Want to know the truth? I hate cleaning my guns. My friend Fred cleans them like he’s preparing to operate on his own spleen. You could literally eat off his fine hunting rifles, polished and oiled. Me, I do the bare minimum. I admit it. And while some people think you don’t have to clean your airsoft and pellet air guns because they don’t fire cartridges, which deposit propellant debris down the barrel and into the action, they are dead wrong. Air guns require as much maintenance as regular firearms, just of a different type.
While the exterior metal parts of firearms and air guns should be wiped down with a lightly oiled cloth (using RWS Spring Cylinder Oil, for example) to prevent rust, their power plants are very different. The air rifle or pistol is mechanical, and for the most part the engine of an airsoft gun is electronic. Therefore, with airsoft guns, normal cleaning is augmented by maintenance of the internal gears and motors, which I won’t cover here.
Most high-end spring piston and pre-charged pneumatic air guns have steel, rifled barrels. These barrels are made of a softer kind of steel than centerfire barrels are, because they don’t have to withstand the pressure of a fired cartridge. Lower cost air guns may have barrels made of actual brass or instead lined with brass-rifled sleeves. In both cases, use of the traditional rod-and-patch method of cleaning the barrel will quickly wear out the shallow rifling.
Since unburned powder and action lubricants are not being deposited in the barrels, most air-gunners (even competitive shooters) don’t bother cleaning their barrels at all. They rely on the next pellet down the chute to clean the bore. Since high-velocity hunting pellets are harder than match pellets, it won’t hurt to pull a patch through the barrel occasionally when you’re primarily using hunting pellets. If you have a heavy steel barrel you can use one of the pull-through cleaning kits like the .177-.25 caliber Flex Cleaning Kits sold by Otis or the air-gun-specific Quick Bore Cleaning Rope made by Stoeger.
I personally clean my barrels by firing Beeman’s Quick Cleaning Pellets through the barrel every 100 to 150 shots. Available in .177, .20, .22 and .25 calibers, these hard felt pellets weigh just one grain and allow you to use your gun’s power to clean the barrel. If I am planning to store my air gun for a while, I will fire a cleaning pellet soaked in a good gun oil to protect the bore. Cleaning pellets by Beeman, VFG and RWS, as well as all the other air-gun cleaning supplies mentioned here, are available at pyramydair.com.
PCPS & AIRSOFT
I must point out that a new class of air gun has emerged in the last few years that requires a little more cleaning power than these small felt pellets can muster: PCP rifles that fire actual lead centerfire bullets. The Crosman/Benjamin Rogue (and its .357 bullets) represents the low end of the power scale. At a recent organized shooting day, I was astounded to see a display set up by Don Reed’s DGS Airsoft Range & Showroom. Don had his own air rifles chambered for .357 and .50, and his cohort Roy Harris had his PCP rifles chambered in .308 and .458! Pre-charged rifles such as these, pushing full-weight rounds at nearly 1,000 feet per second, would have to have their barrels cleaned with solvent and brushes in the same manner as regular centerfire rifles.
The airsoft barrel is another animal altogether. Since it fires a smooth plastic BB, it has no rifling and doesn’t need brushing at all. To make sure your airsoft barrel is clean and clear of obstructions, swab a silicone-soaked .22-caliber patch down the bore. Airsoft guns get rougher treatment during skirmishes than pellet-firing air guns do under normal use. After you’ve hit the mud face-first, to avoid being shot by your best friend you must have a can of compressed air around to spray dirt out of the plastic that houses your ECHO-1 Troy M4’s action, as well as cotton swabs to clean dirt out of the magazine well and tight crevices.
Beyond the barrel, the key to a spring or PCP air gun is the seals that the compressed air passes through. The rubber O-ring seals (tiny gaskets) that seal the barrel have to withstand great pressure when closed. A seal failure will shut your gun down, so after each shooting session, wipe the seals clean, give them a light coat of lube such as Crosman’s Pellgunoil and check for cracks. A seal with any defect in it will cause a loss of air pressure and must be replaced. At a cost of $5 to $10, compared with ruining and replacing a $400 air rifle, it’s worth it to keep a supply of replacement seals for each of your air guns.
On spring-piston guns, the spring is a closed system, and taking it apart would void your warranty. But if you remove the stock on most air rifles, you can see some coils of the main spring. Every 1,000 shots, a few drops of Spring Cylinder Oil on the spring and a few drops of a nonpetroleum-based air-gun chamber lube into the compression-chamber port will keep your spring-piston internals humming. (Note that using “regular” petroleum-based oil or lube will actually cause detonation within the compression chamber, which could destroy the gun.)
On break barrels, all hinge points on the lever should get a few drops of lube. Using a high-quality grease like the one produced by Weaponshield on these external moving parts will increase their life and decrease the effort in cocking the gun. If your air gun is CO2-powered, Crosman used to offer a great CO2 gun maintenance kit that used a cartridge to fire Pellgunoil throughout the fire control mechanism. If you can still get your hands on the kit, it is a great way to keep your gas gun going.
The power plant on the full- and semi-auto airsoft guns is an electric motor powered by the same kind of battery pack used on radio-controlled cars. The electric power runs gears, which propel the BB down the barrel. Dirt that gets into the fire control mechanism requires the disconnection of the gun’s battery pack before you use a screwdriver to open up the gun’s plastic body. All internal gears and springs and any moving parts in the gun (and even within the magazine) should be cleaned and then get a drop of oil.
After reassembling and cleaning your airsoft gun, you should reconnect the battery, start the motor and fire a few shots into a safe backdrop to make sure all parts are in working order. Whether you’re competing in a 3-Position Precision Air Rifle match or popping zombies with your airsoft MP5, stocking up on air-gun-rated cleaning supplies will help ensure years of fun.