How To Clean an AR-15: Complete Maintenance Guide (+ Pictures)

 

So you just bought your very first AR-15 and took it out for some practice shooting. Now you’ve blasted your way through a couple boxes of ammunition and it’s time to take your new firearm home. But what comes next?

You’re gonna need to clean your AR-15, but you’re not sure how. Perhaps you’ve pulled the pins and detached your upper and lower receivers. Where do you go from here?

It may seem like a daunting task, maybe even a bit confusing.

I assure you, it’s not. And in this epic guide to AR-15 cleaning and maintenance, I’ll teach you everything you need to know.

When you’re done reading this, you’ll be able to take your gun apart, clean it thoroughly and put it back together again with ease and satisfaction.

Let’s jump right into it.


Step #1

You’ll need to get the tools necessary to cleaning your AR-15.

If you already own a handgun or a standard rifle, you should already have most everything you need to clean your AR-15. This is assuming that you’re a responsible gun owner who knows to clean your firearms regularly.

The only key tool you’ll need to pick up for your AR-15 is a bore brush for your specific caliber. Don’t worry, you won’t spend an arm and a leg on cleaning tools. On the contrary, a good bore brush can be found for under five bucks.

Brownells sells an AR-15 chamber brush for just $3.99 and it can also be used to clean an M16.

If, for some reason, you don’t already have cleaning tools, you can put together your own AR-15 cleaning kit or shop around for a pre-prepared cleaning kit.

Tac Shield offers an AR-15 cleaning kit that comes with 17 pieces including the aforementioned bore brushes, a slotted patch tip, a punch pin and a rifle mop. It generally retails for around twenty bucks.

So is it better you just go out and buy one or are you better of building your own?

This ultimately comes down to personal preference.

If you just want a basic kit and you don’t plan on using your gun on a frequent basis, you may be happy with a pre-made cleaning kit.

On the other hand, if you are a high volume shooter, you’re going to want a comprehensive kit.

There are pros and cons to buying a pre-made cleaning kit. For starters, most of them aren’t as in-depth as the kind you could put together on your own. And while there are some decent options on the market, they won’t be of much help if you’re a competitive shooter.

Here are my top five picks for pre-prepared AR-15 cleaning kits:

  • Champs Universal Handgun, Rifle & Shotgun Cleaning Kit ($21.99)
  • Real Avid Gun Boss AR-15 Cleaning Kit ($27.99)
  • Militaria M16 & AR-15 Cleaning Kit ($19.99)
  • Precision Tactical Gun Maintenance Brass Cleaning Kit w/ Wood Box ($34.95)
  • DAC Winchester Super Deluxe Soft Sided Gun Care Case ($45.54)

When purchasing any of these viable options, you want to make sure that they contain the right size bore brushes and snakes, and all other tools that your AR-15 requires. You’ll want to match your caliber to the caliber size of the cleaning kit tools.

Alternately, if you decide to build your own cleaning kit, you’re going to want to pick up a sizeable tackle box to house all your cleaning accessories.

Personally, I use a Plano 3-Tray Tackle Box with Dual Top Access. It’s super affordable at just under fifteen bucks and it’s got plenty of compartments for a variety of tool sizes.

You may also want to pick up a gun cleaning mat. They got for around twenty dollars so they don’t break your bank, but if you’re feeling frugal, you can just as easily keep a tablecloth or white sheet around.

Moving on, you’re going to want to purchase your brushes and bore snakes/rods. For most gun owners opting to build their own kit, it’s in their best interest to buy several smaller kits and combine them to build a sort of “Frankenkit.”

Here are some kits that include many of the items you’ll need for AR-15 maintenance:

  • Gunmaster 223/5.56 AR Rifle Cleaning Kit ($12.54)
  • Champs Universal Handgun, Rifle & Shotgun Cleaning Kit (see: above)
  • Otis Modern Sporting Rifle & AR Cleaning System ($44.19)

These kits include the brushes, punches, bore snakes and sundry other items you’ll need for cleaning your AR-15. They may include lube, solvents and clean patches.

If you want to go the extra mile and enter into the realm of gunsmithing, you can get a more in-depth punch set such as the Ultimate Arms Roll Pin Punch Set ($29.99) or Grace USA’s Ultimate 31-piece Punch Set ($173.99).

Another good tool to have is the AR-15 Vise Block ($49.99) which secures your bench vise without scratching the finish of your rifle.

As for lubes, here are some of my favorite lubricants and cleaning solvents for maintaining the AR-15:

  • Remington Rem Oil ($5.99)
  • Hoppe’s No. 9 Gun Bore Cleaner ($7.46)
  • Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber ($9.99)
  • Ballistol Multi-Purpose Aerosol Can Lubricant Cleaner Protectant ($8.79)

Rem Oil is great at removing grime and removing the moisture that causes rust and corrosion to develop. The Teflon-based formula reduces metal-to-metal wear which is good if you store your AR-15 with other firearms that come in contact with it.

Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber works to eliminate jamming and improve accuracy. It’s a good spray to keep around because it can be used on any firearm.

Ballistol Multi-Purpose Aerosol Can Lubricant dissolves traces of copper, lead, black powder residue and brass, protecting your firearm from these and other harmful elements. It reduces acidity and is great to keep around the house for general household maintenance (it works on leather, wood surfaces, etc.).

Step #2

Now you’re going to want to prep your cleaning area and clear your firearm. Remember, don’t ever begin the cleaning process without first making sure that your magazine is empty or removed and your chamber is empty.

If this is your first time clearing a firearm, here are the basic measures you need to take:

  • Point the rifle away from yourself in a safe direction
  • Remove the rifle’s mag
  • Lock the bolt to the rear
  • Inspect the chamber and remove any ammo that may be in it
  • Release the bolt
  • Place the weapon safely on your cleaning area

Lay out a cleaning mat or tablecloth (bed sheet, whatever) and put on a pair of gloves. I like to order Diamond Grip Microflex gloves in bulk. A box goes for $9 and contains 100 gloves per box.

Microflex gloves are good all-purpose gloves, whether you’re changing the oil on your truck or cleaning out your gutters. They’ll also save you the trouble of trying to get gun oil off your fingers. And besides, some cleaning chemicals can be toxic.

Once your gloves are on and your AR-15 is laid out, you’re gonna want to remove all ammunition from the table.

Step #3

Separate the upper receiver from the lower receiver. Push your take-down pins out and pull the halves apart. Take care with the tool you use to separate and remove them as you may run the risk of scratching your rifle’s finish.

A nylon punch is the best route to go when separating your receivers.

Step #4

Remove your charging handle and bolt carrier group. There are helpful how-to videos on YouTube for newbies that are cleaning their AR-15 for the first time. Click here to check out one of the simpler explanations of how to remove your charging handle.

Step #5

Then you’re going to disassemble your bolt carrier group. You start by pushing the bolt to the rear and removing the firing pin, retaining the pin with your pick tool.

Once you’ve removed the firing pin and set it aside, you’ll then rotate the cam pin by ninety degrees and take it out. While the bolt is supposed to slide out, you may have some trouble your first time out. Here’s a helpful video for disassembling your bolt carrier group.

Step #6

Now you’re going to disassemble the bolt using a punch and a mallet to extract the extractor pin. From here, you’ll take out the extractor and set it aside for later.

Step #7

With your punch, you’re going to remove the buffer and buffer spring from your buffer tube. Be sure to take care when pushing down with your punch as the retainer is under pressure.

Once again, there are useful tutorials on YouTube that should help you get started.

Step #8

Once the buffer and buffer spring are removed and set aside, you’re going to clean the chamber and barrel. Everyone has their own way of doing it, so you’ll likely develop your own method.

Just make sure that, no matter what method you use, you are careful to clean each of them from back to front. NOT front to back. Back to front. This is because you want to be certain that all debris leaves the barrel. No matter what, you do NOT clean your AR-15 from muzzle to chamber.

Now’s a good time to add some of that Bore Cleaner to your rifle.

Step Nine

Give all components of your bolt carrier group a good once over. Keep an eye out for any carbon buildup. If there’s build up, make sure to scrub it vigorously.

Clean the extractor thoroughly with a white rag so you can see what’s coming off of it.

Step #10

After this, you’ll clean your buffer assembly, squirting a little lube on a clean rag and wiping the whole thing down. Once you’ve wiped then buffer and spring, you’re good to go.

Step #11

Now you’re gonna clean the charging handle and upper receiver with a lightly oiled rag. I like to keep at least four rags around when cleaning my rifles because you don’t have to keep running back and forth, washing oil and debris off one rag between steps.

If you’ve cleaned your charging handle and upper receiver properly, the charging handle should move within the upper receiver with ease.

Step #12

Here, you’ll clean your lower receiver and FCG (Fire Control Group). If you don’t know what your fire control group is, take a look at this.

You want to make sure that there are no cracks on the hammer or the lower.

Step #13

You’ve done it, my friend. Now it’s time to put it all back together again. You’re going to reassemble your rifle working backwards from step twelve.

Step #14

After your rifle is intact once again, you may want to lubricate it. Everything from your charging handle to your bolt carrier group should receive a light coating of oil. When you’re done, it should be gleaming.

Your fire control group, bolt catch button, mag release and safety selector should all receive a drop or two of lube.

Step #15

This is when you should perform a function check. Look around and make sure there is no ammo laying around. It should still be safely secured and stored away.

Like you did at the start, pick up your rifle and point it in a safe direction. Pull the bolt to the rear and and release it. Place your safety on and give the trigger a good squeeze. If the hammer drops, you’re in trouble. If the hammer doesn’t drop, you’re in the clear.

Take the safety off, train your firearm on a safe target and pull the trigger. If the hammer falls, you’re all set.

You’ve done it, the hard part is over. From here, you should clean your magazine the same way you cleaned your buffer assembly (see: above).

When it comes to maintenance, you should consult with the manufacturer of your AR-15 to determine the precise maintenance schedule you should keep for your firearm. All guns are different in this regard.

The average failure that occurs with most rifles is the O-ring being compromised. If your rifle develops a problem with its bolt carrier group or other component, be sure to work on that area first and foremost.

Always keep your rifle lubricated and you should be alright. Lubrication is key to rifle maintenance.

Always inspect all components during each cleaning.


Conclusion

There you go, that’s about everything you need to know about cleaning and maintaining an AR-15. See, I told you it was simpler than you thought. If you follow these steps, you should have a long and positive experience with your AR-15 rifle.

Be sure to take your time when cleaning and pay attention to the condition of all components. Happy hunting.

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