Keeping your guns clean and in good working order is critical to good preparedness and of course, to firearms safety as well. A gun that has gone too long between cleanings can bind up and malfunction, misfire, or even start to corrode and rust. Therefore, knowing how (and how often) to clean your guns is very important.
How often you need to clean your firearms depends on a few different factors. Principally, how often do you shoot and how many rounds are you putting through them? Personally if I go to the range and put a couple hundred rounds through a gun I feel it deserves a thorough cleaning. I have friends that disagree and would put three times as many bullets through their guns before breaking them down for a full cleanse.
I think the correct answer is probably more of a combination of a) How many rounds have you fired? and b) How long will your gun sit unused until your next trip to the range? The longer a gun is going to sit the more likely I am to clean it right away. For example, if I went shooting on a Saturday and fired 150 rounds with my Beretta and I was planning on going back to the range the very next day I might not clean it at all. However, if I had no plans to go back to the range for a few weeks I would probably give it a thorough cleaning before putting it back in the safe.
The type of climate you live in will also affect how often you need to clean your guns. I live in a very dry area with super low humidity which puts my guns at a lower risk of rusting. Those who live in very humid areas may need to occasionally clean guns that haven’t even been fired just to make sure there is no rust and the gun is retaining a light layer of protective oil. Even in my area if I have a gun I plan to store for a long time without firing I try to coat it with a fair amount of gun grease just to be sure it’s protected. Of course once greased the entire gun will need to be thoroughly cleaned out before firing.
A complete and thorough cleaning should always be done to manufacturer’s specifications and a gun should not be broken down further than the handbook recommends by anyone but a qualified gunsmith. You should always read all handbooks that come with a gun to understand what a proper cleaning looks like for each particular gun you own. Generally there will be a basic breakdown of the weapon, cleaning, brushing, oiling, and reassembly. A gun cleaning kit like this one from Winchester has all of the hardware you’ll need to get started. Add in some solvent and lubricant and you’re in business.
Sometimes after a trip to the range even the most dedicated gun enthusiasts just don’t have the time to give a thorough cleaning to all of their firearms. I myself am guilty of this all the time. I’ve come up with a simple system to try to deal with this lack of time vs. desire to keep my firearms in the best shape possible.
It’s generally much easier to clean fresh gunk off a firearm than it is to remove gunk that’s been sitting in there for a week or so. Hence, the first thing I do when I get back from the range (and am in a hurry) is cover my workbench with newspaper, quickly breakdown all the guns I’ve fired, and spray them down with Break Free CLP gun cleaner. I use it pretty liberally so just this step takes off almost all of the gunk left over from a firing session. If I was taking my time I would probably use half as much but in a pinch I basically hose down all the parts and then let them sit and dry for a while. If I’m not going to be in the immediate area then I will take a piece of each firearm, wrap them in a hand towel, and toss them in the safe. That way there’s no chance the guns can be reassembled while I’m not around. Later, when I’ve got the time, I can come back and give each gun a thorough cleaning, brushing, and scrubbing before oiling critical parts and putting them back in the safe.
In the past I used WD-40 for this quick first step but have found that it doesn’t really provide any lubrication and can leave a bit of residue behind. It is good at cutting through gunky buildup and could be used as a first step in cleaning as long as you’re prepared to take the time to thoroughly remove it and finish off with a quality lubricant. In a pinch WD-40 is probably okay and certainly better than nothing but it’s not the best product out there for gun cleaning. Personally I like Break Free CLP as it has the cleaning power plus the lubricant and protection firearms need. I highly recommend it.