Rimfire rifle cleaning

Cleaning your rimfire rifle may be doing more damage than good

Q: A bunch of guys at our local range got together and were arguing about how often we should clean .22 rimfire rifle barrels.

We couldn’t arrive at a consensus as to whether or not they should be cleaned at all.

Could you shed some light on the subject of whether or not to clean them? If so, how often, how thoroughly and with what kind of cleaning gear?

Glen Morrison

A: I reckon more damage has been done to the barrels of .22 rimfire rifles by cleaning than by neglect, particularly in this day of non-corrosive ammo.

Here on the Central Tablelands of NSW, where humidity is low and salt air non-existent, I seldom clean my .22 rifles more than once a year.

If you live near the coast, you might need some preservative in the barrel unless you keep the gun in a de-humidified safe.

Over the years I’ve found out a few things about .22s. First, a .22 will often shoot better with the bore fouled and will do so for long periods.

Second, after a thorough cleaning it may not group as well for the first 10 to 20 shots and may even shoot to a different point of aim. Somewhat of a worry if your gun is a competition target rifle.

Some centrefire rifles can be like this too.

If you own a quality .22 rifle and live in a dry climate, don’t bother cleaning its bore until it really needs cleaning — unless accuracy drops off, or you plan on storing it away for a long period.

Occasionally, you may need to clean the action and chamber, especially if you shoot wax-coated target bullets.

As to what to clean with, the steel in rimfire barrels is normally softer than in centrefire barrels and I prefer to use stiff nylon brushes instead of bronze brushes.

A few passes through the bore with a nylon brush dipped in gun oil, followed by a few dry patches, is usually enough to remove any powder residue.

One word of warning: don’t use bore solvents which have ammonia. You don’t need to dissolve metal fouling and it can damage your barrel if misused.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.