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What Is That CLP Stuff, Anyway?

A lot of people swear by a product called "CLP" for cleaning and maintenance of their guns, and some folks might find themselves wondering just what the heck that is. Well...it's a cleaning product, but it does more than that.

It's an acronym for "Clean, Lubricant, Preservative" or something to that effect. However, it's also a very specific product, made for the US military and used by soldiers. It has evolved to become an entire genre of all-in-one products for firearms, so it's sort of like "Velcro" or "Styrofoam" being used to refer to all hook-and-loop fabrics or extruded polystyrene foams.

Is it the best cleaning product to use? Actually, CLP-style products have a lot to offer.

CLP: The Original

gun maintenance

The military came up with CLP for the obvious reason that having only one product to maintain firearms makes things pretty darn easy. No need to find your cleaner, THEN find your lubricant and so on. It cleans, it lubricates, it protects. It even makes chili and fries!

Okay, it doesn't do that. But you get the idea.

The government first started issuing it in the 1980s, and it's been standard issue ever since. Since a certain number of gun people are former military, they then started wanting to use it in civilian life.

A number of companies have emerged selling it, including popular brands like Break-Free CLP and others. Many purport to be the same formula or an improved formula that the military uses.

Just what is the stuff, anyway?

It's a viscous fluid, which binds to carbon deposits and other molecules (which is what you're cleaning away) but also shears (spreads) across the surface of parts. How lubrication works is you spread a liquid across a surface, which forms a protective barrier between metal pieces and thus prevents parts from wearing and eventually breaking.

Think of it like spreading mayonnaise on a sandwich. (And NOT Miracle Whip, which isn't fit for consumption by humans or any other animal. Technically, no one is supposed to be given Miracle Whip unless they've first had a trial by jury of their peers.) You get a glob of it on your knife and spread it across the bread until you have a close-to uniform coat on the bread.

Liquids of the right composition are shear-thinning, meaning any pressure causes them to spread out, which lubricants must-needs be in order to coat stuff. You add a bit and spread it out, like spreading mayo on bread. This creates a thin film on whatever surface you've applied it to.

CLP also acts as a preservative, blocking out oxygen and other compounds to ensure the weapon is preserved in the state it is/was in when CLP was applied.

What Is CLP Made From?


Official, government-issue CLP is a blend of materials, and no one really knows the exact composition.

What IS definitely known is that the base is synthetic oil, which is a great lubricant in many applications. Synthetic oils are heavily used in the automotive industry, especially with performance and race cars. In your typical passenger car, a synthetic oil such as Valvoline or Castrol will last twice as long as conventional petroleum-based motor oil. Thus, you can go 7,000 to 10,000 miles between oil changes as opposed to the old rule of thumb of 3,000 miles.

To give you an idea of how well synthetics work, Mobil bought a brand-new BMW 3 series back in the 90's and stuck it on a rolling road. Under a constant load equivalent to driving 85 miles per hour, they ran the car night and day for weeks. They followed the service schedule, changing oil and performing other maintenance as dictated by BMW using their synthetic oil. After a million miles, they took the engine apart and discovered it was still at factory tolerances.

Generally, gun cleaners and lubricants come in three flavors. To build on that a bit, there's a base compound to which a number of surfactants (chemicals that break up deposits on a surface) are added. Gun cleaning compounds can lumped into one of three categories:

  • Petroleum
  • Synthetic
  • Plant-based

Petroleum-based cleaners use a base oil derived from petroleum (oil, black gold, Texas Tea) and synthetics (like CLP) use a synthetic oil base. Plant-based cleaners use a plant-derived oil squeezed from some plants and refined until it's usable. It's basically like how olive oil is made, except plant-based gun cleaning products don't taste nearly as good paired with balsamic vinegar.

Plant-based CLP is usually also non-toxic. Some people consider that a priority, others don't, that much is up to you.

Does CLP Work Better Than Standard Gun Lubricant?

gun lubricant

According to the US military and their testing, CLP works well enough to keep their weapons maintained and operating in the field across a number of different conditions. To meet their standards, it can't dry out or stiffen in the heat, can't let in much dust or sand, nor can it give in to humidity, high pressure nor saltwater immersion.

It must also work in temperatures as low as - 65 degrees F to well over 130 degrees F.

As far as the typical civilian is probably concerned? Yeah, it'll work!

Some people, however, will note that it's an all-in-one product; in other words a jack of all trades and this much has some truth to it. There are plenty of products that have been specifically formulated to do one task and one task only. Bore cleaners are surfactant-rich; they are made to get carbon and other deposits out of the chamber and bore of a firearm. Lubricants are just made to lubricate and do that job well.

That's why those old Hoppe's kits come with bore cleaner AND lubricating oil. You clean with the former and then oil up the gun with the latter. You should also bear in mind that CLP was developed for use with some rather specific firearms like the AR-15 and M9/Beretta 92FS pistol. Older firearms such as M1 Garand rifles require actual grease to operate correctly; CLP would not get the job done.

Plenty of people in the service found it worked just fine and, at that, under wartime conditions. Others found they needed a different product to supplement it, such as additional lubricant or a more strenuous cleaner. Others still had to resort to other products to get the best function.

This has been much the same in the civilian realm. Some people find Break-Free CLP or a different brand of it is all they need; some find that their gun seems to work best when a general purpose cleaner/lubricant is used in conjunction with a more abrasive cleaner for the bore and a stronger lubricant.

Ask car guys about what oil they prefer and you'll get different answers. Some prefer Castrol GTX (their high-mileage formula has been outstanding in my experience) and others Mobil, and still others Valvoline. It's the same thing with gun oils and lubricants. Many are good. Many work well. Some just find one that works best for them.

So it's worth getting, to be sure...but your results may vary.

What The Gun Writer Uses

If you wanted to know what I use? Some people are going to laugh, but I use Rem Oil. It's actually just like CLP in that it's a general purpose cleaner/protector/lubricant (albeit petroleum-based) and in fact has been on the market in exactly that capacity for more than a century. However, I only use it as a cleaner and to wipe down the surface of my guns. Since my guns are almost all older design platforms (I'm a sucker for walnut and metal) I find a bit more lubrication is necessary on frame rails, barrel lugs and so on. Since I've acquired a decent store of Hoppe's lubricant, that's what I use. This combination works so well I haven't really felt the need to change it.

However, if Break-Free, Gunzilla, FrogLube, Otis or someone else wanted to change my mind...I'd give it a shot and a review while I was at it.

About The Author

Writer sam hoober