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The gear you need to build the essential gun-cleaning kit

Cleaning your firearm is not just about maintaining its aesthetics or functionality; it’s essential for ensuring safety and reliability


Which products should you choose and how often should you use them? Tools and chemicals all come down to personal preference and the types and calibers of firearms you own.

Photo/Ron LaPedis

By Ron LaPedis

“I won’t clean my weapon until it fails when I need it most,” said no one ever.

Cleaning your firearm is not just about maintaining its aesthetics or functionality; it’s essential for ensuring safety and reliability. Proper cleaning prevents malfunctions that could arise at critical moments, extends the lifespan of your weapon, and preserves its accuracy and performance. By adhering to a disciplined cleaning regimen, you protect your investment and ensure that your firearm is always ready when you need it most.

Before we get to the contents of your kit, I’d like to address the rules and guidelines for cleaning your weapon. The hard rules are the same as any activity involving firearms:

1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

And there is a fourth rule that I follow as well:

4. Always unload and check your firearm before bringing it into the cleaning area.

Guidelines are just that. Recommendations that have been proven to work for others over time but may not be appropriate in all situations. Some of these are:

1. Use an absorbent and non-shedding cleaning pad under your work area.

2. Only use cleaning and lubrication products designed for firearms.

3. Use the manufacturer’s cleaning and lubrication instructions.

4. Do not strip the firearm past your ability to reassemble it correctly. In most cases, you should use the manufacturer’s instructions to field strip the weapon and go no further.

5. Always clean barrels from breech to muzzle.


An overview of my cleaning kit with everything stowed.

Photo/Ron LaPedis


Tray 2: Bore brushes, lens cleaner, and another BoreSnake. Tray 3: More brushes, CLP (cleaner, lubricant, protectant), precision oil pen, oil, and grease.

Photo/Ron LaPedis


Top tray, left to right: 3 BoreSnakes, OTIS general purpose lubricant, my most-used loops and jags, aircraft cables with handle, aircraft cable adaptors and joiners, 1911 bushing disassembly tool, kydex holster screws.

Photo/Ron LaPedis


Bottom tray: Pocket cleaning kit patches, yet another BoreSnake, scissors, bore lighting tool, lens cloth. (I got the thick daisy-shaped patches at SHOT and cannot figure out who makes them!)

Photo/Ron LaPedis

With the rules and guidelines out of the way, let’s delve into how to build a gun-cleaning kit.

In the past, all cleaning kits came with rigid rods, which posed a problem for weapons with non-removable barrels, such as revolvers and some rifles. You had no choice but to clean from muzzle to breech. Innovations such as flexible aircraft cable cleaning rods and the Hoppes BoreSnake have made breech to muzzle cleaning very easy.

Many weapons come with one or more parts of a cleaning kit, such as a brush, rigid metal rod and handle. If your weapon can be cleaned correctly with these included parts, then you can start here and add to them piece by piece, or you can purchase fully configured kits for specific weapons, such as an M1 Garand, types of weapons such as handguns, rifles, or shotguns, or you can buy a universal kit that has it all.

The reasons for cleaning breech to muzzle are many. First, cleaning in this direction prevents particles from entering the action, maintaining its integrity and effectiveness. Second, if you clean from the muzzle, there is a small chance that the rod can scrape on the muzzle crown, which is the last place the bullet touches the firearm before heading downrange. This can damage the crown’s profile, which many shooters have seen affect the accuracy of their long-range rifles. Finally, cleaning a gun from breech to muzzle ensures that all fouling and debris are safely directed out of the barrel, leaving it spotless.

Let’s start with the pad. This protects the surface under your weapon from the chemicals used to clean and lubricate it and protects the weapon from being marred while you are working on it. The backing should be non-slip and block liquids while the front should be soft, non-shedding and possibly absorbent. Two choices are:

Next up is the suite of chemicals needed to clean and lubricate your weapons. This is where you refer to the manufacturer’s instructions that came with each one. They will specify the types of acceptable cleaners and the type and weight of lubricants. Thin or thick oil and grease all are possible recommendations. There are hundreds of choices out there. Some of my favorites for the weapons I have include those below.


The grandaddy of them all is good for all weapons


Finally, you need the cleaning tools appropriate to your collection of firearms (and there is always room for one more, eh?). My kit is populated with:

Most bore cleaning hardware — BoreSnake, rigid rods, brushes, loops and patches — is caliber-specific, so you may need more than one if you shoot multiple calibers. A kit might be a good investment depending on how many different calibers you run.

The patented BoreSnake, higher scrubbing power Viper and similar products are made of a non-shedding thick yarn-like material with a caliber-stamped brass weight at the end of a string for threading, a first floss area, bore brush, main floss area and a loop that acts as a pull handle. The BoreSnake is a one-step tool. I dip the first floss area into some Hoppes Number 9, thread, pull and repeat a total of 3 times. BoreSnakes come in versions for pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns, and are available in sizes from .22 caliber to 10 gauge.

A multi-step alternative to the BoreSnake is the aircraft cable cleaner. This is used similarly to a rigid metal rod, in that you run patches down the barrel after dipping them in your preferred cleaning solution until they come out clean, followed by one lubricated patch, followed by at least one dry patch to remove excess oil. Since the cable is flexible, you can carefully thread it from muzzle to breech without the loop on it, screw on the loop, put the patch through the loop, then pull through to the muzzle without damaging your firearm barrel’s crown.

The last two steps after assembly and a function check before taking your weapon out of the cleaning area are to wipe down the exposed metal parts with a silicone cloth then use a clean cotton or felt cloth to wipe the grip so the gun doesn’t launch across the room when you draw.

Now remove your weapon from the cleaning area, then load and chamber a round if that is how you normally carry it.


The Otis Elite Universal Gun Cleaning Kit comes with a pocket kit for taking into the field or on the range.

Photo/Ron LaPedis

While my OTIS Elite Universal Gun Cleaning Kit came in a custom case, it didn’t hold everything I use, and I found it a chore to go through it. So I moved what I do use to a fishing tackle box with room for the handful of other items I use during my cleaning sessions. I also added the thread lockers and paint pens needed to mount a red dot sight since this is something I do a lot as a writer.


My fishing tackle box has plenty of room for my cleaning tools. I store the bottles of cleaning chemicals upright in my garage for safety and carry them into my cleaning area when I am ready to use them.

Photo/Ron LaPedis


I keep frequently-used tools up top, so I don’t even need to open the case. On the left are disassembly tools, a nylon brush I use to clean magazines, and a Loctite cheat sheet. On the right are marking pens and a tube of Loctite 242.

Photo/Ron LaPedis

Again, follow your manufacturer’s instructions as to cleaning and lubrication intervals, field stripping and lubrication points. In most cases, the golden rule for lubrication is, “visible but not dripping.” Some firearms, like the 1911 and 2011 designs, like to run fairly wet, while Glocks run better when they are not nearly as wet. Over- or under-lubricating your firearm can cause failures when you need it most.

Which products should you choose and how often should you use them? Tools and chemicals all come down to personal preference and the types and calibers of firearms you own. How often? Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and note that if you carry daily, your firearm needs more care than if it sits in the safe. However, always check any firearm that comes out of the safe for gummy lubricants before heading to the range.

Stay clean, my friends.

About the author

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.