Firearms are tools. Very expensive tools which have exacting tolerances, and which are subjected to extreme environmental conditions. Every single actuation of these tools subjects certain parts of the tool to thousands of pounds per square inch of pressure, hot gas, and high impact. Not to mention dirt, dust, grime, and filth from the field. Unbelievably though, I still meet shooters who swear that they abuse their guns right out of the box to test “reliability”, or “durability”. Would they do the same with a $300 DeWalt miter saw or framing nailer? I doubt it. They want their tools to last!
Your first step in cleaning your pistol is to put the owner’s manual out of the plastic case it came in which was thrown in the corner of your closet. Read it thoroughly. Get to know all of the parts of the pistol as intimately as you can. Remember, this is the manual which the manufacturer approved and sent out. Forums are full of experts who will tell you everything you need to know right up until their misinformation ruins your gun and voids your warranty.
Use your manual to see if there are any specified solvents, cleaning agents, and lubricants. More importantly, make sure you are not using any prohibited products. This goes doubly for any accessories you have on your weapon which may be sensitive to harsh chemicals. Some night sight rings are merely painted on (as opposed to Night Fision, which use a ballistic polymer ring), and harsh solvent will wear off the paint.
Once you have determined what products are acceptable for use on your specific firearm(s) and have gathered them up, find a flat, sturdy surface to work on which is cleared off. None of these workbenches with an exploded Edelbrock carb and Slick 50 residue all over it. There are lots of tiny little parts on firearms which you do not want to lose, so clear the clutter. Also, make sure it is well lit and well ventilated space. Bore Blaster and other solvents are potent and noxious.
My preference is to lay out newspaper covering the entire work surface so spilled chemicals are easier to clean and contain.
You really should get some good disposable, chemical resistant gloves. Known carcinogens do not care who you are and do not think you are a tough guy; they are equal opportunity. Besides, Hoppes does not go well with Pringles afterwards. Also, throw on a pair of safety glasses. Overspray from Rem Oil and Bore Blaster will seriously irritate your eyes, so just do it.
I always set out some sort of bowl for gun parts during disassembly. You can buy a magnetic parts bowl, but a disposable plastic lunch container works great, too. Just something where you can maintain accountability of all pieces.
Make sure that your bore brushes are the correct size, and that your cotton strips are suitably sized. They need to be big enough to make complete contact with the barrel walls and rifling, but not so big that they get jammed.
I like to use medical forceps to clamp a piece of cloth with solvent or oil (depending on what the manual calls for) to clean the slide, the magazine well, and the internal mechanisms. This allows for a much more thorough cleaning than using your clumsy fingers, and better than tweezers because forceps clamp. They are easy to find online and can be bought in a huge array of sizes, shapes, and curvature of the bills.
Aside these basic tips, follow your manual. Every single manual tells you exactly how to clean that specific make and model. Firearms are not one-size-fits-all; follow the specific instructions. If your Glock only calls for a single drop of firearm oil on three or four locations, then follow the instructions. Do not empty a can of Rem Oil into and onto your gun. It is wasteful and just leaves you with a greasy, oily mess which serves as a great conduit of dirt collection the next time you shoot it.
In a nutshell, just follow the rules that you learned in shop class (do they still call it “shop”?):
- Read the instructions.
- Wear your safety gear.
- Make sure it is unloaded and safed.
- Don’t use the wrong lube and solvents.
- Use the correct lube and solvents.
- Make sure it is unloaded and safed, again.
- Enjoy! You are still getting to play around with your firearm. Make shooting noises and engage imaginary targets; we all do it. Nobody is going to judge you.
- Wash up and get the solvents, lead, and other scuz off of your skin and clothing.
- Rinse and repeat every time you shoot. Take care of your investment!