Handguns > Semi-Auto

Defensive Handgun Maintenance Tips

Regular care and maintenance keeps your carry gun ready for anything.


There is no doubt that regular care and maintenance will improve the reliability and longevity of any firearm. This is especially true when it comes to the defensive handgun that you may have to bet your life on. Now, at the outset, I'm going to assume that you know how to clean a handgun. What I'm about to share are some little maintenance tips that I've learned through the years of carrying a handgun.

To begin, let's look at one aspect of the cleaning challenge, namely the use of lead bullets. Years ago, somebody decided that all he or she needed to do to get lead out of the barrel was to fire some jacketed rounds downrange and those jacketed bullets would scrub the lead right out of the bore. After all, following this little technique, the bore sure looked a lot cleaner. Unfortunately, such is not the case. All the jacketed bullets do is flatten the lead into the rifling creating a situation where moisture can get under the lead and allow corrosion and rust to start. Sorry folks, you've just got to work with that wire brush and patches until you get the lead out. There's really no other way.

One of the next biggest issues with defensive handguns is lubrication, whether too much or too little. Too little lubrication causes undue friction on the various moving parts of the handgun and can lead to reliability issues. Too much lubrication attracts dirt and powder particles, which can also lead to malfunctions. A light lubrication, each time the handgun is cleaned, will keep it running and functioning reliably.

In selecting the proper lubricant for your handgun, it is wise to stay away from heavy oils and to avoid the use of WD-40. WD-40 is a great product and quite useful, but it is not designed to be used on firearms. In many cases it can leave a solid residue that can lead to malfunctions. It is also a penetrating oil, which means it is just about guaranteed to kill any primers that it comes in contact with. The products to use are any of the lightweight lubricating oils that are especially designed for firearms.
A light application of oil should be put on the barrel locking lugs, or the area where the barrel interacts with the slide and frame. Another drop of oil should be applied near the muzzle of the barrel where it interacts with a barrel bushing, or the front of the slide. Also in need of lubrication are the pistol's slide rails. Occasionally, you will want to put a drop of oil on the sear and trigger mechanism.
With autoloading pistols it is also important to give consideration to replacing the recoil spring. This spring can become weakened under continued use and, in this weakened state, allow the gun to batter itself unnecessarily. Replacing the pistol's recoil spring about every 2,000 rounds is a good habit to get into.  After all, what is the cost of a recoil spring as compared to one's life?
A large majority of the auto pistol's malfunctions can generally be blamed on faulty magazines. They can become damaged in a number of ways and for a number of reasons. What is amazing is that so many shooters will just drop faulty magazines back in their shooting boxes and expect that, somehow, they will work okay during their next trip to the range. The proper place for a faulty magazine is the garbage can. 
With revolvers, it is important to lubricate the area where the cylinder yoke joins the frame. Occasionally, remove the slide plate and lubricate the trigger, sear and trigger return areas. Depending on the local climate, lubricating the internal parts of a revolver should only be done about twice a year.
During each cleaning session with your revolver it is important to check the ejector rod and make sure that it is screwed in tightly. These have a tendency to loosen up and, when they get loose enough, they will tie up the gun, making it virtually impossible to swing the cylinder out. If it becomes evident that an ejector rod is continually getting loose, a drop of Loctite on the threads will solve the problem.
During the revolver cleaning session it is also important to elevate the cylinder's extractor star and clean out any unburned powder and residue that may have become trapped there. Failing to do this may cause the cylinder to become difficult to close if enough residue builds up in this area.

If you are uncertain about how to properly lubricate that new pistol or revolver, you will find that most companies now provide those instructions in the owner's manuals. Yes, I know guys, but read the instructions anyway. No one has to know that you actually read the instructions.

At the end of an evening, I generally lay my defensive handgun on the nightstand by my bed. For years, I've made it a practice to keep an oily gun rag in the same place. It just takes a minute to wipe the handgun down, getting fingerprints and dirt off of the exterior.

Regular cleaning and lubrication, along with the replacement of weak and worn parts, will keep a defensive handgun in good shape for a lifetime. And that's not a bad idea at all, considering that you may well have to bet your life on it.

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20 Responses to Defensive Handgun Maintenance Tips

reader wrote:
August 23, 2012

The gun is a Beretta 92 F

TripleS77 wrote:
August 23, 2012

Just a question about the handgun in the picture above, would someone tell me the make/model? Thanks.

JJM45 wrote:
December 16, 2011

I agree, stay away from WD40 unless it is all you have after a rainstorm in a remote camp. We had an officer show up at a qual and was told to shoot his duty ammo, the first 3 rounds wouldn't fire because WD40 had penetrated the primers. He did use way too much, but it is still a penetrating oil.

Jape wrote:
December 13, 2011

I agree with Ryan H. There are two springs in a gun Tom S and they are both important.

Ryan H wrote:
December 05, 2011

To Tom S. Not sure where you are seeing Dan Hall confusing his recoil and magazine springs. Perhaps you should lighten up.

Gary wrote:
December 05, 2011

Here is what Wolff Gunsprings has to say about springs: http://www.gunsprings.com/faq I would add that if you have installed a heavier than factory recoil spring you need a heavier than factory magazine spring. The reason being that you need to raise the next round quicker in order to beat the now faster slide slamming shut. When you go to the range, make sure that the last two rounds in the magazine feed okay. That is when the magazine spring is at its weakest and a failure to feed indicates a new spring is needed.

Ron C wrote:
December 04, 2011

The current school of thought is that the number of cycles determines the life of a mag spring. So, leave them umpty or leave them loaded. It takes one cycle to load and fire. Why waste cycles loading and unloading when you rotate.

David Kane wrote:
December 03, 2011

On the magazine springs--the best info I found was that the spring wears out through continued cycling. In other words it isn't the compression of the spring due to the magazine being loaded that wears the spring out it is loading (pressure)/unloading (no pressure) cycle that eventually does them in over time. There are accounts of magazines that have been left fully loaded for years functioning without problems. Some manufacturers (Beretta for example) recommend that you rotate magazines every month or so but that may have to do with checking to see that the magazine is still functional (i.e. no bent lips at the top or other damage etc.) and of course Beretta also sells magazines and springs so that may have something to do with it too.

M Crafton wrote:
December 03, 2011

Well you are dead wrong about WD40.I have a remmington1100 trap that i have shoot for 25 years.It has never had one drop of oil on it,just WD40 Never one problem and the gun still works fine And no rust. WD 40 works great for guns use it on all my firearm no problems.

Chase D. wrote:
December 03, 2011

When it comes to magazine springs I am of the opinion that springs wear out from loading and unloading. I don't think they wear out just sitting there whether they are compressed or not. I load all my mags and leave them that away until I shoot them. I do it with AR mags, 1911 mags, sig mags. Just use good mags and shoot your gun, if it starts to act up then replace the springs, if they never have worked right then trash them or use them to practice malfunction drills.

Tom S wrote:
December 03, 2011

To Dan Hall, The recoil spring is not the magazine spring. Read your manual and learn a little more about your pistol.

Randy wrote:
December 03, 2011

For those who have the fire arm next to your bed, consider a coast light 100+ lums for $50. Consider making your first round a rubber bullet. This give you the choice to not have to blow a guys head off. 16 year gets in for a prank do you really want to kill him? For a real bad guy just rack it and the next rounds are for killing. For those who now will say “What if I wake up and need to shoot right then with a guy coming at me?", Well reality check, more chance it will be your son who had a bad dream then a crack head! PLUS if your doors and windows are such a person can get in without waking you up go fix it, THAT is the first step

Jason wrote:
December 03, 2011

Excellent point, Doug!

Mike B. wrote:
December 03, 2011

Not to cloud the water of this "issue" an further... As long as there's no technical reason to NOT leave magazines loaded for extended time frames, I believe we should employ the scenario that we are most comfortable with?? Just a bit more confidence for that "time in your life". More mud for the wall.

Tom C wrote:
December 01, 2011

The 2000 round rule on the recoil spring does NOT apply to Kimber compact models. Per Kimber owner's manuals that spring should be replaced at approx every 800 rounds.

Dan Hall wrote:
November 30, 2011

A practice I have followed for years is to have 3-4 magazines that I can rotate through the gun on a monthly basis. This allows each magazine to remain fully loaded for one month and to have 3-4 months of rest. Seems to work.

Doug Hoegner wrote:
November 30, 2011

Unless you live alone never keep a gun next to the bed. Put it farther away so you will be fully awake when arming yourself. I learned this the hard way.NRA Life Member

November 30, 2011

Jim, thanks for a summary of what we all know, yet often forget to practice. One of your readers has asked for further elaboration on magazine spring functional life when the mags are kept loaded. I keep my mags loaded and rotate/change magazines every week on my Glock 19 & 30. Does rotating the mags increase the longevity of the mag springs and if so, what is current thinking of mag spring life span following this practice ? Any feedback/advice would be most appreciated. Thanks- Jack

Chuck wrote:
November 30, 2011

There are apparently three schools of thought. One is to replace magazine springs after a number of uses and/or passage of time. Another is to rotate magazines in the gun monthly. The third is that it doesn't make any difference. Magazines that have been loaded and in the gun for the last twenty years still worked fine when called upon. My thought is that you adopt whichever school of thought appeals to you.

Gary Austin wrote:
November 30, 2011

Jim, could you expand on this article to include the current thinking on how long magazine springs last when the magazine is kept loaded and when to replace the springs? How about "extra" strength magazine springs?