How to Clean an Inline Muzzleloader

By Randy Wakeman

I've received more correspondence regarding cleaning an inline muzzleloader than I expected. Apparently, some great mystery has been ascribed to this, although you would think that after all these years we would have figured it out by now. Though I'm hesitant to state there is only one "best" or even "better" way, it need not be a frightening or formidable task. You really don't need any esoteric or unique concoctions, although those who sell them would rather you believe that is the case.

Shooting an in-line muzzleloader causes two basic types of fouling: ignition-based and propellant based. The ignition-based residue is the bulk of the primer compound that coats actions and the inside of breech plugs. The primer energetic primarily leaves behind carbon composites, which can be dealt with efficiently by various automotive carburetor and parts cleaners--Permatex "Pro-Strength Brake & Parts Cleaner" is one specific example. The more aggressive gunmetal cleaners as Brownells "TCE" or "Gun Scrubber" work just as well, if not better. Most metal cleaners that contain trichloroethylene, used in conjunction with a bronze brush, break up the carbon crud quickly. An often-overlooked area is the internal breech plug threads of your barrel, which should receive the benefit of a good brushing.

Any light machinery oil will protect the now bare metal, though I've long felt that a drop or two of Breakfree CLP is the best thing you can apply as a protectant. Contingent on gun, a wipe with Breakfree around the very lightly fouled areas (perhaps the trigger group) is all you need. The worst product ever applied to guns, in my experience, is WD-40. A good irrigant, squeak stopper and penetrant, it is a very poor lubricant or protectant, with a low film strength. You are far better off with motor oil than this aromatic gun-wrecker. Though WD-40 is not the pits for everything, it is a very good way to find them in your barrel.

As for the barrel itself, water is touted as all you need for cleanup of Hodgdon's "Triple Seven" from gun bores, though you really don't need much more than that with black powder or Pyrodex. After all, spit patching between saboted projectile shots is all that is normally required, though some may be blessed with more cleansing spittle than others.

A plastic pail of hot water with a few drops of laundry detergent added does the trick, just shoving your muzzle in the bucket and working your bore brush up and down a half dozen strokes is all you need. Finish with a dry patch, and then a Breakfree CLP patch (which is also a mild cleaner) and you are good to store your weapon.

On the road, a bottle of any of the commercial black powder cleaners is handy. That, a handful of patches, your jag, and a small "to go" bottle of Breakfree is all you need. Windex (yes, with ammonia) is a very good bore cleaner.

Dan Lilja of Lilja Precision Rifle barrels has never seen any damage in one of his barrels caused by the use of ammonia. Dan writes: "The rumor is that copper-removing cleaners with ammonia will pit and damage the interior surface of a barrel. Ammonia is very effective as a copper remover.  We use solvents, such as Butch's Bore Shine, to remove copper during the break-in.  We routinely leave Butch's solution in the barrel over night too.  Again, I repeat, we have never seen a problem with ammonia in the concentrations found in commercial cleaners, in either our chrome-moly or stainless steel barrels.  This includes examination with our borescope." Black powder enthusiasts have universally praised Dan's personal favorite barrel cleaning solvent, "Butch's Bore Shine."

The snake oil "Bore Butter" concoctions of various animal fats and wax are better off left where they came from--the pot of rotting miscellaneous flesh and animal carcasses bubbling at your local rendering plant. The idea that your modern steel barrel can be seasoned like a cast iron skillet has no basis unless your barrel is also cast iron and you cook pizzas in it regularly. Some of the earlier lubricants were outstanding, like sperm whale oil. Bear grease and bacon drippings were never good, but when that's all you have, that's the best you can do.

There are times when I wonder if the removable breech plug was invented just to give in-line muzzleloader shooters something to complain about. The Thompson "Hawken" breechplug is also removable, but few do, and so few carp about it. Any viscous, high temperature grease works for the fractions of a second our breech plugs see direct heat in a range session, but I've found Bostik "Never-Seez" and other readily available automotive "Anti-Seize" products that meet Mil-Spec 907E to be as good as can be had. Breechplugs vary by manufacturer, but the key seems to be just to be sure to coat all the threads.

Triple Seven, a sugar-based propellant, has gained a reputation for causing problems in a few guns. To eliminate that problem, taking the time to crack and then retighten the breechplug after a few shots at the range will break the bond line it can form, and makes removal at the end of the day much, much easier. The "crack the plug then retighten" sequence helps in almost all inlines, regardless of propellant. The first time you try it you'll be convinced as well.

The issue of plastic fouling from sabots has been a bit overstated. With the latest formulations of polyethylene, it is not the issue that it once was. Yet, depending on gun and load, I have seen plastic fouling build-up after a couple of hundred shots. Plastic solvents, such as shotgun choke tube cleaner, run through with a patch after every hundred shots or so, will usually prevent it from becoming an issue. A metal cleaner with the warning "will harm plastics" applied to the bore also takes care of it, as that is the idea.

A quick summary is that all you really need is hot water and elbow grease to clean, then Breakfree CLP to protect, with an anti-seize for your breech plug. Windex or Butch's Bore Shine can speed along the barrel cleaning process a bit, as can Brownell's TCE or Gunscrubber for the small, primer residue fouled parts. There really isn't much more to it; it's just important that you do it as soon as practical after making some smoke.

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Copyright 2004, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.