I already know there will be backlash, mainly from some guys in the military community who are used to keeping their guns “white glove” clean and inspection ready. I’m here to tell you that (for the most part) this is a waste of time and quite frankly ridiculous. There is simply no need for this obsession, truth be told at any given time you could probably swab one of my guns and come out with some oil+carbon build up. To that I say, so what?
I’m not suggesting that you should never clean your guns, especially after spending a couple days at the range. What I am saying is that your guns do not need to be “inspect me with a dental pick” clean in order to properly function and remain reliable. The mindset that is drilled into many recruits across the nation during basic training / boot camp should be left there and replaced with common sense supported by experience in the field. If you believe your gun must be clean enough to eat off of in order to function, you probably believe that a reflective belt and clear eye protection render you impervious to all danger.
So what is the point then, how much time should you dedicate to cleaning a gun and to what standard should this be done? First of all I need to make the distinction that I very much support keeping a gun properly lubed, this is super essential and keeps things working smoothly even under adverse conditions. As for the cleaning aspect, I found this article online describing why overzealous cleaning of an AR15 is a huge waste of time.
Quite a few people are worried about carbon buildup. There are even companies that will sell you carbon scrapers – and of course, there are companies that will sell you an external piston/op-rod setup. Both have major drawbacks. Excessive cleaning can remove finishes which are important to the operation of the weapon. And eliminating the inline operating system, the “internal piston” as Armalite calls it, has a host of drawbacks that I won’t cover here and now.
The bottom line is that cleaning for the sake of reducing malfunctions is a waste of time. Cleaning may make the weapon prettier, cleaning may make you feel better – but cleaning will not drastically improve the reliability of the weapon, unless unrealistically large round counts are being considered. Even then, you would have a better chance of improving reliability simply by adding lube to the weapon, as shown by the single drop of oil in the cam pin hole of the 5.45 allowing the weapon to run for another 150 trouble-free rounds.What’s easier in the field – some lube, or a complete detail strip and scrape of every part with carbon on it?
Another article entitled The Big M4 Myth was written by a former special operator with a pretty extensive resume. In the article the author discusses the reliability of the platform and some of its shortcomings. He also conducted a pretty extensive torture test with civilian AR15’s, a test where he fired thousands of rounds and arrived at the following conclusion.
Fouling in the M4 is not the problem. The problem is weak springs (buffer and extractor), as well as light buffer weights (H vs. H2 or H3). With the abovementioned drop-in parts, the M4 is as reliable as any weapon I have ever fired, and I have fired probably every military-issue assault rifle fielded worldwide in the last 60 years as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant (18B)….I reliably fired 2400 rounds (80 magazines) on a bone dry gun, and I would bet that is a lot more than any soldier or other armed professional will ever come close to firing without any lubrication whatsoever.
Before you think this post is completely slanted towards AR15/M4 platform guns, I should note that I follow the same concept (minimal cleaning, decent lube) for my pistols and other rifles. I can clean my glock in about 10 minutes after firing hundreds of rounds through it at the range. Once I’m finish cleaning it to my standard it would probably get tossed out of a barracks window by a pissed off Drill Instructor, thankfully I’m not in boot camp. However it will shoot another hundred or thousand rounds without a single malfunction and a few drops of lube, this I guarantee! From what I’ve observed, most guys typically shoot less than 150 rounds out of a pistol while at the range and then spend hours obsessing over it while cleaning every surface 5 or 6 times. Totally unnecessary unless you have no where else to be that day. If you obsess over how clean your gun is to the point where you pull out the electron microscope to inspect it, you are certainly wasting your time. If your rationale for this methodology is the chance that you might get in an extended firefight where you blow through thousands of rounds while defending your home against cannibalistic looters, well I don’t know what to tell you.