AR-15 Cleaning & Maintenance Guide: The Essentials

The AR-15 is a reliable and versatile firearm, but like any machine, it needs proper care and maintenance to keep performing at its best.

Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or a newcomer to the world of firearms, this guide will walk you through the essential steps of cleaning and maintaining your AR-15.

Let’s dive into our AR-15 cleaning and maintenance guide!


Cleaning and maintaining your AR-15 is not just a matter of pride for gun enthusiasts; it’s crucial for safety and longevity. Regular cleaning helps prevent malfunctions and ensures your firearm remains safe and dependable.

Neglecting maintenance can lead to issues like misfeeds, failures to extract or eject, and even dangerous malfunctions. Additionally, proper cleaning and lubrication help prevent corrosion and rust, especially if you use your firearm in adverse conditions.

Solvents vs Oils

When it comes to cleaning and lubricating your AR-15, you’ll encounter two main categories of products:


gun cleaning solvent

The Role of Solvents

Solvents are the heavy lifters in your cleaning toolkit. They are designed to dissolve carbon, copper, and other fouling agents that accumulate in your firearm’s barrel and components after firing.

These fouling agents can affect accuracy and reliability, so removing them is essential.

Solvents come in various formulations, with some designed specifically for copper fouling, carbon buildup, or general cleaning. Make sure to choose one that suits your needs.

When using solvents, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Apply the solvent to a bore brush or patch and scrub the barrel’s interior and other dirty parts. After a few minutes of dwell time, wipe away the dissolved fouling with patches or cleaning rags.


gun cleaning oil

The Role of Lubricants

Lubricants, often referred to as gun oil, are the “lifeblood” of your AR-15. They reduce friction and wear on moving parts, ensuring smooth operation and preventing excessive wear over time.

Key parts that benefit from lubrication include the bolt carrier group, charging handle for AR-15, and buffer spring. Applying a thin layer of lubricant to these areas reduces the chance of wear-related malfunctions and enhances the firearm’s overall performance.

It’s essential to strike a balance with lubrication. Too much oil can attract dirt and fouling, potentially causing malfunctions. Conversely, too little lubrication can result in excessive friction and wear.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for lubricating your specific AR model, and remember that it’s better to start with a conservative amount and add more if needed.

In summary, while solvents remove fouling and deposits, lubricants keep your AR-15 running smoothly. The combination of both is essential for proper firearm maintenance.

By understanding the roles of solvents and lubricants and using them correctly, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a clean, reliable, and safe AR. So, let’s move on and explore the tools and steps needed to keep your firearm in top condition. 

Required Cleaning Tools and Supplies

Before you begin cleaning your AR, it’s crucial to have the right gun cleaning kit tools and supplies on hand to ensure a thorough job. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need:

Bore Snake

bore snake ar15

The Versatile Bore Snake

A bore snake is a flexible cleaning tool that simplifies barrel cleaning. It consists of a weighted pull cord with a built-in brush and patches. To use it, attach the weighted end to the pull-through cord and feed it through the barrel from the chamber end.

The bore brush and patches scrub away fouling and deposit solvent to clean and protect the barrel’s interior. Bore snakes are portable and efficient, making them a must-have for AR owners.

Chamber Brush

chamber brush

Cleaning the Chamber

A chamber brush is a specialized tool designed to clean the chamber area thoroughly. It has stiff bristles that can remove stubborn fouling and debris that can accumulate in this critical part of your AR-15.

Cleaning the chamber is essential for ensuring reliable feeding and extraction of cartridges.

Cleaning Picks/Hooks

cleaning picks and hooks

Reaching Tight Spaces

Cleaning picks and hooks are small, precision tools that are invaluable for reaching tight spaces and removing fouling. They allow you to access and clean areas that brushes and patches might miss, such as the bolt’s recesses, trigger group, and other intricate parts of your AR-15.

Cleaning Mat

cleaning mat

Protecting Your Work Surface

A cleaning mat is more than just a workspace protector; it provides a clean and organized surface to disassemble and clean your AR-15. These mats often feature diagrams of your firearm, helping you keep track of parts during disassembly and reassembly.


ar15 solvenst and lubricants

Choosing the Right Cleaning Agents

Select high-quality solvents and lubricants designed explicitly for firearms. Different formulations cater to specific cleaning needs, such as copper fouling, carbon buildup, or general cleaning.

It’s essential to have both solvents and lubricants to ensure your AR-15 receives the care it needs.

Rags/Paper Towels/Cotton Swabs/Pipe Cleaners

Cleaning and Detailing

These disposable materials are essential for wiping and cleaning various parts of your AR-15. Rags and paper towels can be used for general cleaning, while cotton swabs and pipe cleaners are excellent for detailed work in tight spaces.

Optional/Quality of Life Tools

Enhancing Efficiency

While not strictly necessary, some optional tools can make the cleaning process more efficient and straightforward. These may include a bench block to hold pins, punches for disassembly, and a vise for stability during cleaning and maintenance.

These tools can be especially helpful for those who frequently disassemble and clean their AR-15.

Having these tools and supplies at your disposal ensures you can perform a thorough and effective cleaning of your AR-15. With the right equipment, you’ll be better equipped to keep your firearm in top condition.

Now, let’s move on to the steps for disassembling and cleaning your AR-15. 

Disassembling the AR-15 for Cleaning

Disassembling the AR-15 for Cleaning

Before you can begin cleaning your AR-15, you’ll need to disassemble it into its major components. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the disassembly process:

Safety First: Ensure the firearm is unloaded by removing the magazine and checking the chamber. Safety is paramount during this process.

Separate Upper and Lower Receiver: Most AR-15s have a takedown pin that allows you to separate the upper and lower receiver. Simply push or pull the pin (depending on your rifle) and hinge the receivers open.

Remove the Bolt Carrier Group: The bolt carrier group parts is the heart of your AR-15. To remove it, push the rear takedown pin (if present) and slide the BCG out of the upper receiver.

Extract the Charging Handle: With the BCG out, remove the charging handle by pulling it rearward and then upward.

Field Strip the BCG: Disassemble the BCG by separating the bolt, firing pin, cam pin, and retaining pin. This allows for a more thorough cleaning.

Further Disassembly (Optional): Depending on your firearm’s design, you may need to disassemble other components, such as the handguard, to access certain areas for cleaning. Refer to your rifle’s manual for specific instructions.

Cleaning the Upper Receiver

cleaning upper

Once your AR-15 is disassembled, it’s time to start cleaning. The upper receiver is where the barrel and gas system reside, and it’s crucial to clean it thoroughly. Here are the steps:

Barrel Cleaning: Attach a bore snake or cleaning rod with a patch soaked in solvent to the chamber end of the barrel. Pull it through to remove fouling and deposits. Repeat until the barrel is clean.

Chamber Cleaning: Use a chamber brush to clean the chamber thoroughly. Carbon buildup in this area can affect feeding and extraction.

Exterior Cleaning: Wipe down the exterior of the upper receiver with a cloth or rag soaked in solvent to remove carbon and grime. Use cleaning picks and brushes to reach tight spots.

Cleaning the Bolt Carrier Group

cleaning bcg

The AR-15’s bolt carrier group (BCG) is a critical component for your AR-15’s functionality. To clean it properly, follow these steps:

Field Strip the bolt carrier group: Disassemble the bolt carrier group into its components: the bolt, pin for firing, bolt cam pin, and retaining pin. Wipe them clean with solvent-soaked patches or rags.

Scrub and Inspect: Pay close attention to the bolt face, gas rings, and firing pin. These areas tend to accumulate fouling. Use cleaning picks and brushes to remove stubborn deposits

Lubricate: Apply a light coat of lubricant to the key moving parts of the colt carrier group, including the bolt and its cam pin. Proper lubrication ensures smooth cycling and reliable function.

Cleaning the Lower Receiver

cleaning lower

The lower receiver houses the trigger group and other critical components. Proper cleaning of this area is essential for reliable operation. Here’s how:

Trigger Group: While being cautious with solvents near the trigger group, wipe down the lower receiver’s interior and trigger components. Use cleaning picks and brushes to remove fouling and debris.

Buffer Tube and Spring: Inspect and clean the buffer tube and buffer spring. Apply a thin coat of lubricant to the buffer spring for smooth operation.

Magwell and Magazine Release: Clean the magazine well and magazine release button, as fouling can accumulate in these areas. 

Reassembling the AR-15

reassemble ar15

After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the individual components of your AR-15, it’s time to put everything back together. Follow these steps to reassemble your firearm:

Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): Begin by reassembling the bolt carrier group parts. Insert the firing pin, ensuring it’s properly seated. Then, insert the cam pin and secure it with the retaining pin. Finally, reattach the bolt to the bolt carrier group.

Charging Handle: Reinsert the charging handle into the upper receiver, making sure it slides into the BCG’s channel.

Upper and Lower Receiver: Align the upper and lower receiver and push the takedown pins back into place. Ensure they are securely seated.

Function Check: Before considering your AR-15 fully reassembled, perform a function check. Ensure the safety selector works correctly, and test the trigger and hammer function. Also, check the bolt carrier group’s operation by manually cycling it a few times.

AR-15 Function Check

ar15 function check

A function check is a critical step in ensuring your AR-15 is safe and operates reliably after reassembly. Here’s how to perform a basic function check:

Safety Selector: With the firearm unloaded, ensure the safety selector moves smoothly between “safe” and “fire” positions. The trigger should not release the hammer when the safety is engaged.

Trigger Function: With the safety selector in the “fire” position, pull the trigger. The hammer should fall. Release the trigger and ensure it resets properly.

Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): With the safety selector in the “fire” position, manually cycle the BCG by pulling the charging handle to the rear and releasing it. The hammer should fall when you release the charging handle. The trigger should reset when you release it.

If any of these tests fail, disassemble and inspect the components for proper assembly and function. It’s crucial to ensure that your AR-15 operates safely and as intended.

Lubricating Key Parts

Proper lubrication is vital for your AR-15’s reliability and longevity. Here are the key areas that should be lubricated:

Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): Apply a light coat of lubricant to the bolt, pin (cam), and firing pin. Pay attention to the bolt’s gas rings and the extractor claw.

Charging Handle: A thin layer of lubricant on the charging handle’s contact points helps ensure smooth operation.

Buffer Spring: Apply a minimal amount of lubricant to the buffer spring to reduce friction.

Remember that over-lubrication can attract dust and fouling, so apply lubricant sparingly, especially in dry and dusty conditions.

Common Cleaning Mistakes to Avoid

To maintain your AR-15 properly, it’s essential to avoid common cleaning mistakes:

Over-Lubrication: Applying too much oil can attract dirt and lead to malfunctions. Use a light touch when lubricating.

Neglecting the Chamber: A dirty chamber can lead to feeding and extraction problems. Ensure it’s clean and free from fouling.

Skipping the Manual: Always consult your AR-15’s manual for specific cleaning and maintenance instructions. Different models may have unique requirements.

Rushing: Take your time to clean each part thoroughly. Rushing can result in missed spots and incomplete cleaning.


How often should I clean my AR-15?

Regular cleaning is essential. After each use is ideal, but at least once every 200-300 rounds is a good rule of thumb.

Can I use household solvents and oils for cleaning?

It’s best to use dedicated firearms cleaning products for optimal performance and to prevent potential damage.

Do I need to clean the gas system?

Yes, the gas system can accumulate fouling over time. Clean it according to your firearm’s manual.

Remember, proper cleaning and maintenance are essential for keeping your AR-15 reliable and safe. By following the steps outlined in this guide and avoiding common mistakes, you’ll ensure that your AR-15 remains a trustworthy firearm for years to come. Happy shooting, and stay safe!

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