Using Alcohol to Clean a Firearm
Can Alcohol Be Used to Clean a Gun?
Cleaning a firearm is important in maintaining a long bore life and optimum accuracy.1Alcohol has been a “go to” cleaner for a really long time, in a number of industries. The gun community most certainly has its use for alcohol in terms of cleaning. The type of alcohol used for cleaning firearms is important. For example, it is ill-advised to clean a firearm with whiskey, although it has been reported as a great cleaner for emergency, survival-style situations. Everclear, however, has been long-rumored to be a wonderful firearm cleaner! That said, there are uses for alcohol and gun parts which do make sense on a routine basis. And alcohol is most definitely sometimes a part of a gun cleaning kit. Similarly, there are most certainly some greases and grimes that alcohol will simply not remove. Though, it is still worth exploring as a gun cleaner, provided the right type of alcohol is being used.
What Type of Alcohol to Clean a Gun?
Obviously there are many types of alcohols. Only a limited number of alcohols should be seriously considered for cleaning a firearm. The standard alcohol for cleaning a gun is 91-99% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Some gun owners warn that rubbing alcohol can ruin some finishes, although, most of the community has deemed it largely safe. Even on many polymer guns, like glocks, the rubbing alcohol does a great job of removing oil and any gunk.2,3
Some folks have suggested using denatured alcohol of 90% or higher to clean firearms. Some denatured alcohol may be acceptable to use, however, because this type of alcohol is created by combining alcohol with chemicals designed to make it unfit for drinking, it is important to know the entire makeup of the solution. Simply put: some chemicals used to make denatured alcohol are harmful or ill-suited for cleaning guns.
Many gun owners use Gasoline Diesel as a cleaning agent. Kerosene is also sometimes used. Petroleum-based oils are sometimes discouraged. Some people advise it can ruin blue finishes, but ultimately certain types are acceptable. Clear, petroleum-based sewing machine oil is used by some gun owners.
Pro tip: Regardless of the type of alcohol used, always remember to oil any gun immediately after cleaning it!
Tips: Cleaning a Firearm With Alcohol
Remember that alcohol will remove any protective layers of oil that were already on the gun. It is extremely important to oil a gun as quickly as possible after having cleaned it with any type of alcohol. If a gun is not lubricated immediately after being cleaned with alcohol, it will rust, and practically overnight! Alcohol is sometimes used as a prelude cleaner to an actual gun solvent and oil. This is because alcohol has the ability to break down some things that SOME cleaners are unable to handle. Alcohol can break down biological oils, but will not be able to breakdown petroleum based oils.
Final Notes: Using Alcohol to Clean Firearms
Many alcohols are acceptable (and sometimes very efficient) at cleaning parts of a firearm. There are many other industries (aircrafts, automobiles, etc.) where alcohol is applied to the same types of materials for the exact same reason. Alcohol most definitely has its place in the world of cleaning firearms. Still, there are always going to be better cleaning solvents and supplies which were made specifically for use on firearms. Most gun experts will suggest using gun-specific solvent and gun-specific oil to take care of a firearm.
1Glaze, R. C. (1984, March). Beeman firearms cleaning kits. Guns & Ammo. Vol. 28(71).
2Ruger Forum. (June 6, 2011). Does anyone else use alcohol for routine cleaning? RugerForum.net. Retrieved from:https://rugerforum.net/maintenance/36362-does-anyone-else-use-alcohol-routine-cleaning.html
3Glock Talk. (March 12, 2012). Cleaning Slide with Alcohol. Glock Talk. Retrieved from:https://www.glocktalk.com/threads/cleaning-slide-with-alcohol.1407975/print
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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