After a casual day on the range, a successful pursuit in the field, saltwater waterfowling, or an intense competition, shotguns – like any firearm – require a cleaning. 

How is that accomplished? What equipment is required? Will a quick wipe-down suffice? When should the gun be fully disassembled and deeply cleaned? We’re here to help. 

Table of Contents

Where to Begin
Field Cleaning
Full Cleaning
Don’t Choke
The Gear You Need

Where to Begin


For a beginner, cleaning a shotgun may seem like a daunting task, but we're here to help. (Photo: Seth Rodgers/

No matter the firearm type, the first step is always the same: ensure the gun is unloaded. If there’s a detachable magazine, remove it now. If tube fed, double check that all rounds have been removed. 

Next, prepare your work area. It can be as basic as the tailgate of the truck, or as advanced as a dedicated firearms workbench. When full disassembly is required, we always recommend doing so in a controlled interior environment where small parts are not as easily lost. In either case, using some sort of bench vise and proper cleaning equipment is ideal. 

Field Cleaning


Field stripped Stevens .410 shotgun
Field stripping a shotgun like this Stevens .410 allows you better access to clean the most important mechanical parts. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The most basic type of maintenance should be performed after every shooting session. At its most rudimentary, that could be as simple as a wipe-down with an oiled cloth and a few passes through the barrel to remove fouling. 

Most commonly, a shooter would field strip the firearm. For our general purposes, that often means removing the barrel for a quick cleaning. Whether running patches, a bore snake, or a Tico tool through the barrel, that should be done from breech to muzzle so as not to pull dirt and debris into the action. 

Shotguns are prone to plastic fouling caused by wads, and as that material builds up in the barrel, it may become necessary to use a dedicated wad cleaner. 

Always follow the directions on the cleaning solvent, as some require either polymer or bronze brushes. For the action, a quick cleanup might be as simple as wiping away any obvious grime with a cleaning rag and spraying out the internals with an appropriate solvent. Common choices include Hoppes, G96, Accubore, and Gun Scrubber, among many others. Small areas can be targeted with cotton swabs or an old toothbrush. 

Depending on the shotgun type, following the manufacturer’s recommendations on re-lubrication is crucial. In the case of break-action shotguns, metal-on-metal points often require gun grease, while a light oil is recommended for other areas. Hoppes, RemOil, and G96 are a few of our go-to brands in good ’ol gun oil. 

Regardless, less is more in the firearm lubrication department. Believe it or not, over-lubrication can cause as many mechanical failures as its opposite. 

Related: How Often Should I Clean My Gun?

Full Cleaning


Browning A5 action after cleaning
This Browning A5 action is shined to perfection after a complete takedown and cleaning. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

In contrast to routine light maintenance, firearms should be given a complete disassembly and deep cleaning of all internal parts at certain intervals. The time between such detailed upkeep will depend on the firearm type, but mostly hinges on the number of rounds fired. 

For instance, semi-automatics will require more care than, say, a single shot, to keep the scattergun running reliably. In a full cleaning, it’s important to only disassemble as far as the manufacturer recommends. 

For many, though, that means removing the stock(s), barrel, bolt, and trigger group. In some platforms, even the bolt itself should be disassembled, as well as the gas system on semi-automatics. Stubbornly filthy parts often find themselves in ultrasonic cleaners, while others require polishing. 

After all the parts are clean, re-lubrication and re-assembly completes the process. If the firearm is to be stored for long periods of time, a full cleaning and thorough preservative lubrication is the best bet. 

Some shooters are comfortable tearing their firearm down into its most basic parts, but others are not. For the latter, we recommend seeking the services of a professional gunsmith for occasional deep cleaning. Routine gun maintenance, though not free, is much cheaper than buying a new gun or paying for major repairs. 

Related: Pistol Cleaning Tips & Tricks

Don’t Choke


Shotgun chokes, tools and choke lube
Shotgun chokes require a little extra cleaning, and don't forget to finish with a quality choke lube or grease. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Unlike rifles or handguns, most modern shotguns require extra attention when it comes to cleaning, and that involves the choke tubes. If your shotgun has interchangeable screw-in chokes, be sure to regularly remove, clean, and properly lubricate them prior to re-inserting. 

Shotgun barrel and choke
Perform regular maintenance on your threads, and you won't suffer the pains of a stuck choke. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Each year, our local gun shop sees dozens of stuck choke tubes, due purely to shooter neglect. When the threads are not treated with a proper choke tube lube or grease, they can become almost impossible to remove. In fact, more than one shotgun barrel has been junked due to this completely avoidable issue. 

Related: Shotgun Chokes 101 – All Basics from Birds to Clays

The Gear You Need

Regardless of if you intend a rapid field strip or a detailed disassembly and full cleaning, having the correct equipment for the job is paramount. Using the wrong lubricant can – and will – lead to a non-functional weapon. 

For instance, while WD-40 is a great product for many household applications, it will not stand up to the heat and demands of semi-automatics, often turning to goo and disabling the action. 

Likewise, attempting to clean the barrel with an inappropriate rod, ill-sized jag, patch holder, or brush can damage the bore. 

Complete shotgun cleaning kits are surprisingly affordable, while more comprehensive kits will be welcome on the bench of any firearm owner. Being a conscientious firearm owner means taking responsibility for its care and maintenance, so when the moment comes, you never have to wonder if it will function. 

revolver barrel loading graphic