A clean tooth may still decay, but a clean, well-lubricated firearm will never rust. Despite claims from ammo manufacturers that their powder burns clean enough to prevent fouling, there’s always a need for gun owners to clean and lubricate their firearm. Luckily, much like caring for your teeth, firearm care is a matter of habit. And just like brushing your teeth, the right product can make a huge difference in the outcome.
We’ll cover the different types of gun oils, what they do, how they’re used, and what types of guns they’re intended for.
Quick List: the Best Gun Oils
Why Do You Need To Lubricate Your Gun?
Any metal on metal contact needs to be lubricated or one or both surfaces will start shaving material off the other. Firing a round out of any firearm contributes to the gun getting dirty. Powder burn or bullet residue builds up inside the barrel. Soot from the powder, primer, or both and fouling (from a bullet jacket) are deposited inside the gun. Over time these unwanted materials interfere with a firearm’s action and can cause malfunctions or jams.
That’s why you need to clean and lubricate your gun — the same reason your car needs lubricant in the engine, transmission and differentials. Proper lubrication keeps everything working optimally, prevents wear, and minimizes damage.
While a gun doesn’t have to be spotless to be in good operational order, there are some conventions that should be adhered to. Unlubricated, a firearm will not function as well as it should. It will both be unreliable and experience accelerated wear. Underlubrication and over-lubrication can also cause problems, though exactly what happens depends on the gun and the situation.
Older semi-auto pistol designs, such as 1911s, CZ-75s, Beretta 92s, and the like are known to run best wet (and will consistently malfunction if not kept clean and lubricated) as there’s more metal-on-metal contact between the slide and the frame.
Modern striker-fired pistols need minimal lubrication, as there are only a few points of contact between the slide and the polymer frame.
Granted, some people have this perverse pride in how little they take care of their firearms, which is asinine if you’re planning on protecting yourself with it.
While it’s true that lubrication is needed, but it’s also true that lubrication requirements vary from gun to gun. Therefore, you need to know what kind of lubricant your gun needs and the best examples of that specific lubricant.
Gun care is far from “sexy.” It’s the blocking and tackling of gun ownership. Cleaning a dirty gun can will ruin clothes and make a mess without proper planning. Some people find it relaxing, others painful. Wherever gun care lands on this spectrum for you, clean your gun as diligently and respectfully as you shoot it and you’ll have a well-functioning, reliable firearm.
The Types Of Gun Oils
There are several types of gun oils and lubricants, falling into one of three classes.
You have traditional gun oils, three-in-one gun oils, and then you have actual gun grease. Each is different in chemical composition and application
Each has a purpose and a place in your gun cleaning kit; some types of guns need different types of gun lube than others, depending on the design of the gun in question. Using the right gun lube will help your gun run reliably.
Gun Oil, Three-In-One Gun Oil, or Gun Grease?
Traditional gun oil is used for lubrication only. Like any other lubricant, it’s a viscous liquid that shears across the surface of your gun. While it lubricates the parts, other issues such as rust prevention, as well as cleaning, must be done with different compounds.
Three-in-one gun oil does it all: cleaning, lubricating, and protecting moving parts, as well as the surface of your firearm. It serves as the cleaner, the gun lube and a rust prevention compound all in one.
Gun grease is a heavier lubricant given that it is actual grease. If you need heavier or longer-lasting lubrication, it’s an excellent choice for high-friction areas.
It isn’t a cleaner and isn’t the best choice for rust prevention. You also don’t want to get any on the exterior as it will make your gun pretty slick. In fact, most types of guns that you’d use actual grease to lubricate typically need to be lubricated with a conventional gun oil as well.
Much like grease for your car, you should only use it on certain parts.
So, what should you know about each?
Traditional Gun Oil
Traditional gun oil is exactly what it sounds like: a lubricant oil that’s made specifically for use with firearms.
The liquid creates a thin coating that protects against corrosion and prevents oxidation (rust) from forming. It also prevents or minimizes wear and tear of moving parts until the lubricant begins to break down.
The drawback is that reducing friction with gun oil is just one part of the equation. You’ll need to use a rust preventative for preservation, and cleaner for cleaning. Another common criticism is that excess oil attracts dust and carbon deposits, so apply judiciously for best results.
- Includes a full bottle of the 14.9 ml Needle Point Hoppe's No. 9 oil, and the 2 1/4 ounce squeeze...
- High-viscosity oil refined to perfection
- Ideal for firearms, fishing reels, and other precision mechanisms
Hoppe’s is synthetic, while Lucas Oil 1006 is organic. Just as with motor oil, synthetic lubricants tend to last longer but break down faster once they start to degrade. Both are available in any gun store or sporting goods store with a gun counter, and have been standards for years.
Three-In-One Gun Oil
Three-in-one gun oil is the jack-of-all trades. These oils clean, lubricate and protect all in one. However, as you’d expect with any purported factotum, it’s also a master of none.
These compounds use a mild solvent in suspension with a viscous liquid.
This cleans and protects moving parts, offering just enough cleaning power to break up carbon and other deposits, and creates a barrier between your gun’s surface and those oxygen particles that want it to succumb to peer pressure and oxidize.
They’re great to have as all-purpose cleaner/lubricant, however. Most modern handguns and many modern rifles basically don’t need anything else to maintain them, but some users find that legacy designs (older all-steel pistols, traditional semi-auto shotguns, many semi-auto rifles) need more frequent application or supplementation with a dedicated lubricant.
You can get them in aerosol or liquid form, whichever is your preference.
Just as with lubricants, these products can be organic or synthetic. Organics are petroleum-based (meaning the base carrier compound is petroleum) and or plant-based. Plant-based compounds are typically non-toxic as well, which may or may not be a concern.
- Penetrates and spreads along metal surfaces into every pit and crevice
- Long-lasting lubricating film dramatically reduces adhesion of sand, grit or other abrasives
- Corrosion inhibitors prevent the formation of rust while film protects metal surfaces from...
The most popular is CLP, the all-purpose gun cleaner and lubricant used by the US armed forces. A number of different companies make a version of it, but the original is BreakFree CLP, by the actual BreakFree brand. It does the job it claims to, and fairly well at that.
- Since 1904: The Original CLP - Cleans, Lubricates and Protects
- Multi-Purpose: Preserves and protects metal, wood, leather, rubber and plastics
- Lubricates and Cleans: Perfect for lubricating and cleaning tools, knives, marine parts, firearms...
Another excellent product to look for is a much older product, but one that works very well: Ballistol, a three-in-one developed in 1904. Ballistol is biodegradable and eco-friendly; the aerosol versions don’t even contain CFCs. Ballistol is inexpensive, widely available and tends to be the longest-lasting among the three-in-ones.
Gun grease is exactly what it sounds like: grease, for your gun. For guns that require maximum lubrication for a long time, this is the best substance for the job. Like gun lube, it’s for protecting the moving parts where metal-on-metal contact occurs.
In fact, common white grease (white lithium grease) is actually one of the more popular greases for use in firearms. You can literally grease your gun with what’s at the hardware store.
The benefit of grease is that it provides longer-lasting lubrication than other lubricants, as well as helps repel dust, water, and carbon fouling.
Grease will protect internals from rust, and can ensure better function in extremely cold or extremely hot environments. Wingshooters, take note: this is the product you use to keep your semi-auto from slowing down on subzero mornings in the duck blind.
Grease has to be used in certain guns, such as the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine. The moving parts of these firearms involve a lot more metal-on-metal contact than other designs. AK-pattern rifles as well as M14-derived rifles such as the Springfield M1 and Ruger Mini-14 also benefit greatly from greasing rather than oiling the internals.
Other guns may not need grease specifically, but can benefit from its use.
So, if you need or want gun grease, what are the best ones to use?
Common white lithium grease is the standard, but steer clear of “gun” brand white lithium greases. They’re asking you to pay more because it says “gun” on the packaging. Brands like DuPont, LubriPlate and so on are available everywhere and are cheap.
However, if you wanted to get into the gun-specific formulas, two excellent brands are Shooter’s Choice and Mil-Comm.
Shooter’s Choice gun grease comes in a syringe applicator, which you’ll appreciate when applying it. It’s formulated to run in bitter cold to blazing heat, so it’s a great choice of gun grease.
- USED BY U.S. SPECIAL FORCES WORLDWIDE: TW25B is uniquely engineered, made in America and is used by...
- SUPER LUBRICATION and PROTECTION: Preferred lubricant on heavy weaponry, AR's, all firearms,...
- OPTIMIZED FOR PERFORMANCE and REDUCED MAINTENANCE: Ensures firing reliability in extreme temperature...
Mil-Comm TW25B grease has a sterling reputation from use in military applications in multiple environments, especially as a better lubricant than CLP (which, again is a jack of all trades) and also in dirty, dusty environments.
Which is the best gun oil to use?
The real answer is that picking one is a false dilemma. It’s idiotic to pick only one. The right answer is to have one of each.
Grease is best for moving parts with heavy metal-to-metal contact. Gun oil is best for lubricating moving parts that don’t get as much wear. Three-in-ones are for doing a bit of everything and are good to have at the range or in the field in case you need them.
Regardless of which you use, your gun will run better if it’s cared for.
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