Why You Need Gun Oil and What Type

by Dave Chesson

May 30, 2023



A lot of new gun users get hung up on whether or not they need a gun oil, cleaner or lube? Or all three.

Truth is, there is a lot to this question and we believe its important for those new to guns to better understand this.

First, you need to understand why we use gun oil, and for what purpose. Once you know that, you can then purchase the right type of gun oil for your needs.

Why Do You Need Gun Oil? 

You need gun oil to keep your guns from rusting and to keep them running reliably. The right kind of oil for your gun can also be handy when cleaning your firearm.

So, there are really three purposes for gun oil:

  1. Lubrication,
  2. Protection from corrosion, and
  3. Cleaning

Let’s break down each of the three purposes of gun oil before we explore with type of oil is best for each purpose (yes, there are some differences).

Gun Oil Purpose #1: Lubrication

Much like a car’s engine needs oil for lubrication to combat the heat from combustion and friction and pressure due to moving parts, the same is true for firearms.  

Also true to this analogy is this: the lubrication of an engine (just like with a firearm) does two things, it helps the engine run better AND it helps prevent excessive wear thereby allowing the engine to also run longer.

Although modern firearms may have polymer (see: fancy word for plastic) parts, the functional parts of firearms are still metal because they must be strong and endure wear.

It is not completely fair to say that all firearms need oil to operate properly and to protect from wear. For example, a bolt-action rifle that is used twice a year (once to sight-in the rifle before hunting season and once during hunting season) is not likely to malfunction due to a lack of proper lubrication nor is it likely to prematurely wear.

In this bolt-action rifle example, the rifle is not like an engine but rather more like a latch on your gate. Sure, it might be smoother with some oil but the occasional use is not going to cause so much friction that oil is absolutely needed in order to function properly and your manual operation of the action will overcome any friction.

Now, semi-auto, or if you’ve got your FFL, full-auto firearms are a completely different story and as a general rule will almost always need the right amount of gun oil (too much can be a problem) to operate properly. These firearms are like the engine in the first analogy.

These firearms not only have more (and faster and under more pressure) moving parts, they also rely upon their own mechanism to operate and any friction resistance can not necessarily be easily overcome (like a manually operated firearm can be).

So, faster parts during operation, along with the potential for faster and more shooting, results in more heat and friction which must be counteracted with a good gun oil for lubrication. A quality AR-15 might run for a bit dry, but it needs to be properly oiled to run reliably and properly. The same is true for a pistol. Yes, they can run dry, but they will run better (and last longer) when properly lubricated.

Think of it this way, if you’re trying to save money and refuse to use oil to lubricate your semi auto firearm, you’ll save even more money on ammo too because you won’t be able to shoot very much ammo when your gun keeps malfunctioning or breaking. ????

For lubrication, Break-Free CLP (our Editor’s Choice/all around gun oil) and Mobil 1 synthetic oil (our Best Value choice) both work great. But, if you want the premium option here, go with Militec-1 and don’t look back.

But here’s a dirty secret about gun oil: although we ranked our favorites, or what we think is the best, above, as long as you use oil suitable for guns (or engines), and you keep your gun lubricated…. you’re going to be fine!  If my bolt on my AR-15 is wet with oil, ANY OIL, it is going to run better than when it is dry.

So, yes, we recommend what we think the “best” of each oil is, but don’t get sucked into a marketing trap. This is primarily why we included Mobil 1 oil – 1 quart is usually less than $10 and it will last you a lifetime.

Gun Oil Purpose #2: Protection from Corrosion

Steel parts, no matter how fancy the coating, are eventually prone to corrosion (rusting).

The best protection against rust is a light coat of oil.

The same oil you use for lubrication (above) can absolutely be used to protect from corrosion, but it may not be the best idea. For example, we obviously like just using a quart of Mobil 1 for lubrication. However, coating your firearm in motor oil leaves it… well… oily.

Instead, an oil meant for corrosion protection (like our all-around work-horse Break-Free CLP) does a much better job at protecting with a light film of oil.

Also, some of the premium oils for lubrication may not play nice with fancy firearm coatings, wood stocks or grips, or even certain plastics. Also some oils can get really gummy when left on a gun for months.

So, although any good enough oil is good enough for lubrication, you really should consider something intended to protect against corrosion for wiping down your guns for storage.

If you missed our extra special cool-guy trick with the barber’s shave brush above, we’ll share it again here: get yourself a cheap shaving brush, apply a few drops of BreakFree CLP to the bristles, and then use it to “paint” and dap the few drops of oil all over your gun. You’ll be amazed out how nicely this works to get a thin layer of oil everywhere (including all of the nooks and crannies). Then, just leave the brush in your safe and it’ll be there for next time you put a gun away.

Gun Oil Purpose #3: Cleaning

Some, I repeat some, gun oils can be used for cleaning your firearm.

Most gun oils are designed for one of the purposes above (that’s why we covered them first) and only oils that are specifically marketed for cleaning (often called a “CLP” for Cleaning, Lubricating, and preserving like Break-Free CLP) should be relied upon to clean.

And, even CLPs aren’t very good at it. But, in a pinch, it’s better than nothing.

If you’re going to clean a firearm and you need a solvent or oil to aid in cleaning, we really recommend that you get a proper firearm cleaning solvent at a minimum – you really should be looking to get the other necessary tools as well and get yourself started with a firearm cleaning kit (we rank and review or favorites here: Best Firearm Cleaning Kits).


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About Dave Chesson

Dave Chesson is prior Navy with a specialty in international arms dealing for the US government across multiple countries. Having traveled the world and abided by ATF and ITAR, Roy has a unique background in legal as well as practical capabilities of weapons deployment and use.

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