How to Clean and maintain your AR-15

A step-by-step guide on how to clean and maintain your AR-15

By popular request, we’ve decided to share the recommended steps for cleaning and maintaining your AR-15. If you are a beginner or new to the firearms world, you’ll quickly discover that everyone has their own preferred method of maintaining their firearm. This guide is designed to be a good starting point for figuring out what works best for you and your particular build. It will cover recommended oil points, wear surfaces, and applies to cleaning an AR-10 for those big bore fans out there. 

Excessive carbon build-up, debris, and irregular wear and tear on your firearm can eventually lead to different malfunctions and issues such as failure to fire, jamming, excessive wear, and/or damage to your rifle. Proper cleaning and maintenance of your AR-15 will greatly extend its reliability.

Recommended Tools

  • Your preferred gun cleaning solvent and lubrication (CLP and/or other reputable solvents)  
  • Cleaning Rag  
  • Q-Tips  
  • Cleaning Rod and Cleaning Patches  
  • Gun Cleaning Kit  
  • Gun Cleaning Mat  
  • Nylon Brush


Safety First! If you haven’t already, remove any ammunition from your workspace. Remove the magazine and clear your weapon by pulling back your charging handle and ensuring there aren’t any rounds in the chamber.

Rifle Takedown

Start by separating your upper assembly from your lower assembly. This is done by sliding out your rear takedown pin, pivoting the upper assembly forward, then sliding out your front pivot pin.

Upper Disassembly

Remove the Bolt Carrier Group (BCG) and charging handle from your upper assembly. This is done by pulling rearward on the charging handle. The BCG will come out first, then after removing the BCG, line up the end of the charging handle with the notch inside the upper receiver and it will come out.

BCG Disassembly

Although many people prefer not to disassemble their BCG when cleaning, it is recommended to do so in order to avoid carbon buildup on critical components such as your Bolt Carrier Group. Disassembling your bolt carrier group for cleaning is surprisingly simple.

First, using a pair of needle-nosed pliers pull out the firing pin retaining pin, the retaining pin can also be removed by pushing on it from the other side of the bolt carrier using a small punch. This will allow the firing pin to slide out backward.

Next, push the bolt head back as far as it will go to give you room to rotate your cam pin's rectangular head so it is parallel to the gas key.  Once the cam pin is removed, the bolt head will slide out the front.

This will give you enough space to lift the cam pin out.

Once the cam pin is removed, the bolt head will slide out the front.

Cleaning Your Upper Assembly Components

Begin with an initial wipe-down of all of your components to remove larger bits of debris and loose carbon. After that, you can move on to tackling each individual piece. (The order in which this is done isn’t really important but it is important that you do cover them all.)

Bolt Head Cleaning

After doing an initial wipe-down of the bolt head, make sure that the gas rings, ejector, and lugs are free of carbon buildup and dirt. If you’re having trouble removing some of that carbon, use a bit of solvent and a non-abrasive brush or rag.

Inspect the gas rings toward the rear of your bolt head to make sure there isn’t any damage or scoring happening on the inside of your bolt carrier.

You will know if the gas rings on your bolt head need to be replaced if you see any significant damage on them or if the bolt head falls into the bolt carrier without any resistance.

Using a Q-tip and some solvent you can clean in-between the lugs of the bolt head. 

Add some lubricant on the lugs of your bolt head, where the extractor pivots, and on your gas rings.

Bolt Carrier Cleaning and Oil

The inside of your bolt carrier where the bolt head slides back and forth is a very important spot to keep clean. Using some solvent and a longer Q-tip, run along the inside walls of the bolt carrier to remove all carbon buildup and dirt.

Next, you’ll want to focus on the contact points on the outside of your bolt carrier that come in contact with the inside of your upper receiver.  Be sure there is no deep scoring or irregular wear patterns on your bolt carrier.  

Spread a bit of lubricant on all the contact surfaces on the inside and outside of your bolt carrier.

Firing Pin Inspection

Make sure the firing pin is straight, and see if there are any burrs or deformations on the end of the pin. It is pretty uncommon for a hobbyist shooter to mess up your firing pin, but if you suspect any damage or corrosion, it is normally advised to replace or upgrade your firing pin.

Charging Handle Cleaning and Oil

Cleaning the charging handle is as simple are wiping it down with solvent and adding a bit of oil.

Make sure your charging handle is still straight and that the charging handle latch is still functioning properly.

Upper Receiver Cleaning and Oil

Don’t forget to wipe down and oil the inside of your upper receiver.

Barrel Cleaning

Using a brass brush dipped in solvent, make a few passes to remove debris and carbon buildup. 

Then using a rod and patch with a bit of oil, make a few passes until the patch comes out clean. 

The most popular method to clean out the bore of your barrel is to first run a bronze/nylon brush, or bore snake through the barrel to remove any carbon, copper fouling, or lead buildup.

Using a clean patch, make a final pass with some oil.

FCG and Lower Receiver

When cleaning out your lower receiver, if you feel that it has become incredibly dirty, consider disassembling it and cleaning each component individually. More often than not, you can clean your lower receiver using a nylon brush and a bit of solvent to remove any debris from your springs. 

Add a bit of oil to your contact and wear points on your rifle.

Inspect your hammer for any cracks.

Reassemble Your Rifle

After making sure all your parts are cleaned and oiled you’re good to reassemble the rifle. Just reverse the steps outlined in disassembly and you're set!

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