First of all, the answer to this question can be a big Yes or a big NO, depending upon a few circumstances.
Do you need to clean your firearm each time after you use it? Definitely not, but it is certainly a good practice.
It is like asking if you should brush your teeth once a day every day. Sure it is not necessary, but it certainly helps maintaining good hygiene and makes your teeth last longer.
Factors that decide if you should clean your gun after each use
These factors are listed in ascending order of importance (first point is the least important and the last is the most).
- The environmental conditions in which the firearm was used
- The recoil mechanism
- Type of firearm
- How much did you shoot
- Quality of ammunition
- Gun Storage
- Intended Use
Environmental Conditions that Call for Cleaning Firearms
The biggest detriment to a clean gun is dirt. If you were out shooting on a rainy day, near a swamp. Or your gun ate a bit of dirt, you should definitely clean it all.
Sweat is also a big enemy of metal because it is a combination of salt and water. If you carry your rifle close to your body and it comes in contact with your sweat (like a handgun in a holster), clean it often.
As far as semi-automatic firearms are concenred, they run on recoil, and the mechanism can be classified into two types – direct impingement and gas piston.
In a direct impingement mechanism (like the AR-15), the expanding gasses directly come in contact with the bolt to move it backwards. This puts all the grime directly inside the action, requiring cleaning very often.
Gas piston mechanisms (like the AK-47) channel the expanding gasses to a piston, which then rebounds to cycle the bolt. This type of action is much more cleaner, and requires lesser cleaning.
Type of Firearm
Handguns work the longest without hitches even when not cleaned on a regular basis. Additionally, revolvers need far lesser cleaning than semi-auto handguns because of their cycling mechanism.
Semi-automatic firearms that rely upon the power of expanding gasses to cycle need more cleaning than manual action like the bolt-action or pump action.
How much did you shoot?
If you are a lazy guy, a good rule of thumb is to clean your firearm after every 250-300 rounds for a rifle, 100 rounds for a bolt-action, and 500 rounds for a handgun. Pump action shotguns can practically shoot indefinitely without much cleaning.
On the other hand, if you really love your firearm, want it to live long and work every time as expected – Clean if after every use.
Quality of Ammunition
If you are using mil-surp ammo or ammo purchased from a garage sale, clean your firearm after each use. Dirt cheap ammo (usually imported) uses foul burning powder which can create significant fouling and grime inside your barrel and action.
If you are using high-quality ammunition from reliable manufacturer, there’s a wide margin for error.
You must have a good gun safe with a dehumidifier to properly store your firearms. Many people are occassional users of firearms, and there guns come out mostly during the hunting season.
If there’s a long gap between using your firearms (more than a month), you should certainly clean them every time you store them.
This eliminates the possibility of any fouling, grime, water, extra lubrication oil, sweat eating up the components over long periods of storage.
If you use your firearm for fun shooting sessions are the range or occasional plinking, you may not have to clean it after every use.
However, if you use it for EDC or CCW or home defense, clean you firearm after each time you use it.
It is because when you need your firearm, it is a 100% chance that your life depends on it. And proper cleaning and maintenance will ensure that your firearm works as intended.
If you firearm is for competitive use, there’s no need to tell you that you should clean it after every use.
Additionally, if your firearm is a collectible or a precious heirloom, ensure to store it properly, and clean it regularly and after every time you use it.
Cleaning your firearm after every use is not necessary under all circumstances. However, it is definitely a good practice because it ensures that your firearm is in proper working order and also makes you familiar with your weapon.