Why not just use CLP?
CLP or Cleaning, Lubricating, Protection solution is a jack of all trades product that doesn’t excel in more than one area. Each brand is different; some clean very well but don’t lubricate or prevent rust. Others are fantastic rust preventers, but they don’t get the firearm clean. CLP is needed in the field, but once you get to your home base, it is better to bring out the dedicated cleaners, shine it up like new, then grease and oil it before you put it in your gun safe.
The question is, which products are better than CLP? Thankfully the cheap cleaners are better than the best CLP at cleaning, but these are guns, so start with Hoppes #9.
Cabon Fouling cleaners
Carbon fouling results from burned gun powder baking, yes baking onto the insides of your rifle. If you ever cooked fish in the oven for too long, you understand just what an insane task is to clean off the carbon residing from metal. It bakes on forms a nearly metal skin on top of the old metal, and no amount of scrapping will shift it without drastic measures.
Carbon removers in CLP work. It is what the C stands for, after all; however, the CLP solution also needs to lubricate the metal and protect it from rust. It is not an easy, fast, or fun cleaning; in fact, many times, it will only remove the surface layer. Much like the fish pan, the carbon in a gun barrel doesn’t come out with any amount of scrubbing.
This is where specialized cleaning solvents come in. Hoppes #9 is not the harshest cleaner, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of CLPs like BreakFree. Hoppes is usually considered one of the more mild cleaning solvents.
Copper fouling comes from the copper-jacketed bullets being scraped off and melted into the grooves of the rifling. Typically, it doesn’t affect accuracy much, but it does slowly turn a high-precision firearm into a smooth bore if not treated.
Copper Cleaners come in two forms, Ammonia and Ammonia Free; you should pay attention to which you use in your firearm because Ammonia can react with chemicals and be harmful to your health if misused. Unfortunately, Ammonia-based cleaners are much more effective against copper fouling than ammonia-free products.
Copper Cleaners turn copper fouling into a greenish goop that can be scrubbed out of a barrel, and if you thought that fish oil-stained metal, just wait until you attempt to remove the copper alloy from your barrel without a copper cleaner.
How to clean a firearm?
Cleaning a firearm is exactly like doing the dishes. Remove the large debris, use your cleaning agent, scrub, remove the dirty solution and then dry. Much like dishes, few people do it very well, there are always arguments about doing it, and no one wants to do it until they absolutely have to. So what are the quick steps?
- Wipe the outside of the firearm
- Open Action and wipe off any dirt or carbon with your cleaning solvent.
- Damp a mop and wet your barrel
- Scrub the barrel with a nylon or brass brush 10-30 times
- Remove loosened dirt and carbon with a wet patch
- Mop out barrel
- Run dry patches until they come out clean and dry.
- Repeat steps 3-5 until clean.
- If your firearm still isn’t as clean as you would like, use copper remover
- Dry patch barrel and action
- Lubricate action and grease moving parts.
Hoppes #9 is the most used gun cleaner in the world. Hoppes was started in 1903 by a farmer looking to make his life a bit easier. He combined nine chemicals into one of the best carbon and degreasing solutions for guns. I don’t know if there has been a gun owner that hasn’t used Hoppes #9 cleaning solvent at some point, and for good reason. Hoppes is gentle on steel and polymer, smells fantastic, and most importantly, it works, though it may need a bit of elbow grease if you skip cleanings. Hey, we aren’t all perfect.
If you haven’t used Hoppes #9 in the past, it is time to grab some and see how much easier it is to clean your firearm than using a CLP like Breakfree. In our test, it took about 15 strokes less to get a clean swab than our CLP control group, the power of a dedicated cleaning solution. But Hoppes #9 also has one other amazing feature. If you leave it in your gun too long, unlike some other cleaners on the list, there is little to no damage, meaning you can get home, swab your guns and take a break, come back and swab it again without worrying about damage to your firearm.
We recommend grabbing a big jug of Hoppes and using it as your neutral base for any cleaning. It is low reactive for most other cleaners, a byproduct of the gentle nature and combination of chemicals that make up Hoppes #9. Also, the smell is just amazing.
Hoppes Black is Hoppes #9 on steroids; while it still has the gentle nature of the #9, Hoppes Black is great for when you don’t want to put the elbow grease into cleaning your mag dump AR-15 or your high round count pistol. Hoppes Black was formulated specifically for breaking up modern propellants, the leading cause of carbon buildup, beating out #9 by nearly half the cleaning time.
Hoppes idealogy of cleaning smarter, not harder, is evident in Hoppes Black; unfortunately, the price is high for the ease of cleaning, still one of the cheaper cleaners. The Hoppes Black line also has a full range of products that work best with each other, meaning you don’t need to worry about cross-contamination or chemical issues when using it.
Buy a small bottle and use it when you get those beautiful high round days at the range. It strips the cooked on carbon fast.
Frog Lube Solvent
Frog Lube is an environmentally friendly cleaning solvent. Now being green doesn’t make this any less of a cleaner; it degreases and removes carbon hard and fast. It’s food safe and my bottles keep mysteriously disappearing into the kitchen, apparently, it is the absolute best granite countertop cleaner, and it smells nice.
If you haven’t seen the tech demo of Frog Lube, they add a bit of Frog Lube solvent to an inch of water and drop in a dirty barrel. The Frog Lube works as a detergent-like a sink full of dishes and strips the carbon and dirt clean of the barrel. A quick wipe down and a bit of lubrication later the gun is ready to shoot.
Not all gun cleaners can clean the gun without any scrubbing but Frog Lube can do it. Add a bit of elbow grease and the Frog Lube paste seasoning the barrel and the dirt will just melt off.
Sweets 7.62 is an amazing cleaning; it gets the deep down crap loose when you have been running high round counts or haven’t cleaned your gun as much as you should. The problem is that it is highly corrosive on some metals and stinks. You want good ventilation when you use it, and never ever, ever let it dry in the barrel of your gun. 7 minutes is the max you want to let it sit in your barrel.
Sweets 7.62 is an amazing copper cleaner, it just turns copper into a green slime, and it wipes out of the barrel quickly. Afterward, you want to mop the barrel immediately after to prevent damage to your barrel. Sweets 7.62 is the best copper solvent when you really need to deep clean your rifle.
J-B Bore cleaning Paste
J-B Borecleaning Paste is a strange product if all you have ever used to clean is liquid cleaners. Liquid cleaners work by softening the carbon deposits then scrubbing them out with brass or nylon brushes. It leaves an interesting surface inside your barrel that looks like alligator skin, patches of copper, and carbon buildup in the groves that form in the microscopic flaws in the barrel.
J-B Borecleaning Paste is an ultra-fine grit polish that scrubs the bore clean and polishes it to a mirror shine. It is a superior clean for accuracy, but it is labor-intensive. You start by cleaning your barrel with a solvent like Hoppes, then you saturate a patch with oil and rub a bit of J-B paste onto the patch. Stroke it through 30 times, changing your patches as needed, and you will end up with a mirror-like finish that will form a superior seal with your bullet when firing.
This is not for your everyday clean, at least not if you want to have rifling left in your barrel. The micro-abrasive paste is extremely effective at cleaning, but it can cause damage if used improperly.
Yes, these cleaning products already come in bottles, but most use a wide mouth system designed to dunk a patch into, great for speed but terrible for keeping your cleaning chemicals dirt and debris free. Solvent bottles from Sinclair not only have handy pour spouts but also allow you to buy your cleaning solutions in bulk and meter it out as needed. Sinclair uses BPA plastic that is food safe if you plan on eating off your rifle or think that tequila is a good addition to your hunting field kit.
They are just small cheap bottles, but since you can use them to save you money, they make the list as a great product we highly recommend. Grab some and keep your chemicals effective for longer and keep the mess down.
No matter what you use the best cleaner is a bit of elbow grease.
Andrew Maurer is a Precision Rifle Series competition shooter and gunsmith. Building competition rifles for over 12 years. He works as a big game hunting guide in Iowa, South Dakota and Arizona. He is also a political scientist studying the effects of gun control on society. He teaches youth rifle shooting. You can find info on me here.