When I started my time of precision shooting during my late teenage years I cleaned a rifle about like most people who don’t give it much thought. When I was in college I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a benchrest ( NBRSA) shooter with years of experience with match rifles and how to take care of them. One of the many priceless things he taught me was how to clean a barrel in an effective way that really cleaned it, not just played at cleaning. The method is not revolutionary during this time but, it does require more effort than what people want to give. You also have more money invested in quality cleaning tools then a lot of plinkers and dirt blasters pay for ammo.
I’m going to talk a bit about what I was taught and how to do it and I am going to explain why certain things are done even though some people will tell you different
First, here are some of the basic things needed. A lot of versions of the same things can be purchased anywhere. But like everything in the fire arms world, quality matters and when it comes to keeping your barrel at its top condition, the things you use need thought and care.
Now, other than a decent bench to set everything on, and a way to hold the gun upright to work with, here are some of the basic things you need if you want to do it right.
Bore guides are a must. If no one has ever told you why you need them I will explain. The best cleaning rod to use for cleaning a barrel is a one piece. One piece rods will flex or become bent ( more on this later) also, some brushes have bit of metal exposed on the tip. A bore guide will keep the rod straight as it enters the barrel. If you do not have the proper guide to keep it straight, the rod will wear against the inside of the barrel as you pull it back and forth. This can wear the throat/leade of the barrel where the chamber ends and the rifling begins. This is very bad for your barrel and accuracy. A warped rod will bow and also wear on the barrel further down. Some people like to use a stainless steel rod ( I am not one of them). The SS rod wearing against the inside of the barrel will do more damage then hundreds of rounds fired. A lot of fine barrels wear out or are damaged from improper cleaning than from shooting if the person doing the cleaning knows cleaning is a must but does it wrong or without care. The Guide also keeps solvent and oil out of the chamber as well as bits of the brush that come off as stronger solvent slowly degrades the brush. Another reason, is the bore guide keeps solvents from getting into the action and bedding. Solvent will degrade glass bedding and get into a wood stock and soften it or destroying any bedding. Solvent can also strip any oil and grease on small trigger parts, letting it rust and you not knowing, There are a thousand reasons to use a bore guide but not one good reason not to. Buy one and use it. DO not get a universal bore guide. Get one for each cartridge so it fits properly. Otherwise you are wasting time money and a good gun(s).
Next is proper brushes. Get quality brushes from some where like ProShot. Walmart brushes are often too small and do not fit tightly. You have to have a brush that fits snug. When it gets loose, toss it out and use another one, They wear out fast when they are truly cleaning. When you are done cleaning and the brush is still good. Spray the brush off with something like Brake Parts cleaner or starting fluid, Degrease it and get all the solvent off. One, because the solvent will eat it away if you leave it. Two. because after each brushing cycle, you need to clean the brush. Why? Because if you do not clean it, you recontaminate the bore again with the old gunk in it you just brushed out. Do not stick a filthy brush back into a bore you are trying to clean. Spray if off with brake clean, the wet it again with bore solvent and start again.
This leads to the next must have. A solvent bottle that you can squirt onto the brush. Everyone gets a bigger bottle of solvent. It is a pain and a waste to pour out more on the floor then the brush. This lets you apply it without waste. More importantly, you use the squirt bottle so you DO NOT DIP THE BRUSH IN THE BOTTLE OF SOLVENT. When you need to wet the brush again, you do not want to stick the brush in an entire bottle of solvent and contaminate the entire fresh bottle of cleaner. A lot of people do this without thinking, But it is the absolute wrong way to do it. The dirtier it gets, the less it works and you are just putting crud back into the bore and can not tell when you are getting it clean.
The Next thing is quality cotton flannel patches. They work. They hold solvent and they will pick up solvent and loose fouling. I buy them in 30 caliber size and use scissors to cut them to sizes smaller. You can buy them sized to caliber , but its up to you. It is important to make sure you use properly fitted patches. If not, they can become stuck or too loose to push out fouling. I add some small tooth brushes to go with this. Next is the jag. The jag is the tip you put on the rod to push patches through. You will see the common military style loop as well. Do not use the loop. Use a proper jag to push patches through the barrel ONE WAY then let them fall off after they leave the muzzle. DO NOT re use the same patch. Why? Because you don’t push fouling out, get it all over the patch, then pull it right back through the barrel to drop fouling off again where you just spent time trying to get it out. Also, the loop does not allow full contract of the patch as it travels through the bore. A proper jag and patch will fit tight and push down the entire barrel length pushing fouling ahead and out, or soaking it up and taking it away. The loop is very close to useless.
Next is the rod, do not skimp on the rod.
Make sure the handle turns free and allows the rod to turn and follow the rifling as it travels through the bore. It has to do this to scrub it. I use a carbon rod only. Stainless steel rods will bend and stay bent. This wears the barrel quickly. The carbon will flex and not bend. There are carbon or plastic coated SS rods, but the same thing happens as a SS rod but worse. The coating will wear off where the rod contacts the inside of the barrel and grit till stick in the coating. So, not only does the SS wear the barrel but the grit in the coating will act as a sandpaper effect making it worse. I do not use them because of this well proven down side. I use the carbon rod and every time I pull the rod from the bore, I have a rag to wipe off the entire length of the rod so no grit, dirt or anything else is on it to re enter the bore and do damage.
It is possible to buy rods caliber specific along with a jag, This allows the tightest fit you can get to keep from damaging the barrel. Rods also come in a varying length depending on barrel length. I always get one a little longer then I need because of the fact my bore guide might be longer , or maybe I want to clean a long action bolt gun instead of a short action etc. Do not get one super long, because it will weigh down as it leaves the bore and will bend. this will cause it to rub against the crown. Damage to the crown, or even wear is a fast way to ruin accuracy. If I have a 26 inch barrel. I will get a 34 inch rod, not much longer, but enough to make sure will work if any thing changes. With proper bore guides and care, you can use a few common rod sizes and length for a wide variety. I find a 22 caliber rod and a 6mm will safely clean and work in everything I shoot,up to 30 caliber. In a pinch or you are just starting and do not have a lot to spend, go with a 22 caliber rod and it will do you well for a long time. Just be careful.
I have the rifle above set up ready to clean. Angle the muzzle down to let the solvent run out and gravity to work for you. The gun has a bore guide in it for the proper 308 chamber. I set the rag under the bore guide at the action tang. This protects any pver spill solvent from getting on the stock and it is handy to have it there to wipe down the rod as I pull it from the bore to clean any fouling off of it.
The cleaning process starts like this.
I take the solvent I am using, which is usually Butches Bore Shine or TM Solutions.These are the two most effective solvent out there that are not ammonia based. I wet a patch with the solvent very liberally and run it through the bore 5 times. This pushes out any of the big loose fouling and wets the bore. I leave the solvent in for 10-15 minutes or maybe longer if I have the time. This gives the solvent time to work chemically. It takes time to start to break down the copper fouling and get into the powder fouling. IF you have any time at all. allowing it to set will cut down on how much work you do in the long run.
After the wait time I wet another patch and push it through to push out the older solvent that it diluted from the fouling and get fresh solvent in. This also once again pushes out any loose stuff that may have broken away from the cleaner working.
Once this is done I prepare to brush. I use the proper bore brush of a good quality and wet it heavily with solvent. Some people dry brush. But like my mentor said, you Don’t brush you teeth with no water or tooth paste so why would you try it on a rifle barrel. After it is wetted using the squirt bottle, not dipping it in the bottle. I start to brush. One stroke forward and one back is considered one brush stroke. The USMC in the 60s said 11 strokes would rid the barrel of fouling, but that is wonderfully naive. I consider 22 strokes at least. You need to wet the brush again during this. You will know when it needs more by watching the muzzle. A brush wet enough to work will cause a mist as it leaves the muzzle and you can see it. If it does not produce this mist, add solvent. Since you are brushing, it is OK to add it to the brush at the muzzle and pull it back through. This helps keep as much cleaner in the barrel as you can while brushing.
After this, start wet patching again. The patches will come out as black as a crows feather and the next few may be green, or blue or purple and black. The color is from copper breaking down from the solvent. As it reacts to the solvent it changes color. It comes off on your patches and shows as many colors of the rainbow. Keep wetting patches ( that are cut to the right size and fit tightly) and pushing them through, never re using a dirty patch.
When the wet patches come out clean, its time to brush again. Spray clean the brush with brake cleaner re wet it with your squirt bottle and brush again. If the brush gets loose or easy to slide through like its not touching anything, throw it out and use a new one. After 22 strokes, start wet patching again.
Depending on how dirty the barrel is, you may have to do this many times if you want the barrel to be as clean as you can get it. If you take care of the barrel and clean fairly often, sometimes twice is enough. A custom barrel may only need one time. It just depends. It is not fun. It may be hard, dirty and tiresome work, but if you want a clean barrel that will give you all the accuracy it can without fouling, this is what you have to do. It will also keep fouling from letting rust start in.
After doing this cycle, you will come to a time when after brushing the wet patches come out clean or just the color of the solvent. IF the patch comes out slightly green or blue as if its still fouled with copper. but no black can be seen, you are done. Once the bore is as clean as you are going to get it. the solvent will be breaking down the bristles on the brush and some of that will get in the barrel and be pushed out by the wet patches. So, if you see now black, but some rainbow color, it is just some of the brush breaking down. Wet patch it on out until nothing is on the patch but solvent. You can then, wipe off the crown because it will be dripping with ick.
Above are patches I save during the steps of cleaning. The patch on the far left was the 1st pushed through the gun with solvent. The next from left is after brushing. Next to last is one after wet patching out after following the brush. Last patch on far right is perfectly clean after wet patching and brushing, Nothing is on it but solvent and at most a dirty finger print from my hand.
At this point you can wet a loose fitting patch with light oil and run it through the bore if you are going to store it for a while. Take the bore guide out and take a small brush. If its a 308, I will use a 22 caliber brush, I wrap a clean patch around the brush, stick it into the chamber and twist it around to wipe out the chamber and dry it out.
I do not use a chamber brush on a match barrel. It does not need it. On a AR15, yes, but not a bolt gun. Just wipe it out and make sure it is dry. A quality chamber will be reamed tight and true with very little if any carbon fowling coming back into it. Ideally the case will expand and everything is forward of the case mouth. It is not semi auto so the case will stay put until you extract it. If its a AR15, you would clean the chamber first before the bore and use the AR15 chamber brush. You would do it first so that any fouling in the chamber will be pushed into the bore to be cleaned and removed from the process of barrel cleaning. You clean and dry the AR15 chamber and insert the bore guide and proceed as above.
There are a few more steps that sometimes need to be taken if things are bad. If at the end and the rainbow effect on the patches is very bright, you have serious copper fouling. A way to tell is to dry the bore and take a very tight new brush and slowly run it down the bore. If you feel it get tighter or need more effort in places, this is where copper is a real problem. Probably it is due to some tool marks or a bur or stress from the making of the barrel. With practice and experience you can even feel it when the brush is wet. After cleaning this way for what seems like a thousand years, I can feel copper fouling almost immediately.
When this happens there are a few options, One is Sweets 7.62 solvent. It is made heavily with ammonia. It smells horrible, is super strong and not good for your health at all. You have to use it outside if you do not want to kill yourself or get divorced. A lot of people carry on the myth that Sweets will devour you barrel but this is just not true. A test was done by Precision Shooting magazine in 2001 where a section of barrel of both steels was left submerged in Sweets for one year, removed and looked at under a bore scope for signs of etching or erosion. Nothing was found. The myth started because in the 80s BR shooters would mix Sweets with Shooters Choice solvent half and half thinking it would work quicker and they could skip a step. The reaction of the two powerful solvents would etch barrels. You do not mix chemicals used for cleaning the bathroom at home and you don’t do with with guns. The two mixed made something new that would damage a barrel by etching. Each alone is safe, but mixed, they could damage. Sweets was strong with ammonia so it got the blame. Do not mix solvents strong enough to burn skin and melt copper.
Sweets 762 solvent is used the same way. But you leave it in the barrel longer. Around 30 minutes is normal. The bottle will tell you now more, but that is a left over CYA thing from the story above spreading and scaring people from wanting to use the stuff. It is ok to leave it in longer. Once you are done with using it and have the copper out or as much of it as you can get out, dry patch out the Sweets and then “rinse” it using patches with oil. Dry the oil out with a dry patch or two then clean with regular solvent to degrease and go on as normal.
If its even worse you can move up to an abrasive cleaner. The one I use most of the years is J&B Bore Paste
J&B is not a liquid, It reminds me of wet cement. It has abrasive compounds in it that are very gritty. Imagine sandpaper in a wet form. It is very messy to work with and very effective. IF you have not used it before, try to find some one who has. You can do some damage with this stuff but you have to try. If you have the bent rod I warned of earlier, this will really make it worse. The traditional way it is used, it by taking a very small cleaning brush, wrap it with a patch and slather JB all over the patch. The patch has to be on tight and the brush/patch/JB has to be small enough to be able to move almost freely while inside the bore. You get this concoction in the bore and use short polishing movements. Imagine trying to rub rust off of a metal part. Or brushing dried mud off leather boots. It is hard to explain and take s a little practice. It works great and will bring out enough fouling to scare you. It will bring out stuff you never believed was in the steel of the barrel. It will get copper and powder fouling out,but it is greasy and messy. Clean up of the J&B is a must, if you shoot with it in the bore you will have a strong abrasive being rubbed down the bore at high velocity and temp. It gets everywhere while using it. But you have to get every nook and cranny clean of it. It is so abrasive, you can use it to polish feed ramps with if you use a little elbow grease. It is a great choice for an old tire milsurp barrel that has not seen real cleaning in a long time. It can really restore the accuracy of an old fouled barrel from a nice old piece or some old mauser you want to try to get shooting and regular cleaning does not want to help. But be careful and go slow if you have not used it before.
If you want to try this method buy are afraid of JB, toothpaste with pumice and be used. It is not as rough and it an remove copper it its not too bad but is too bad for regular solvent. Tooth paste was used for a long time by some older BR shooter who didn’t want to use JB on their Hart barrels.
As far as solvents go, there really are few that work. I have spent a lot of money and time and work over the years on a lot of stuff looking for a cleaner to cut down on the time spent at the cleaning bench. Here are a few popular choices that I will save you the suspense and tell you they just do not work. CLP. CLP is a decent lube, it will not clean a barrel well enough for real accuracy work or 1000 yard shooting. HOPPES no 9 is useless. It has its rep because years ago it had a very strong adn now very illegal chemical in it. It made it have its sweet smell that very few people now a days has ever really got a wiff of. You hear people talk about how great it smells because its a cliche passed down from the 60s. It does n0t smell like the original that worked great and did smell very sweat. The EPA ruled the active chemical in it too harmful adn it was removed. Hoppes is worthless not pretty much. The Stuff you can buy at walmart is useless. Montana Xtreme is marginally effective as long as you just need to do little cleaning. Tetra gun cleaning is decent at removing powder fouling. but not strong enough for much else. Shooters Choice use to be the best. It is still good but there is stuff that is better and woks faster and takes less elbow grease. Butches Bore shine usurped Shooters CHoice. Butches was revolutionary when it first hit. It was invented by a BR shooter who developed on his own, sold it himself for a while then Pachmyer got the rights to sell it and market it. It is good stuff. TM Solutions is equally good stuff with almost no odor. I like and use TM Solutions and Butches. For the AR15. you do not want to use Sweets because it is not good for the Chrome bore. For the AR15 I use Butches or TM. If its a precision AR15. Otherwise I use SLipp2000 carbon cleaner. It is very good and not toxic. It is very effective. All that is not hype, it works.
You will see some people advocate the foaming bore cleaners. The CLP and winchester and all the stuff does nto have much use. But, there is one that truly works. It is called “Wipe Out” it is a foaming bore cleaner and it can be pricey. But it works. No BS. It snot the answer to every cleaning problem , but it does work and would be a great choice for a fast clean for a M4/AR15. Otherwise, get out the rod and brush.
As far as warnings, do not use the section cleaning rods, They do more damage then good. The M16 family does not need anywhere as much cleaning as some say, just lube it and it will work. The section rods do more harm to the bore then not cleaning it, Unless it wet or got some mud or something that needs out RIGHT NOW.
The Bore snake is also something you need to avoid. Yes it is a gimmick that sounds great, but they get stuck. break off in the bore and the rope traps abrasive grit that you are sand papering your barrel with. Use a rod,Bore guide and brush and jag.
You may or may not have heard of KROIL . It is a penetrating oil that became popular over a decade ago as a cleaning product. It was used by BR shooters using moly coated bullets. I am not going to go into the details of why this was, but it was a flop. Kroil does not clean,it will help you take that rusty bolt off the bathroom door, but that sit. Don’t waste time or money on it. And while I am on it, Don;t use moly coated bullets. They are more trouble they worth and if used wrong, can damage the bore and promote rusting and pitting.
The above way of cleaning is not some revolutionary procedure. It is a simple method used for many years buy match winning BR shooters who need their barrels to be squeaky clean. Some of the barrels those guys used were so well made and lapped that wet patching was all it took to clean them. Copper and fouling would not stick. This was a huge advantage because the less time a rod is in a barrel. the less damage it does. You can over clean. You can clean your bore to death. If you use the method I wrote above you can often see a huge reduction if group size if all other things are quality. You can get an old warhorse shooting well again and get control of the fouling in your precision rig. Back int the day . we never shot more the 15 rounds before cleaning in this way. Yes it was a pain, but it kept the rifle shooting its best. That was quite an edge to have when trying to win. And when shooting at 1000 yards when a lot of things are already working against you, not loosing 3/4 minute from a fouled barrel makes a difference. A clean barrel is a happy barrel, just like a wet AR15 is a happy AR15. If you are new to guns or new to precision rifles, this is a tried and tested method for keeping that accurate barrel shooting its best and keeping fouling under control while not doing damage to it from bad cleaning habits.