For as long as there have been firearms forged from steel—a metal alloy that contains iron—hunters and shooters have had to deal with iron oxide, otherwise known as rust. Even if you take great care to ensure a gun is cleaned, oiled, and stored properly, rust has a way of showing up on barrels and metal receivers when it’s least expected. It’s never a bad idea to periodically check and clean your firearms, even long after hunting seasons have closed.
Here are a few simple tips that can help you prevent rust and corrosion from forming on your firearms so they not only look good, but also stay in tip-top shape to perform when needed.
Preventing Gun Rust
Rust is a four-letter word that no gun owner wants to hear, and the best way to clean rust from a gun is by stopping it before it happens.
Humidity is the biggest contributor to rust, since moisture causes iron to oxidize. Hunters tend to store guns in basements or closets or other places with poor circulation where humidity builds. While most people wipe down their guns after hunting or shooting in the rain or snow, they often forget that storing guns in humid places for weeks or months at a time can lead to significant damage.
If at all possible, store firearms in locations where you can monitor or control the humidity. In other words, storing them next to the bathroom or the kitchen is never a good idea.
Or, if you know humidity will be an issue, consider buying a mini dehumidifier for your gun safe or closet that uses renewable silica gel. These units are extremely affordable, and even the smallest models can help manage humidity in a 10- to 20-gun safe. They work without batteries or power, and they’re simple to use. Once the silica becomes saturated, to recharge it all you have to do is plug it in for a day or two and then hang it back up in your safe. I keep two on hand for my safe at home to ensure one stays active while the other is recharging.
In addition to moisture, whenever anybody handles a gun, their fingerprints end up all over metal parts such as the barrel, receiver, charging handle or bolt, and the oils from those fingertips will eventually rust if they’re not wiped down. So, make sure every time hands come in contact with a gun, you wipe it off and oil the firearm.
As far as oil goes, there should be a nice, light, glossy sheen covering the metal parts of the gun. A wide variety of oils from various manufacturers do the job, but the trick is to apply them to a rag first. If you apply directly to metal, those drops of oil or even spray from an aerosol will instantly find the nooks and crannies on a gun that you can’t see or get to without tearing the gun apart. Most people use too much oil on their guns anyway, which attracts dust and debris and can cause the gun to malfunction. In other words, less is more when it comes to oiling your guns.
Also, remember that gun cases are great short-term storage options to help you get a firearm from Point A to Point B, but never store firearms for too long in soft gun cases or even hard cases with foam interiors. Basically, any case or sleeve that’s soft or has foam will trap and hold moisture around your gun and inevitably lead to rust. In addition, if a gun is left in a hard-sided case too long, the oils and solvents will eat away at the foam on the inside of the case, essentially ruining it.
Another inexpensive way to save money and time in the long run is to buy silicone-treated gun socks. They typically cost less than $10 and act as an additional barrier to keep moisture away from your gun to prevent rust, and even scratches or dents and dings, as you safely store firearms in a gun safe or cabinet. Using socks with oil embedded in them usually means you can clean a gun, store it, and then pull it out later looking the same.
Treating Gun Rust
There are essentially two degrees of firearm rust.
The best-case scenario is a light surface rust that’s just starting and sometimes won’t even leave a mark after it’s removed. This type of rust is called flash rust, and with a little elbow grease most firearms are no worse for the wear.
The second type is when the rust pits the metal and eats the finish, leaving a rough spot in the metal. Those pits or rough patches are always going to keep rust.
If a firearm develops light surface rust where there’s no pitting, it’s pretty easy to clean the rust using a few inexpensive products—the key is to combat it right away using some oil on soft steel wool. Use the steel wool with the “grain” or flow of the metal parts in a wiping motion rather than a hard, scrubbing manner. Caution is paramount, as being too aggressive or scouring too hard will not only take off the rust, but also the metal finish that lies just underneath it.
If the oil-and-steel-wool combo isn’t cutting through the surface rust, consider stepping up to a polishing agent and rag. Apply a dab of the agent to a rag, then gently go over the rust spots before wiping up the excess with a dry part of the rag. Use a light-colored rag so you can see if it’s pulling the rust off the metal.
If rust has advanced to the point where it has pitted the metal, then a trip to the gunsmith might be in order. But one bill from a gunsmith will make you realize the importance of preventing and treating rust before it gets to that point.
Feature image via Weatherby.