New or veteran shooters alike will all eventually discover and covet their own favorite gun-cleaning stink juice. Hell-bent, throwing caution to the wind, we take up bottles of God-knows-what to slather our firearms in. Viscous fluids to eat away fouling and prevent corrosion on our precious things that go bang. Never-minding what these chemicals might be doing to us as we inhale the fumes, topically endure and possibly even ingest chemicals that could be more damaging than runoff from your average fertilizer plant.
So what’s a gun owner to do? What should we use? How should we use it? In this buying guide, let’s explore the world of gun cleaning solvents and then take that knowledge to put together a dream cleaning kit that we can all be proud of.
The Three Virtues of a Cleaning Solvent
Any good gun cleaning solvent will have three important aspects to it to make it a valuable product to be considered for long term use. These three virtues are as follows:
- Fouling Removal – Obviously the main reason you would use a solvent in the first place. The chemical should both dissolve and lift-away fouling residue as well as aid in the controlled removal of other deposits that can occur in gun barrels such as lead, copper, salts, plastics, etc.
- Protection Layer – Use of this chemical should not only clean the affected areas, but leave a super-thin layer of protective coating that should help make future cleanings easier and protect from dirt, corrosion and other environmental conditions.
- Non-Destructive – Our clean-o fluid must not harm us, others or our firearms. Some will teeter dangerously on the edge of this virtue, causing discoloration, but we shall squint carefully at those.
The following products are listed in no particular order and must meet at least two of our three criteria listed above.
Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber
Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber is an interesting product by design and purpose. While it can be used in the traditional way cleaning solvents are used in firearms, Gun Scrubber is intended to saturate the dirty areas of the firearm and “flush out” all the fouling and dirt without having to disassemble the gun. While this will work in some cases, others will require at least some form of breakdown in the more closed firearm designs. This product will not harm wooden stocks, synthetics, camo patterns, etc. However, it is not recommended for long term exposure of skin. Meets 2 of 3 virtues in that this does not leave a protective layer in the gun, it dries completely. You must use additional lubrication after cleaning with this product.
M-Pro 7 Gun Cleaner
M-Pro 7 Gun Cleaner acts not only as a solvent for fouling and dirt, but doubles equally well as a copper and lead remover, something which usually requires the purchase of another product. This creation is completely odorless, non-flammable, non-toxic, biodegradable and environmentally safe to use, which is a rarity. M-Pro 7 cannot be used on wooden stocks, however, because it will stain the wood as it dissolves away the natural oils and oiled stock finishes. It does, however, leave a protective coating on all the metal surfaces that will help prevent future rusting and corrosion.
The staple of any gun bench is undoubtedly the venerable Hoppe’s No. 9. The ancient cult following of this solvent is backed by the mantra; “It’s okay if you don’t start with Hoppes, but you’ll probably end up with it.” Good for removing powder fouling, loosening corrosion and metal deposits in barrels. It also removes rust and leaves a coating to help prevent rust and is safe for all surfaces (and is even beneficial to wood surfaces) and makes a hell of a mixer at parties (just kidding on that one!). Some would say that it stinks to high heaven, but personally I like the smell of this great solvent. Hoppes #9 meets all three of our virtues for cleaning solvents.
Hoppes Elite Gun Cleaner
With the Elite Gun Cleaner, Hoppes has taken #9 high-tech. The official description contains lots of “bonding agents, corrosion inhibitors, and surfactants condition and protect the metal to help repel future fouling buildup” and all that sort of rot. But the fact that remains most impressive with this particular product is the fact that it does the same job as good old Hoppes, yet with no odor whatsoever. As mentioned, I happen to like the smell of Hoppes, but that’s neither here nor there. If you are looking for something odorless, this is a good choice.
Rem Action Cleaner
While technically Remington Action Cleaner is a degreaser more than it is a cleaner, the fact that it lifts away petroleum and synthetic based oils and residues makes it a very decent option for the gun bench cleaning option. It does only meet two of our criteria, though, as it dries completely and does not leave a protective layer. This will necessitate a liberal coating of gun oil to help prevent friction and corrosion.
Break Free CLP
The Break Free CLP is a lightning bolt of the cleaning solvent industry. It is touted as a super cleaner, lubricant and preservative containing Teflon, as well as other specialized ingredients. The lubrication is supposed to also create a thin film that fouling cannot adhere to. It also protects against exposure to salt water and will not allow corrosion to form. While it would seem that this product easily meets all three criteria, it should be noted that this solvent/cleaner is extremely hazardous to human health and should only be used in well-ventilated areas and limit all exposure to bare skin. Break Free CLP also has Mil Spec: MIL-L-63460.
Developed in Europe over 90 years ago, Ballistol may not be the fastest cleaner in the west, nor the most popular, not even the most heard of, but it sure works great. If you’ve got a little time to let the product sit for a bit after application, you will be hard pressed to find a better cleaner, solvent, lead/copper/brass remover, and lubricant all in one bottle. This cleaner provides protection against corrosion and rust. It also coats and leaves a light film to protect firearm barrels and stocks. Moreover, it won’t harden over time. It offers a mild alkaline solution which will neutralize the acid that eats away at the interiors of gun barrels. It also destroys tough powder residue and mixes well with water. Because of its great cleaning features it is great to use with corrosive ammo (when necessary, right, Mosin Nagant users?). This product also happens to be completely non-toxic. I would not go so far as to day you could drink it, but maybe just shy of. It will not harm anything it comes into contact with. Just remember to let it soak a bit.
So that’s our list of considerations to give in the world of gun cleaning solvents. Some of the options we have here also offer gel or foaming options, supposedly designed to guarantee access into those little nooks and crannies, but those are usually more expensive and gimmicky at best.