Proper Care and Cleaning of a Bolt Action Rifle

By Heather Madsen

One of the most important aspects of owning a firearm is making sure that it is properly cleaned and maintained. A clean and well oiled gun will be more accurate, less prone to misfire, and will last longer than a gun that is neglected. In this article we will cover the proper tools and procedure for cleaning a bolt-action rifle.

To start, you will need to assemble your cleaning products. You can get a kit that comes with everything or buy the individual products you need here. Either way, you’ll need a solvent or cleaner, gun oil, a clean rag or patches, bristle brushes, a cleaning rod with attachments, and a gun mat to work on. Q-tips are also a very useful and affordable tool you can use to help clean the hard to reach areas of your firearm. There are also a few alternative options for some of these items, and what you use will just depend on personal preference. For example, you can use a bore snake instead of a cleaning rod, or a clean cloth instead of a gun mat. Experiment with your options and pick the choice that works best for you. When cleaning any sort of rifle, you’ll also need a vise to keep your firearm steady and so you can safely use both of your hands. Once you’ve gathered all of these items, you’re almost ready to get started.

When handling any firearm, the most important thing to remember is safety. Before you start cleaning or disassembling your rifle, you’ll first need to make sure it’s unloaded. Always do a visual and physical check to make sure that your magazine is out (if your rifle has one) and that there is nothing in the chamber. Once you’ve made sure that your gun is empty, you’ll want to move any ammunition or magazines away from you and the firearm you’re cleaning. Placing them in a drawer or a separate room is a great way to ensure your safety, and the safety of anyone nearby.

Now you can begin the cleaning process. You’ll want to start by taking apart the different components of your firearm. For most gun owners, you’ll only need to know how to “field strip” your gun. Field stripping a bolt-action rifle is extremely simple and only requires you to remove the bolt. Refer to your owner’s manual for this step as different models have different take-down methods. Dismantling your firearm further is called “detailed stripping,” and unless you are a trained professional, you should not attempt it, as it is very easy to damage the smaller and more delicate pieces of your firearm if they are removed incorrectly. Once the bolt is separated from your firearm, you’re ready to clean.

To start cleaning your rifle, spray a patch with solvent and attach it to your cleaning rod via a jag or patch-holder attachment. Run the patch through the barrel, starting at the receiver and moving towards the muzzle. Once the patch exits the muzzle, remove it and pull your rod back out. This will keep any of the debris or carbon buildup you just cleaned from being dragged back through the bore. Repeat this process with new patches, until the patches come out clean.

Pro Tip: If your rifle hasn’t been cleaned in a while it might help if you start this process with a bristle brush attachment on your cleaning rod, before you go in with the patches. This will break up any carbon buildup in your bore and help speed up the process.

Next move onto the bolt. Simply spray the exterior of the bolt with your cleaning solvent and scrub it with a nylon brush. If there is heavy buildup in the crevices, you can use a plastic pick to clear away the debris. Wipe off any excess solvent with a clean rag.

Once your barrel and bolt are clean it’s time to move onto oil. Start by replacing the jag on your cleaning rod with a mop attachment. Spray the mop with a light coating of oil, and then run it down the barrel, once again going from receiver to muzzle. Do this a few times to make sure all of the bore is coated. Since your bore should be clean and free of debris at this point, it’s ok to pull the mop back through the gun, instead of removing it after each pass.

To oil your bolt simply spray a small amount onto your fingertip or a cotton swab and rub a light coating onto the bolt’s wear points, paying special attention to the lugs. Wipe off any excess oil with a clean rag.

To finish, simply re-insert your bolt into your rifle. Open and close the bolt a few times to make sure it is inserted correctly and everything is functioning properly. If it is, then your rifle is clean, oiled, and ready to be taken to the range.

If you have any questions regarding your bolt-action rifle or what was discussed in this article, please reach out to a Sportsman’s representative at, or visit your local Sportsman’s Warehouse and speak to an associate at the gun counter.

If you’d like to learn more about the care, cleaning, and usage of firearms, check out our other videos and articles.