Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ballseye's Gun Shots 127: Spring Cleaning & Maintenance - For Your Holsters

If you carry a firearm in a holster and do so frequently then the early spring is a good time to perform an inspection and maintenance, including a good cleaning, of your holster(s) and shooting related leather and nylon gear. Holsters and all that other leather and nylon gear like belts and magazine pouches (I'll just refer to them all as holsters for the rest of this post) are often pretty much forgotten when it comes to taking care of firearms and accessories. You may be the type who takes good to excellent care of your guns; for example you may clean and lubricate your pistols, rifles and shotguns immediately after shooting them. You also may clean your shooting related optics just as often. After all they are on the guns. Now tell me - do you clean your holsters that often? Be honest about it too; I'd bet most of you don't!

Truth be told, all too many of use don't care for our firearms and scopes as well as or as often as we should, so - you can bet that way too many shooters don't care for their holsters as often as they should. Now, if you are one of those folks, who doesn't do all that much to care for your holsters, you may be wondering: 'What in hades is this guy Ballseye talking about - holsters don't need any care!'. Then you may think about that nice leather holster you bought two years ago, which you have worn everyday since then, and it may come to mind that yep it sure could use a bit of shoe polish to get rid of some of the scuffs on it and to bring back to life some of the worn off color. Then you wonder: 'Yeah, that's what he must mean but why write a whole blog post about that?'

Well, while I do include polishing the leather in the list of things to do for your leather holsters, the truth is there are quite a few other things you can do and most of them can be applied to any type of holsters be they made from leather, nylon, Kydex, or other, materials. The reason I recommend early spring as a good time to clean/maintain your holsters is because of what can happen to them over a long harsh winter, especially in places like the northeast United States. We had an exceptionally cold and snowy winter this year, heck it was like that of much of the Midwest, southeast too. A cold winter like that tends to expose your holster to a lot of harsh environmental factors. These include cold dry air, then dampness when the snows melt, then cold dry air again and oh - did I forget to mention salt (used to melt snow on sidewalks and roads). Even if covered up by all of your heavy winter clothing they can be effected by these elements. Now, I know you are not likely rolling around in the snow getting your holster full of snow, ice and salt. The thing is though, the weather does have its effects, especially on leather and you certainly can get snow melt salt onto your holster by handling it after coming into contact with the salt by spreading it on your sidewalk, by pulling off your boots then handling your holster, by getting it on your clothing and then it transferring to your holster and so on. Speaking of your winter clothing, that could be among the worst things to which a holster is exposed.

One of the worst things for any holster, but especially for those designed with a closed bottom, is what you get from your winter clothing. I am talking about lint. Lint rubs off of wool, cotton, and fleece like clothing and can build up in pretty incredible amounts in places that catch it. Guess where one of those places is located. If you own a closed bottom holster, that you have worn all winter under sweaters and fleeces, why not take a flashlight and shine it inside the holster to see what is down at its bottom. Look carefully, sometimes it has been so compacted as to look like part of the holster itself. Or maybe better yet, stick a finger in there and see what you can scoop out. You may be surprised. I have seen people draw a weapon that actually had a lint blob, ball, thingy hanging off of the muzzle end. What happened was so much of it got compacted in the holster bottom, it started going up the sight channel, then it got stuck to the sight when the weapon was drawn. Looks really funny at the range but I am willing to bet you would not be laughing if you had to draw in self defense and the muzzle was full of lint or the front sight was obscured by it.

Lint and other foreign objects are the first things I check for when doing holster maintenance. I recommend examining a closed bottom holster monthly, in the colder months, for lint buildup. I also recommend cleaning them that often. I use a toothbrush to best effect to loosen it all up and pull it out although you can use your booger picking index finger, a vacuum (with the narrow super sucko tube attachment on it) or whatever else works. I also recommend checking even open bottom holsters since I have seen lint build up in them now and again (more along sticking to the sides of the holster especially in the sight channel or in the pocket like area in which the trigger guard rests.

Once I get any lint or other foreign material out, I do a general examination and cleaning of the holster. I look the holster for damage and wear - inside and out. Then if all is okay I clean the outside of the holster. The material of which the holster is made has a lot to do with how I clean it. With Kydex, I use a damp sponge or cloth with a bit of mild dish washing detergent on it. I wipe it off well, then rinse it under running water, then make sure to dry it especially making sure I dry any metal parts (such as rivets) so they do not rust. Most Kydex holsters can be washed inside and out in this manner. With nylon holsters I either wipe them down as described for the Kydex but then do not rinse them unless I have ample time to allow them to dry out completely in case they absorb any of the water. Yes, nylon is water repellent but not waterproof. If you do not want to rinse them under running water, then clean with a damp cloth with a bit of mild detergent followed by a wipe off or two with a damp cloth with only water on it. Let it dry completely before use.

Leather holsters are a different animal when it comes to cleaning. I will sometimes wipe them off with a damp cloth but make sure not to overdo the amount of water. I don't want water soaking into the leather if I can avoid it. I only wipe off the finished shiny outside of holsters with a damp cloth. (If you do not want to use water on your leather products there are specialty leather cleaners available.) I let it dry, then treat it by polishing it with a paste shoe polish of the appropriate color. I may also apply a tiny bit of leather treatment but am very prudent in its application because I do not want to soften the leather and effect the shape of the holster. Again, the water, detergent, shoe polish and leather treatment are only applied to the outside of my leather holsters, I never use water or show polish or leather treatment (such as Mink Oil) on suede liners or suede holsters. Suede liners and suede holsters can be cleaned with specialized suede cleaners and then protected with specialized silicone containing products or other products made to protect suede. All the products you need to clean, protect and preserve leather can be had at the local supermarket or sporting goods store. Products like those manufactured by
Kiwi are quite suitable, in my estimation.

With all the holsters, I also pay attention to any metal snaps, clips and or rivets. I make sure they are cleaned too. Snaps can build up foreign material on their inner surfaces and that can interfere with the working of the snap. So just make sure they are clean. if water gets on them while cleaning, I make sure to dry them off well, that includes any metal parts of my holsters. Now and then, I may apply a very light coat of oil to those parts with a cotton swab but most times it is not needed as most of those parts are fairly corrosion resistant (but not all so I make sure to dry them off as I mentioned above). With snaps, it is a good idea to check them now and then to make sure they are not coming loose from the material in which they are embedded. I have had lots of nylon holsters where snaps have come loose but it can happen with leather holsters too. Better to check them now and again than to have a gun come flying out of its holster when you run across the street.

As far as frequency of holster maintenance and cleaning goes, it is a good idea to give them a once over at least monthly but for certain, don't go more than a quarter year before checking on their condition. If your holster gets subjected to things like a lot of grime, moisture, salt, lint, hard work you may want to check it at least weekly to make sure it is clean. If it gets banged around a lot check it at least weekly to make sure it has not been damaged (including tears, stretching, scuffs, snaps coming loose and so on). The absolute best way to make sure your holster is in tip top shape is to give it a good visual inspection each time you use it and each time you take it off for the night. In other words, when you start your day give it a good going over and do the same again at the end of your day. The inspection only takes a few seconds. Then, just perform cleaning or other maintenance as needed based upon your daily inspections. Remember, a good and fully functional holster can be a very important part of your firearms gear. It goes a long way toward assuring your gun will be secured there and ready to be drawn when you need it.

All the best,
Glenn B