Should I Use Wet or Dry Gun Lubricant On My Gun?
Picking a good gun lubricant is something everyone should give some thought to, and the dominant forms are wet lube and a growing number of dry lubrication products. Which should a person use?
After all, you have to be able to rely on a carry gun to save your life and lubrication is an essential part of keeping one in good working order. It’s therefore a good idea to put some though into picking a good gun lube.
The Difference Between Wet and Dry Gun Lube
What’s the major difference between wet lube and dry lubrication? Well, the most obvious is that a dry lubricant is a dry substance and a wet lube is not.
Most wet lubricants are an oil of some sort, as oils have the desired properties for a lubricant. Namely, a lubricant is a substance that reduces friction between (generally) moving pieces of metal. In order for a lubricant to be effective, it must have an appropriate amount of viscosity so that the material can still move unimpeded by the viscosity of the lubricant (especially if said moving object is immersed in the fluid) but said fluid also does not thin to the point that friction seizes the machine in question.
Therefore, any lubricant must not be shear-thinning, but also cannot be shear-thickening.
Many oils have something like this proportion of qualities, in that they are thick enough – due to their chemical composition – to resist shear thinning but thin enough not to gum up the works.
A dry lubricant, on the other hand, is a solid material that has similar properties. When applied to the surfaces of two pieces of material (usually metal) the dry lubricant will keep friction to a minimum while not thinning under the stress.
Dry lubricants, as a result, are relatively loose materials. Many are powders, and others are actually applied as a liquid but harden into a solid. Examples of common dry lubricants include graphite powder, molybdenum disulfide and polytetraflouroethylene, a.k.a Teflon.
Some require baking – kind of Cerakote – and some are applied via spray. On the other hand, a wet lubricant is just applied with a cloth or a Q-tip.
Why Dry Gun Lube
You might ask what’s with this dry lube vs wet lube thing? Does it actually matter? Actually, it can. In fact, it may matter a lot, depending on your circumstances.
Dry lubricants have been employed for a long time for industrial and other purposes. Molybdenum disulfide, for instance, in dry film form or a wet lubricant containing MoS₂ has been a popular lubricant for motorcycle parts (obviously not in the engine though…duh) for a very long time and in other applications.
This isn’t exactly something that appears in history books, but according to legend, a number of guys that served in the Vietnam war noticed that their guns didn’t work as well in wet environments with the standard issue oil-based lubricant. A few of them were motorcycle guys and got some moly sent to them to use as a lubricant on their service weapons. Others noticed and started doing the same thing. The practice has reportedly stuck, and use of moly and other dry lubricants for this application is still common, so there’s something to it.
Oils, you see, are great under many conditions, except when subjected to a lot of moisture. Oil and water, as we all know, don’t mix too well and it causes oil to thin. They also attract dust like crazy, and dirt/dust can easily get into a wet lubricant. This can cause the slide – say on a semi-auto pistol – to become gritty and possibly seize.
As a result, if you live an area that is very moist – high humidity, lots of precipitation – or alternately, very dry, dusty or sandy – then you may want to consider a dry lubricant.
Picking A Gun Lubricant
Is there something necessarily wrong with a regular old gun lubricant like Hoppes #9, Lucas Oil or Rem Oil? Actually…no, there isn’t. Plenty of people out there run good old Hoppes without an issue, and their gun(s) run like clockwork.
The benefits of dry lubricants are greater resistance to the elements and in the case of dry lubricants that require baking, longer periods between reapplication. Application is more time-consuming (you need to spray it on, air dry, then bake – which takes a good few hours) but reapplication isn’t necessary for months in some cases. However, some feel sitting down for ten minutes to clean and lubricate a pistol isn’t such a terrible imposition, In fact, some people find a particular kind of “zen” with firearm maintenance, just like with car or motorcycle maintenance.
In the end, the main advantages of wet lube is that they’re widespread – you’ll find Hoppes just about anywhere – and it works and is cheap. However, the drawback is that in some situations, dry lube is better and wet lube has to be applied a little more often.
That said, you’ll likely find there’s a particular lubricant your gun tends to “like,” just as it will probably “like” certain brands of practice and self-defense ammo that it digests and shoots better than others. If you find one it likes more than others, you should probably stick to that.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.