barrel cleaning and break in



Hi. How do you guys clean your rifle barrels? Do you use brushes? Is there a different method for stainless barrels? What about when using moly bullets? Also, what do you do for break in? Thanks.


I was hoping some of you guys cleaned your guns. A little help here would be nice. Thanks

Tim Behle

Well-Known Member
Mar 16, 2002
McNeal, AZ

How frequently you clean your rifles is a personal choice. I don't clean mine until the accuracy begins to drop off. Even if that means shooting a few hundred rounds between cleaning.

I usually start off with a patch wet with powder solvent, then run a NEW brush down the barrel 20-30 times. Followed by 3-4 dry patches to get most of the nasty stuff out. I repeat this, one wet patch, bore bush, 3-4 clean patches, two or three times.

Then I follow the same procedure with a copper solvent, instead of a powder solvent.

After the cooper solvent, I use one more patch wet with powder solvent, a few dry patches to make sure everything is coming out clean, then one patch lightly covered with oil.

I then throw away the bush I've worn out, then take the rifle outside and shoot 4-5 fouler shots. The rifle does NOT go hunting until the fowler shots have been taken and the zero rechecked.

Ian M

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2001
Sask. Canada
I believe that we have covered barrel break-in and cleaning a few times, somewhere in the archives.
I break in new barrels by firing a shot, then thoroughly cleaning the bore, then drying it and firing another shot. I do that ten times. Then I repeat five times, firing two shots each time and a good cleaning between each pair of shots. Then I do two or three five shot groups with cleans in between groups. Don't forget to maintain your bolt as you do this. Then we call the job done.
Best accuracy is maintained with good cleaning, just how often is a personal thing. We clean our LR rifles every 40-50 rounds when we are practicing and always put them away clean, regardless of how many rounds have been fired.

Here is a piece that I put together a while back that will give some info. Please excuse that fact that this is pretty basic, but it might give you some ideas.

I suggest selecting one brand of cleaning/preserving chemical and stay with it, as opposed to mixing chemicals. You cannot beat Shooter's Choice, Hoppes, Birchwood Casey brands. ProShot is also very nice to work with. Good luck, sorry that this is so long.

The silly old phrase "It ain't over 'till it's over" applies particularly to shooters. The fact is that the use of firearms isn't finished until each gun is cleaned up and securely stored away. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Shooters should adopt the mindset that cleaning and oiling is as important an aspect of shooting as pulling the trigger. If this was the case, countless thousands of firearms would perform better and last much longer. Unfortunately many shooters don't realize or respect the importance of firearms maintenance.

Gun pros that I know (police armourers who handle literally thousands of firearms a year) NEVER shoot a firearm and "leave it 'til later" to clean. These guys are fanatical about cleaning firearms, even though most of the firearms that they shoot do not belong to them. This mentality can also be found among the serious target shooters. Gun-cleaning cradles are in constant use at benchrest matches and long range competitions.

What has this got to do with the average shooter? First, anyone who hunts has an investment in time and dollars that justifies ensuring their firearms work well. Secondly, there is no excuse for miss-fires, jams and lost accuracy due to dirt, fouling, rust, pitting or worn barrel crowns. Or for that matter, any of the countless other problems that occur with poorly maintained firearms. Who hasn't heard about the big buck that got away because a rifle jammed, miss-fired or froze up. The monster buck was invariably standing broadside at fifty yards when "old Betsy let me down". This happens every year and will as long as hunters don't maintain their firearms. Finally, proper maintenance will minimize the possibility of unsafe or dangerous performance of the firearm. No one would want to be involved in an accidental discharge because a dirty safety mechanism didn't operate.

Firearms maintenance is composed of two primary aspects - cleaning/lubricating and protecting from rust, corrosion and deterioration. Cleaning is the major consideration as there are so many types of firearms that require a wide variety of cleaning methods, tools and chemicals. Cleaning includes the inside of the barrel, action parts and all external parts of the firearm. Lubricating ensures that actions will function and that rust does not form. Beware the "handyman's secret lubricants" good old "3 in 1 Oil" or WD-40 when lubing firearms. Although great household lubricants, they were not designed or intended for guns. With time a gummy buildup will cause major problems.

Rust and pitting are two of the most common "afflictions" of older firearms that haven't been maintained. Protecting from rust and corrosion is extremely simple, taking as little time as a wipe with an oily rag or a pass or two down a bore with an oiled patch. The key word is - oil. Nowadays oil is not the only magic, since there are many excellent rust prevention sprays and silicon wipes on the market. Protection of wooden stocks is equally simple, with an occasional wipe with a lightly oiled cloth. Most finishes applied today require virtually no maintenance.

Let's look at the basics. First, always ensure that the firearm is unloaded. That might seem a given, but accidental discharges occur every year as firearms are being cleaned. Second, always wear eye protection to provide protection from the chemicals and debris involved. Last, always follow instructions for the use and storage of solvents and other chemicals. Keep them away from children, heat and flame.

Cleaning involves removing primer, powder and bullet residue from the barrel and action. Many shooters are not aware of the nasty nature of common primer residue which contains extremely gritty, glass-like particles. Nasty stuff! Cleaning also entails removing a wide variety of foreign material - ranging from dirt to dog-hair. After cleaning comes oiling and lubing, simple as that.

Barrel cleaning is a relatively simple task that can be carried out with a variety of tools. Cleaning rods, either one-piece or segmented are the most common tool. Rifle and pistol cleaning rods are commonly available in aluminum, stainless steel or plastic coated steel. Shotgun rods are frequently aluminum or hardwood. Muzzleloader cleaning rods are frequently fiberglass, aluminum or wood, as are ramrods which also serve that purpose. Various styles of brushes and jags (patch holders) can be matched to the rod. Essentially brushes are composed of nylon or bronze bristles and the best brushes always have a looped end with no sharp cut off edges. There are three common styles of jags, sharp pointed ones that stab the patch, ridged ones that are designed to hold a patch that is wrapped around or slotted ones that the corner of a patch is threaded through.

I am currently using the excellent line of cleaning rods, jags, brushes and bore guides manufactured by PRO SHOT, Bore Tech and Dewey. I trust putting these rods and brushes into some very expensive rifle barrels. They are doing a perfect job.

In addition to rods, many shooters use handy pull-throughs for cleaning and oiling bores. Otis offers a pull-through kit composed of length of plastic coated steel wire that can be joined to go through almost any length of barrel. Otis Kit and Caboodle gun cleaning systems are just that, kits that include all of the essentials for cleaning firearms in the field. How well do they work? Good enough for the military, as the handy kits are issued to the U.S. Marines and other units. The Otis kit is deceptively simple but it is a complete cleaning kit that can handle any job. I am particularly impressed by the ruggedness of the pull-through. In fact, when confined by the barrel, the flexible pull-through becomes a solid rod and can even be used to knock out stuck cases! The Otis cleaning kit is extremely compact, yet capable of serious cleaning jobs in the field or in the shop. I always carry an Otis kit on traveling hunts.

Michaels of Oregon also offers an innovative pull-through called the Bore Snake that resembles a length of lamp-wick with bronze bristles incorporated into one end and a drop weight on the other. Bore Snake pull-throughs are great for emergencies and field use. Available in virtually any caliber and shotgun gauge, the Bore Snake is a fast method of cleaning barrels. When soiled the cord can be washed clean. Bores Snakes can also be used to oil bores by simply placing a few drops on the body of the cord. Pull-throughs are the simplest barrel cleaning tools and now that technology has impacted them they are even better. I also take along a Bore Snake on most hunts as they don't take up any room in a kit.

Another great firearms cleaning tool that I "don't leave home without", is the Browning Shooter's Tool Kit, model 400. This amazing set of tools is again a complete firearms cleaning and maintenance kit. Contained in a heavy belt-looped nylon sheath, the multi-tool has attachments that fit almost any screw or bolt commonly used in firearms and scope mounting set-ups. The neatest accessory is a great little collapsible cleaning rod that has a stainless wire connecting each segment together. Merely twisting the handle tightens the wire, pulling the segments together to form a rigid cleaning rod.

Manufacturers such as Outers, Hoppes, Birchwood Casey and even Weatherby offer gun-cleaning kits ranging from "bare-bones" to highly specialized and elaborate. Contained in tin, plastic or beautiful wooden containers these kits provide the basics, rods, jags, patches, solvents and lubricants. Unfortunately many of these kits are intended for occasional users and to sell at modest prices. The rods and parts do not last long. Jointed aluminum rods will do an adequate job if great care is used, but inevitably they break. Serious maintenance is best done with one-piece rods, simple as that.

By far the most interesting barrel cleaning technique on the market is the Outers FOUL OUT. Electrochemical removal of barrel debris is quick and easy with this device. The concept is simple, use electricity to strip copper, lead and other fouling from the barrel and transfer the crud to a stainless steel rod. This is similar to electroplating, only the material that is plated is undesirable fouling. Outers has improved the basic FOUL OUT machine, making the unit smaller and even portable with a battery operated option. How does it work? Very simple, just plug the chamber area with a rubber seal, fill the barrel with a copper or lead removing solution, insert the rod, hook up the machine and watch a meter that indicates when the job is done. Cleaning is absolute, you can't ask for more than that!

Let's face it, there is a bewildering assortment of tools, chemicals and procedures on the market - all aimed at the goal of cleaning firearms. Where does one start? What works and what doesn't? How do you avoid harming your firearms because of improper maintenance? How clean is "clean"?

I have discussed the above questions with many experts, ranging from manufacturers, to professional police armourers, to some of the most serious shooters in the country. Although cleaning might seem to be a simple operation, different firearms require a variety of procedures, material and equipment. Obviously we clean muzzleloaders differently than semi-automatic pistols. Manufacturers have responded with a comprehensive assortment of gun cleaning chemicals, tools and accessories to make the job easier and more effective. Science has provided many new solvents and preservatives for gun enthusiasts today. In addition there are some nifty new tools. Imagine taking your rifle apart, dunking the metal parts into a large sonic cleaner tank and a few minutes later all dirt is gone. Wipe dry, re-assemble, oil lightly and put away. That is a far cry from cleaning old Betsy with a pull-through on the back porch of a hunting cabin up at whitetail camp!

The objective of cleaning hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns is to remove accumulated powder residue and other dirt, to ensure that all moving parts are properly lubricated and protected from rust and to preserve wooden stocks where applicable. That sounds simple and it is in most cases. Centerfire rifle and pistol barrels frequently start to lose accuracy if powder residue and copper deposits from bullet jackets are allowed to build up. Even more significant is the loss of accuracy if muzzleloader barrels are not swabbed and cleaned. Powder residue will actually hamper the seating of projectiles. Shotguns are less effected but patterns can deteriorate when barrels are fouled or lined with plastic.

Some firearms simply require more care and attention than others. For instance many .22 rimfires will shoot until powder residue and dirt finally prevents feeding, extraction or ejection. Most casual rimfire shooters clean their rifles "once a year, whether it needs it or not". Target shooters, particularly centerfire bench rest shooters are much more conscientious, frequently cleaning every twenty shots. Let's examine cleaning and maintenance of each type of sporting firearm used by hunters.

We will start with muzzleloaders since they probably require the most effort. Gone are the days of boiling water and the stench of sulfur throughout the home. Manufacturers have made cleaning and maintaining muzzleloaders easy. This has attracted many shooters to the sport, along with the fact that today's in-lines are so similar to centerfire rifles. Black powder and Pyrodex residue have an annoying tendency to attract moisture from the air, creating corrosive compounds with the resulting mix. This caustic behavior enables rust to forming mere hours after use. Besides eating away metal, the corrosion will fuse surfaces preventing removal of breach-plugs or any screw or bolt. As Tony Knight, developer of the modern in-line movement says,
"Displace the crud with a moisture replacing oil, and you will not get any rust."
That is the secret to cleaning muzzleloaders, get rid of the powder residue and protect all surfaces with a light coating of oil. Unfortunately powder residue frequently bakes on and is difficult to breakup and remove, hence the old boiling water trick.

Here is a great suggestion. Buy a range rod. These one-piece fiberglass or aluminum rods are worth owning. Besides making the job of seating bullets at the range easy, they make the best cleaning rod. As I mentioned, nowadays we simply use products like Hodgdon's E-Z Clean, T/C's #13, Knight Rifle's Solvent Concentrate, Rusty Duck or any other black powder solvent and the residue is quickly removed. Beware that some solvents are water-based and do not provide protection from rust after use, so always lightly oil all metal surfaces. Action parts such as hammers and firing pins should be protected and lubed with an appropriate grease to ensure cold weather functioning.

Cleaning blackpowder rifles is usually made simpler by partially disassembling, at least removing the barrel from the stock. Most in-lines are designed to be taken completely apart for cleaning, so the breach-plug and trigger are also removed and cleaned. Essentially there are two types of blackpowder designs, closed breach which is permanently plugged at one end or removable breach-plug whereby the barrel can be cleaned straight through. Although we have been led to believe that removable breach-plugs are the easiest to maintain, cleaning a closed breach barrel is very simple. Just push solvent soaked patches down to the bottom until they don't come out dirty. There is also a special scraper that can be attached to the ramrod or cleaning rod for ensuring that no residue builds up in the very bottom of the barrel. When your patches are not showing black, oil the bore and clean up the action area and parts. Be prepared to use a lot of flannel patches each time that you clean a muzzleloader. In-line shooters should ensure that they lubricate the breach plug threads and that they do not over-tighten the plug when they replace it.

Muzzleloader Cleaning Essentials
1. range rod
2. jag
3. blackpowder solvent
4. breach plug lube
5. oil
6. patches
7. old tooth brush

Shotgun maintenance usually starts with removing the barrel, particularly with pumps and autos. Corrosion from ignition and combustion are not concerns as much as protection from environmental hazards such as rain, snow, mud and anything that is wet or dirty. Most shotguns are relatively easy to disassemble once the barrel is removed, and all action and gas system parts should be wiped clean and lightly lubricated. Barrels are simple to clean, use a suitable shotgun rod, jag and brushes. With the advent of plastic shot-cups and sabots very little residue remains in most shotgun barrels. Plastic residue occurs but it is relatively easy to remove with solvents and a good brush. Old style (Foster type) shotgun slugs tend to leave lead buildups and I find that the stainless steel coiled brush from Hoppes makes quick work of cleaning my slug barrels. When the shotgun is reassembled always work the action briskly to ensure that everything is working correctly.

Shotguns and pistols share a common requirement for cleaning equipment as follows.

Shotgun and Pistol Cleaning Essentials
1. Cleaning rod
2. Jag
3. Bronze brush
4. Solvent
5. Oil
6. Patches
7. Old tooth brush

Centerfire rifles are the most common deer hunting firearms, and they are probably the most neglected. "Deer-rifles" are commonly used for a few days each fall, and then set aside for another season. Improper care of deer-rifles creates a significant amount of work for gunsmiths, and unnecessary costs to owners. Given that modern rifles are capable of such extra-ordinary performance, and cost so much, the shooter of today really should maintain his rifles correctly. In reality there are degrees of cleaning hunting rifles. A well-used Winchester or Marlin .30-30 does not require the painstaking barrel care that a custom built beanfield rifle must have to ensure top performance. Current barrel cleaning practices developed by the military and target shooters can be adapted to ensure that today's tack-drivers perform in the field.

Let's look at cleaning operations for two types of hunting rifles, the average lever action, pump or semi-auto deer slayer and the more precision oriented bolt action that is becoming popular these days. The most logical cleaning tool for the average hunting rifle is a pull-through or a cleaning rod. Unfortunately cleaning must be done from the muzzle, so extra care must be taken to ensure that the crown is not damaged and worn by friction. Without going into the specifics for each model of hunting rifle, the basic requirement is to thoroughly clean the bore with solvents and brushing, and to clean and lubricate all action parts and the exterior of the firearm. Where possible the trigger group and action parts should be occasionally removed and cleaned. This is easy with rifles such as the popular Remington pump and autoloaders, and a job for a gunsmith with other less user-friendly designs. Any cleaning is better than none, although proper solvents and oils must be used. A great cleaning aid is simply compressed air, blowing loose material out of actions and crannies.

Centerfire Rifle Cleaning Essentials
1. Cleaning Rod
2. Jag (s)
3. Bronze brushes
4. Nylon brushes
5. Chamber cleaning device and swabs
6. Cleaning rod guide
7. Patches
8. Oil
9. Solvents
10. Suitable grease
11. Cleaning rack or padded vice
12. Cotton tips

Precision bolt action rifles are becoming more popular as deer hunters learn to take advantage of the long-range capabilities developed by today's technology. Heavy barreled varmint style rifles chambered for flat-shooting cartridges, mounted with high-powered variable scopes demand special care and attention. Most attention is given to the barrel, although other parts such as bolt lugs and camming surfaces are now included in the cleaning routine. I will explain the details that are essential to maintaining accuracy in a precision shooter.

Every expert that I talked to had particular procedures that varied slightly from others. This is not rocket science but cleaning higher quality rifles properly involves attention to details and the use of specialized tools and material. Once a cleaning routine is established, most serious shooters find that the job becomes very satisfying. A good suggestion is to stay with one particular brand of chemicals. I am using PRO-SHOT and Shooter's Choice with complete satisfaction. The PRO-SHOT solvents are nice to work with as they do not contain ammonia, yet they are amazingly effective. My wife really appreciates the lack of odor in the basement. Let's look at maintaining a super-shooter.

First, the barrel must be cleaned as thoroughly as possible. Two types of "grunge" might be present, carbon and copper fouling. Copper fouling seriously impairs accuracy, and accuracy is the name of the game. To do a proper job the rifle must be supported in a cradle of locked in a padded vice. This frees up both hands. After the rifle is secured, the bolt is removed and a bore guide is installed. Many shooters place a rag under the bore guide to catch any solvent that might spill onto the stock. There are several good bore guides available. Guides range from the simple plastic MTM to the superb guides sold by PRO-SHOT and Bore Tech that feature a special tray to line up each patch and to catch solvent.

With a proper sized jag attached, run a carbon solvent soaked patch through the bore (note - there are two types of solvents to do two jobs, remove carbon residue and to remove copper fouling). Do not put excess solvent on the patch, but ensure that the bore is moistened. Throw the patch away and repeat until the amount of fouling ie: black stains, start to diminish (usually three or four patches).

Attach a proper sized bronze brush and push the brush entirely through the bore, completely clear of the barrel. This is were a difference of opinion occurs, as some individuals recommend placing solvent on the brush, and some prefer to leave the brush dry (concerns about the solvent damaging the bronze bristles). Personally I moisten the brush, before the first stroke and additionally when it comes out at the muzzle the first time. Repeat the complete passes a minimum of twenty times, some authorities recommend the number of passes to at least equal the number of rounds fired since the last cleaning. After this use I clean the brush with a cloth, then dip it into Coleman camp stove fuel to thoroughly clean debris from the bristles. "Blast-Off" type cleaners are also great.

Replace the jag and run a lightly moistened patch through the bore, discarding it. Then push dry patches through until a patch comes out clean. Never re-use patches. If after eight or ten patches there is still fouling, repeat the brushing and patching until all carbon has been removed.

Now we attack the copper fouling that is probably present. Switch to a copper solvent and run a lightly moistened patch through the bore. Allow to sit for at least five minutes or per the instructions from the manufacturer. Some shooters prefer to soak a nylon brush to get the copper solvent into the bore, don't use it on bronze brushes at this type of solvent will attack the bristles very quickly. Run a solvent moistened patch through the bore and check for a blue-green discoloration that indicates the presence of copper. If the patch shows significant blue-green color, repeat the soaking until the color diminishes.

When you are satisfied that the copper fouling has been removed you must neutralize the remaining copper solvent in the bore. Lightly moisten a couple of patches with carbon solvent and run them through, ensuring that no traces of any fouling are present. A final check for copper fouling is to simply look into the bore at the muzzle, possibly shining a light, and watch for copper coloration in the grooves

At this point I decide if the rifle will be used shortly or will be put into storage. If I am planning to use it I will frequently run a very lightly oiled patch through and then push a dry patch through prior to shooting. If the rifle will be stored I suggest a heavier coating of oil or even a rust-preventative such as RIG or lanolin. Obviously rust protection should be applied to all metal surfaces.

Back to the rifle cleaning. After the bore is finished the bore guide should be removed and the chamber cleaned and swabbed. Always leave the chamber very lightly oiled or dry if you are going to shoot the rifle shortly - oily chambers will result in erratic shot. Chambers can be cleaned using special short rods, or with the end of a standard cleaning rod. The last part of the barrel that requires attention is the muzzle, simply wipe away the accumulated solvent and fouling and then wipe the entire barrel with an oiled rag.

In front of the chamber are the lug recesses, and these large cavities collect a wide variety of unburned powder and other types of grit. Obviously they must be cleaned for the bolt lugs to close and fit properly. Again the easiest method for cleaning is to use a special short rod that holds rectangular swabs that fit into the recesses. I start off with a dry swab, rotating several times until most debris and fouling is removed. If the swab comes out very dirty, place some carbon solvent on another swab and thoroughly clean the recesses, followed with a dry swab. While working on the action clean the bolt raceway with cotton swabs and place a light coating of oil in it. This is difficult under the front area of the receiver, but special long swabs are available that will reach forward.

Now we do the bolt itself. Most bolts can be disassembled for thorough inside cleaning, but this is rarely required during routine maintenance. Wipe the bolt clean with a rag, and then place a couple of drops of carbon solvent on the bolt-face and scrub the face with a stiff brush. Remove any accumulated brass shavings, particularly in the extractor and ejector. Carefully place a small amount of grease on the rear face of each lug, just enough to put a thin film across the flat surface. Do the same lubrication at the camming surface at the base of the bolt handle, as this is also a high friction location. Wipe the entire bolt with your lightly oiled rag and replace into the receiver. Now give the whole rifle some TLC with that oiled rag, and you are finished.

Remember, "it ain't over 'till it's over", and this includes shooting and cleaning your favorite deer rifle, gopher-plinker and duck-gun.

A gunsmith gave me this info that he uses for extreme cases. Barrels that have been neglected can frequently be brought back to life with a special "Deep Cleaning" procedure. Many "shot-out" rifles respond to a serious cleaning, as accuracy returns to normal. If you have a rifle that is not shooting well and is extremely difficult to clean, this might be worth trying.

a. With the bore guide properly installed and the rifle in a fixture, place a patch on the jag and soak the patch liberally with Breakfree. Push the patch slowly through the bore.
b. Using your fingers work JB Bore Compound into a clean patch until the patch is saturated.
c. Run the JB coated patch into the bore. Mentally divide the barrel into four equal lengths and using short strokes with the rod, work each area with at least 10 strokes with the JB patch. As the patch becomes looser, replace with another JB saturated patch. Continue this scrubbing until the patch moves through the bore with uniform smoothness. JB will not harm the barrel if used as directed.
d. Remove the bore compound from the barrel by running carbon solvent moistened patches through until no trace remains. Clean the JB compound from your rod, jag and bore guide.
e. Resume standard cleaning practice.

Lee in OH

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2003
NE Ohio
Harv, I've just begun to experiment with Eezox and it seems to really work to keep the copper fouling down (in my .223 anyhow). Simple to use too. After a thorough cleaning, just run a patch down the bore with Eezox on it, then run a dry patch so you don't leave too much in the bore. I'm really happy with the results so far.

You might give it a try sometime.


Well-Known Member
Jul 9, 2011
Don't wreck your crown cleaning your barrel! The Crown Cradle is a bore guide for the muzzle crown end of your barrel - the last thing the bullet touches on the way down range!

Get it here!

Home / Crown Cradle


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