Skip to Content

Can An AR-15 Shoot Steel-Cased Ammo? Pros and Cons

You can save quite a bit of money on ammo on steel-cased ammo, but many firearm owners suggest that this ammo can damage your AR-15. In the article below, you’ll find a full discussion on whether this is really true.

You should use brass ammo with an AR-15 for the best results. However, there are certainly occasions when it makes sense to use steel ammo. It is cheaper, often easier to find and the damage it causes will often be negligible.

Continue below to find tips on how and when to use steel-cased ammo. If you do use it, be sure to clean your firearm following the guidance below. There will also be a section on American-made brands you should be on the lookout for.

Are There Any Advantages To Using Steel-Cased Ammo?

Although it’s not recommended that you make this a regular habit, there are some benefits to turning towards the cheaper alternative on occasion.

It’s Much Cheaper

During the height of the pandemic surge in demand, many customers commented about how shockingly cheap steel-cased ammo is. Their instinct told them to turn away from the junk, however. Were they right?

The background story on steel-cased ammo, and why it’s seen as a cheap, inferior alternative can be traced back to World War II. Russia and Germany produced it because it was significantly cheaper than brass.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and steel-cased ammo is still 30-40% cheaper than brass.

It’s Not Corrosive

Modern ammo is not corrosive since it is coated with a ferrous bi-metal jacket to prevent this from happening.

I use either Brownells, Palmetto State Armory, or Optics Planet to buy parts, that way I always know what I’m getting and that it will actually show up.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Steel-Cased Ammo?

You’ve probably heard a million times by now that you shouldn’t use steel-cased ammo with your AR. While this is not completely true, there are several reasons why you should be careful about doing so all the time.

It Can Foul Up Your Firearm

Some steel-cased ammo is particularly cheap because it is sourced from Russia/Eastern Europe where it is cheaply made. The components often include lesser powders, primers, and bullets.

The primary concern here is that these can foul up your firearm. Barrels, chambers, and actions are at the mercy of these lesser buckets and the result is often not pretty.

The spacing between the chamber wall and the case is reduced, leading to friction issues. It can even become difficult to extract the steel case when this happens.

Difficulty Removing Fired Cartridge Cases

Steel-cased ammo expands and contracts differently than brass or aluminum. It takes longer to expand and contract, which in turn screws with the cycle of operation.

The steel sticks around in the chamber as the action is unlocking. This causes a delay in the extraction of fired cartridge cases. This makes it more difficult to reload.

The reduced power loads are a problem, particularly for AR rifles that have small gas ports. For these, it may just not be feasible to use steel-cased ammo.

All told, most experts estimate that using steel-cased ammo regularly will reduce your barrel life (source) by as much as 5,000 rounds.

Some Gun Ranges Don’t Allow It

Before you use steel-cased ammo, make sure that your gun range allows it. Some do not allow it to be used at all for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, the spent shells are non-reloadable, which leads to trouble when they get mixed up with brass shells. There’s also the downside that the steel ammo may cause sparks to fly when it hits the backstop at the range.

Will Tulammo Damage My AR?

Tulammo is cheap ammo that many shooters avoid. They fear it will damage their rifle. These non-corrosive steel-cased rounds are made in Russia

The truth of the matter is that using Tulammo now and then won’t lead to permanent damage. Use it consistently and you may start to have problems with your barrel.

The main challenge with this type of ammo is that it can be difficult to reload.It also tends to leave behind quite a bit of powdery residue after firing. If you are going to use it, be sure to clean your firearm after every use.

Tips For Using Steel-Cased Ammo With AR-15s

It’s fine to use steel-cased ammo from time to time. When you do, be sure to follow the tips below so that your AR-15 continues to run smoothly and without issue.

Make Sure Your AR Is Well-Lubricated

If you are going to use steel-coated casings, then you need to make sure that your AR is well-lubricated. Pay particular attention to the bolt carrier group on your AR.

Carbon build-up is worse with steel-cased ammo. You are encouraged to go with a synthetic lubricant, such as Hoppes 9. Add a high-quality solvent, such as CLP, to the mix.

You’ll need to heighten your cleaning efforts by taking extra steps, such as removing the extractor before cleaning. While you’re at it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use a chamber brush, like the one found here.

Check out my How To Clean an AR Step by Step instructions for more info.

You Should Break Your Rifle In By Using Brass

You are encouraged to avoid using steel-cased ammo with a brand new AR-15. There’s no problem with using the cheaper alternative occasionally, but your first 100 rounds or so should be brass.

What Is The Best Steel-Cased Ammo For The AR-15?

For the AR-15, one of the most popular choices is the American Steel Brand. Be advised, that they only offer a 9mm luger. They are great for the 9mm AR-15. Some diehards recommend the 9mm AR-15 over just about anything else!

Another company has been ramping up efforts to produce steel-cased ammo on American soil. That company is Palmetto State Armory (source), based out of South Carolina.

Final Thoughts

Regularly using steel-cased ammo can shorten the life of your barrel by as much as 5,000 rounds. If you just purchased an AR, you should always break it in with brass rounds.

However, in the interest of saving money, you can use the cheaper steel ammo every once in a while. Just be sure to clean out your rifle afterward. Also, be advised that some shooting ranges may not allow steel ammo.