How to Clean a Muzzleloader

A young man shooting a muzzleloader rifle.

A muzzleloader is basically any firearm that is loaded from the muzzle end. In this category of firearm are many weapons, including mortars, cannons, muskets, matchlocks, wheellocks, snaplocks, flintlocks, caplocks, and more modern in-line closed breech muzzle-loaders, which is what I am using for this article today. My dad is an avid hunter, and with the recent disappointment of an unproductive regular firearm deer season, he decided to try his luck at muzzleloading this year. The muzzleloader season adds two more weeks to his overall hunting season. If this year proves unsuccessful, then perhaps next year he may try his hand at archery. That season goes for 3½ months.

This closed breech inline muzzleloader is made by Thompson/Center, which is owned by Smith & Wesson. This model is a newer model called the Omega Z5. It takes advantage of a new patented design called the swinging breech. It’s a pretty smart set-up. Give the trigger guard a stiff tug and it swings down, opening the breech and exposing the primer pocket. Then, once a primer is placed in position, the trigger guard and breech are swung back up and locked into place. OK, now to get back to the article. There are two places that you will clean your muzzleloader: in the field and at home. I have described the techniques for both below.

Steps to Field Clean a Muzzleloader

  1. jag and cleaning patch in gunUse the jag and cleaning patch to clean the bore of your muzzleloader. Before cleaning the rifle make sure that is unloaded AND unprimed. Use a jag that is specifically made to fit in the bore of your rifle, which is dependent upon the caliber. Attach the jag to the ramrod by threading it on the tip. Soak a cleaning patch with bore solvent and lay it on top of the muzzle of the rifle. Push the jag down into the bore of the rifle. The jag will fit tightly down the barrel, dragging the patch with it. Move it up and down the bore several times to loosen up the fouling. Next, replace the wet patch with a dry patch to remove the rest of the fouling and dry the bore. Do this with dry patches until one comes out looking clean.
  2. brushing out breech assemblyClean the breech assembly with a stiff-bristled brush.Look into the primer pocket and locate any fouling or carbonation that may have accumulated there. Use a stiff-bristled cleaning brush or toothbrush to scrub that stuff away from the primer pocket and breech plug. If needed, apply a little solvent to the brush to aid in removing stuck-on carbonation. Use a dry patch or cloth to dry the breech and remove any loosened junk. If the muzzleloader is excessively dirty, like to the point that field cleaning is not sufficient, then you should do a thorough cleaning.

Steps to Thoroughly Clean a Muzzleloader

  1. using breech plugClean the muzzleloader’s breech plug. Make sure that the rifle is unloaded and unprimed. Swing the breech open by pushing the trigger guard down and forward. Use the breech plug wrench to remove the breech plug by turning it counterclockwise. Once removed, scrub the breech plug free of fouling by using a stiff-bristled brush and bore solvent. Also, scrub out the threads inside the bore where the breech plug screws in. Before replacing the breech plug, the make sure it is dry and well lubricated with anti-seize lubricant. Don’t replace it until you have finished cleaning the bore of the muzzleloader.
  2. hot soapy water with jagClean the bore of the muzzleloader with hot soapy water. With the breech plug removed, attach the cleaning jag to the ramrod. Get a bucket with ½ gallon of extremely hot soapy water in it. Place the muzzle of the rifle into the bucket of water. Hold the butt of the rifle firmly with one hand while pushing the ramrod, with cleaning jag and dry patch attached, down into the hot soapy water. Work the ramrod up and down quickly to suck the hot water up into the bore. This will help to flush out the fouling.
  3. drying with jag and patchDry the bore with the jag and a dry patch. Once all the fouling is flushed out, wipe the barrel dry and push a few dry patches through the bore with the jag and ramrod. Once the bore is dry, push a lightly oiled patch through to ensure that the barrel doesn’t rust up while the muzzleloader is stored. Be careful to not excessively oil the bore, as it can cause blockages. Look down the bore while holding it up to a light to make sure there aren’t any oil drips inside.
  4. oiling gunWipe the gun down with a little oil. The final step is to wipe down the ramrod, jag, and rest of the rifle with a lightly oiled, lint-free cloth. This will keep the gun from rusting while it’s stored. Replace the breech plug once it’s cleaned, making sure to apply some anti-seize lubricant to the threads before carefully rethreading it into the breech. Also, be careful not to cross thread it. Lastly, using a straw tip applicator, squeeze some moisture-displacing oil into the firing pin. Then test to make sure everything works.

Tips and Reasons for Cleaning Your Muzzleloader

  • Always make sure your muzzleloader is both UNLOADED and UNPRIMED before cleaning it.
  • When lightly lubricating your weapon, don’t use a heavy grease or oil. In cold climates it can congeal and slow or altogether stop your hammer from seating.
  • After scrubbing the barrel with hot soapy water, make sure it is completely dry before applying a light oil to the bore.
  • Make sure the breech plug threads are meshing properly before screwing the breech plug in. Improperly installed breech plugs may kill you.
  • In order for your muzzleloader to work properly, it must be properly cleaned.
  • Field cleaning as part of a regiment of maintenance should be performed each day after shooting has finished.
  • Thorough cleaning should be done after the season and before you store your rifle for extended periods of time.
  • Clean your muzzleloader in a well-ventilated area.

Muzzleloader Cleaning Products

spray bottle of bore solventBlack powder bore solvent.Whether you use black powder or Pyrodex, this bore solvent is supposed to help remove it better than the regular bore solvent. It also helps removes plastic, copper, and lead deposits.

spray can of foaming cleanerFoaming bore cleaner is an alternative to cleaning with hot water and bore solvent. Just spray it in the bore, let stand one hour, and then wipe clean. You will still need to lightly oil the barrel to prevent rust. You can get Thompson Center Arms T17 Foaming Bore Cleaner from Amazon.

jar breech plug cleanerBreech plug cleaner. Once you remove your breech plug, just drop it into the breech plug cleaner container, screw the top back on, and give it a few shakes. Then wipe the breech plug clean.