When the M16 first entered U.S. military service, it was promoted as a rifle that was so advanced it needed only minimal cleaning. As such, soldiers were often inadequately trained in its maintenance, and rifles were often issued without cleaning kits. Some soldiers were even told that the new rifle was “self-cleaning.” This was exacerbated by other factors, including the propellant powder, the manufacturer’s decision not to chrome plate the chamber and the harsh jungle environment. The result was malfunctioning rifles.

Although these deficiencies were remedied, the myth arose that the AR platform must be kept meticulously clean in order to function reliably. It is still erroneously believed by many that fouling from the direct impingement system used in the AR platform makes it inherently unreliable.

As with any firearm, the AR platform will perform better, last longer and remain safer if properly maintained. An overzealous cleaning regime can actually do harm to your gun. The key is proper maintenance.

Manufacturers recommend that you clean your firearm as soon as possible after firing since the job will be easier and there will be less time for corrosion to start. They also recommend that it be cleaned periodically when it has not been fired.

Pat Rogers Cleaning Protocol

Few people knew more about keeping an AR running than the late Patrick A. Rogers. Rogers was a retired Chief Warrant Officer of Marines and a retired NYPD Sergeant. A world-renowned firearms instructor, he was the founder of EAG Tactical LLC, a tactical training company that provides services to governmental organizations and private citizens.

Roger’s AR cleaning regimen differs from the conventional protocol but has withstood the test of time. He normally spent no more than 10 minutes doing a field cleaning. According to Rogers, if it takes you an hour, you are wasting your time or doing something wrong.

How to Clean You AR-15 the Rogers Way

  1. Remove the magazine and ensure the firearm is not loaded.
  2. Field-strip the carbine. If you don’t know how to do this, refer to the owner manual. Always wear eye protection and gloves for protection from chemicals during cleaning.
  3. Run a wet patch down the barrel. from breech to muzzle. Let the chemicals do their work. Rogers didn’t normally use a barrel brush, instead allowing the cleaning fluid to take care of the bore.
  4. Spray the bolt with gun cleaner and let it sit. (Automotive engine cleaner can also be used.)
  5. Clean the bolt carrier assembly by removing carbon from the bolt cam-pin slot, inside of the bolt carrier and the bottom of the bolt carrier itself. You can use a wet pipe cleaner to clean the inside of the bolt carrier key, but it is not necessary every time.
  6. Do not put anything inside the gas tube. Not only is it unnecessary but it will result in debris inside.
  7. Use a toothbrush and rags to clean the bolt. Pay particular attention to cleaning the bolt lugs. You do not need to be concerned with the carbon build-up on the tail of the bolt unless the gun will be put away for long-term storage. The carbon will reappear anytime you shoot the gun.
  8. Attach the chamber brush to your cleaning rod and scrub out the chamber. Rogers generally used a worn brush with a wet patch wrapped around it. Scrub the chamber a few times and then dry it out.
  9. Clean out the locking lugs with cotton swabs.
  10. Spray some cleaner into the upper receiver and the charging handle. Use a toothbrush and cotton swabs to clean those.
  11. Run a few dry patches down the barrel to clean it. If you feel the bore is heavily fouled, run several wet patches through it. If Rogers absolutely felt the need for a brush, it was nylon, not copper. Never use a stainless-steel brush in your barrel.

Note: Roger’s barrel-cleaning protocol is intended for carbines/short-barreled rifles (SBRs).


One my around the AR platform is that it runs better dry. This is patently false. It actually runs better wet than dry.

After first checking to see that cleaning patches or brush bristles have not become lodged in the barrel or firearm, the gun should be lightly lubricated.

Lubricate the following parts:

  1. Windage drum/rear sight detents
  2. Ejection port cover latch
  3. Ejection port cover spring
  4. Action springs and pins
  5. Front sight detent
  6. Charging handle catch
  7. Charging handle catch spring
  8. Inside rear of bolt
  9. Mouth of bolt key
  10. Bolt carrier exhaust ports
  11. Forward assist


Prior to reassembling, check your bolt rings for serviceability. To do this, insert the bolt into the bolt carrier and turn it upside down (preferably over something soft). If the bolt doesn’t fall out, you are good to go. If the bolt falls out on its own, you need to change the gas rings.

Don’t be concerned with misalignment of the gas rings. Colt Armorer instructors state that the gun will run with only one good ring.

Reassemble the firearm.

Remove any gun cleaning solution, oil and fingerprints from the outside of the firearm.

Function Check

Anytime you reassemble your firearm, you need to perform a function check.

Pull the charging handle to the rear and release. Place the selector on SAFE. Pull the trigger, and the hammer should not fall.

Place the selector on SEMI/FIRE. Pull the trigger and hold to the rear. The hammer should fall. Continuing to hold the trigger to the rear, pull the charging handle to the rear and release it. Slowly release the trigger with a sooth motion until the trigger is fully forward. The hammer should NOT fall. Pull the trigger. The hammer should fall.

There are additional function checks for a select-fire (full-auto or burst-fire) weapon.

Although gun cleaning and maintenance is the least enjoyable aspect of shooting, it is a necessary part. However, it need not be time-consuming.


E.A.G. Tactical LLC: EAGTctical.com
Accompanying photo provided by Otis Technology.