sullivan said:

    I had a badly fouled bore on a 1903 Springfield. Looked like an old sewer pipe. I plugged the muzzle with a plastic bag and a rubber band, and filled it with ammonia. It came out purple- a sign of copper fouling. Repeated it a couple of times, until it came out clean. Then cleaned it with Hoppe’s. Accuracy came back, and recoil went way down. It now has a new Criterion barrel. Accuracy is spectacular, and recoil came back up. Maybe I’m just getting old.

  12. On January 11, 2023 at 2:18 pm, xtphreak said:

    @ Latigo Morgan
    Me too on the smell of Hoppes #9. A real man’s cologne!!

    Back when I was shooting a lot of Czechoslovhovian
    “..steel core ammo
    with those Berdan primers
    from some East Block Nation
    that no longer needs ’em…”

    (line from Choctaw Bingo written/performed by James McMurtry)

    I sprayed the whole rifle down liberally with Windex, cleaned the gas system, chamber and bore with Windex, cleaned it all in HOT soapy water, then dried it, cleaned with Hoppes, oiled and re-assembled.
    That SKS still looks like new.

    @Aaron Yetter
    I have cleaned my muzzle loaders for the last 45 years by
    pulling the nipple,
    take the barrel out of the action/stock,
    submerge the breech end in a bucket/sink full of HOT soapy water and using a tight patch in a slotted jag, pump the soapy water in and out of the bore thru the nipple opening,
    rinse by pouring BOILING water down the bore (dries almost immediately),
    then clean with Hoppes
    and oil.
    I check the bore a day or so later with a dry patch for fouling/rust, if found I reclean as before.

  13. On January 11, 2023 at 2:53 pm, Jeff Grey said:

    One would imagine that the firearm would perform better with all those small imperfections filled in , eh?

  14. On January 11, 2023 at 2:59 pm, xtphreak said:

    Now I have a question.

    Look at this article.

    Anyone tried hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar in a 50/50 mix to remove lead, copper, powder fouling, etc?

    Never heard of it before, but interested.

  15. On January 11, 2023 at 9:34 pm, TwoDogs said:

    Our little black powder cartridge clan was convinced that Windex with Ammonia was the correct stuff for the initial cleaning of HighWalls, Sharps and such, followed by liberal application of Hoppe’s. Worked for me.

  16. On January 12, 2023 at 1:08 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ RHT447

    Re: “Point taken from the former scout-sniper. That said, for most of us hacker level paper punchers, consistency over multiple shots is key. If your bore is surgically sterile, it will only be that way for the first shot, so I have never seen the point in doing that. Also, you will have to run an oiled patch through the bore if it is going to sit for any length of time.”

    Yes, I quite agree, as a certified old guy, all-round duffer and paper-puncher myself…

    Thanks for the recommendations as well….

    I generally run a Bore-Snake or a similar pull-through cleaner 1-2x through the bore before putting a long gun away after use. I generally don’t worry about gilding metal fouling or removal of copper until the performance of the barrel lessens or degrades. At that point, out comes the cleaning rod, bore guide, cleaning solutions and all of that stuff. I suppose if I was a pro of some kind, my SOP’s would be different, but these serve me well.

    There is one exception, however, which I was taught and with which I fully-agree: If you may ever be called upon to “prove” that your firearm was not fired, such as a home-protection or CCW handgun or the like… it gets cleaned thoroughly after each-and-every use, no exceptions. Forensic scientists have neutron activation analysis and other sophisticated physical-chemical methods for determining the age and composition of residue found in barrels, should they be needed – but it is much easier just the clean your piece after using it.

    I may have to pony up and get a bore scope… that sounds useful.

    @ George

    Thanks – glad to help out…

  17. On January 12, 2023 at 1:08 am, Papa said:

    Kroil penetrant oil.
    Works good for barrel cleaning.
    Smells good, in an industrial type of way.
    They should make a Kroil scent candle.

  18. On January 12, 2023 at 4:10 am, Aaron Yetter said:

    I used to use hot soapy water also for my flintlock and underhammer rifles. But I tried plain cold tap water with soap and saw no difference. Than I tried plain water and got the same results. Usually I will plug the touch hole and fill the barrel with water and let it sit for a while. Than run dry patches until barrel is clean and dry. After that dripping patches of SLIP 2000 EWL. I use to use traditional 18 th century methods but was less than impressed by the results or extra work(Mark Baker Longhunter Videos).

  19. On January 12, 2023 at 8:34 am, Name (required) said:

    Soapy water for black powder fouling or corrosive ammo. Ballistol to lube after.
    I like Ed’s Red for general use.

  20. On January 12, 2023 at 9:57 am, BRVTVS said:

    Sometimes I use Ballistol and hot water, other times I use Murphy’s oil soap and hot water.

  21. On January 12, 2023 at 12:01 pm, Heywood said:

    My shooting is impacted more by how many cups of coffee I drink than whether my barrel has trace amounts of copper. But that’s just me. I still like my guns cleaned and oiled.

  22. On January 12, 2023 at 12:23 pm, Latigo Morgan said:

    Ballistol is good stuff. Neutralizes corrosive salts, protects and cleans. Is environmentally friendly and may even have some medical benefits. Good for leather and wood, as well.

    Basically, it does everything we were told WD-40 is supposed to do but doesn’t gum things up. But, it wasn’t invented here…

  23. On January 14, 2023 at 10:41 am, John Swanson said:

    I work with ammonia refrigeration, which is over 99% pure1. All piping, valves, and vessels are carbon steel. High pressure side of system is 135 to 150 psig. System undergoes rigorous inspection and testing. We are still using vessels over 50 years. Little to any loss of design thickness.
    Windex ammonia is very low and aids in evaporative drying as ammonia boiling point is -28 degrees at atmospheric pressure.
    I use windex on a Swedish Mauser when I shoot old Swedish made rounds with corrosive primers. Then water. Dry patches. Then Hoppes. Last an oiled patch.
    Same for Yugo and older mil surp.

  24. On January 15, 2023 at 2:15 pm, CPL Antero Rokka said:

    Ya! Great read and spectacular comments. Thanks, gentlemen. Me loves the Hoppe #9 and Ballistol.

    PS–a bit off topic, but important here “up North.” The blizzard we just had a few weeks ago–68 mph winds (for 48 hours!) and -7*F actual temps gave a wind chill of -45*F and some of my firearm LUBRICANTS post-cleaning did not hold up well in said bitter cold.

    Shagged an assortment of my semi-auto, pump action, and bolt rifles onto the back deck, leaving them covered up but out all night in the storm. Come morning–some worked fine chambering snap caps or dummy rounds–others locked up tight as a drum. Choose your lubes carefully for cold climes if you plan to be “outdoors” either hunting or defending the homestead against four or two-legged predators. Better that I learned this early.

    Carry on, men!

  25. On January 15, 2023 at 4:18 pm, RSR said:

    FWIW, Ballistol is overwhelming mineral oil with a little vegetable oil as well (prob canola/rapeseed). No magic there in this over 100 y/o formula…

  26. On January 15, 2023 at 4:45 pm, Paraclete said:

    As a cabinet builder, I’ve used Windex / Vinegar to clean all my router bits and other cutting tools for years…never once, have I experienced rust of any kind…cleans well and eats through tough wood residue. Never thought to use it on firearms, but most likely would do well since vinegar is a natural cleaning agent used most everywhere by those who know it’s value.

  27. On January 15, 2023 at 5:22 pm, Brian_E said:

    For black powder rifles/handguns – I’ve heard of using Windex, but if cleaned soon after use – just hot soapy water works well. Of course, as in all things – YMMV.

  28. On January 15, 2023 at 5:26 pm, SemperFido said:

    I have been using home made Ed’s Red since the 70’s. With corrosive ammo such as in a Mosin I use windex first, then Ed’s. Follow up with a couple of oiled patches. Never had a problem with barrel or accuracy degradation and it is good for the wood stocks as well.

  29. On January 15, 2023 at 6:27 pm, DWEEZIL THE WEASEL said:

    When I was using a revolver in my line of work, I cleaned it by immersing the cylinder in a baby food jar of Hoppe’s. The key to any cleaning as I found out, is to let the solvent do the work. Soak your barrel and other fouled parts with Hoppe’s, Liquid Wrench, or any reliable penetrating solvent. LET IT SIT! Relax, read a book, do other chores. After about an hour or so, come back to the firearm and start cleaning. Being an 11B20 dinosaur, I lube my guns with LSA. Bleib ubrig.

  30. On January 15, 2023 at 6:28 pm, Swrichmond said:

    Rifle goes in a vice padded with a folded towel, muzzle slightly down. Bolt removed, bore guide inserted.

    Dewey coated rod. One patch on a jag soaked in WipeOut accelerator, through and out. Second patch same, through and out. Fiber bore brush, dipped in WipeOut bore cleaner, three strokes back and forth. CAREFUL WITH REENTRY AT MUZZLE, prefer to not go out all the way. (Compass Lake, for example, wants you to NEVER re-draw the rod into the bore with anything at all on the end.) Wipe off the brush, repeat. Let is soak for 12-24 hours. Clean patches on a jag, through and out, to look for blue (copper). Repeat until no copper. On a relatively new and lapped barrel, this is one repeat cycle comes out clean. Barrel with lots of rounds (>1500), standard factory barrel, old military barrel, this cycle repeats 3-5 times before no copper visible.

    Match bolt rifles are put up dirty until they are 150-200 rounds, then cleaned, and fouled before use. Service Rifle (semi auto) eats a lot of its own shit and gets cleaned 150-200 rounds.

    BTW, barrel coppering when new (for a high quality barrel) is due to tool marks left behind in the leade by the chambering reamer happily spinning away in there. These scratches are perpendicular to the bullet path and shave off tons of copper, which is then vaporized by the 60000 psi flames and deposited in the bore. These scratches are quickly also removed by the same flames, in as few as 5 or 6 rounds, unless your smith has used the chambering reamer too many times and it is dull as shit.

  31. On January 15, 2023 at 7:01 pm, William Granger said:

    I have never used Windex on a modern firearm, but for my muzzleloaders (I only shoot black powder) I use Windex (or even straight ammonia), then boiling water down the barrel, then bore butter.

    I swear by it, and so do a lot of the old timers who taught me that method.

    Not sure about modern firearms, but I would assume it works well.

  32. On January 15, 2023 at 7:03 pm, William Granger said:

    Note bene: Windex and ammonia leaves a residue. I’m not sure what that residue will do to a barrel and I don’t intend to find out.

  33. On January 15, 2023 at 7:59 pm, RHT447 said:

    More info on Ed’s Red and other home made brew–

  34. On January 15, 2023 at 9:22 pm, Backwoods Okie said:

    Mike Venturino recommends windex with vinegar for cleaning black powder firearms. I found this in ” Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West “. Been using it for years but after I get the bore clean I run a couple of oil patches through the bore

  35. On January 16, 2023 at 9:10 am, Dee Jay said:

    Read somewhere a while ago that during the Stalingrad siege that the German army had issues cleaning their guns with typical gun oil. They found that under extreme cold that ordinary gasoline could cut through the crud. Obviously one would want to put a lot of patches through the barrel after that. But in a pinch, in extreme conditions (well below zero) or supply chain “challenges” this might be the trick. Full disclosure, never tried it myself.

  36. On January 17, 2023 at 12:20 pm, Wyowanderer said:

    I’ve used straight ammonia for years and it’s very effective at removing fouling, especially copper. I’m careful to run scalding (freshly boiled) water through the barrel with a long funnel after wards – this removes the ammonia residue and heats the barrel so it’ll dry faster afterward. A clean patch (a couple hours later) with light oil on it afterwards verifies that the barrel is squeaky clean.

    $.02. Take it for what it’s worth.

  37. On January 18, 2023 at 1:44 am, SemperFi, 0321 said:

    As everyone else has said, Windex has been a black powder standby as long as we can remember, I started shooting BP in 1974 while in the USMC, then went on as a muzzleloading rifle maker at GRRW and USMC armorer.
    If you go back 100+ yrs, rifles were cleaned with hot soapy water in every army, then the smokeless rifles came out and the practice continued, not just to clean the BP residue, but it also cleaned up the salts in the corrosive primers. That practice continued thru WW2 and many never stopped, it was what they were taught and they never questioned the hot soapy water cleaning, when we had Hoppes No. 9 instead. Windex does the same thing, then clean til dry and wipe with oil.
    Looks like the simplest cleaners are still the best, Windex and 5w-30 synthetic motor oil will get you by when all those $10/oz lubes are long gone. You’re wasting your money on all the scented green gluten free gun gimmicks. Motor oil works in a $50k truck, but not good enough for your $2k safe queen? Try filling your truck with Frog Lube.

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You are currently reading "Cleaning Your Guns", entry #33711 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published January 10th, 2023 by Herschel Smith.

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