Alternative Gun Cleaning Solvent and Gun Cleaning Oil

ATF and Motor OilGrandpappy

ArmaLite conducted a series of extensive tests and they determined that Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is a very good gun cleaner and lubricant. ATF does a very good job at removing carbon deposits and it also does an excellent job of protecting steel surfaces.

ArmaLite also recommends motor oil as a superior gun lubricant and rest inhibitor. Synthetic motor oil is best but regular motor oil also works well. After cleaning the bore with ATF, you could swab the inside of the gun barrel with 2 drops of motor oil on a clean gun cleaning patch in order to prevent future rust problems.  

ArmaLite included the above information in a Technical Note that appeared on their web site at the following link:

Unfortunately the above link is no longer active. Therefore the following information is a direct quote from the above link at the original ArmaLite web site and the following information is being provided for fair use and educational purposes only.

Technical Note 64
Alternate Cleaning and Lubrication Materials for Small Arms Background

ArmaLite officials conducting small arms maintenance training in an allied nation were advised that Military and Police officers often use common cooking oil as a small arms cleaner and lubricant. A 4 ounce bottle of cleaning material common in Europe or America could cost as much as a weeks income for a laborer in much of the rest of the world.

ArmaLite is concerned that improper cleaners and lubricants could threaten the performance of its rifles in critical moments. ArmaLite’s staff has therefore conducted a preliminary study to identify inexpensive, effective small arms maintenance materials that are available worldwide.


ArmaLite has consulted with Small Arms experts at Rock Island Arsenal and elsewhere, and has conducted preliminary evaluations of the materials they recommended:

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) as a cleaner and light lubricant. ATF performs admirably as a carbon remover, and protects steel surfaces excellently (“Have you ever seen a transmission that’s rusty inside?”).

Twenty weight engine oil serves in an environment that is far more strenuous than normally found in small arms so it is normally quite successful. The Army authorities recommend synthetic oils such as Mobil 1. (In fact, one noted authority has used Mobil 1 as his personal firearm lubricant for over two decades.)

No safe copper remover formulation has yet been identified, but government tests reveal that copper removal provides no advantage in a standard military arm. It may serve a useful purpose in cleaning the bore of a rifle meant for extremely precise fire, such as a sniper rifle.


Employ ATF as a small arms cleaning agent, and follow with 20 weight synthetic motor oil as a lubricant.

Until a commonly available alternate copper solvent is identified, employ a commonly available commercial copper solvent such as Hoppe’s Number 9 on firearms intended for a high degree of accuracy.

Summary Copyright © December 10, 2008 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.

5 thoughts on “Alternative Gun Cleaning Solvent and Gun Cleaning Oil

  1. Folks,I like this article and if interested in alternatives look at eds red and other combinations here,I and many friends have used eds red for years with great results: .A mix of basic atf and acetone at 50/50 makes one of the best rust busters have ever used,I apply to say suspension bolts on trucks a few times before working on said suspension.The only thing I have had a tough time with is getting a plastic bottle with hand spray that will handle all the different chemical mixes I have have used from this site,happy thorough yet inexpensive cleaning!

  2. WD-40 is a primer killer , just FYI
    Some very inexperienced or new gun owners will find this out the hard way
    If it rolls , oil it , if it slides grease it
    Another very great lube for firearms is molybdenum
    Fills all the little pores of the metal and helps keep wear to a minimum , there is also a very expensive lube out there mostly used for small aircraft turbos called mouse milk , stuff is great . Take care of the tools and the tools will take care of you , guns will last a lifetime with proper care

  3. CONTENTS: Ed’s Red Bore Cleaner
    1 part Dexron II, IIe or III Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF), GM Spec. D-20265 or later.
    1 part Kerosene – deodorized, K1
    1 part Aliphatic Mineral Spirits, Fed. Spec. TT-T-2981F, CAS #64741-49-9, or may substitute “Stoddard Solvent”, CAS #8052-41-3, or equivalent, (aka “Varsol”)
    1 part Acetone, CAS #67-64-1.
    (Optional up to 1 lb. of Lanolin, Anhydrous, USP per gallon. It is okay to substitute Lanolin, Modified, Topical Lubricant, from the drug store)
    [JWR Adds This Warning: All of the usual precautions for handling caustic and flammable solvent fluids must be taken, such as wearing goggles and rubber gloves.]
    Mix outdoors, in good ventilation. Use a clean 1 gallon metal, chemical resistant, heavy gauge PET or PVC plastic container. NFPA approved plastic gasoline storage containers are also okay. Do NOT use a HDPE container, which is permeable, because the acetone will eventually evaporate. The acetone in ER will also attack HDPE, causing the container to collapse, making a big mess!
    Add the ATF first. Use the empty ATF container to measure the other components, so that it is thoroughly mixed. If you incorporate the lanolin into the mixture, melt this carefully in a double boiler, taking precautions against fire. Pour the melted lanolin it into a larger container, rinsing the lanolin container with the bore cleaner mix, and stirring until it is all dissolved. Divert a small quantity, up to 4 ounces per quart of the 50-50 ATF/kerosene mix for optional use as an “ER-compatible” gun oil. This can be done without impairing the effectiveness of the remaining mix.
    Label with necessary SAFETY WARNINGS: RIFLE BORE CLEANER, CAUTION: FLAMMABLE MIXTURE, HARMFUL OR FATAL IF SWALLOWED. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Flammable mixture! Keep away from heat, sparks or flame. FIRST AID, If swallowed DO NOT induce vomiting, call physician immediately. In case of eye contact immediately flush thoroughly with water and call a physician. For skin contact wash thoroughly.
    The lanolin can be found at better pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens. Ask the pharmacist, they usually have it in the back, not out on the shelves.
    Ed’s Red will not dissolve copper fouling, so have some copper remover solution on hand. Be aware that the ammonia in the copper remover can damage stock finishes, and will dissolve brass bore brushes. Have some extra brushes on hand, or use a stainless steel brush.
    The next item to have on hand is a quality gun oil. They are all pretty good. Note above that you can make your own from ATF/kerosene mix. If you want to improve on this, add a little lanolin. The lanolin provides longer term protection, since some of the other ingredients will eventually evaporate.
    INSTRUCTIONS FOR USING “Ed’s Red (ER)” Bore Cleaner:
    Open the firearm action and ensure the bore is clear. Cleaning is most effective when done while the barrel is still warm to the touch from firing. Saturate a cotton patch with bore cleaner, wrap or impale on jag and push it through the bore from breech to muzzle. The patch should be a snug fit. Let the first patch fall off and do not pull it back into the bore.
    Wet a second patch, and similarly start it into the bore from the breech, this time scrubbing from the throat area forward in 4-5″ strokes and gradually advancing until the patch emerges out the muzzle. Waiting approximately 1 minute to let the bore cleaner soak will improve its action.
    For pitted, heavily carbon-fouled guns, leaded revolvers or neglected bores a bronze brush wet with bore cleaner may be used to remove stubborn deposits. This is unnecessary for smooth, target-grade barrels in routine use.
    Use a final wet patch pushed straight through the bore to flush out loosened residue dissolved by Ed’s Red. Let the patch fall off the jag without pulling it back into the bore. If you are finished firing, leaving the bore wet will protect it from rust for 1 year under average conditions.
    If the lanolin is incorporated into the mixture, it will protect the firearm from rust for up to two years. For longer term use Lee Liquid Alox as a Cosmoline substitute. “ER” will readily remove hardened Alox or Cosmoline.
    Wipe spilled Ed’s Red from exterior surfaces before storing the gun. While Ed’s Red is harmless to blue and nickel finishes, the acetone it contains is harmful to most wood finishes.
    Before firing again, push two dry patches through the bore and dry the chamber, using a patch wrapped around a suitably sized brush or jag. First shot point of impact usually will not be disturbed by Ed’s Red if the bore is cleaned as described. It is always good practice to clean your guns twice, two days a apart whenever using corrosively-primed ammunition, just to make sure you get all the corrosive residue out. [JWR Adds: If in doubt about the priming used in any batch of military surplus ammunition or any ammunition of any description that is made in Eastern Europe or China, clean your guns repeatedly!]
    Remember, after cleaning, you can apply a thin layer of oil to protect from rust. Blued or parkerized finishes will still rust. But notice, I say “thin”. Excess oil will attract dirt, and can freeze an action in very cold weather.

  4. I used meguires car vinyl stuff to clean and lubricate a bit. Then, I topped the job off with olive oil and polished er up. Don’t really know how it’s gonna do but ya learn to use your surroundings when things get tough.

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