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Updated Oct 21, 2022 12:53 PM
Gun cleaning kits are one of the most important items a gun owner needs to have. Sure, you also need ammo, targets, and holsters, but if your gun is a dirty mess—then you’re going to have a bad time at the range and, possibly, in the field.
You could piece together the necessary components for a cleaning kit—brushes, rods, patches, solvents—and it would work perfectly well, but having a pre-assembled kit is a lot simpler and more streamlined. You won’t have to worry about different brushes and rods not being compatible or having the wrong tools for the job. There are a lot of different gun cleaning kits to choose from, and while they’re all good, they’re not all equal—and that’s not a bad thing since different kits serve different purposes. In this buyer’s guide, I’m going to run through the pros (and cons) of three of the best gun cleaning kits. It is also important to remember the cleaning kit is useless unless you learn how to clean a rifle, shotgun, or handgun. Don’t make these gun cleaning mistakes.
Before we get to the products, however, t’s important to note that if you’re looking for the perfect cleaning kit, you’re not going to find it. That might seem contradictory in a list of “best gun cleaning kits,” but it’s the honest truth. No matter how specialized it may be, or how many pieces it comes with, there will always be something else that you find yourself adding to it—or wondering why it was included in the first place. That’s just the nature of the beast. New products come out every year trying to improve on what came before them. Sometimes, they’re a resounding success. Other times, they’re answering a question that no one asked. Here are the best gun clean kits that we found.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Gun Cleaning Kit
Just as there are a wide variety of guns on the market to choose from, there are also a bunch of gun cleaning kits to decide amongst. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a gun cleaning kit:
Are you going to be cleaning your best rifles, handguns, or shotguns—or all three? Here’s some basic differences depending on the guns you’ll be cleaning:
- Handgun Cleaning Kit: If you’re only cleaning handguns, then a handgun cleaning kit is the obvious place to start. It will come with a much shorter cleaning rod so that you don’t have a couple of extra feet waving around while you’re cleaning a snubbie revolver.
- Long Gun Cleaning Kit: Obviously, handgun-length cleaning rods aren’t going to cut it here. Instead, these kits will have longer cleaning rods that often break down into multiple sections. The rods are often bigger in diameter, too, to help provide some extra rigid durability as you extend out to those longer shotgun barrels.
- Universal Gun Cleaning Kit: If you’ve got a diverse collection of guns, then a universal kit may be your best bet. It will have multiple different kinds of rods of different lengths along with a wider variety of caliber brushes and swabs.
A gun cleaning kit that you take into the field or to the range will often be quite different from one that stays on your workbench. Here are some things to consider when deciding between the two:
- Weight: If the cleaning kit is going to live on your workbench, then the weight isn’t an issue. If you plan on taking it with you on a multi-day hunting trip, then the weight is an important consideration.
- Size: Whether you’re taking it to the range or keeping it on your workbench, the size of the kit still needs to be considered. If the cleaning kit doesn’t fit in your range bag or if it completely dominates your workspace, then it’s more of a hindrance than a help.
- Pieces: It might be easy to think that bigger is always better, but you’d be wrong. Just as there is such a thing as bringing too much gun (like .30-06 for squirrels), there is also such a thing as too many cleaning components. Sometimes a more specialized kit with fewer pieces is just what the doctor ordered.
Gun cleaning kits come in at all different price points. The ones with more components are going to cost more. However, price doesn’t have to be a major deciding factor here. There are many great options no matter your budget, and just because it costs a lot doesn’t mean it’s going to do a better job. After all, a Geo Metro and a Porsche 911 both have gas and brake pedals and will get you from point A to point B.
I’ve been cleaning guns for more than 20 years. I am experienced in shotguns, rifles, handguns, black powder guns, antique arms, rare guns, etc. You name it, I’ve cleaned it—and I’ve used a lot of different cleaning products in that time. Here are a couple of things I take into consideration when deciding on a gun cleaning kit for my personal use, and, as a result, for this list:
- Durability: Obviously, the kit has to stand up to repeated use. I’m not going to spend my hard-earned money on something that’s only going to last a few times, and I’m definitely not going to recommend one like that to you.
- Adaptability: Sometimes, you need a specialized piece of equipment for a specific job, but more often than not, a universal set of tools will do perfectly fine.
- Practicality: Just because a certain item is in a kit doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have it. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some tools that come in ready-made kits which I’ve never used. Take a look at the parts that are included in any given kit and make sure that it has what you actually need to get the job done.
Best Beginner Kit
Why It Made the Cut: If you’re in the market for your first gun cleaning kit, the options can be a bit overwhelming. Otis, Gloryfire, Outers, Boosteady, and Hoppes are all popular choices, and the Gloryfire Universal Gun Cleaning Kit is my pick for the best gun cleaning kit for beginners. The Gloryfire Universal Gun Cleaning Kit has everything you need to clean your guns—and probably even some things you didn’t think you needed. Rods, brushes, mops, loops, patches, etc. It’s all here.
- Durable storage case
- Multi-caliber compatibility
- Wide variety of included tools
- Sturdy case will last a lifetime
- Huge assortment of cleaning tools
- No cleaning solution or oil included
Some gun cleaning kits come in cheap packaging with no means of actual storage. Worse yet, some come in so-called storage containers so flimsy that they break after just a few uses. Not the case here. This kit from Gloryfire comes in a fitted, hard plastic case that abides by the motto, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
With an assortment of rods that screw together for different length barrels (and two handles), this kit is perfect for your handguns and long guns alike. It also covers various calibers by including 14 different size bore brushes and nine assorted bore mops. An often overlooked tool to have is a good hand brush, and this kit has three with different bristle types in each.
The only downside to this kit is that it doesn’t come with any cleaning solution or gun oil. In a sense, this is a good thing because everyone has a different favorite to use. A nice touch, though, is the two included bottles for you to store smaller amounts of the solvent and oil of your choosing.
Best Universal Kit
Why It Made the Cut: So you want one gun cleaning kit to rule them all? Check out the Allen Ultimate Gun Cleaning Kit. As the best universal gun cleaning kit the Allen Ultimate Gun Cleaning Kit is a one-and-done purchase. Everything you need to clean pretty much anything in your collection, is in this 65-piece kit. Despite the huge number of pieces, it stores relatively compact in an ammo can. Plus, there’s space underneath the tool storage for any extra items you might want to have with you in the kit. This could be a flashlight, bigger bottles of solvent, or anything else you might need.
- Unrivaled 65-piece kit
- Specialty tools for modern sporting rifles
- Ammo box-style storage
- It’s all here—pistols, rifles, shotguns, etc.
- Organized storage trays and space underneath
- Secure storage
- Might be more than you need
Some people like having specific kits for specific purposes. If you’d rather have one big gun cleaning kit to cover all of your bases, then this kit from Allen Company is just what you need.
This kit has 14 bronze brushes, 13 brass jags, six bore swabs, four slotted tips, two brushes, and a pick. Whether you’re taking care of your .22 squirrel rifle or your AR-10, this kit has it all. While a lot of companies sell modern sporting rifle-specific kits, this one comes with these items standard. There’s an upper receiver brush, a bolt brush, as well as .223/5.56 and .308 chamber brushes.
Underneath the storage trays is a bunch of extra space. Sure, 65 pieces sound like a lot—and it is—but you will add more stuff to your kit. Thankfully, it’ll all fit into this ammo can. You can keep it at home on your workbench, in the back of your truck, or even as a dedicated range kit.
Because of the variety of items in this kit, it might be more than you need. You might find that you never use certain caliber items. If that’s the case, then this cleaning kit would be overkill, and you should look into something a bit more specialized. Or, perhaps just a universal kit with fewer options. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Best Portable Kit
Why It Made the Cut: Whether you’re on the range or in the middle of a hunt, sometimes you need to do a quick field cleaning on your gun. In this instance, you don’t need (or want) some gigantic cleaning kit. Instead, you just want something that’s easy to store and easy to use. Enter the best portable gun cleaning kit, the Otis Tactical Cleaning Kit. Don’t let the name fool you. Even though it says “tactical,” this cleaning kit from Otis does it all, even if you’re just plinking with a .22 or you’re out duck hunting. It has everything you need in a deceptively small package.
- Compact footprint
- Everything you need, ready to go
- Wide variety of included tools
- Small-but-mighty design
- Multiple pockets and inserts to maximize space
- Comes with a small bottle of CLP
- Not recommended as your only cleaning kit
Instead of having to devise your own smaller cleaning kit from parts of your bigger kit, it’s just easier to have one that’s small enough to grab and toss in your bag. Your intentions may be good, but eventually, you’ll lose a rod or a brush, and you’ll need to replace it. With the Otis Tactical Cleaning Kit, it’s always there when you need it, and you’re not robbing parts from your other kits when you head to the range or field.
There’s a lot packed into this small 4”x4”x2.5” footprint. There are six different caliber-specific bronze brushes, obstruction removers, different size patches, a bottle of CLP, and a small tip that will even go down to .17 caliber. They accomplish all this by utilizing cleaning cables instead of rods. Included are 8”, 30”, and 34” flexible cables attached to the brushes or patches that you hook the handle to for cleaning.
This is a great product for “in a pinch” situations, but it’s not a good idea to have this as your only cleaning kit because of its limited nature. You’ll want something more comprehensive sitting on your bench, but for what it is, you can’t beat it.
Four Immutable Truths When it Comes to Cleaning a Rifle
- If you don’t do it right, or don’t do it, eventually your rifle will fail to function, or start shooting groups the size of a garbage can lid, or both.
- There is no single “correct” cleaning procedure. No two people do it exactly alike.
- If you want to do the job right, get a borescope so you can look down the barrel and actually see what’s going on. Once upon a time, this involved spending considerable money. Now there are probably half a dozen out there that are eminently affordable. Without a borescope, you’re working blind.
- Cleaning a bore is not one job. It is two separate jobs. First, you get to deal with powder fouling. Second, you have to remove copper fouling. Only then are you done.
For more rifle-cleaning tips, check out David E. Petzal’s tutorial on the task here.
Q: Do you have to clean a gun if you don’t shoot it?
You don’t have to clean a gun if you don’t shoot it, but sometimes it’s still a good idea to do it anyway. For example, you may have been out in wet weather while duck hunting but didn’t get a single shot off. In this case, you’ll want to at least clean the exterior to protect it from the rain that it encountered.
If your guns just sit in a safe, it’s still wise to pull them out a couple of times a year, look them over, and make sure that they’ve not started to rust, etc. A cursory cleaning, in this case, is great preventative maintenance.
Q: What is the best thing to clean guns with?
If you ask 10 people this question, you’ll get 10 different answers. Essentially, you want to use materials that won’t damage the gun. This means soft brushes, patches, or rags and solvents and oils that break down and remove powder residue and fowling, followed up with something to protect and lubricate the gun until the next use. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of different products on the market.
Q: Can you clean a gun without a kit?
You can absolutely clean a gun without a kit. People have been cleaning guns for hundreds of years without purpose-built cleaning kits, and it worked just fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a hodgepodge of brushes, rags, solvents, etc. That’s how I did it for several years. The assemblage of tools for the job didn’t look pretty, but all of my guns were still clean when it was all said and done.
Final Thoughts on the Best Gun Cleaning Kits
Trying to find the absolute best cleaning kit is a fool’s errand, as no such thing exists. The fact of the matter is that many will come very close—such as the ones listed above—but there are shortcomings with each. There will always be room for improvement; that’s the nature of the beast with mass-produced products geared toward a wide variety of people.
With that in mind, my best advice is for you to buy multiple kits and see what works best for you. In the end, you may find yourself picking and choosing parts from each one to make your own gun cleaning kit tailored specifically for your needs.