Getting your car’s oil changed comes with some pretty clear guidelines. The standard across the board is typically three months or 3,000 miles — with some variance based on the age, make, and model of your vehicle. When it comes to basic gun maintenance (i.e. cleaning and lubrication), there isn’t such a clear marker. Modern materials and manufacturing processes mean most firearms don’t need to be cleaned as often as older guns. So how often is enough? Well, the reason there’s no easy answer is because it depends on several factors, including:
Among all the factors that go into determining how often you need to clean a firearm, the biggest thing to consider is how much use it sees. If you have different guns for different purposes, say, hunting versus concealed carry, a gun that sees less use won’t need to be cleaned as frequently. The guns you use more often, especially the firearm you concealed-carry, will need to be cleaned more frequently because it’s more likely to collect dirt and debris that can cause a misfire or jam. A good rule of thumb is to clean your firearm after around 250 rounds, though you’ll want to keep an eye on debris build-up. The more build-up, the more risk of wear and corrosion. If you notice build-up happening, you may want to clean your firearm more frequently. You may also want to adjust the amount of lubricant you use, as too much can speed up how quickly your gun will accumulate gunk.
Not only does use refer to how often and how many rounds you’re firing, but it also encapsulates where you’re shooting. Taking a gun to the range will generate plenty of dirtying particles just by the nature of shooting. This goes doubly for any blowback operated firearm, like the AR 15, because the blowback process sends even more debris into all the little nooks and crannies within a firearm. That being said, if you’re shooting outside — hunting or maybe just enjoying a little plinking — you’ll need to consider environmental factors as well. Not only will you have the debris from firing, but you may end up with dirt, pollen, and other little particles collecting in your firearm. Shooting outdoors also presents a risk because of moisture. If you’re out hunting on a rainy day, you’ll want to give your gun a thorough cleaning even if you don’t fire a single shot. This way, you can be sure there isn’t moisture stuck inside that can cause damage.
If a firearm doesn’t see a lot of use, it’s pretty easy to fall into thinking it doesn’t need to be cleaned. After all, you definitely took it apart gave it a thorough once-over before storing it in your gun safe, right? No big deal, it’s probably good to go for a while. In addition, if it only sees light use (plinking or occasional, light range time), most modern firearms can handle going a few months between cleanings. That being said, even if a firearm has been in storage for a while, it will still need to be cleaned on occasion. Basic environmental factors like humidity and salt content in the air can collect on a gun over time, so it will need to be given basic maintenance every so often even if it isn’t being used at all. Fortunately, this is maintenance that will go pretty quickly; usually, all that’s needed is a visual inspection, wipe down, and re-oiling.
It may seem like a hassle to clean your firearms, especially if they haven’t been fired in months. However, it’s a vital part of gun ownership, especially if you want to work toward heirloom status. The guns that have been around for decades weren’t just made with magically durable materials; they were well cared for by their owners over the years. When it comes to AR 15s specifically, cleaning is also a great time to check for wear and to replace components that may need it. That way, you can enjoy the same great experience every time.