Cleaning Rope vs. Universal Gun Cleaning Kit

When it comes to keeping your firearm clean, you do not need a kitchen sink’s worth of tools and chemicals. A universal gun cleaning kit, a cased set with jags, brushes, and rods for different calibers, might be the ultimate setup if you have a number of different firearms. But they can be expensive and full of items you may not use. A good bronze brush, cotton patches, and appropriate oils and solvents can solve just about any cleaning task. Perhaps the most important step to proper cleaning is getting down the bore. For this, there are usually two options: a cleaning rope or a cleaning rod. Both have advantages and disadvantages, yet both are worth having.

The Cleaning Rod

It is easy to get out of control with cleaning accessories. This set will clean muzzleloaders from .32 to .75 caliber. But I only own a .54!

When it comes to a universal gun cleaning kit, you are going to get a few different cleaning rods. The cleaning rod is just that—a rod that you use for cleaning that is shoved down the bore. Specifically, they are typically made of soft brass or aluminum. Some, like the Tipton, are made of carbon fiber. Some are single pieces while others are threaded sections fastened together to the desired length. Both are female threaded for male cleaning accessories such as bore mops, bore brushes, and jags.

A few passes with a bore mop or bore brush dipped in solvent can dislodge hard fouling like lead and copper buildup. After which, you can fit the rod with the jag. The jag will hold a solvent-dipped or dry patch that you can run through the bore to finish the cleanup. You know you have a clean bore when your patches come out light grey or white. A follow-up using a lightly oiled patch finishes the cleaning job and helps to insulate the barrel from rust.

A brass cleaning rod laid next to brushes and jags, from gun cleaning kit
A brass cleaning rod set with an accompanying handle, brushes, and jags. This compact setup comes out of a caliber-specific gun cleaning kit. Multiple rods for multiple long gun calibers found in some universal kits can be tricky to store.


  • Fast when assembled. While not as quick to use as a cleaning rope, when the cleaning rod is assembled and threaded to a brush or jag, it is a uniquely stable platform that can make quick work of stubborn fouling. A brush or patched jag can be run at both the muzzle and breech end for double the passes.
  • Easy to check your progress. Because you have to change cleaning patches as you go, you can determine just how much cleaning remains.


  • Bulky. A disassembled rod and accouterments will take up more space, particularly if you need one to clean a full-length rifle or shotgun.
  • May damage some bores. Some shooters will not use a cleaning rod for fear that the rod will rub and damage the rifling of the bore. Others will not use soft aluminum rods because aluminum corrodes like steel rusts and the aluminum oxide, an ingredient in sandpaper, might sand the bore. Some play it safe by using softer, rustproof brass rods. Truthfully, you are probably more likely to shoot out a barrel than damage it with a rod. I have never incurred such damage. On the other hand, damage is a bit more likely if you run a benchrest gun that gets more cleaning in a month than what an ordinary hunting rifle might get in ten years.

The Cleaning Rope

A Hoppe's Boresnake cleaning rope run through the muzzle of a NAA Mini Revolver.
A cleaning rope, like this Hoppe’s No. 9 BoreSnake, takes up very little room but you are limited to bore cleaning only.

A cleaning rope can go by many different names, but Hoppe’s BoreSnake is the original and the name has been used to describe similar products. A typical cleaning rope is a few inches longer than a given barrel length and has large and small ends. The large end is the cleaning surface. The small end is usually weighted to easily drop down the bore. After applying solvent or oil to the large end, funnel the small end down the bore to the other end. When the small end comes out, grab it and pull the rope through the bore. Repeat as desired.

Some cleaning ropes will substitute a large woven end for a threaded end to use with brushes and jags like a cleaning rod. Avid’s Bore Boss has a bronze bore brush on top of the large mop end. The original BoreSnake has a bore brush embedded inside the rope.


  • One step use. With a cleaning rope, all that is required to clean the bore is to run the weighted end down the bore and pull it out from the other side.
  • Ease of storage. Cleaning ropes can be rolled into a small bundle that makes them effortless to carry when you are on the go.


  • Must be laundered. Sooner or later, the cleaning rope will have to be cleaned as it acts like a bore brush combined with a long patch. The entire unit has to be laundered.
  • No shortcuts. Where a cleaning rod’s jag can be refitted for patches at both ends of the muzzle, you have to repeat threading the rope down bore for each pass.
  • Hard to read. When a white cleaning patch comes grey off a jab, it is easy to tell that you need to continue cleaning. Ropes are usually colored, which can hide how clean or unclean the bore is.

Where Both Meet

A small gun cleaning kit paired with a cleaning rope.
A gun cleaning kit with rods or a cleaning rope? Why not both?

If you have multiple firearms in different calibers, or you conceive the possibility that you might, it is probably worth the investment to buy a universal cleaning kit —even if you won’t use some of the rods, mops, and jags right away.

Cleaning ropes are minimalist by comparison. It is just a bristled rope and you can buy multiples for different calibers. It is an excellent way to clean the chamber and bore of your firearm and they are infinitely easier to store. I keep a 22 caliber BoreSnake in my range bag and hunting kit since most of my firearms have a .22-inch bore. If I am ever experiencing issues with a given gun, I have that rope as part of that kit. After a few passes, I can be back in action with a bore that is fairly clean.

For more detailed work, I prefer to use the rods and brushes I leave at home. You might have different prerogatives. I ran into more than a few outdoorsmen over the years that simply take a rope to the bore of their rifle without touching the action. That is fine for your average hunting rifle or shotgun, but not enough if you shoot revolvers and semi-auto pistols. A full disassembly is needed every once and a while; it is here that a kit with rods and brushes shines. On the other hand, it is hard to beat the field-expedient rope when you are on the go. For that reason, it is a good plan to get your hands on both.