Will Soap and Water Clean a Gun?
Myth or Fact: Cleaning Guns With Soap and Water
Tons of methods exist for cleaning a gun, including even ultrasonic cleaning technologies (that are obviously super complicated and cost way too much for the average gun owner).1So most gun owners are stuck cleaning their guns the old fashioned way. That said, many gun owners want to know: Can you actually clean your gun with just soap and water? Obviously, you could clean your gun with “anything”, however, certain substances are no doubt going to be better for your firearm and its materials than others. Soap is a rather ambiguous term, as there are obviously many types of soap and even more than one type of water!
So, can soap actually clean a gun? Are there certain parts that should not be cleaned with soap and water? Are there any consequences to using soap? Let’s check out what happens when soap is used to clean a firearm…
Using Soap to Clean a Gun
Some companies (such as Ruger) have even suggested cleaning their firearm using soap and water in the actual manufacturer’s manual that comes with the gun. Some people have suggested running the hottest water possible through the gun in the shower. The heated water evaporates more quickly, especially if the guns are brought out into the sun after being cleaned. This technique is popular among service members who are running short for time and need to sometimes shower with their firearms. Although, many of them will admit they will only use this tactic on their service firearms, it does clean the guns to the point they pass inspection.
There are rumors of Smith and Wesson, as well as other manufacturers, having suggested using a dishwasher to clean some guns. The S&W suggestion, was supposedly intended for a stainless steel revolver. They reportedly instructed gun owners to place the gun (with the side panel removed), in a dishwasher and to run it on the ‘pots and pan’ setting. It is important to note that the heat of a dishwasher would potentially help evaporate the water more quickly and avoid any rusting. Though many gun enthusiasts and experts would quickly defend keeping their firearms away from water.
Another old trick is to drop the gun parts (anything not made of wood) into a pot of water with some dish washing detergent and bring it to a boil. The reported gunk that will come off the gun is unbelievable, and it is reportedly very effective at getting a truly grungy gun, clean. Some people skip the boiling water and simply use a cleaning tool such as an effective brass brush, along with multi-purpose cleaner to get the fouling out. Of course, if using a brass brush, there will always be small bits of metal left behind which need to be flushed out with hot water.
Pro Tip: Always remember to oil your firearms after cleaning, no matter how you choose to clean the gun. It is extremely important to oil the gun right afterwards to prevent rust from forming.
Other Household Chemicals Used to Clean Guns
As mentioned above, some gun owners will use things like multi-purpose cleaner to clean their barrels or other parts of a firearm. Some of the other household chemicals used to clean gun parts (that work) include:
Brake cleaner (can product phosphene gas if it gets hot, and has chlorine in the chemical makeup)
PB Blaster (can ruin polymer or plastic parts)
Simple Green (it is ill advised to use on aluminum parts)
WD-40 (stands for water displacement, but does not fully, reliably clean guns)
While many of these “cleaners” will take care of some gunk and clean a gun when in a bind, they are ultimately not intended specifically for firearm-use. There are many, better, firearm-specific cleaners available, which will work every time. These gun-specific cleaners will come with far less risk (often no risk), whereas, choosing an unconventional method or cleaner can lead to some pretty harmful consequences.
Last Words on Cleaning a Firearm with Soap and Water
Many reputable gun owners use soap and water to clean their firearms. It may not be the best method for cleaning a gun, but it certainly works, maybe with a little extra work and the risk of rust if missing a spot during the lubrication process. The service (army, marines, etc.), have suggested cleaning firearms with soap and water if nothing else is available. Soap and water is considered by many to be an absolute minimum technique for cleaning firearms. Whether boiling the soapy water, or using a shower, it is possible to remove the gunk and get the gun clean in water and soap alone.
It is also well worth noting that there is a very large portion of gun owners (the majority of gun owners) who disagree with using any type of water to clean their gun. They cite avoiding any risk of rust, and a lack of authentic cleaning potential, as the reasons to stick to traditional, gun-specific cleaning products. After all, some cleaning products may not have been intended for firearm-application. Firearms require cleaning products that are non-flammable and non-hazardous to the health and environment.2
If you are looking for a more detailed guide for cleaning your gun, check out one of our other articles: Best Way to Clean and Oil Your Gun.
1MacLean, R.. (February, 2014). Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaning, Part Two: A remarkable, time-saving tool with the potential to wreck finishes if used improperly. Proper cleaning techniques and the experts reveal essential tips. American Gunsmith. Vol. 29(2).
2Law Enforcement Technology. (Aug, 2007). Firearms cleaning. Law Enforcement Technology Vol. 30. Retrieved from: Business Insights: Global. Web. 11 July 2019.
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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