How To Clean Your Air Rifle

Something I don’t do arguably enough with my Air Rifles is clean them properly. I used to do this more when I was younger and had fewer guns but I’m tempted to follow more of a schedule and actually have a nerdy spreadsheet which tells me when I last cleaned each gun. So, for those people who don’t know, this article will let you know how you should best clean your Air Rifle.

The best way to clean your Air Rifle is to use a couple of cleaning pellets every time you get through a tin. This will clean the inside of the barrel. You should also ensure the gun is only stored when perfectly dry and not kept in humid conditions, which can damage any wood. 

How Often?

It depends. If you’re cleaning the inside of your barrel then many people will do this after every tin of pellets. How often you clean the outside depends on where you’ve been firing it. If it’s particularly wet (or humid) in your location, you should, at the least, wipe it dry before storing it. If you’re going to maintain your gun ‘properly’ then consider the below:

  • After every tin of pellets – use cleaning pellets.
  • After it gets wet – ensure your gun is dry, removing the stock if required.
  • Annually – if the rifle is used frequently, consider a layer of varnish to any exposed wood to ensure it stays in tip-top condition. This, additionally provides a barrier to water.
  • Never – A surprisingly popular option.

Will You or Won’t You?

If you’re new to airguns then it’s probably time to decide which camp you’re going to put yourself in. Although, because you’re reading this, maybe you’ve already chosen? You’re going to end up in one of two camps, the ‘Yes, I do’ camp or the ‘No, I can’t be bothered with all that’ camp. What am I going on about you ask? Well, it seems to be split quite nicely down the middle. You’re either going to be someone who cleans their guns regularly or someone who just doesn’t. What camp am I in? I’ll tell you at the end 🙂

What Will You Need?

Although you don’t have to use a cleaning kit for your airgun, it’ll make things just a little bit easier for you. If you’re interested in getting one, look no further than this (click to check the current price) – not only is it cheap but it’s pretty comprehensive. There’s a reason why I’m recommending this one – it comes with all the stuff you need to get the job done. The only exception to this rule seems to be cleaning bullets, which I mention in a sec. These are often not included in the kits and this is most likely because they need to match the caliber of your rifle and it just doesn’t make sense for them to include cleaning bullets for every single caliber available!

There are a lot of choices out there when you’re looking for a good cleaning kit, don’t be tempted to buy cheap here as some of these imports have the ability to do some nasty stuff to your rifle.

It is possible to clean your rifle without these kits of course but I’ve always thought that if you can make life just a little bit easier for you, then do it. If you’re on a budget, you can just thread a piece of string through the barrel that’s attached to a small rag (which would be soaked in some alcohol). You’ll be amazed at how dirty that rag will come out, especially if you haven’t cleaned your gun for a few years!

I’d also recommend some cleaning pellets (as mentioned above), just make sure you get the right sized ones for your rifle. An example of these are here – you’ll typically not need to spend over $5 on these.

A Point About Water

I’ll keep this point quite short – water may give us life but it is also the arch-enemy of your Air Rifle. Try not to let your arch-enemy spend too much time with your gun. Joking aside, water just gets everywhere and can end up causing real problems, especially if you try and clean the inside of your barrel with water. You’ll most likely not dry up all the water and this will, of course, lead to rusting. Which will, in turn, lead to a whole bag-full of mess. Fine, if you want to use water on the outside then do so, just make sure you dry things thoroughly.

Cleaning the Inside of the Barrel

So why do we need to clean the inside of the barrel anyway? Surely with it being protected from the environment, it won’t get dirty, will it? Well, this is right to an extent. What happens though is over time, tiny deposits of metal from your pellets will build up and get themselves stuck within the barrel. Also, if you’ve added some oil to try to increase the power (dieseling) then you’ll find your barrel will be susceptible to a build-up of oil.

Just a note about this, some owners of Air Rifles never clean their guns. This is actually quite common and not as stupid as you think. Each pellet that is shot leaves a trace of tiny metallic fragments and maybe a microscopic trace of oil. Some pellets leave more behind than others. However, that same pellet is also cleaning out any debris that was caused by the previous pellet shot. It’s almost a self-cleaning system. I have some rifles that I’ve never cleaned. They’ve shown no degradation in performance, so why should I? However, if you do feel your barrel needs a bit of a clean, it does no harm and there’s a couple of things you should do.

  1. Use Cleaning Bullets – after every tin of pellets use one (or sometimes two) of these. Make sure you use the right size. If possible, always try and clean from the breech rather than from the muzzle. You should not use felt cleaning pellets in a spring piston. They are not able to provide enough resistance and basically will give you the same effect as dry-firing, which we all know is bad. You could probably get away with using them if you stuffed enough in but rather than do that, just get the right cleaning pellets for your gun.
  2. Use a pull-through, with some cleaning oil on it to pull through the barrel. Always pull through the way the pellet is shot though, not the other way around.
  3. Use a good gun oil – and don’t use any solvents.

Don’t overdo the cleaning, although it doesn’t do any harm, the more you muck about with your airgun, the more chance you have of damaging it. Some professional shooters don’t clean their guns at all so…

Cleaning the Outside of the Barrel

Unless you really neglect the outer-barrel, perhaps by leaving it outside for a prolonged amount of time then there shouldn’t be a need for you to touch this. However, if you think it’s had better days and you want to give it a new lease of life then there are some things you can do.

  1. Ensure your Air Rifle does not get wet for an extended amount of time. If it does, no big deal, just wipe it down with a cloth. The worst thing you can do is put your gun back into storage whilst it’s wet. You’ll be surprised how quickly damage is caused by rust.
  2. If you’re planning using your rifle in an environment where it will get wet then consider spraying the exposed areas with a rust protection spray.
  3. Use a good silicon-based gun oil, something like this would do the job.

Don’t go crazy and put loads on, best in little amounts and not too frequently. If you want to know how often I do this? Well, I actually like my guns with that ‘weathered look’ so maybe I don’t do it as much as I should. As it takes literally five minutes to perform this just apply every few months when you remember and don’t fret if you forget!

Cleaning the Scope

Assuming you have one of course 🙂 As you’re cleaning then take an opportunity to make sure the scope and mounts are all as tight as possible and there’s nothing moving around.

If you use glasses then use the same cloth to clean the glass on both ends. I’m always amazed at how many finger marks I get on glasses and I swear I never actually touch my scope glass, so how can there be finger marks on it? Still, they come off easy enough. If there’s dust wedged in that you can’t get your cloth into then use some compressed air. It’s amazing how useful a can of this is and once you have one you’ll be using it all over your house to clean stuff.

Cleaning Any Woodwork

Purely for aesthetics of course. Some of these Air Rifles are almost a piece of art as well as a weapon. I’m particularly fond of the RWS Model 350, I just love the simple lines and hardwood stock.

It will start to age over time though if you don’t look after it. It’s not difficult though and won’t take up a lot of your time. Maybe do it at the same time as your scope. Firstly, like your barrel – if it gets wet this is fine, just make sure it’s properly dried off before you put it away. This shouldn’t matter if the wood is varnished but it’s still good practice to dry it off. If it’s not varnished then this is something you can consider which will protect it further.

If you’re after an oil for your stock, look no further than the Birchwood Casey oil – it gets great reviews and there’s really little point looking any further. Apply it sparingly and if you’re like me, dab it onto a small area first just to make sure it produces the effect that you’re after.

Finally, if you can remove your stock then do so if it’s been saturated. Take it off as water always manages to find a way in somehow and dry it thoroughly before re-attaching it.

Cleaning the Trigger

This might be a step too far for some people. I mean, do you really need to clean the trigger? Well, some people I know do however I am not one of these people. If you want to use a degreaser spray on the mechanism then this won’t cause any problems if you’re careful. Most people who own guns and have had work performed on their trigger mechanism have had it performed by a professional.

If you want to get your trusty compressed-air out at this point and blow any dust out of the mechanism, this is also an option.

How About The Mainspring?

Obviously, a point only for those Spring Piston owners so if you don’t have one of these guns then please move along. Right, now we’ve got rid of those pesky non-springer people let’s talk about whether we should occasionally clean the mainspring. No, you shouldn’t. Right, next point. Okay, okay, I’ll give a bit more info. So, in my long experience with ownership of Air Rifles and talking to people in clubs etc. about their experiences, this is what I’ve learnt. You can ignore this point if you like. Open up your gun and add a few drops of spring cylinder oil to the main mainspring, that’s absolutely cool. However, before you start, just think about this. The vast majority of problems I’ve heard about relating to malfunctioning airguns stemmed from the owner (with perfectly honourably intentions) taking it apart and then having something go wrong and not being able to put it back properly. Or just not having the right tools for the job.

I’m a good example of this. ‘Don’t be like me’ would be my advice. When I was a child, I was well known for taking clocks apart. I would dismantle all the cogs and stuff, laying them neatly on the table. Not having a clue how they should all go back together. My intention was somehow by taking it apart and putting it all back together again I would make it better. The end result would be a lot of brass clock components sitting on a table, an angry mum and dad and a lack of pocket-money for me for a few weeks. I never seemed to learn my lesson. Well, not until I was older – now if I don’t know for sure what I’m doing I’ll leave it to someone who does.

Sorry, I’ve waffled for a bit here but the point I’m making is don’t bother trying to clean the mainspring. Wait until it fails and then get it replaced. You’ll probably be okay for 15 years or so, so I wouldn’t particularly worry about it 🙂

Anything Specific for PCP Guns?

Some people have said that PCP guns require more cleaning than Spring Pistons. In my experience, though this hasn’t been the case. Yes, Spring Piston airguns are quite straightforward to clean but do you have to do anything differently for other types, such as the PCP? Well, springers have more lubricating fluids within them which can end up in the barrel so actually, these should require more cleaning than PCP, for instance. In my experience, chatting to other people at clubs this has been the case. There’s not a lot of difference really and you can use the same techniques as I mentioned above for the PCP. One last thing about PCP guns, as you’re here. A lot of people use this type of rifle for pest control, if you’re considering this I can really recommend this article, it’ll tell you everything you need to know!

So, Did We Learn Anything?

Crikey, that title sounded condescending. I was talking more about me I think, than the reader. Despite being involved in this hobby for many, many years compiling these articles is always a combination of experience and research. It’s a hobby I think I’ll never stop learning about and I’m surprised often about a new gun or a new development in the way we should be doing things.

If you’re wondering what camp I sit in, well I’ve never been fond of scheduled, regular cleaning if I’m honest. I tend to wait until my gun shows some signs of a performance problem before I do something about it. I’ll typically pick this problem up during plinking. I’ll notice that my shots are just starting to not group as well as they used to. Or maybe I’ll notice a slight change of ‘pop’ when fired. You’ll be surprised how tuned-in you get to the sound of your Air Rifle. Occasionally, you may hear a sound that isn’t usual and that might occur at the same time as inconsistent accuracy.  If I notice this then maybe I’ll drop in a cleaning bullet or two but if I’m being brutally honest I’m not sure these cleaning bullets are that great. I’m still not convinced these things actually work that well. Although I do use them if I notice problems I tend to use these combined with a pull-through rag. My advice? It if ain’t broke, don’t fix it and if it ain’t dirty, don’t clean it!

One last thing, if you’d like to learn how to shoot more accurately, you could do a lot worse than checking out this article, it might just help…

Happy shooting people, stay safe out there.

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