Cleaning and the AR15


If you are new to the AR15 family of weapons, or the M16FOW,you have probably heard from a lot of self identified experts how much cleaning it needs. You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting some one telling you the stoner system needs constant cleaning to keep it from breaking and getting you killed.

Any weapon needs to be cleaned and oiled. If not they will eventually have a problem. It may be something as simple as  just running sluggish or something more serious.  This constant clean mongering has led a lot of people into thinking that they have to have some kind of piston operated AR or other gun to have something they can shoot more then 100 rounds through and still trust it.  Truth is, even these will stop working after awhile as well. Even the  much hyped AK47/74.

Piston guns will get dirt and fouling the same as any other weapon–just in a different place.  Stories form former Spetnaz soldiers tell of how they took the AK apart and cleaned it on every break.  G.I.s in WW2 took the M1 apart to clean it every night. They knew the reality of taking care of your rifle. Thankfully they did not have the internet to tell them those two rifles never needed cleaning.

Even the new “improved” modern weapons aimed at SOF units claim to need less cleaning. The SCAR is an example. A lot of people think it would never need to be cleaned. A recent copy of the DOD  FM for the SCAR told of a special tool issued with it to keep carbon scraped off.   …so much for the piston not needing to be cleaned.

Of course I could find just as many pictures of any other rifle in the middle of letting some one down, but the point is to show that none are perfect.

Now, after saying all that, I want talk specifically about the AR15 and cleaning.  A whole lot of people spend a whole lot of time cleaning ARs and telling you that you better clean yours or you will regret it. The truth is, they AR15/M16  needs nowhere the amount of cleaning people think.  It does however need to be lubed.  All machines need lube. You do not run a car without oil, at least not for long.  A rifle needs it just as much.  Sure, some people will operate their AR15 dry, but like the car the AR won’t run “dry”  for long.  It will work fine for a 100 or 200 round trips to the range, but even then it will start to complain.  If you want to run one dry while playing at the range, go for it. But choosing to run a dry gun in a life-or-death situation is foolish with any weapon.

Back in 2009 I purchased a Colt 6940 and decided I would keep a detailed round count of it. I also decided to shoot it with no actual cleaning (just lube) and see how long it would go.  I recently stopped at over 8,000 known rounds fired with no cleaning and no malfunctions.  I decided to clean it last night, mainly so I could give it a good PM inspection and check for wear etc.

You can click on this picture and see carbon on the bolt tail.  I show it just to make the point that it makes no difference at all to the guns reliability. Do not bother to scrape it off.  It doesn’t hurt anything and is self-limiting. Any excess carbon will be blown out of the vent holes under normal operation. Unless you just have OCD, I wouldn’t even bother. Instead, spend the time thinking about chess problems or old love letters–something more worthwhile. I use a brush to coat the lugs with solvent, wipe it off, then add oil.  Unless you want it super clean to inspect for excess wear or cracks, do not bother.

While I soak the BCG in some type of solvent I just blow out the lower FCG with brake parts cleaners and re oil. I have never needed more than this to keep everything happy.  If it falls into a muddy river during some Sub-Saharan African conquest, you may need to do more.  …just use common sense.

I also don’t scrub and clean the bore like a match rifle either. Unless it has mud or dirt in it or took a submerging, maybe some foaming bore cleaner will do. But that would be a rare thing for me. One thing I do clean (when and If I clean) is the chamber.  If you are going to pay lip service to cleaning, then clean the chamber with the chamber brush. In harsh conditions, along with oiling the gun often, the chamber cleaning is the one thing I would make an effort to do.

The bore and chamber on a properly made milspec rifle is chromed,so it does not need a lot of attention compared to your match or hunting rifles. That is not to say it could not use a cleaning every now and then. But its pretty tough. Most of the OCD drill Sgt cleaners, think they are helping but are doing more damage to the bore from over cleaning with their cleaning rods then the fouling or shooting does. The only thing that spends more time in the bore than bullets is a cleaning rod. And they have the potential to cause a lot more problems when not use properly. When cleaning , use a bore guide meant for the gun any and every time you can. This will save your bore if you are a cleaning maniac.

After cleaning out 3 years worth of oil, powder, fouling grit and junk, I was able to do my inspection.  What to look for is another article in itself, so I will say that everything looked good to go. A quality made milspec bolt carrier group can take a lot of use and abuse when used the way they gun was meant.  Not all brands are the same. I do not care what you heard from your step brothers ex wives new boy friend, not all MFGs are the same when it comes to quality. DO your research and  will have something that will last a long time and give trouble free service.

Here it is cleaned and degreased.  It has only been cleaned once in over 8K rounds. Keeping the gun wet with oil ( in this case slip2000 exclusively) and having a quality milspec BCG from a known MFG will offer up long life and no nasty surprises.  Sure, lemons slip out on every company from time to time, but barring that, you can count on good service. And you do not have to spend more time cleaning then shooting to keep it working. Throw on some oil and get back to training.  You are not improving your shooting when you are in the garage scrubbing on it. Clean when is prudent or if an emergency demands it. Not just to make it inspection clean. Find out its limits on your own and you will gain confidence in it that the over cleaners will never have or  know.


  1. I am one of the OCD people. I have to be able to eat off of my AR’s after every range session. I have tried to leave them dirty but just can’t do it.


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