Gun Cleaning Product Tests

In an effort to cut through some of the hype about gun cleaning products, the following information is presented for your enlightenment and enjoyment.  


Fr. Frog's Rule of Chemicals:  There are no magic cleaners nor lubricants.

That rule just about sums things up.  No manufacturer with any brains would deliberately market a product that didn't work. The composition of barrel fouling and firearms "crud" is well known and there are lots of chemicals out there that will dissolve and/or remove them.  Some might work a little better for certain types of fouling or under different conditions than others, but they all can do the job.  As with a lot of things, folks tend to idolize whatever it is they are using and to swear by Shinola 5000, because that's what they have while their buddy across the street swears that Mother's Magic Stuff keeps his guns running.

On my "There Ought to be a Law" page one of the things I bemoan is the plethora of variations of tooth pastes, shampoos, etc, that flood the market. Same with "gun chemicals." The reason for all the variations is, as Jeff Cooper use to say, "Why to sell you silly goose!"  Everyone wants a cut of the pie and everyone who comes up with a "new" idea or two wants to market them, and thus all the gun cleaners, oils, and greases.  Many of them are simply commercial products for other uses repackaged for the firearms trade.  Interestingly, while a couple of companies have seen this page and have emailed me and claimed to have some "super" cleaner that was vastly better than everything else, only two have ever sent a sample for unbiased comparison testing and while they worked very well they were nothing magical.

A lot of products are now packaged in aerosol cans which make them a bit easier to apply but in my opinion there is a lot of waste due to overspray and with the exception of degreasers I personally prefer regular liquids for most purposes.

I use to have a statement here that if you have a favorite cleaner or a product not tested here I'd be glad to test it.  However, in the couple of years I've been doing that I haven't found a truly bad product so I no longer will do any further testing. 

When it comes right down to it, I have not seen any product that I wouldn't use to maintain my firearms--but some work (a little) better for my purposes than others. 

In the end, what matters the most is simply keeping your firearms clean.  No matter what you use you'll also need to use a little of the only known miracle cleaner, "elbow grease."  Use the product you like or have on hand, follow good procedures, and let the ad copywriters battle it out--while you enjoy your clean firearms.  While having an National Stock Number/NATO # is no guarantee of any particular performance, items with such designations have at least met military "standards" for performance and I tend to look with favor on such products, but not to any great extent.  It is interesting that every manufacturer who has had someone in the military use their products claims "used by the military" as if to imply the product is a standard stocked and issued item

Lubricants (Or sliding down the slippery slope of truth vs. fiction)

It has also been suggested that I test lubricants, but after some thought and a discussion with a friend in the lubrication business I have decided not to do so.  Every day some new "wonder lube" appears on the market (most with ever increasing prices) and folks spend vast sums and run to it with expectations of fame and fortune and better shooting.  In addition, there are frequently conflicting "specs" given as to the temperature range of the products.  I have yet to find a gun lube company that openly publishes the full battery of ASTM lubrication tests and temperature data.  In reality "laboratory" tests have little relationship to real world use on firearms as the loading and shear forces are not like automotive or aircraft engines, and in fact most modern lubricants could probably be considered overkill in firearms.  There is a test of gun oils on the Internet that involved a rotating shaft and a lubricated, load bearing piece that rubbed against the shaft until things seized up.  Interestingly, a very popular and widely recommended firearm lubricant was among the poorest performers in this test.  To be blunt, I've been shooting for over 65 years and I have never had, nor have I heard of or encountered a failure of a firearm that could in any way be attributed to the lubricant used.

As with many gun cleaners, the majority of lubricants offered for gun use are repackaged commercial products--with most simply being various synthetic lubricants with anti-wear additives originally designed for other applications like the food industry. I know for a fact that one popular gun oil is simply repackaged Castrol synthetic motor oil--their 5W20 grade I believe--at $7.95 for 2 ounces.  In my opinion, the sole advantage to the commercially packaged stuff  is the convenience factor.  You get the product in an easy to use, small container rather than a quart bottle and that can be worth while. Some lubricants may be a little better than others for some specific critical tasks but when it comes to use on firearms there is, in fact, very little meaningful difference between the plethora of "gun oils." 

My recommendation is to use what lubricant you have at hand, properly apply it, and apply it to the right places. ATF fluid, motor oils, medical lubricants, or what ever will work just fine. You will get the best results with modern synthetic lubricants by completely cleaning all old lubricants off of the metal and then rubbing in several coats of the new lubricant before applying the final amount.  Warming the surfaces first helps.

For extreme cold weather you can use the synthetic motor oils and ATF if you are running auto lubricants.  They stay fluid and lubricate down to the -40 to -50 range.  If you need to go lower than that you'll probably freeze up before your lubricant will. 

Go shoot and don't loose sleep over whether or not you are using the latest "wunderlube."

If you like the various automotive oils you can get plastic dispenser bottles in 4 oz (100 ml) and smaller sizes from numerous sources locally ( I've gotten some nice ones from our Vet), or online at places such as

www.candlechem.com/bottles.htm  (Nice selection of small squeeze bottles)

www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/3393-aa.shtml

www.midwestbottles.com/index.php?p=catalog&parent=5&pg=1

Brownells also offers squeeze bottles with needle tips

1/2 oz 3-pak needle oiler - #084000361
1 oz 3-pak needle oiler - #084000127

Recently, a company that sells a lubricant called "FrogLube" sent me some samples just because of the name relationship.  (Maybe they heard my joints squeaking.)  It is a light green colored (what other color could a Frog lube be???) synthetic food grade lubricant that is listed as a cleaner, lubricant, preservative.  It is quite slippery and has a nice very faint minty scent.  I'd have no reservations about using it for general use.

Just as a point of interest below is a table of some common firearms oils and their low and high temperature limits (which are based on either their publish specs or on their pour point, and their flash point minus 10 degrees specifications).

Oil properties

Product

Low Temp High Temp
SLIP Gunlube (actually a CLP) -75 750
SLIP EWL  -65 750
SLIP EWL30 -65 750
SLIP EWG Grease -100 750
TW25B Grease -90 450
MC2500 (TW25 oil) -90 450
MPro 7 LPX (actually a CLP) -85 460
FP10 -50 290
Miltech 1 -45 450
Mobil 1 0-50 -65 425
Mobil 1 5-30 -40 445
Mobil 1 5-20 -40 445
Mobil 1 10-30 -38 450
Mobil 1 10-40 -65 480
Mobil 1 20-50 -60 530
Mobil 1 Syn ATF -60 430
Amsoil 10-40 -50 450
XF7 Grease nd 500(est)
Froglube nd (-45 est)  nd 450 (est)
nd = no data available

The Cleaner Tests

The solvents advertised as "cleaners" that were tested included:  Accubore, Barnes CR-10, BreakFree CLP, Butch's Bore Shine, Ed's Red (a home brew), Hoppes #9 (current formula), generic brand household (3%) ammonia, generic brand  janitor's strength (10%) ammonia, KG12, Kroil, Marksman's Choice MC-7, Marksman's Choice Copper Solvent,  M-Pro 7, M-Pro 7 Copper Remover, ProTech, Sweets 7.62, and Sam & Dave's #1.. These tests were done in 4 parts parts.  A copper solvent test, a copper fouling test, a carbon removing test, and a rust test test.  While the test conditions may not perfectly simulate a dirty rifle bore they are standardized and repeatable and I believe the results provide a valid comparison of the various products.  I addition, I've used all of these products to clean "real-world" firearms and the results match the findings of these tests.  While not all are good for removing heavy copper fouling, all of them work well as a general gun and bore cleaner.  


The Results

Normal Bore Cleaning - All of the products tested did an excellent job of removing normal barrel crud and fouling and were so close in performance that no listing is necessary.  The big factor in their use is to ensure that the bore is thoroughly soaked with the cleaner or results won't be very good.


Copper Removal Test - This test was done to ascertain whether a given cleaner dissolved copper.  It was conducted using a piece 1/4 " copper tubing and patches moistened with equal amounts of each solvent.  Starting with a clean piece of tubing a wetted patch was wrapped around the copper tube and was allowed to sit on the tube for 2 minutes.  The patch was then rotated around the tube several times, removed, and allowed to air dry. The patch was examine for a "greenish,"  "bluish, or "brownish"" residue which indicates copper removal.  

Copper Solvent Test
accubore (3k jpg) barnes (3k jpg) clp (3k jpg) butch's (5k jpg) ed's red (5k jpg)
Accubore Barnes CR-10 BreakFree CLP
The tan color is the result of the color of the solution
Butch's Bore Shine Ed's Red
Hoppes #9 (4k jpg) Kroil (4k jpg) MC-7 (4k jpg) MC Copper solvent (4k jpg)
Hoppes #9
The tan color is the result of the color of the solution
KG12 
(Note faint tan stripe in center.  The copper test piece was actually etched)
Kroil Marksman's Choice MC-7 Marksman's Choice Copper Solvent
sweets 7.62 (5k jpg) 10% ammonia (2k jpg)
M-Pro 7 Cleaner M-Pro 7 Copper Remover
(Orange color is from the solution)
ProTech Sweets 7.62 10% Janitor's Ammonia
household ammonia (4k jpg) ammonia & ivory mix (5k jpg) picture coming clean patch (5k jpg)
Household Ammonia (3%) after 15 minutes Ammonia / Ivory Mix Master's Bore Cleaner
The tan color is the result of the color of the solution
Sam & Dave's #1 Unused patch

In the interest of completeness the household ammonia wetted patch showed no discoloration after 2 minutes.  Since ammonia is THE easy to obtain copper solvent the patch was left in contact for additional time and examined after every minute.  At about 15 minutes the patch had developed a uniform very light blue--barely noticeable--discoloration.  The ammonia / Ivory mix is 2 parts 10% ammonia, 1 part sudsy household ammonia, 1 part Ivory liquid dish soap.  

KG12 is a non-ammonia based copper remover (using, I believe, organic acids, amines, and hydrocarbon citrus distillates as is M-Pro7 Copper Remover).  KG 12 from a company called KG Industries, LLC (www.kgcoatings.com) was designed for cleaning artillery pieces.  They are the first product I've seen described as "non-ammonia based" that actually seem to work well.  While they do not show "green" on the patch (I was advised that any discoloration would be tanish) and does not show a very dark stain on the patch.  They  definitely etched and dulled the surface of the test piece of polished copper tubing so they are attacking the copper.  These products would be a good ones for folks who have "ammoniaphobia."  The KG company did an interesting "test" where bullets were soaked in various commercial products and the KG12 definitely eats copper.  While this may not accurately portray bore cleaning abilities of other products because bores are scrubbed too, it does show that this product aggressively attacks copper.  It quickly and completely cleaned a friend's very badly copper fouled Garand, and the barrel of an UZI.  M-Pro 7 Copper Remover is similar but doesn't seem to be as aggressive in its action in my testing but it is a thicker mixture which seems to cling to the bore better.  Both are superior products and I recommend either of them.

All samples shown were photographed under identical lighting conditions and a clean unused patch is shown for reference.


Copper Fouling Test - This test was done to see if a given cleaner removed copper fouling without necessarily dissolving it. It was conducted with a clean and grease free piece of steel with a slightly textured finish which was exposed to a rotating piece of copper with approximately 10 pounds of pressures to generate a steak of copper on the surface of the steel.  The copper smear was then rubbed vigorously with patches wetted with an equal amount of solvent and allowed to stand for 5 minutes.  The sample was then rubbed briskly with another solvent wetted patch until the copper smear began to come off the metal onto the patch or 5 minutes elapsed, whichever came first.  This test did not photograph well as the copper smears were faint and the amount of fouling removed was slight (small particles coming off or slight patch discoloration) so the results are tabulated instead by observed appearance.

Copper Fouling Test

Product Fouling Removal   Product Fouling Removal
Accubore Slight Kroil None
Barnes CR-10 Moderate Marksman's Choice MC-7 Slight
BreakFree CLP None Marksman's Choice Copper Solvent Moderate
Butch's Bore Shine Very Slight M-Pro 7 Slight
Ed's Red Very Slight M-Pro 7 Copper Remover High
Hoppes #9 None Pro Tech None
Household Ammonia None Sweets 7.62 Moderate
10% Janitor's Ammonia Moderate to high   KG12 High
Master's Bore Cleaner Slight   Sam & Dave's #1 Slight to moderate

After-rust Test - Using the sample strip from the above test the sample was allowed to remain exposed to air at 50% relative humidity for 48 hours.  Any visible rust or etching was noted.

Rust/Corrosion Test

Product Corrosion Level   Product Corrosion Level
Accubore None Kroil None
Barnes CR-10 None Marksman's Choice MC-7 None
BreakFree CLP None Marksman's Choice Copper Solvent None
Butch's Bore Shine None M-Pro 7 None
Ed's Red None M-Pro 7 Copper Remover None
Hoppes #9 None Pro Tech None
Household Ammonia* Very slight rust

Sweets 7.62

None
10% ammonia* Very slight rust   KG12 None
Master's Bore Cleaner None   Sam & Dave's #1 None

* - These are straight water based solutions which probably contributed to the slight rust.

Test Conditions - 48 hours exposed to air at 45-52 percent humidity at temperatures varying between 67 and 80 degrees

To further investigate reports of "damage" (so far unsubstantiated as far as I can tell) due to leaving ammonia based solvents in the bore too long I repeated the after-rust test but use a polished sample to see if any surface etching occurs.  None of the solutions except the straight ammonia dilutions showed any visible signs of etching due to after rust.  It is my opinion that claims of bore damage were based upon the fact the the bore was initially rough an the extended use of copper removal solvents simple exposed the original rough bore.  Besides after using a copper remover you should clean the bore normally.  It has been reported to me by several correspondents that if there is any rust in the bore that ammonia based products can cause additional rusting (but then I don't let my bores rust).


Carbon Removal Test - A clean, grease free, steel strip was covered evenly with smokeless powder and the powder ignited.  This was repeated 3 times. The strip was then heated to near red hot and allowed to cool to try and simulated actual burned on powder fouling.  The resulting carbon smear was then rubbed lightly with patches wetted with an equal amount of solvent.  (While this does not create "baked" on fouling like one gets in a firearm it was the only thing I could come up with that was repeatable.)  In addition, I was able to try the solvents on several AR15 bolts and carriers and the results were identical. While all of the solvents eventually removed the fouling it was obvious that they all had to work harder to remove heavy baked on carbon.  If heavily applied and/or allowed to soak for a while and scrubbed with a stiff brush they work OK.  

None of them magically dissolved heavy baked on carbon but Piston Kleen, which was developed to clean automotive pistons, was quite fast (http://www.orisonmarketing.com ).  If you find a product that does email me by clicking here.)

Carbon Removal Test

Product Removal   Product Removal
Accubore Yes Kroil Yes
Barnes CR-10 Yes Marksman's Choice MC-7 Yes
BreakFree CLP Yes Marksman's Choice Copper Solvent Yes
Butch's Bore Shine Yes M-Pro 7 Yes
Ed's Red Yes M-Pro 7 Copper Remover Very slight
Hoppes #9 Yes Pro Tech Yes
Household Ammonia No

Sweets 7.62

Yes
10% ammonia No KG1* Yes
Master's Bore Cleaner Yes Sam # Dave's #1 Yes
SLIP Carbon Killer Yes+ Piston Clean Yes +
LPS-1 Yes

I have not yet tried SLIP's Carbon  Killer mainly because I don't want to buy a whole bottle, but I have been told that it works very well and judging from what I have heard may be repackaged Piston Kleen, from Orison Marketing..  I am also trying to come up with a bottle of Stihl's "DEcarbonizer" (their part number 0781-313-8018 0r 8019) but haven't been able to dig up less than a 6 bottle case.  It gets very high marks from AR users.  I have also been told that Chevron's Techron" fuel additive is an excellent carbon remover.  


A Tip

A tip to help with the application of cleaners.  The trick to getting good results with any cleaner or solvent is to thoroughly and evenly wet the bore with it. This is the reason that the foaming bore cleaners work so well--the really wet the bore thoroughly.  While most folks just wet a patch and run it through the bore a better method which gets more cleaner into the bore is to wrap an appropriately sized nylon (not brass) brush with a patch and then saturate the patch with the solution and scrub the bore.  The patch will hold significantly more solution this way and if you have a particularly tough spot you can stop the patch and allow it to soak.


Rough Bores

It isn't uncommon to find a rifle bore that isn't as smooth as it should be after it is thoroughly cleaned.  One option is to lap the bore with bullets coated with progressively fine grits (Brownells #840000001 through ...-007).  Another very clever option is to use KG Coating's KG-2 bore polish to in a process called "Fire Polishing."  Details on the process can be found at www.kgcoatings.com/images/pdf/Fire Polishing Procedure.pdfIt works quite well in my experience with jacketed bullet.  While it may also work with lead .22 bullets, it may work much more slowly and they recommend just using KG-2 on a patch with a jag on .22s.


Conclusions

I believe the results speak for themselves. The following points were noted.  Of common regularly available "bore cleaners" that I tested only Accubore, Barnes CR-10, Butch's Bore Shine,  MC-7, M-Pro 7, and Sweets showed any real ability to remove cooper fouling but none of them worked anywhere near the level of the KG12, M-Pro 7 Copper Remover, or ammonia based "copper solvent" solutions  .  No doubt that regular use would help to minimize copper fouling build up.  Some of the solvents that did not show immediate ability to remove copper fouling may gradually lift it off after extended use but such tests are beyond the scope of this article.  It has been reported by numerous users of the homebrew Ed's Red, that continued use seems to reduce any copper fouling and to make it much easier to remove.

Household ammonia will remove copper fouling but it is too weak a solution to have an useful affect within any reasonable time, but 10 percent janitorial strength "strong ammonia" works fine.  (Household ammonia runs around 3 percent.) For really heavy copper fouling removal the best removal method is probably the Outers Foul Out electronic system.  For more information on homemade solvents you can click here

PAY ATTENTION!!!

It should go without saying that you should never use a brass rod, bore brush, or jag with copper removing solvents. (After all what is brass made of?  DUH!).  Brownells is now offering the Dewey brand non-brass jags in both female (Dewey rods) and male (standard rods) threading.   Click on the links below for more information.

Female thread jags

Male thread jag


And Since You Asked

After testing literally dozens of products I have settled on the following for my maintenance needs.

General Bore and Gun Cleaning - Ed's Red homebrew (made by the gallon and brushed, sprayed, or used to soak parts.)
Copper Fouling Removal - M-Pro 7 Copper Remover, KG Coatings KG12, 10% Ammonia/Ivory Soap mix
Heavy Carbon Buildup -  Piston Kleen 
Lubrication (Grease)- Slip EWG, TW25B grease, and aerosol; automotive moly lube (for sears)
Lubrication (Oil) -SLIP EWL/EWL30, MC2500 (TW25B oil), 5W20 synthetic motor oil, ATF, or any handy "gun oil"
Degreasing - Walmart or other generic non-chlorinated "brake cleaner," 91% - 99% Isopropyl alcohol

Now what the heck am I going to do with all the bottles of other stuff?  Maybe if I mix them all together I'll at last find the "miracle cleaner" everyone is looking for. (With my luck there'd be a 200 foot smoking crater where my shop was.)

It's Clean! It's Clean!


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Disclaimer

All tests were conducted as fairly as I could and the results reflect what happened under the test conditions.  You're mileage may vary.  If you don't like the results feel free to spend the time doing your own tests.  If you are the manufacturer of one of the products tested don't send me hate mail if you don't like the results.  Adjust! Or, you could send me additional samples to test and report on. As far as I know all the information presented above is correct and I have attempted to ensure that it is. However, I am not responsible for any errors, omissions, or damages resulting from the use or misuse of this information, nor for your doing something stupid with it. (Don't you hate these disclaimers? So do I, but there are people out there who refuse to be responsible for their own actions and who will sue anybody to make a buck.)

Updated 2014-08-20