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How to Clean a Shotgun: 4 Simple Steps for Gun Maintenance

How to Clean a Shotgun

Gun cleaning is part of proper gun maintenance that can help prevent clogging and corrosion in rifle or gun barrels, which can be dangerous.

I had to learn that the hard way.

When I was  just starting out, I used to be too lazy to clean my shotgun that I ultimately almost destroyed it!

By the end of my guide, you’ll have a shotgun that not only has fewer chances of getting a failed shot but will also keep looking shiny and brand-new!

Preparation Before You Clean a Shotgun ​

There are a few things you need to get to first before giving a thorough cleaning to your shotgun: Cleaning tools and a stripped-down shotgun.

Shotgun Cleaning Tools

Now that you’re all caught up, you can prepare the tools you’ll need for the routine cleaning of your gun.

The easiest way would be to purchase a shotgun cleaning kit from your local gun shop:

  • Bore cleaning rods and attachment
  • Chamber brush
  • Phosphor bronze bore brush
  • Cotton mop
  • Cleaning roll or patches
  • Brass cleaning jag, where you will attach the patches or rolls
  • Cloth for wiping
  • Cotton buds
  • Toothbrush, two if possible
  • Gun cleaning oil for the barrels
  • Grease for the hinges
  • Silicone oil or furniture polish for the wooden stock
  • Cleaning solvent, such as the Birchwood Casey Bore Scrubber or other powder solvents

Disassemble Your Shotgun

This part is also known as “field stripping” the shotgun.

Like a rifle, you will notice some differences with the different action types of the gun you have so the best way to start is by reading the manual.

As boring as that sounds, remember: this is a shotgun we’re talking about here. One blast and you’re as good as well…ancient.

So do us a favor and make sure you read the manual as you go along these steps.

Your shotgun owner’s manual will have the information you need to understand how to strip it down and any precautions when cleaning certain parts.

Here is a general rundown of what you’ll be doing:

Break Action Guns

Break action guns are the most common kind of shotgun (common, but still badass and powerful).

They’re compact since they can only hold a single shot and require more instances of reloading.

They can be found in double-barreled guns and single-shot rifles.

  1. Disconnect the fore-end then remove it from the barrels. For side-by-side or over/under shotguns, you just need to press the push button on top of the fore end.
  2. To disengage the barrels from the action hinge pins, you make use of the unlocking lever to break the barrels fully.
  3. With the lever completely open, the barrels can be taken apart from the action.

Semi-Automatic Guns

Semi-automatics can fire repeated shots and without the need for reloading after each pull of the trigger.

Gas-operated shotguns are likely to fall under this category, with the gas powering cycle of the action, ejecting the previous shell used, then loading the next round.

  1. Unscrew the cap and remove the magazine end of the semi-automatic shotgun.
  2. Next, pull out the gun’s fore-end.
  3. Lastly, remove the barrels, which can be pulled out of the receiver with a slight force or by knocking a bit on the action.

How to Clean Your Shotgun

Once the shotgun has been stripped down, I neatly lay out the parts so I don’t miss anything when I need to reassemble it later.

It also helps to work in a secure area that’s well-ventilated so that any accidents are contained while allowing any fumes and fine powder residue to circulate out.

Step 1: Start With the Exterior Surfaces

Step 1

I always start with a soft cloth that’s been dampened with gun oil and clean all the surface area you can reach on the action, barrel, and receiver.

Don’t forget the trigger itself, the trigger guard, and the unlocking lever. Be thorough!

Alongside a lightly oiled cloth, use a lightly-oiled toothbrush (or any soft-bristled brush) to remove dirt and other unwanted build-ups around the firing pins and hammer.

I also use cotton buds for any hard-to-reach place and wooden toothpicks work for small holes and grooves.

However, if you have a gas-operated shotgun, NEVER use any gun oil on the area around the gas valve, pin, and plunger.

And for automatics, do not oil the magazine tube, spring, and barrel friction rings.

Step 2: Scrub the Interior of the Barrel

Step 2

After the exterior, you can now focus on the inside of the bores.

But before you start scrubbing, keep it securely positioned on a horizontal workbench and layer a thick cloth under the gun to protect the workbench surface.

Spray some gun oil inside the barrel. Then using a chamber brush, scrub away residual powder or plastic around the cartridge area.

Next, get the phosphor bronze brush and attach it to the cleaning rod.

Spray some cleaning agent on the bore brush and insert it in each barrel from the action end until you reach the choke tubes then back to the chambers.

I pump at least 10-12 times to allow the dirt to break down and be dislodged.

Step 3: Remove the Residue

Step 3

Switch to the brass jag and with the cleaning roll or patch attached.

Make sure it fits snugly when you pump the cleaning rod in while being able to drag the dislodged residue out.

I replace the roll or patch when it gets too dirty and keep repeating until it comes out clean.

Next, swap the rod attachment to the cotton mop with a bit of gun lubricant. 

This acts as a final sweep for any leftover dirt while slightly lubricating the barrel walls.

Step 4: Reassembly

Step 4

Before reassembling the shotgun, I do a last cleaning of the exterior in case some of the removed residue is left on it.

Use the toothbrush and cotton buds the same way in Step 1.

For the wood stock, brush off any dirt with a clean toothbrush and wipe it over with a cleaning cloth.

Then, add a thin layer of silicone oil to lubricate it.

A good alternative I use here is furniture polish that can be sprayed. For hinges, they can be lubricated with small drops of grease.

The stock also needs some cleaning. Use a soft brass brush if your shotgun has chequering made from chamois leather.

After lubricating the parts thoroughly, you can now reassemble your gun and store it.

Now, that wasn’t so hard now, was it? 4 simple steps and your shotgun is as good as new.

Final Reminder: Gun Storage Tips

  • Do not leave your gun in a gun slip inside a gun safe. Air movement is required for your stored gun.
  • Do not use a gun safe with a heater or light bulb to avoid drying and cracks in your wooden stock.
  • Store guns barrel down so that any excess gun cleaning oil can be drained away from the stock.



Why Should You Clean Your Shotgun Regularly?

You can’t expect a rifle, shotgun, or any other gun for that matter to function well if you don’t take care of those sweet parts, right?

However, the main reason why you should make sure to deep clean a shotgun is SAFETY.

Imagine your shotgun getting jammed and as you try to check, the gun could suddenly discharge or shoot off by accident!

Not only would that be sad, but I also don’t want that for you.

Failure to successfully discharge or shoot often happens when guns are subject to corroded parts and unwanted build-up.

Typical culprits include dust, mud, small leaves, fumes, rust, and even sweat from your fingers.

Routine cleaning is a MUST!

How Do You Deal With a Soaked Shotgun?

Rust can be one of the most difficult issues you will encounter in taking care of your shotgun.

Unless your gun is made from quality stainless steel, the slightest moisture can cause rust stains and pits on your metalwork.

When your shotgun gets wet due to the weather or wet terrain, refuse the instinct to place it near a heat source since this will warp the stock.

I REPEAT: Don’t place it near a heat source.

The right way to dry it is by removing the fore-end and stock.

Wipe them down with toilet paper or an absorbent cloth and leave them to slowly air-dry in a warm room. Do the same for the action and barrels.

Afterward, clean and lightly oil the barrel and action.

How Often Should You Clean a Shotgun?

For Regular Use

It actually doesn’t matter how long and how much you’ve used the shotgun before you clean it.

I usually clean my shotguns every time I return from a shooting activity, whether I’ve used them or not.

This includes both cleaning and lubricating; no exceptions!

The reason is that even using it once exposes the gun to fumes, sweaty hands, and even a few drops of rain can cause rust.

However, you can limit the most thorough of your cleaning sessions when you shoot around 200 rounds.

To add, you should also regularly strip off old lubricants and replace them with a fresh coating.

Excess oil and grease can collect dust that can abrade the steel.

For Seasonal Use

For long-term storage, you can keep your gun clean and ready to use by spraying some oil into the barrels and swab a thin film of protective oil in the bores using a cotton mop.

I do this every 30-45 days while the gun is not in use.

For gas-operated types, focus on keeping the gas ports, gas system, and action springs clean before storing.

How Do I Clean a Shotgun Without Disassembling

It’s easy to do some light cleaning if you can’t do a full dismantling of your shotgun:

Spray some gun oil with cleaner into the barrel, or use solvent if the gun needs a deep cleaning.

Next, let the products soak in while the gun is resting on a horizontal workbench.

Why Are There So Many Kinds of Oils for Cleaning?

You may have noticed that there are many kinds of oils that you will need for cleaning.

It can be confusing since each type should only be used for specific parts.

Gun Oil

Gun oil may damage certain parts of your gun that aren’t metal. It should only be for metal parts and not for wooden ones like the stock.

Also, it is meant to perform certain functions. It has to be able to deal with heat and the usual residue from guns.

As an oil-based product, it prevents the need for other rust-causing liquid products just to lubricate the gun.


Grease is for hinges on your shotgun mainly because it can stick to surfaces better.

Since hinges don’t need fast movement, grease won’t come off as easily compared to other kinds of oils.

It not only lubricates but also has an added stickiness because it’s basically a mixture of oil with added thickeners.

Silicone Spray

Silicone spray is good for the wooden parts since these also need to be protected from moisture while still being able to shine.

Wood has different properties as metal so it requires a different kind of lubricant.

Silicone lubricants work since they’re lightweight while still being long-lasting.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

Once I’ve learned the ins and outs of your shotgun, cleaning my shotgun has become a relaxing, new ritual.

If you’re new to cleaning your shotgun, it can take some time to hunt down, procure, and understand the function of all the products in the cleaning kit. 

However, the effort will be worth it to keep your gun in top condition.

Be careful at all times while cleaning your gun!

It’s important to remember simple yet vital steps like making sure to unload the gun first or keeping the front end of the barrel pointed away from you or anyone else.

I hope my guide helped you learn how to give your shotgun a thorough cleaning the correct way!

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