How to clean a bolt action rifle

Before storing a gun in a gun safe, cleaning a bolt action rifle is one of the final steps to take. Whether that’s because of previous use (bought a used rifle) or because of recent use (just came back from let’s say the range). 

As with all things new, learning to clean your bolt action can seem like a steep learning curve. While we partially agree, we don’t want you going out into the world unprepared. 


The necessity of maintenance

There are reasonable claims as to why we want our guns clean before storing them. One is that there’s less friction on the inside of the barrel when firing. Meaning your shot groupings have less of a chance of being off. 

Reason number two is that if shooting is a hobby, then cleaning firearms gives people a chance to learn more about them. 

If we were to sum up the underpinning reason, we would sum it up like this:

The name of the cleaning game is mitigating downside

Team GSC

Bolt action rifle cleaning overview

Okay, so what are our next steps? 

We need a high-quality cleaning kit. Luckily, there’s quite a bit of choice.

Different brands bring different advantages. Some are easier to take with you, others are better kept at your gun cleaning bench. Some are for your 9mm bolt actions, others are geared towards your other calibers. Whatever else you do today, get yourself a cleaning kit. 

Tools of the trade

Whether people shoot more accurate calibers or more fun ones, this list of recommended tools should get you started properly:

– a case to store everything in one spot.

– one or two rods.

wire brushes.

cotton brushes.

other brushes.

cotton pads.

– a bottle for your oil.

Grab a seat, and ideally grab the products that are made for your caliber. We don’t recommend going too frugal on cleaning gear – especially when people are just starting out.

Pre-cleaning prep

Got your kit ready? Great! 

Here’s our recommended step-by-step.

Preparing the cleaning station

First things first, prepare a workbench. Make sure to not place your bench in a dark corner of the house. You’ll need plenty of light for this process.

Get something like a towel or a cleaning mat and place it on your workbench

Grab something to cover your clothes, or put on an old sweater. We recommend using gloves too because gun cleaning solvents aren’t exactly categorized as skin moisturizers. For gloves, I personally have Pro Nitrile latex gloves. Grab whatever works for your situation.

Treating your rifle as if it’s loaded

Always treat any firearm as if it’s loaded. 

Check and double-check before proceeding. Inspect the chamber. Make darn sure any and all rounds are removed (and removed from sight).

We don’t want you or yours to end up a preventable statistic. Remember to clear your magazine of any ammo. And separate your ammo from your immediate vicinity.

Safety first

According to injury facts, about one percent of accidents involving guns of any sort are either preventable or accidental. That’s about 400 incidents per year or roughly one per day. A simple check and double-check would solve any solvable incident.

Routine or “it’s about time”?

There are two categories of rifle cleaning. One is a routine clean (say before or after use). The second category is a thorough cleaning (after extensive use or extreme weather conditions).

We recommend a routine cleaning after each use. When you’re competent and confident enough, it takes about 15-30 minutes

Your thorough cleaning sessions can take up some extra time. Extra tasks equal extra time. A nice tip here is that once you get the hang of it, you can clean a couple of rifles in an hour or two. Also, consider a thorough cleaning if you haven’t used your rifle in a good while. We all know that we always need just one more rifle or just one more pistol. And sometimes what follows is that a couple of our firearms don’t get used all that often. Consider a thorough cleaning. 

How to clean your firearm

You prepared your bench. You prepared your kit. You cleared your rifle. It’s time to clean. Our recommended steps.

Bolt action rifle disassembly

I think you’ve got a sense of how to disassemble your rifle now. 

Remove the bolt assembly after you remove the magazine box. Or remove the bolt after you open the floorplate. This depends on your rifle’s build. Remove the stock, magazine spring, trigger guard, barrel, and any accessories like optics and muzzle devices.

Wiping down

Wipe off the exteriors. The goal here is to rid your rifle of dirt and deposits. Use something like a cotton pad to reach any hard-to-reach spots.

Not glossing over the bolt

Put some drops of gun cleaning solvent on a cotton pad to clean the bolt. Another way of doing this is using a q-tip. Give the solvent something like five minutes to do its work.


Use one of your brushes and combine it with the bore snake. Pull it down the barrel about five times. Consider applying cleaning solvent pre-use. Don’t forget to give every part a nice wipe-down. We don’t leave unnecessary residue on our firearms.

Cleaning the barrel

Grab a bore snake pull it up and down the barrel. You know your barrel is clean when your last run comes out clear. 

Follow-up with something dry to remove unwanted residue.

Next, clean the muzzle with a towel.

Copper cleaner

Use something like one of these cleaning kits if you own a 9mm bolt action. Give it a good up and down, about a handful of times. What does barrel cleaning success look like? It looks like a well-cleaned barrel (and in some cases, a well dirty bore snake).

Spit shining… or not? 

Next up: wipe down the metal with a soft cloth and solvent. Pay special attention to:

– the handle.

– the trigger.

– the trigger guard.

– the magazine.

– the chamber.

– the barrel.


Remember to lubricate your rear locking lugs. We recommend using lubricating oils as opposed to standard grease. Don’t overdo it though!

Putting things back together

Avengers, assemble. Don’t rush the final piece of the puzzle. Take your time. 

Need a little help? Why not ask your local gunsmith to show you how to clean things thoroughly? While a gunsmith may charge you a premium, getting started with cleaning outweighs the price. And we don’t want to destroy our rifle’s accuracy. There’s a wrong way and a right way to go about things.

Check out Hyatt Guns for pricing guidelines.

Final Thoughts

Bolt action rifles rock. They’re unique. We hope you do clean and maintain it. Common sense states that prepared men have clean rifles in their gun safes, as compared to the opposite. And in this case, we do agree with common sense. You’re now ready for the next part of the process:  picking your bolt action rifle safe.