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Updated Jun 16, 2023 11:19 AM
Gun cleaning solvents cut through powder residue, carbon fouling, copper and lead buildup, and more to keep your firearms operating smoothly. It doesn’t matter if it’s your great-grandpa’s lever-action rifle that you want to pass down to your kids or a brand-new pistol with a threaded barrel for some suppressed plinking fun, the goal is to keep them both running smoothly for decades to come.
In order to do this, you’ve got to have a system for good gun maintenance, which usually involves putting together a gun cleaning kit of your choosing so that you are able to keep your guns clean no matter what the situation may be. The first step to cleaning a gun is to eliminate all of your shooting build-up. The best way to break through all the grime and residue from shooting is to use the best gun solvents possible.
How We Picked The Best Gun Cleaning Solvents
In my years as a firearm historian, I have used a variety of products to ensure the arms in a collection stay protected. The number one concern of someone charged with the preservation of museum objects is to ensure their proper working order and their longevity. As such, I’ve also had plenty of conversations with colleagues at similar institutions not only in the US but around the world regarding what we think works best.
There are a lot of different gun solvents on the market and they’re not all created equal. It’s not that any one product is really any better than another. In most cases, some of them are very similar. However, you will find that some do more than others. In some cases, less really is more. As a result, it might make the most sense for you to have more than one gun solvent on hand.
Off the top of my head, I can name a dozen of them as I sit here writing this. And there are no less than four different ones in my cleaning kit right now. The ones on this list were chosen with a variety of criteria in mind, including:
- Cost: In general, gun solvents aren’t expensive. Still, money doesn’t grow on trees and you don’t want to waste your money on products that over-promise and under-deliver. You won’t find those here.
- Prevalence: If you see a certain product on every gun bench, chances are high that it isn’t a coincidence. There are some gun solvents that are found everywhere and have been for decades, and that’s with good reason.
- Application: The gun solvents on this list are available in a variety of application methods. This is important because not everyone wants or needs a giant bottle of oil when a precision applicator or spray can is really needed.
- Performance: If a gun solvent doesn’t work well, then it isn’t worth using. That’s pretty simple, right? It’s got to be trusted to clean, lubricate, and protect your guns.
The Best Gun Cleaning Solvents: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Hoppe’s No. 9 Gun Bore Cleaner
- Available in multiple size containers
- Use on pistols, rifles, and shotguns
- Also a great rust inhibitor
- Can be found everywhere
- Available in a variety of different delivery mediums
- Removes all different kinds of build-up and debris
- Iconic scent may not be ideal in hunting situations
The Hoppe’s No. 9 family of gun care products is legendary. The company’s gun bore cleaner will easily remove powder, lead, and carbon build-up, as well and breaking loose any abrasive materials that could damage your gun. This family of products is easy to use, works quickly, is super-efficient, and is safe. In addition to quickly breaking down crud, it also prevents rust.
You can buy it in bottles, aerosol cans, and jugs to best fit your needs. Because it is part of the larger No. 9 products, it works incredibly well with their gun oil and grease products. Oh, and who could forget the iconic Hoppe’s smell? You won’t find it anywhere else.
Best Non-Toxic: CLP by Sage & Braker
- Fine mist spray bottle
- Proudly made in USA
- Three in one: clean, lubricate, protect
- A little bit goes a long way
Sage & Braker makes a bold claim that their CLP is the most advanced and powerful “Clean, Lube, and Protect” product to ever hit the market. And it manages to do so while remaining non-toxic. The formula is bio-based, and non-hazardous. So, you can clean your guns without having to open a window.
The CLP by Sage & Braker penetrates down to a microscopic level to remove absolutely all of the copper, lead, and carbon fouling on your gun. Then, its lubricating properties provide improved heat dissipation resulting in cooler firearm operation temperatures when you’re shooting. Finally, Sage & Braker’s CLP uses an anti-static formula that greatly reduces static electricity, which rejects the attachment of carbon and other contaminants when you shoot next time. In turn, that means your gun will be easier to clean after the first use of this CLP.
Best for Rifles: M-Pro7 Gun Cleaner
- Safe on all metals including titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel
- Biodegradable and non-toxic formula
- Completely odorless for those who don’t like gun cleaning smells
- Can be used in a tank as an immersion cleaning solvent
- Removes even tough, embedded carbon
- Not for use on stock finishes that are oil-based
- It’s only a cleaner; it does not lubricate
M-Pro7 Gun Cleaner makes cleaning your rifle even easier because it actually breaks down carbon fouling so that the buildup floats free and more quickly cleaned up. The M-Pro7 formula is designed to strip your rifle’s gunmetal free of all contaminants while also depositing a thin, rust-inhibiting film behind that doesn’t feel oily or gummy. If you’ve got a big cleaning project to tackle, you can use M-Pro7 Gun Cleaner in a tank and utilize heat and agitation to make the cleaning and removal of even the most stubborn grime fast and easy.
Though this cleaner is fast and effective, it does not provide and protection. You must follow up with a coat of oil or other protective substance when you have finished cleaning. Also, take care not to let it come in contact with oil-based stock finishes, as it will can strip them as well.
Best Spray: Ballistol
- Aerosol or non-aerosol spray options available
- Aerosol propellant is a propane/butane blend with no CFCs
- Good for lots of other products, too – not just guns
- Will not harden or thicken over time
- Protects wood gun stocks from humidity and bugs
- Also available as a wipe and in big jugs if spray isn’t what you need
- If there are any, I haven’t found them
Developed by the Germans for their military, Ballistol has been in use by sport shooters, hunters, and the military since 1904. Ballistol works wonders on black powder and corrosive ammo residue, as well as any other type of ammo and modern smokeless powder. As an added benefit of Ballistol’s design, it can be used on every part of your gun, not just the metal. Ballistol’s formula makes it a perfect and safe treatment to preserve the wood on gunstocks and the leather on gun slings. There’s no need to switch between products for full gun protection.
Sometimes you don’t need a bottle of solvent and it would be much more convenient to spray down your gun instead of having to wipe it down, so Ballistol offers multiple spray options in addition to regular bottles, wipes, and jugs.
Best Cleaner and Lube: Break Free CLP
- Was the first product of its kind to pass MIL-SPEC 63460
- Performs in temperatures ranging from -65 F to +475 F
- Multiple application methods available
- Won’t degrade or solidify over time
- Still works after saltwater immersion
- Three in one: clean, lubricate, preserve
- If there are any, I haven’t found them
Break Free CLP was introduced in 1975 and is a standard product for the military. They use a proprietary penetrating formula that breaks loose powder fouling, oil, grime, grease, and corrosion that can damage metal. Beyond cleaning, Break Free CLP helps to reduces friction, retard wear, and stop build-up of foreign matter that could damage your gun. Finally, CLP creates a long-lasting, protective coating that shields all metals from rust and corrosion.
Break Free CLP comes in a variety of options. Select the standard applicator bottle for in the field use or cleaning at the bench. The spray bottle is perfect for high volume applications such as high-volume shooters that clean their firearms frequently. An aerosol can is perfect for quick wipe downs at home or on the range. Pick up a few and keep them in your range bag, vehicle, and maintenance area.
Q: Should I clean my gun after every use?
Cleaning your gun after every use certainly won’t hurt it. But in most cases, it isn’t necessary. Modern firearms and cartridges are built to standards where they don’t foul and/or fail nearly as quickly as guns from a century or more ago. A light day at the range usually won’t require a full teardown and cleaning. But if it makes you feel better, then yes, you can clean your gun after every use.
Q: Should you oil the inside of a gun barrel?
Yes, you should absolutely oil the inside of your gun barrel. All of the burning powder and residue from the gunpowder, copper, and lead that may be in your projectiles will build up in there. After cleaning the barrel, you should give the inside of it a light coating of oil to help extend the life of the barrel.
Q: What gun cleaning solvent does the military use?
The military uses a variety of gun cleaning solvents. They include Break Free CLP, G96, Radcolube, just to name a few. You really can’t go wrong with any of those options. They’re all top-notch gun cleaning solvents. The military also uses a variety of different gun oils in conjunction with their cleaning solvents.
Q: What happens if you never clean your gun?
The biggest gun cleaning mistake you can make is simply not cleaning your gun. If you never clean your gun, it will eventually fail to operate as intended. These failures could include any number of different things, including firing pins that won’t retract, semi-automatic pistol slides that won’t cycle, revolver cylinders that won’t turn, trigger group parts that get stuck, rifle bolts that won’t close and go into battery, and lots of other possibilities.
What to Consider When Choosing Gun Cleaning Solvent
The variety of gun solvents available for purchase varies as widely as the number of different guns you can choose to buy. Still, there are definitely some names that you’ve no doubt heard over the years, including Hoppe’s, Break Free, Lucas, Tetra, and Ballistol. All of those are fantastic products, so you can’t go wrong with any of them. But how do you separate good gun cleaning solvents from the best gun cleaning solvents for you?
Here are a few things to consider about your guns, their use, and your shooting habits when you’re choosing a gun solvent:
- Frequency of Use: Do your guns get used infrequently and only need cleaning a couple times a year, or are you shooting a lot and needing to clean your guns on a fairly regular basis?
- Shooting Environment: Are you shooting in a climate-controlled indoor range, or are you shooting outdoors where the weather and the natural elements can have an impact on your gun’s condition after a day of shooting?
- Type of Ammo: Are you shooting corrosive ammo? Maybe you’re using black powder and lead balls? Or are you using jacketed bullets? The type of ammo and powder you’re shooting can have a big impact on how dirty your gun gets. Some shoot cleaner than others, while others can be much more stubborn if left to sit.
You should also review our advice on gun maintenance, how to clean a rifle, and common gun cleaning mistakes so you can avoid them. Take a look at our roundup of the best gun cleaning kits and top gun oils for your maintenance routine. And always remember the 10 rules of safe gun handling.
Best Gun Cleaning Solvents: Final Thoughts
Choosing a good gun solvent is very important, but thankfully it isn’t expensive or difficult to do. There are so many excellent options on the market that it’s hard to pick a bad gun solvent. However, that doesn’t mean that every gun solvent is right for every situation every time. They’ve all got their pros and cons, so just be aware of what they are before you buy some. And you can never have too many options, which is why I have a handful of them in my kit right now.
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