How Long Can a Gun Sit Without Being Cleaned? A Complete Guide


The cleaning process is an essential part of routine firearm maintenance, but how long should you leave a gun to sit before cleaning it? Not every gun necessarily needs the same degree of care — it depends on several factors. In this article, we’ll cover why, when, and how you should clean your firearms to keep them in proper working condition. 

Here is a link to our recommended gun cleaning kit.

How Long Can a Gun Sit Without Being Cleaned?

A high-quality gun can sit upwards of 50+ years without being cleaned and still be safe to fire if stored in a climate-controlled area not exposed to the elements.

Self-defense and duty firearms are lifesaving tools that you should maintain at regular intervals. You don’t have to clean recreational firearms as frequently, however, as the stakes are lower. Overall, it depends on the kind of ammunition you fire in it, how you store it, and its primary purpose.

Why Clean a Gun?

Guns are complex machines that need periodic maintenance to work properly. This maintenance comprises cleaning and lubrication. When you fire a gun, the propellant in the cartridge case ignites, producing high-pressure expanding gases. These gases drive the bullet through the barrel. As the gases cool, they deposit residue in the bore and action. This is called fouling or, more specifically, powder fouling. Fouling can also encompass lead and copper residue left behind by the bullet in the rifling grooves. 

Powder fouling adheres to the bolt, slide, and other moving parts, creating a buildup. Depending on the firearm, this may cause stoppages or sluggish operation. In the barrel, fouling of all types can affect accuracy. For these reasons, you should clean your firearms periodically. But how often you should clean your weapons can vary.

For example, if you store or carry a firearm for a prolonged period of time, it’s possible for the gun to collect dust or lint. Always check your guns for contamination or bore obstructions that could interfere with functional reliability. If you live in a particularly humid environment, applying heavy grease can provide a layer of long-term rust protection. Otherwise, store your weapons in a sealed container with a moisture-absorbing desiccant to ensure the surrounding air remains dry.

When Should You Clean a Gun?

Some gun owners leave their firearms for months or years without being cleaned. For non-essential firearms — i.e., those used for recreational purposes — this may be acceptable. The pistol you shoot at bowling pins on weekends doesn’t need to be in immaculate condition. However, the firearms that you depend on to keep you and your family safe need to be maintained on a regular basis to ensure reliable operation. One of the principal factors to consider for a defensive firearm is reliability — it must fire every time you press the trigger. 

Self-Defense and Duty Firearms

When you carry a concealed handgun, there are several factors you should take into account when determining how frequently you should clean it. You should, ideally, practice with your CCW as often as possible to maintain your shooting proficiency. When you shoot regularly, your weapon needs regular care to remain in optimal working order.

However, there’s another factor to consider — sweat. If you carry your handgun in an inside-the-waistband holster pressed closely against your body for prolonged periods, your weapon may be exposed to perspiration. To prevent rust from forming on steel parts as a result, you should wipe the external surfaces of your firearm with a lightly oiled shop rag or lint-free cleaning cloth every time you dismount it for the day. 

Fortunately, most modern holsters have partial or full sweat shields, also known as sweat guards, to minimize exposure. If you typically carry your handgun in a pocket holster, you should also check the barrel and action for lint or other foreign debris. This also applies to rifles or shotguns that you store for hunting season or competitive shooting. 

Black-Powder Firearms

If you own a muzzleloading rifle or pistol, or a cap-and-ball revolver, you should clean it as soon as possible after every shooting session. The reason is that black powder is hygroscopic — it attracts moisture in the air. To avoid this problem, clean the powder fouling off internal and external surfaces, paying particular attention to the bore.

Here is a link to our recommended gun cleaning kit.  

Corrosive Ammunition

Aside from black-powder firearms, you also need to be aware of corrosively primed ammunition. Most modern military and civilian ammunition in the U.S. is non-corrosive; however, military surplus ammunition manufactured overseas may differ. Fortunately, most corrosive ammunition is appropriately labeled, so you can take the necessary precautions. 

If you fire corrosive ammunition in a rifle or handgun, you should clean it the same day. Don’t leave the weapon to sit overnight, as combustion products, such as potassium chloride and sodium chloride, can corrode the rifling in the barrel and damage action parts. 

How to Clean Your Firearms

The process of cleaning a firearm requires some basic preparation. As you’ll need to partially or completely disassemble your firearm, adequate overhead lighting and sufficient space are requirements. It’s advisable to wear a pair of medical exam gloves when handling gun parts and cleaning products. Latex or hypoallergenic nitrile will protect your skin against lead residue and solvents. 

Safety — Unloading


Before handling, disassembling, or attempting to clean a firearm, it’s imperative that you unload it. In semi-automatic pistols and rifles, you unload the weapon by first removing the magazine and retracting the slide or charging handle to clear and inspect the chamber. The unloading procedure differs from one firearm type to another, so consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer if you’re unsure how to safely handle your firearm. Alternatively, you can attend a firearms safety class. 



Most semi-automatic firearms — handguns and rifles — only require field stripping for routine cleaning and lubrication. If you’re unfamiliar with how your firearm disassembles, consult the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for more information. 

You usually won’t need to disassemble the gun further unless you’ve dropped it in sand or mud. Under these circumstances, if you’re not comfortable attempting to perform a detail strip yourself, you should contact the manufacturer or locate a suitable gunsmith. You don’t need to disassemble double-action/single-action (DA/SA) revolvers for routine cleaning; you can simply swing the cylinder out to the side to gain access to the chambers and barrel. 

Here is a link to our recommended gun cleaning kit.

What to Clean Your Guns With

The cleaning process for most firearms is fairly simple. You will need a cleaning solvent, such as Hoppe’s No. 9, and a good gun oil (e.g., Remington Rem Oil).

Here is a link to our recommended gun cleaning kit.

(Don’t dip a brush, cotton swab, or patch directly into the solvent bottle unless it’s clean, as this can introduce contaminants.) You will need a cleaning rod for the barrel, caliber-specific cleaning rod attachments, a coarse shop rag or lint-free cleaning cloth for external surfaces, and a utility brush for scrubbing. Cotton swabs are also useful for tight spaces.

Attach an appropriately sized bore brush to the cleaning rod, dip the brush into the solvent, and insert it into the barrel from the breech end. Push the brush through to the muzzle and retract it. This will deposit the solvent in the bore. Allow the solvent to break down the powder, copper, and lead fouling in the barrel while you attend to the other parts of the gun.

Use the coarse shop rag or dry brush to wipe or scrub all external surfaces. If you introduce solvent first, it may create more of a mess. For a semi-automatic pistol, you can wipe down the slide rails, the inside of the slide, and the mating surfaces of the frame. Scrub and wipe all articulating surfaces, including the trigger mechanism.

When cleaning a revolver with a swing-out cylinder, pay close attention to the space under the extractor star. Unburnt powder particles or other debris collecting under the star can prevent the cylinder from closing.

Once you’ve wiped or scrubbed the other parts as needed, attach a jag to your cleaning rod and use it to run cleaning patches through the barrel from breech to muzzle. The jag ensures that the cleaning patch will fall away when you retract the rod, avoiding the redeposit of fouling in the bore. Continue this process until the patches are white.

In Conclusion

Wiping down a rifle or pistol you plink with every now and then is usually sufficient. For self-defense firearms, regardless of whether you shoot them often, you should inspect them for wear, damage, fouling, and debris, removing these as necessary. Incorporate cleaning and lubrication into your standard maintenance routine, and your firearms will continue to function reliably for years.
Here is a link to our recommended gun cleaning kit.


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