Knowing how to safely store your guns long-term is a critical skill every prepper must have. Even though your handguns and long guns have protective finishes, time and the elements can take their toll if your guns are left unattended without proper cleaning and storage techniques.
Let’s look at how to properly store your guns long-term. First, we need to know how a gun suffers wear and tear from sitting:
How Your Guns Suffer Wear in Storage
You just finished building your AR-15 with an 80 percent lower, or you just picked up that awesome new lever-action. It looked great a few months ago when you oiled it up, wiped it down, and set it in the gun safe after a day at the range.
But now your gun’s showing some signs of pitting on the finish. There might be a little rust in the muzzle. Maybe the trigger or magazine release feels sticky, or that shiny Walnut stock’s stain started to bubble. What caused this?
1. Moisture and air
Even if your gun’s stored in a gun safe and wiped down with oil, moisture in the air can still slowly penetrate and rust the metal underneath the finish. Most gun oils aren’t designed for long-term storage and evaporate after a period, leaving your gun unprotected.
2. Your own hands
Simple logic says oil will protect a gun. Your hands and digits naturally produce oil that transfers to the metal and wood on your gun. Even though you may think handling your guns with your bare hands won’t cause issues, it could.
The oils your skin produces also contain acidic compounds that can, over time, slowly break down anodized, parkerized, or blued finishes. If left unattended and contaminated, even stainless steel will begin to show signs of rusting.
3. Existing blemishes
Most guns suffer tiny scratches and blemishes from handling and firing. Even though these imperfections might not be so obvious at first glance, long-term storage can allow these imperfections to develop rust and corrosion and grow into a bigger problem.
4. Existing contaminants
Even though you thought you thoroughly cleaned your gun before storage, there are likely some contaminants – grime, dirty oil, fouling from cartridges – that are present. If left to sit, these contaminants will eat away at your gun’s finish, metal, and components.
Cleaning Your Guns Before Storage
Now we know the four primary causes of rust and wear on guns being stored long-term. We’ll address problem #1 later by figuring out the best storage method. Let’s look at how to prep our guns first, by eliminating issues #2, 3, and 4:
Step 1: Disassemble your gun for cleaning
No gun should be stored long-term if it hasn’t been disassembled and thoroughly cleaned first. You need to remove all copper, brass and carbon fouling, dirt, old oil, and any moisture in all the nooks and crannies of your gun.
Step 2: Get some proper solvents
Most off-the-shelf gun cleaning solvents aren’t that effective for long-term storage cleaning. Some include lubricants and oils in the formula, but this reduces the effectiveness of the solvent. We don’t want to use solvent-oil combos. We’ll instead be using a long-term protective coating that doesn’t evaporate or break down.
To ensure all oil and copper/carbon fouling is totally removed, you’ll need a strong ammonia-based cleaner. We recommend Sweet’s 7.62 Bore Cleaning Solvent or GunSlick Foaming Bore Cleaner. All product recommendations in this guide are not sponsored and are based on personal experience only.
If using either of these cleaners, it’s advised to let them sit and penetrate the metal for a few minutes before removing the solvents entirely. GunSlick Cleaner will foam up and expand, filling all your gun’s tight spaces that you can’t reach with a brush.
These solvents are incredibly powerful. If left unattended, they can eat away your gun’s finish or metal. We recommend rinsing and wiping down with isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining solvent after cleaning.
Step 3: Clean the bore with a good cleaning rod
Most bore brushes and gun cleaning kits include brass rods and brushes for removing contaminants in the bore and receiver. These brushes and rods also leave brass metal deposits when used, which contaminates the bore further.
You should only use a bore brush and cleaning rod that is made of steel. It’s preferable to invest in one that has a plastic coating, so the steel rod doesn’t damage your rifling. We recommend using cotton patches, and the same solvents describe above to clean your bore thoroughly.
Step 4: Apply a long-term protective coating
Hoppe’s #9 is a great range-day lubricant, but we need something a little more robust for long-term protection.
There are plenty of different long-term coatings on the market that can be categorized into a few types: Synthetic dry film coatings, lithium grease, Cosmoline, and oil.
Picking one of these protecting coatings means deciding how long you want your gun stored for, and whether you’ll have to clean it or prep it before firing it. Grease and Cosmoline may require some removal, but these coatings can be used to store guns for years at a time without inspection or maintenance.
Guns treated with a dry film or oil will need occasional maintenance and reapplication, but they can be fired immediately without any prep, wiping down, or cleaning after storage.
Dry film: Eezox Premium Synthetic Gun Care
Eezox is a synthetic, dry-film protective coating. It applies wet and takes a few hours to set and dry. Once dried, Eezox protects without re-application for at least 3 months. It’s recommended to apply one additional coating every 90 days.
Eezox doesn’t have to be wiped down or removed before firing. This makes it a great choice for those who occasionally check on their stored guns and want the ability to use them in a hurry when needed.
Long-Term Oil: Birchwood Casey Barricade
Birchwood Casey Barricade is a long-term oil coating that doesn’t break down. It’s applied using an aerosol can, making long-term storage incredibly simple. Barricade also partially dries once cured, allowing additional coatings to be applied. Some users report having allowed guns to be stored for up to 8 months without rust, though we still recommend inspecting and reapplying every 90 days.
Lithium Grease: Mil-Comm TW25B Grease
This gun grease is currently in use by the U.S. Military, and it makes for a great long-term protective coating. TW25B is rated to protect at temperatures ranging between -90 (F) and +450 (F), making it perfect for guns being stored outside or in a non-climate-controlled setting.
If applied properly, a gun being stored long-term with TW25B doesn’t need to be cleaned or prepped before firing. This grease is on the pricier side – costing around $18 for a 1.5-ounce tube – but just a few small dabs are enough to sufficiently coat an entire gun for storage.
Cosmoline: Cosmoline Weathershed Industrial Spray
Ever go to a gun show and find the guy selling all those pristine Russian WWII rifles? If you pried open a crate and saw a bunch of brand-new Mosin Nagants from 1942, you’ve seen just how effective Cosmoline is at protecting guns long-term.
If you’re the prepper who wants to go full apocalypse and safely bury your guns deep down for 20 years, this is the protective coating you need.
Cosmoline is a waxy, petroleum-based coating. The U.S. Military also still uses Cosmoline to protect equipment and vehicles that are stored outside in harsh conditions.
Although not directly advertised for firearms, Cosmoline Weathershed Industrial Grade Spray will be a top choice. It applies as an amber, waxy coating that feels dry once cured. It can be applied to metal, polymer, and wood without issue.
Related reading: 5 Guns Every Prepper Should Own
Once applied, Cosmoline completely seals your gun in what’s called an “anaerobic” environment – an environment completely sealed from open air and moisture. Cosmoline only needs to be applied once and your gun can be stored permanently.
Before firing, your gun will need to be cleaned with solvent and stripped of Cosmoline. This material is so thick that it can gum up your operating rod, gas system, or trigger assembly, preventing your gun from cycling.
Once you’ve cleaned and coated your gun, you’ll need a good long-term storage container. There are a few options many preppers stick to, and some we don’t recommend:
First, get some silicone gun socks
Regardless of your storage method, we strongly recommend investing in some silicone gun socks. With silicone added, these gun socks will further prevent moisture and help to seal out contaminants and air. They’ll also prevent scratching and marring.
Option 1: Good ole’ gun safe
With the right cleaning and coating, storing your guns long-term in a regular gun safe is a perfect choice. Many gun safes are well-insulated, and most do a good job of preventing moisture from getting in.
If you do opt for a gun safe or closet, we still recommend investing in some form of de-humidification. The gun safe market already has plenty of miniature de-humidifiers available. Disposable silica gel packs are an affordable alternative, too.
Option 2: Sealed hard cases
Sealed rifle and handgun cases provide even more protection from moisture and the environment than a gun safe. Many cases (especially storage solutions from Pelican) are rated to be waterproof and shock-proof. Investing in a quality sealed case for every gun can get expensive, so we recommend this storage solution if you have deeper pockets or are only storing one or two guns.
Option 3: Vacuum-seal bags
Some preppers have even vacuum-sealed their guns for decades-long storage. Vacuum sealing is incredibly effective at protecting your guns only if all moisture and air is removed from the bag. If you want to go to great lengths to hide and protect your guns, vacuum-sealing with the right bags will allow you to store them outside (even buried) without worry.
If you vacuum-seal your guns, we recommend sticking with lithium grease or Cosmoline for your protective coating, as oils could be pulled out of your gun’s nooks and crannies during vacuum-sealing. We also recommend investing in some small silica gel packs and placing them inside the bag with your gun. This will help to absorb any moisture that might be left over.
Here’s the short-n-‘sweet:
- Moisture, air, your hands’ own oils, and existing blemishes are largely to blame for your long-term-stored gun’s rust and corrosion.
- Storing your gun long-term means thoroughly cleaning them with an ammonia-based solvent, and wiping them down with alcohol afterwards.
- You’ll need to invest in a long-term storage coating like Cosmoline, lithium grease, thicker oil, or a synthetic dry film coating. Regular range-day cleaner and lubricant like Hoppe’s #9 won’t cut it.
- Cosmoline is the go-to choice for preppers who want to store their guns for decades at a time.
- We recommend investing in silicone gun socks for further protection, regardless of your storage method.
This article has been written by Travis Noonan for Prepper’s Will.