As a gun owner, it's important to understand proper storage techniques for firearms. It doesn’t matter which metals your firearm is made from - steel, aluminum, or titanium. Poorly stored weapons will slowly but surely be eaten by rust (iron oxide).
This is not just about cosmetics. Firing a rusted piece could create a pressure explosion, and the components of firearms are affected by friction between points of contact inside the gun.
Rust prevention is better than rust removal.
- Rust and corrosion affects the reliability and durability of your weapon
- Avoid corrosive ammunition, high humidity, and water contact
- Use the right gun case and keep it in the right place
- Dehumidifier, silicon gel, cosmoline, and vacuum sealing prevent rust
- Regular cleaning prevents rust
What causes your gun to rust?
Certain types of ammunition leave corrosive deposits in the bore, chamber, and/or bolt face of your firearm. Technically, it’s not the ammunition itself that is corrosive, but rather the primer.
Upon firing corrosive ammunition, potassium chlorate (KCIO3) is deposited in the areas of combustion. These deposits decompose into salt, which causes oxidation on the contact surface.
Though this kind of ammunition is rarely manufactured these days, you are still likely to find corrosive ammunition in military surplus. In fact, there are still billions of corrosively primed rounds in circulation today.
Unless you live in a very arid region, high humidity will be a recurring problem. Keeping your firearms away from humid conditions will inhibit the oxidation process and prevent your guns from rusting. High humidity can also cause wooden stocks to warp and crack over time.
Whether it’s exposure to rain and mist or neglecting to wipe away excess water after aqueous cleaning, water is the most common culprit when it comes to rust. If you don’t properly clean and dry the gun and its mechanisms, it’s an open invitation for rust degradation to set in.
Also, be aware that exposing your weapon to extreme cold can cause condensation to form on all of the metal parts of your gun.
6 steps to prevent gun rust
1 - Use the right case
When you think of a good firearm case or safe, it needs to keep unwanted people AND environmental conditions out.
A proper case will create the perfect conditions to protect against rust by shutting out the factors that cause it. It should be dustproof, waterproof, and padded with foam on the inside.
One thing to be aware of with certain gun case manufacturers is that many use a type of adhesive to bond the foam inside the case, which slowly dissolves foam over time. This chemical reaction degrades the case and leads to rust.
Check the manufacturer of your gun safe to determine whether the glue used to bond the foam to the case interior is specified for foam. Or simply order a Double Tap case from UWK - we guarantee the correct materials and adhesives will be used.
A final word of warning on sheep-skin lined gun cases; they look great and have a vintage nostalgia to them, but they are moisture magnets. These cases do nothing to prevent gun rust. Using them will expose your firearms to oxidation much faster than a modern, conventional gun safe.
2 - Keep the case in the right place
Where you put your gun safe is important. A room with a year-round temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity between 50% - 55%, is ideal for firearms, provided these conditions are fairly constant. Heating and cooling, or rapid changes in humidity, can cause wood and metal to expand and contract. This causes cracking.
3 - Use a dehumidifier, silica gel, cosmoline, and vacuum seal bags
A dehumidifier keeps the moisture levels around your firearms at an optimum level. The NRA museum, which stores guns of priceless historical value, maintains humidity levels at 55%.
Ideally, you’ll want to get a silica gel gun safe dehumidifier. The silica gel beads absorb any moisture trapped in your safe while closed. These gel beads need to be changed periodically. Some forms of silica gel can be recharged by popping them into the microwave.
Cosmoline is a jelly-like substance able to inhibit rust in guns for long-term storage. At room temperature, it looks like a thick, jam-like goo. When heated it becomes very runny. Coating your gun in cosmoline offers the ultimate long-term rust prevention. But be warned; when you take your firearm out of storage be sure that every last drop of cosmoline is removed from every nook and cranny of your weapon. This is a tedious process.
If you live in a particularly humid climate, vacuum sealing your firearm is a great way to exclude water vapor and oxygen. No oxygen means a much lower chance for rust to form on your guns.
4 - Clean your guns regularly
Microscopic particles, dust, salt, and water vapor can accumulate on the metal surface of your gun. If you’re not cleaning your guns regularly, you’re leaving them vulnerable to rust. The chemical reaction of firing your weapon attracts a lot of environmental debris into your gun. That’s why it’s important to clean and oil your gun regularly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Because oil and water don’t mix, a layer of oil will prevent moisture from settling in the various mechanisms of your firearm. A rust-free gun is a reliable gun.
5 - Avoid taking your gun out in bad weather
Taking your weapon out when it’s raining or snowing increases the risk of rust. Of course, sometimes we can’t choose the perfect conditions for hunting, sports, or when we absolutely must use firearms.
When taking your weapons into a wet, windy, or stormy environment please remember to use portable waterproof gun cases and remove your firearm when absolutely necessary.
If this is not possible, keep a highly absorbent cloth with your gun to make sure it remains as dry as possible. When returning home, be sure to give it a thorough cleaning and store it in a quality gun case.
6 - Avoid corrosive ammunition
Potassium chlorate found in the primer of older ammunition decomposes into salt. Add moisture to the mix, and you have all the ingredients of the oxidation process that will rust your weapon in no time.
Although there is an abundance of corrosive ammunition from military surplus, it's best to use modern ammo. If you have to use corrosive ammo, be sure to clean your weapon properly after every range session.
Will my gun rust in a gun case in my garage?
If your garage is unheated, or you live in a region with high humidity, or you don’t have a desiccant or dehumidifier in your garage it’s likely your gun won’t last long. Just like a glass of ice water, cold metal can also draw moisture from the air. If it accumulates inside the workings of the gun, you’ll have rust prevention problems on your hands.
How do I remove rust from my gun?
Rust prevention should be your primary focus, but if you do find spots of rust and corrosion, you can remove them with a little bit of steel wool and firearm oil. After you’ve double-checked that your firearm is unloaded:
- Apply the firearm oil to the affected spots.
- Leave the oil to penetrate the rust for a while.
- Use a cotton cloth to wipe the gun's surface.
- With steel wool or a copper brush, lightly rub the affected rust areas. Don't apply too much pressure, or you may ruin the finish of the gun.
- Repeat the process until you’re satisfied.
If your gun is SEVERELY rusted, it’s best to entrust its restoration to an experienced gunsmith.
How soon after use should I clean my gun?
It’s not necessary to clean your gun immediately after you’ve come back from the range. But it is important to clean guns within a few days of use to prevent corrosion. Variables in considering how often you clean your gun include the type of gun, its age, type of ammo used, etc.
Merely touching a gun and not wiping it down can cause rust to form on fingerprints. That's why it's not unheard of to wear a pair of latex gloves to protect firearms - and to prevent lead-based chemicals from penetrating the skin when cleaning and maintaining guns.
Is it possible for my gun safe to be too dry?
Yes. If your gun is taken between conditions that vary wildly, eg. from extreme heat to extreme cold or from extreme dryness to high humidity, it will cause rapid expansion or contraction of wood, metal, and plastic components.
The ideal range for the humidity that you should have in your gun safe is in the range of 40% to 60%, relative humidity, and ideally a constant of 50%.
If you properly care for your guns, your guns will protect you and the people you care for. Rust (iron oxide) and corrosion will affect the reliability of your weapon, and could possibly cause harm to you.
Remember that the best way to store guns to prevent rust focuses on minimizing your gun's exposure to moisture, humidity, and conditions that will encourage oxidization. That’s why investing in a good gun safe - engineered to create the perfect environment to preserve and protect your firearms - is so important.
If you have any questions about rust prevention for your firearms, or specifically about gun storage solutions, contact us here. We love hearing from gun owners!