The Ultimate Guide to Rifle Scope Maintenance

Riflescopes are designed to withstand the rigours of the great Kiwi outdoors and have a durable, waterproof construction which means you can rely on them in the field. Despite this, you should always try and keep your scope in top condition to prolong its longevity and to prevent any particles of dirt from causing damage. One way to do this is to conduct periodical rifle scope maintenance to ensure that the objective lens and eyepiece are clean and any moving parts such as turrets and switches are free of debris. But how do you properly clean rifle scopes? Let’s take a look at the important steps to follow to clean and service rifle scopes.

Rifle Scope Preventative Care

When you’ve spent good money on a scope, the last thing you want is for it to be damaged by particles of dirt build up - nobody want’s to have to repair rifle scopes when it could have been avoided by properly caring for it. To prevent this, we’d suggest protecting your air rifle scope or riflescope the best way you can when it’s not in use and also giving it the occasional clean. We’ve got a range of tips to follow to help you keep your scope lenses and body clean.

Keep Your Lens Covered

If you’re not using your riflescope then it’s best to keep the ocular lens and objective lens covered. This helps to prevent these lenses from getting any avoidable bangs which could result in them getting scratched or cracked and also helps to prevent dirt from building up on them. Most scopes come with slip on lens covers however these are pretty easy to loose, so you might want to consider upgrading them to stay on or flip up lens covers from Butler Creek.

Transport With Care

Although scopes are designed to withstand bumps and scapes thanks to their durable housing, it’s always best to reduce the risk of damage to scope lenses and bodies as much as possible by transporting them carefully. To do this, keep your scope in a padded rifle bag when it isn’t in use and when you’re transporting it.

Pay Attention to Storage 

Riflescopes have a waterproof construction that stops condensation from building up inside the scope tube in damp or humid environments. To achieve this, scopes are filled with nitrogen gas and o-rings are used to seal the scope and prevent water from getting inside. Despite this, other parts of the scope may become damaged if they’re subjected to ongoing dampness and aren’t dried out properly after they’re used in wet environments. Turrets and dials are prone to rusting if they stay damp, so if you use your scope in a damp environment it’s best to ensure it’s dry before storing it away. In addition, refrain from storing the scope in a damp cupboard, shed or garage to prevent unnecessary rusting.

Make Maintenance a Habit

There’s a fine line between cleaning your riflescope too much or not enough. As a rule of thumb, we’d suggest assessing how clean your scope is at the end of every use, and then clean it accordingly if you spot any new dirt. In addition, if you’ve been out in the rain then we’d suggest letting the turrets dry out with their caps off before storing it away. We’d also suggest conducting a planned clean down once every 6 months as a matter of course so that you don’t accidentally go a year without even thinking about riflescope cleaning.

How to Clean a Rifle Scope

Cleaning a riflescope can be broken down in to two main parts; lens cleaning and scope body cleaning. These two tasks require slightly different equipment and techniques. Let’s consider how to do both below.

Clean the Lens

The lenses of a riflescope are some of the most delicate and easily damaged parts and due to this they should be handled with great care. Dirt or debris on a scope lens can easily cause tiny scratches that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye, but a build up of scratches can make the lens hard to see through and hard to focus which will hinder the performance of the scope. To avoid these it’s important to conduct gentle lens cleaning with the right equipment. We’d suggest grabbing a Hahnel 5-in-1 Lens Cleaning Kit which contains everything you need for sparkling lenses. If you notice that your lens is dirty when you don’t have the correct cleaning equipment with you then don’t be tempted to clean the lens with your t-shirt or a standard cloth or tissue as they’re too rough and will cause more harm than good.

1. Dust off your lenses before you consider rubbing any marks or smudges off them. Rubbing even small amounts of dust over the glass may cause scratches. Most dust and debris can be removed by blowing the optic with compressed dry air. A lens cleaning air blower is a great accessory to use for this job.

2. Once most of the dust is removed, use a soft lens brush to remove any final particles. These specially designed brushes have soft bristles which will remove all fine and rough dust particles without damaging your scopes lens top coating

3. If there’s any final smudges, oil or dirt on your lenses, gently wipe them down with a microfibre lens cloth. This soft cloth is designed to clean the lenses without scratching them but it’s vital to ensure that there’s absolutely no dust or debris particles on the lens before you start or you’ll just end up scratching the lens with the dirt. Water should work well for this, or a standard eye glass lens cleaner.

Clean the Scope

Whether you’re hunting in the bush or target shooting at the range, it’s likely that over time your scope body will collect some dirt or dust. In general, scopes that have been taken out hunting will of course be much more likely to get dirty and wet, so we’d advise paying more attention to the cleaning of those than a target shooting scope.

1. A quick wipe down with a damp cloth should remove any dirt or debris from the main body area.

2. Use an old tooth brush or other soft headed brush to give the outside of any dials or turrets a light brush down to remove any debris. Most lens cleaning kits come with one of these.

3. Unscrew the scope turrets and use a cloth to wipe down inside and under them. Use a cotton bud (Q Tip) which will allow you to clean out any dirt that’s built up in ridges. Ensure that you remove any debris and then dry them carefully before putting the caps back on. This will help prevent them from getting rusty.

Clean the Battery Compartment

If you have a scope with an illuminated reticle, or a night vision scope, then you’ll also have a battery compartment. To ensure that it’s functioning as well as it can, it’s best to give this a clean too. If your batteries get old or wet, they can begin corroding inside the compartment which can ruin your scope. Simply take off the removable cap, remove the battery and then use a cotton bud, microfibre cloth, or cleaning brush to give the inside a wipe down. Avoid using water or cleaners as this may cause the battery compartment to be damaged.

Re-Sight Your Scope

If you’ve taken your scope off your rifle to give it a good clean, and played around and potentially knocked the turrets when you were cleaning them then it’s vital that you sight your scope in again once you’ve mounted it back on to your rifle again. If you’ve simply cleaned the lenses and wiped down the tube of the scope to remove any large bits of dirt without risking knocking any screws on turrets then sighting in the scope again shouldn’t be necessary.

If you’re not sure how to sight in your scope then we’d suggest taking a look at this blog post about how to properly mount a riflescope.

Common Rifle Scope Maintenance Mistakes

When it comes to riflescope maintenance and cleaning the main mistake you can make is going over the top with your cleaning. Less is more! Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes people make that leads them to need to repair scopes.

Using Abrasive Fabric 

Scopes are designed to take the rigours of the great outdoors, but their lenses are incredibly delicate when it comes to small scratches. One of the worst mistakes anyone can make when cleaning a scope is using a rough or abrasive fabric to wipe the lenses. The rule - if you don’t have your lens cleaning kit with you, don’t touch the lenses! Never wipe the lenses with a bit of clothing or a tissue you find in your pocket as it may do more harm than good. Always use a microfibre cloth to remove any grease or smudges and be sure to blow any dirt particles off the lens first to prevent damage.

Using Wrong Cleaners

The best cleaning solution for cleaning riflescopes is simply water. Certain cleaning solutions can damage scopes and aren’t suitable for the job, but water will clean without causing damage every time. Lens pens allow you to clean lenses without the need of any fluid and are a great option for lens cleaning, however a bit of warm water on a microfibre cloth will be great for the scope body. If there’s stubborn finger prints of grease marks on a lens that won’t come off then you can use a standard eyeglass cleaning spray to clean the lenses. If there are some hard-to-clean spots on the body of the scope, a simple degreaser like 409 works well but be sure to keep it away from the lenses. Don’t use kitchen cleaners, window cleaners or such like as they can corrode the finish of your scope. Whatever fluid you choose to use to clean your riflescope, remember not to apply it directly to the scope as too much moisture around the lenses can damage your scope’s internal seals even if it’s waterproof - spray it on the the cotton bud or cloth first.

Trying to Disassemble Your Scope

When cleaning your riflescope it’s vital that you don’t accidentally break any waterproofing seals. With this in mind, never unscrew any part of your riflescope other than turrets or battery compartments or you could end up needing a scope repair instead of a scope clean.

Overdoing It

When it comes to cleaning riflescopes, less is more. They really don’t need a whole lot of cleaning unless they look visibly dirty. We’d suggest giving them a quick check over every time you use them and letting the turrets dry out if the scope has become damp to prevent them from rusting. Other than that, only clean it once every 6 months at the most.

Final Piece of Advice From ScopeUout

When you’ve paid good money for a rifle scope it’s vital you take good care of it to prolong its lifespan. A simple clean once or twice a year will help to do that, but remember not to over do it. Less is more and if, on inspection, it doesn’t look to have dirty lenses, then leave them. Any cleaning process may result in some scratching so if they’re not dirty, don’t touch them!

Many good quality scopes such as those from Bushnell and Vortex, have special dirt repellent coatings applied to their lenses to reduce build up, so investing in a quality scope will also reduce the need for cleaning. In addition, they also often have scratch resistant coatings to help protect their lenses.

We’d suggest keeping our rifle scope cleaning tips up your sleeve so that you can pull them out once or twice a year. A lens cleaning kit is a great addition to your rifle bag so you can deal with any issues that may arise in the field.

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