Cleaning the M4 Carbine – Army Approved

Kudos to the United States Army for “getting with the program” and releasing a series of videos designed to assist in teaching soliders to use and care for their weapons. Yes, the production quality is worse than some of the industry’s leading YouTube personalities, but wizz-bang is not needed when all one is sending is hard knowledge.

Latest up in the Army’s video information conveyance, dubbed “The Shooters Corner” is how to break down and clean the standard-issue M4 carbine.

Some juicy tidbits of information, that are likely common-knowledge for those who actually deal with firearms on a regular basis:

  • Always run your brushes and patches from the chamber to the muzzle.
  • Pay attention to the inside of the bolt carrier, as that is where the carbon is.
  • Make sure all your components are free of fractures, cracks, and deformation.

My favorite statement is to “not remove your parkerizing” which is hilariously oxymoronic to anyone who has served. Often, the demand from Command is the weapon is perfectly clean which often leads to the removal of parkerizing through excessive cleaning.

Despite my hazing of Army, they do have some good pieces of information, like the proper lubrication points on the weapon system. Often, Soldiers douse the bolt carrier in CLP.

Those interested in cleaning their weapons the Army way can tune into the video below.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • McThag

    The late ’80’s mania for surgically clean guns led my unit to the discovery that oven cleaner took carbon right off the gun.

    And bluing and parkerizing and anodizing…

    • Kevin Craig

      Late ‘80s mania?

      I ETS’d in 1989, and that mania was mostly a holdover from the Vietnam-era soldiers, who learned it from the WWII/Korea era, who learned it from WWI, on back through the black powder era all the way to the Revolution.

      We knew even then that excessive cleaning caused more problems than dirtiness. I saw a simple-minded trainee return with a BCG that looked like it had been chromed, after he’d been told to “get all the black stuff off”.

      Armies that used mostly pull-through cleaning systems tended to have badly worn crowns that destroyed accuracy. The Swiss taught that two soldiers should work together, with one pulling and the other keeping the cord centered to avoid muzzle wear.

      A cleaning rod that flexes from fitting too tightly can cause the same problem, and can damage the chamber and lede when feeding from the chamber end, just as much as it can damage the crown when cleaning from the muzzle.

  • Ben Loong

    Whatever happened to the art of making informative training videos?

    They used to be so much better produced back in the mid- to late-20th century: well-written informative scripts, professional voice-over work, scenarios acted out by soldiers, animated illustrations of the mechanical operation of a firearm…

    • Sermon 7.62

      Huh, those amusing comic books, like “How to strip your baby” are no longer made?

      • Uniform223

        *sarcasm* I can take that seriously because it doesn’t look like a cover from a Call of Duty game…

  • Havok

    Anyone else notice they removed the Auto Sear prior to filming?

    • Twilight sparkle

      It also looked like it had a geissele trigger or something. I think that must have been some sort of competition rifle

      • Joshua

        It was the AMU.

  • Bob Jones

    Ok, looking for opinions here from old timers and especially those who’ve served in militaries outside the US:

    I bought a pretty big collection of guns at once to get started in shooting. It is because of what I see above that I grew to detest the AR and DI guns. Once they’re clean and reassembled, they’re awesome to shoot. But this just seems ridiculous to me, and always has each time I cleaned the thing. I’m not saying other gun systems don’t need their fair cleaning, but doesn’t this seem excessive to you guys? I don’t mean for an AR- I mean for a firearm in general. People go on and on about how it’s not a big deal that this thing craps where it eats, but this video just reaffirms all of my hatred for this system.

    So again, especially to those who had to clean a service weapon other than the AR in the military- doesn’t this seem sort of fundamentally flawed?

    I swore that other than collectibles (full auto M16s/M4s when I can get them, historical ARs, etc.), I would avoid them and their DI guns like the plague.

    Go for it.

    • Bob Jones

      ^their DI ilk, that was supposed to say 🙂

    • CommonSense23

      I have found that the AR has needed the least amount of cleaning of any weapon I have been issued. Cleaning a AR every time you shoot is not needed.
      I went over 6000 rounds without cleaning my issued suppressed 10inch without malfunction. The guns run fine dirty.

      • Bob Jones

        That’s kind of missing the point. Per SOP, how often does the Army expect you to clean the rifle as described above?

        • Uniform223

          “Per SOP, how often does the Army expect you to clean the rifle as described above”

          As much and as often as your Command/Leadership says you should…

          Your notion that you stay away from DI guns because of “the amount of cleaning” you do is a very moot point (nowadays). I can take a piston driven system (like AK or SCAR) fire 120 rounds through both and then break them down to clean. I can take those same rifles another day put another 120 round through them and not bother to clean them at all. I can do the same with a “run of the mil” DI AR-15.

        • Joshua

          Every time there is down time to keep soldiers busy…cause idle hands are the devil’s playground and some such nonsense.

          You can’t go by the length of time command expects you to clean your rifle as proof it sucks. Most of the time they do it just to keep boots busy.

    • nadnerbus

      The only difference between a piston gun and a DI gun is where the carbon (and heat) gets deposited. A piston gun gets dirty as hell at the gas block and piston, an AR gets dirty in the bolt and carrier. Neither should greatly affect the reliability if the weapon is well designed, is free of defects, and properly lubricated.

      If you have a mania for keeping your operating group pristine and clean, I can see why you might not like the AR. But it’s really not necessary to keep it that perfectly clean.

      • Bob Jones

        I’d much rather clean a gas block and piston than all the angles, crannies, and crevices of an entire receiver with BCG, trigger group, chamber, etc.

        • Joshua

          You greatly over exaggerated the degree to which an AR gets dirty.

          I can easily fire 3-4 combat loads and the lower will have barely any fouling in it. The Lower just doesn’t get dirty unless it’s suppressed.

          The upper can easily be wiped down in a few seconds, same with the BCG.

          Then all you need to do is scrub the bore.

          Seriously if your spending more than 10-20 minutes cleaning an M4 your doing it wrong.

    • Joshua

      You must realize, the AR is probably the easiest rifle to clean that the US uses.

      It pales in comparison to the M240, M249, M2, Mk19, etc.

      Pretty much any other weapon system we use requires far more cleaning.

      • Bob Jones

        A) You’re not describing small infantry rifles. You’re describing larger, more complicated weapon systems, may of them crew-served. May as well throw in the cleaning regimen for an F22 while you’re at it ;).
        B) This is why I mentioned non-US; I was looking for comparisons to other standard issue rifleman weapon systems.

        • Joshua

          There’s a big difference between a M249 and a F22. Like they aren’t even comparable.
          However the M4 is comparable to the M249.

        • CommonSense23

          You want to know what guns require the least amount of cleaning to be functional. The AR/M4. The only guns we didn’t have to trash bag were our ARs. SCARs required more cleaning. AKs requires more cleaning. Our 14s required far more cleaning.
          The AR runs fine dirty. And its a sealed gun that gets less dirt in the gun.

    • The AR actually doesn’t require that much cleaning. In fact it only needs four things to keep running:
      1. Gas Rings
      2. Extractor Spring with Insert
      3. Relatively clean chamber
      4. Lubrication

      As long as all four items are met ARs will typically run like the energizer bunny.

      • Bob Jones

        That’s kind of missing the point. Per SOP, how often does the Army expect you to clean the rifle as described above?

        • If you talk to people in the peace time Army many will say every time you turn it into the armory.

          I just watched as much of the video as I could stand to respond. Couple of AR myths, thin coat of oil isn’t the best way to lubricate an AR in reality ARs like it very wet, use lots of oil. Also gas rings are not required to be staggered. The rings will move around while they are in the gun. And the amount of gas that might escape due to aligned rings is minimal.

          Field cleaning might be different depending on the unit, person, and their comfort level of having a dirty gun. But it has been proven with enough lubrication ARs will run and run. The late Pat Rogers had filthy 14 that went well over twenty thousand rounds before it was cleaned, he just kept on adding lubrication.

  • DanGoodShot

    Short, sweet and to the point. Honestly, I think thats the best m4/ar cleaning video I’ve seen on youtube. Most are overloaded with a bunch of nonsense or just flat out wrong.

  • Dan Atwater

    Gah. It doesn’t matter at all whether the gas rings are aligned or not.

  • Broz

    I miss the old training films….

  • Joe Schmo

    As far as I know, aligning the gas rings doesn’t really matter. They get jumbled when you fire anyway, so why fuss with aligning them each time? I have never run into any issues since I started leaving the rings however they came out of the rifle. Has anyone encountered issues or has any advice on this topic?

    • Joshua

      Institutional knowledge that refuses to die.