An important part of owning an AR-15 rifle is being able to regularly clean your gun and maintain its long-term performance. Cleaning your AR-15 may seem complex, but it really isn’t that difficult. The more your clean your rifle, the easier the process is, and you will have a service-ready gun for decades. There are many different opinions and techniques for cleaning an AR-15, but we'll describe a general cleaning guide and a good start to finding the best process for your gun.
Cleaning Supplies You'll Need
There are some general gun cleaning tools as well as some AR-15-specific items you should consider before you start cleaning your rifle. When it comes to stocking up on supplies, you can work on putting your own kit together, or you can buy a pre-made cleaning kit. Building your own personal kit will be beneficial if you are cleaning and using your gun often but buying a kit will work as well. The cleaning supplies you'll likely need include:
- Oil - Your AR-15 rifle is a wet gun, which means that they like the places where the oil sits to be wet and not dry. Don't be afraid to over-oil the moving parts. Wipe off any excess oil. Gun oil comes as just oil or a mix of oil and cleaner. If you are using just oil, consider also using a cleaner. The cleaner will help remove any carbon or powder fouling buildup.
- Cleaner – A gun cleaner is designed to remove carbon buildup. As you fire rounds, the gun gets hot, and carbon can get baked onto the surfaces.
- Patch - A gun cleaning patch is a small piece of material that you can insert into the gun to remove carbon. They are easy to use, and most are white, so you can see how clean or dirty the component is.
- Chamber Brush - Specific chamber brushes are designed to clean the chamber of your rifle. These brushes are going to be caliber specific, so be sure to find the right chamber brush for your gun.
- Pipe cleaner
- Bore snake or bore brush - Bore brushes are used to insert into and clean out the inside of your AR-15 barrel.
- Pin punch
- Cleaning mat/Cloth - This item might sound obvious, but we recommend using some type of cloth or mat to keep your parts organized and visible throughout your cleaning process
The most dangerous gun is one you think is empty but is not. Always start gun handling, including cleaning, from a safety perspective.
- Clear the Firearm
- Point in a safe direction - As you check the gun for rounds, be sure that you are pointing the gun in a safe direction. If the gun should go off, you want the round to travel in a path of safety.
- Remove the magazine - If the magazine is in place, remove it and visually inspect both the magazine and slot for rounds.
- Pull the bolt holder assembly back - You will catch it with the bolt hold-open lever. You can then visually inspect the chamber to see if any rounds are lodged there. Also, physically inspect the chamber by carefully inserting the tip of your finger into the chamber to feel if a round is present.
Your AR-15 has many very tiny parts. Before you begin to clean the gun, set up a cleaning station. Yes, AR-15s are designed for field cleaning. If you are not in the field, find a flat, stable surface where you can assemble all the tools and equipment needed to clean your gun. You can use a clean rag or mat as a tablecloth to help stop any small parts from bouncing away. The last thing you want to do is get on your hands and knees to look for a tiny pin that holds a critical part together.
Separate Upper and Lower Receivers
Step 1 - Remove the rear takedown pin.
Step 2 - Pivot the upper receiver into a forward position. The upper receiver will tilt forward on the front take-down pin.
Step 3 - Release the charging handle and remove the charge handling assembly. At this point, you can remove the front take-down pin and separate the upper receiver from the lower receiver.
Step 4 - Remove the buffer and buffer spring. Using your finger, depress the buffer and as you do, a catch will appear. Release the catch and the buffer and spring will pop up for easy removal. When you removed the charging handles, the bolt carrier assembly was removed. You can now begin to disassemble the bolt carrier group.
Step 5 - Remove the firing pin retainer and the firing pin.
Step 6 - Turn the bolt cam pin 90 degrees and lift it up. Doing so releases the bolt cam which will then slide off.
Step 7 - Press the pivot pin (extractor pin) that holds the extractor and remove the extractor.
Tool Tip - To remove pins, use a pin-push, which is a small diameter rod that you place on the pin to push it out of position.
If you are using a solvent to clean the smaller parts of the AR-15 and those of the bolt assembly group, do so by following the instructions on the product. Generally, you can soak the pieces in a stainless-steel container.
Some gun owners clean the pieces manually using a brush, pipe cleaners, or patch. If you need to clean the gun deeply, use a cleaning vice that will securely hold the upper and lower receivers in place. The cleaning vice frees your hands, so you can focus on cleaning the parts without supporting the pieces.
Step 8 - Wipe down the buffer and buffer spring - if needed you can clean off any debris such as carbon from both pieces. When done, re-oil the spring and replace it.
Step 9 - Clean the chamber and barrel lugs. Most AR-15 cleaning kits will have a chamber brush and handle that you thread the brush onto so that you can work the chamber and lugs. Dip the brush in solvent and insert it into the chamber.
Step 10 - If you are using a gun cleaning kit, you can then clean the barrel. Generally, cleaning kits will have a T-adapter that threads sections together to form a short or long-handled brush that also allows you to change the brush tips to fit the parts you are cleaning. Follow the brushwork with patches until the patches come out clean. For best results, a slotted plunger works best to hold patches in place.
Always push the brush from back to front and then remove the brush. Doing so prevents the brush from redepositing carbon or other contaminants in the barrel. If you need to push the brush or patch through more than once, clean the brush and use a clean patch.
When you clean the barrel or bore, you can use a brush to dislodge caked-on carbon. If you don't have a brush that fits the bore of the barrel, use a patch and a cleaning rod. When the patch comes out clean, oil the bore. You can add oil to a clean patch or use a bore brush or bore mop to apply oil evenly to the inner surface of the bore.
Step 11 - Clean the bolt carrier and assembly. By the time you are finished cleaning the bore, the bolt carrier parts have soaked in the solvent and are ready to be cleaned. You can clean the outer pieces with a wire brush designed for gun cleaning. Clean the following parts:
- Gas key - A pipe cleaner or long Q-tip will work. Personally, a pipe cleaner is a better option as a Q-tip may leave fibers behind. A stray fiber or two are not a big deal as the guns fire with carbon build-up in them. However, the idea is to clean the gun and a pipe cleaner will not leave fiber behind.
- Remaining parts - If the solvent has done its job, the carbon will wipe off easily.
Reassemble and Lubricate the Firearm
- Reassemble the Bolt Carrier Group - Replace the extractor. Be sure to oil the parts as you reassemble them.
- Visually check the gas rings to make sure they are 60 degrees apart.
- Replace the bolt in the carrier - Position the extractor just left of center. If you think of the end of the carrier as a clock, the extractor would be located at 11 o'clock.
- Replace the bolt pin and oil it.
- Run the firing pin over an oiled cloth and replace it along with the firing pin retainer pin.
- Oil the charge handle and visually inspect it for cleanliness. When clean, reinsert it.
- Replace the bolt carrier into its slot.
Cleaning the Lower
Visually inspect the lower. If you see carbon buildup, you can use a patch or Q-tip to clean it away. You want to oil the hammer-pivot spring, safety lever, bolt catch, rear take-down pin, dust cover pivot pin, and forward assist.
Move the bolt carrier through its full function and deploy the trigger and hammer. You can do this a few times to make sure that you've assembled the gun correctly. Moving the action through its process a few times helps to make sure that the oil you've applied is spread around where it needs to be. A good habit is to always wipe the gun down with a clean cloth to remove any excess oil that may ooze from the parts.
How often should I clean my AR-15?
You should regularly clean your AR-15, but the exact amount of time between each session is up for debate. When you clean your rifle will depend on a few factors including how often you are using your gun. We would recommend basic cleaning and lubrication after each use while scheduling the more thorough cleaning and breakdowns at least once a month. Always be sure to monitor any build-up and clean as necessary to avoid the risk of wear and corrosion.
What tools do I need to clean my AR 15?
You can find AR-15 cleaning kits complete with all the tools, or you can put together your own cleaning kit that will generally include oil and cleaner, a cleaning patch, chamber brush, pipe cleaner, bore brush, pin punch, and cleaning mat.
Our last tip: There are countless opinions about how to perform a proper cleaning on your gun and which products to use. Do your research, never cut corners, and use quality products that are designed for your gun. Doing so will ensure that your AR-15 remains in pristine condition for the longest time possible.
Becoming more knowledgeable about your gun and its functionality is an essential part of owning a weapon. As you go through the process of cleaning and maintaining your AR-15, you will become more familiar with each specific part that will ultimately help you become comfortable with your gun.
At SpiceTac, we offer the highest quality parts to take the performance of your AR-15 to the next level. Upgrade and personalize your rifle with top brands in the industry. Check out our wide variety of AR-15 upper and lower parts including bolt carrier groups and charging handles today!