Letter: Rust on a Stainless Steel Colt XSE Government Model

Mr. Rawles:

I am an avid reader of your books and site. I purchased a stainless Colt XSE government model, per your recommendation and your use of the Gold Cups. After 3 1/2 months, I began having rusting issues under both grip panels. The unit is on the way back to Colt for repair. The pistol has been stored properly and cleaned after each range session. I think the manufacturing process was flawed, as there have been no issues with my blued model. Have you ever encountered this? If so, what precautions do you take to prevent the issue? Do you use lube under the grips?

HJL Replies: I have seen this on many occasions. Stainless steel is not impervious to rust; it’s just more resistant to it. In most cases, it is caused by sweat from a concealed carry holster and sometimes from coastal air that is high in salt content. Once in a while, I see cases where there just doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. The fix is to make sure that the gun is well oiled, just like you would for a blued gun.

Due to Browning’s design, considerable soot seems to make it into the mag well during use. When I was attending gunsmithing school, we were taught to take the pistol down as normal and remove the grips. The frame was then cleaned under running, hot water (as hot as you could stand it); also, a toothbrush helped. The heat from the hot water helped clean out stubborn deposits and helped the the pistol air dry quickly. If you live in a high humidity area, you can also help the process along with a hair dryer. After the pistol dried, we would give it a light squirt of a water-displacing oil and wipe it down. A heavier lube was used on contact surfaces.

Following this procedure, I have never had any pistol (blued or stainless) develop any rust. Browning’s designs like to run somewhat wet with lube (contrary to many modern plastic guns). If you run a metal gun as dry as the plastic ones, you will end up with issues.

JWR Adds: I’d like to chime in with one other important point– never use a mild steel brush or mild steel wool on a stainless steel gun. This is because these will leave microscopic particles of steel that can rust in the pores of what is otherwise fairly rust-resistant stainless steel.