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How To Clean A Bolt Action Rifle Properly: How To Guide

Bolt action rifles may be the most clean shooting type of firearm there is. But even so, they still need to be cleaned to be kept in proper working order.

After years of cleaning bolt action rifles, this is the process I use and steps I follow to efficiently clean my weapon. Although there are many ways to clean a weapon, with my steps I’m able to do it in under 15 minutes.

Proper Gear And Cleaning Supplies

To clean a bolt action rifle quickly and properly you’ll need the right cleaning supplies and tools. Check out the Best Gear To Clean And Lubricate A Firearm Correctly for a full list and where to find these supplies at a decent price.

Here are some of the things I use:

I like to use a gun cleaner to clean the weapon completely, and then go back through with gun oil to lubricate the parts of the firearm that need it.

However, all of these steps can still be followed if you prefer to use an all in one cleaner/lubricant like CLP or something similar.

Here’s an entire video walk-through of the process, with step by step instructions and pictures below:

Clear Weapon: Make The Rifle Safe

Even if you know the weapon is unloaded, it’s always best to drop the mag and pull the bolt back to the rear to check the chamber for a round.

That way you can make it impossible for an accident to happen. Besides, it’s one of the main rules of gun safety.

Take Bolt Carrier Out Of Rifle

The bolt carrier and bolt need to be removed out of the back of the rifle in order for you to start cleaning. Luckily, that’s the only step for disassembling a bolt action rifle to clean it.

Typically, there will be a bolt carrier release lever on the left side of the rifle that you need to depress in order to pull the bolt out through the rear.

You may need to check with your weapon manufacturer if there are any special steps required to remove the bolt.

Remove Bolt

Initial Pass Through The Barrel

I like to clean the bolt and bolt carrier first, but before then I get some bore cleaner into the barrel to start breaking down all the deposits in there while I work on other parts.

That helps make it easier to clean the barrel when I get to that step.

Just wrap a patch around a bore brush, soak it with bore cleaner or gun cleaner, and push it through the barrel a couple times with a rod.

Cleaner In Barrel

For these first couple passes, I only push the bore brush through the barrel in the direction a round is fired through it.

Those first couple passes are getting a lot of gunk out of the barrel, and passing the bore brush back and forth can cause all that gunk to act like sand paper on the inside of the barrel.

Just go in one direction for the first couple passes, and then if want, go back and forth later on.

Clean The Bolt And Bolt Carrier

Start with just a quick wipe down with a rag of the whole bolt assembly. Then spray the whole bolt assembly down with cleaner and scrub off any carbon or build up with a brush.

Cleaning The Bolt

You may need to use a cotton swab or patch and cleaning pick to get into some hard to reach areas around the safety lever.

Take extra care to scrub the locking lugs on the bolt, that area tends to build up more carbon than the rest of the bolt carrier.

Get a patch and cleaning pick to scrape the bolt face where the firing pin protrudes. You’ll want to really clean under the extractor and around the ejector on the bolt face.

Clean Bolt Face

There can be brass remnants or carbon deposits on the bolt face and you want to make sure to clean all that stuff off.

Scrape The Bolt Face

Keep cleaning the bolt and bolt face until and patch or rag comes away clean after wiping the area your cleaning. You may need to respray your cleaner and scrub multiple times.

Lubricate The Bolt Assembly

You could save all the lubricating steps for last, but I like to just lubricate the bolt since I’m working with it at the moment anyway.

Put one drop of gun oil down the side of the carrier where the safety lever is. Then add gun oil to the bolt assembly and locking lugs.

Lubricate Bolt

Wipe the oil in and get a nice coating over the bolt and locking lugs. The rule of thumb is anywhere there is metal to metal contact, put gun oil.

Use a cotton swab to get the gun oil into any hard to reach areas without using too much lubricant in the process.

Clean The Receiver And Chamber

The receiver tends to stay pretty clean on bolt action rifles, but you definitely want to make sure the chamber gets cleaned out nicely.

  • Just get spray some cleaner on the brush and in the receiver and start scrubbing out that area
  • Wipe the area out with a rag
  • Repeat those steps until the rag wipes away pretty clean
Brush Receiver

I like to pull a rag in through the back of the receiver and push it up into the chamber through the mag well.

You could add some gun oil to the receiver and chamber at this point, but if you’ve lubricated your bolt assembly well enough you shouldn’t need to.

Clean The Barrel Thoroughly

The barrel has been sitting with cleaner in it breaking down all the build up this whole time so it should be easier to clean now.

Use the same method as before, wrap a patch soaked with cleaner around a bore brush and push it through the barrel with a push rod.

Continue doing this until the patch comes out of the barrel relatively clean. It may take a while depending on how dirty the barrel is.

Clean Barrel Completely

When the patch is coming a little cleaner, I like to go back and forth through the barrel rather than always pushing through in one direction.

Just don’t stop pushing the bore brush half-way through and try going in the other direction. Go all the way in one direction, and then pull it all the way back in the other direction.

Lubricate Rifle Barrel

For this step I like to use a cloth bore brush, but you can keep using the brass bore brush with a clean patch on it.

Put some gun oil on your cloth bore brush or patch and push it through the barrel with the push rod. If you plan on storing your rifle for an extended period of time, stop here.

Lubricate Barrel

If you plan on shooting in the next month or so, push a dry patch or cloth bore brush through to remove most of the gun oil. That way you’re left with the smallest coating of oil in the barrel.

You don’t want to shoot the firearm with too much oil in the barrel, it can cause issues.

Install Bolt Carrier Into Rifle

To reassemble the rifle, you just need to push the bolt assembly back into the rear of the receiver.

Reassemble Rifle

On some rifles you may be required to push in the bolt release lever or latch to get the bolt assembly back in, and on others it will just push right in.

Functions Check The Rifle

I like to do a quick functions check on the rifle to make sure it’s all working properly. After all, we did just have it taken apart.

Simply make sure the rifle fires on fire, and doesn’t fire on safe. Make sure you can rack the bolt easily with nothing interfering.

Lastly, I like to get some oil on a rag and lightly wipe down the outside of the barrel and other exposed metal components that I want to preserve.