Cleaning a Bolt-Action Rifle

A guide to keeping your gun in working condition

Rifles are an essential piece of equipment for every hunter. It is important to maintain your rifle, regardless of its age, cost or action type. I find satisfaction in knowing that my firearms are clean, fully inspected and ready for any adventure.


A good cleaning regime is paramount when it comes to keeping your gun in its best working form.

First, gather everything you will need. This includes:


  • Disposable gloves: To prevent cleaning solvents/chemicals from damaging your skin.
  • Cloth rags and paper towels.
  • Bore guide: This guides your cleaning rod into the barrel.
  • Cleaning rod: A one-piece coated cleaning rod. This avoids doing any damage to the throat or the rifling.
  • Calibre brush: I do not use bronze or brass brushes, as they may damage riflings, but instead use nylon brushes. You’ll require a nylon brush that is one calibre smaller than the barrel, as it will be used with a cotton patch wrapped around it. For example, if cleaning a .30-06, use a .284 nylon brush with a .30 calibre patch.
  • Cleaning patches: Always use the correct size for the calibre of the rifle. Cotton patches are the best.
  • Bore cleaner: Used to remove the carbon deposits.
  • Copper solvent/cleaner: This is used to remove copper fouling.
  • Rust protector/lubrication: This protects your firearm from rust. Rifles with blued barrels are more prone to rusting, but stainless will rust as well. Use very sparingly.
  • Gun vice: This is used to hold the rifle securely and safely while you work on it.
  • Allen/Torx wrenches: To check the tightness of scope mounts and sling swivels.

Let’s Get Started

First and foremost, make sure your rifle is proven safe. It should be unloaded, and the barrel pointed in a safe direction. Remove the magazine, if the rifle has a detachable magazine. Open the action and visually inspect it before going any further.

Place the rifle in the gun vice, remove the bolt and set it aside. Inspect the rifle for any loose screws, broken parts or cracks. Make sure to check your scope mounts and sling swivel studs. Take a clean cloth or paper towel and wipe everything down to remove loose dust, mud or grit.


In the case of synthetic stocks and some finishes on wooden stocks, chemicals such as mosquito repellent can damage the stock. Make sure to wipe down your stock with a cloth dampened with warm, soapy water to remove those chemicals.

Now, we are ready to clean the barrel. Always clean the barrel from the breech. The first step is to remove the powder residue. Attach a clean patch around the nylon brush and soak it with the bore cleaner.

Run the first wet patch completely through the bore and remove the patch. Pull the rod out and attach another patch to the brush and soak it again with bore cleaner. Now, insert this patch into the barrel and work it slowly back and forth for the entire length of the barrel five or six times, and then remove the rod from the barrel and discard the patch. Run two more soaked patches once through the barrel, followed by two dry patches to get all the cleaner out. Make sure to keep any solvent off your stock, as it can damage the finish.

Once you have completed cleaning the barrel, soak a clean rag or paper towel with the bore cleaner and wipe down the inside of the magazine box, bolt face and bolt and trigger guard – basically any and all metal parts. If some of the parts are particularly crusted in gunk, you can use a toothbrush to clean those parts.

The next step is to use the copper cleaner. Using the same nylon brush wrapped with a patch soaked with copper cleaner, run it directly through the barrel once and allow the solvent to sit no more than 10 minutes. Allowing it to sit in the barrel longer can actually damage your rifling. Once 10 minutes has elapsed, run a couple dry patches through the barrel. If they show a lot of copper build up, use the copper cleaner one more time. After 10 minutes, run a couple more dry patches through the bore.

If you are going to store your firearm for a period of time, run a patch with a small amount of oil on it through the barrel and give a light coat to all external metal parts as well. It’s always a good idea to run one dry patch through the barrel before shooting a rifle if it’s been stored with oil in it.

I can’t emphasize enough about the necessity of having a regular cleaning regime. You won’t be sorry.