How To Clean An AR-15

by Travis Pike

July 27, 2022



Good ole weapon’s maintenance. Gear and equipment are only as good as you treat them. The need to clean and upkeep your firearms is very real, and today we will address how to clean your AR 15. Keeping your rifle clean ensures it’s well lubricated, clean, and ready to work. 

There are plenty of excellent AR 15 rifles out there that can run dry and dirty without much of an issue. At least, not an issue at first. The problem with running guns dirty and dry is that it causes advanced and premature wear on your firearm. Sure it will work, but not forever. To get the most out of your rifle’s lifespan then, it should be kept clean and lightly lubricated. 

Today we are diving into the proper routine for keeping your AR running like a clock. Before we talk about the procedures required to keep your AR running, let’s talk about cleaning gear and what you’ll need to clean your rifle. 

At an absolute minimum, you need the following:

That’s the absolute basics, but you can get a little more advanced and include the following:

That’s a good list of tools and accessories you’ll need to clean your rifle. Some cleanings can be more involved than others based on time, rounds fired, external environments, and how long it’s been between deep cleans. We’ll talk about both basic field cleaning and deep cleaning and the difference between the two. 

Let’s Start with A Simple Field Cleaning 

First, and it should be no surprise to anyone, we will clear the weapon. Remove the magazine, and then lock the bolt back to the rear. Visually and physically inspect the chamber of the rifle. Now send the bolt back home. 

The Barrel

Separate the upper from the lower receiver and remove the bolt from the upper receiver. Once your rifle is in three or so pieces, grab the upper receiver and your bore snake. Either apply CLP to the bore snake (or bore solvent) or simply squirt some down the barrel. I prefer to squirt a little down the barrel prior to cleaning. 

Your bore snake should have a rather thin portion with a metal or plastic cap at the end. Drop this portion down the barrel. As the thin portion falls through the barrel, grip it and pull the thicker barrel cleaning portion down the bore. Rinse and repeat one more time, and the barrel will be punched and ready, or at least ready enough for the field. 

The Upper

From here, take your brush and apply some oil to it. Scrub the inside of the upper receiver. Put a good focus on cleaning the entire inside of the receiver, including the chamber and end of the gas tube. 

After a good scrub with your brush, use your rag to wipe out the inside of the upper receiver. This should leave a light layer of lubrication on the side.

The BCG 

Now turn your attention to the bolt carrier group. You’ll want to disassemble the bolt carrier group, removing the bolt and firing pin. To remove the firing pin, you’ll need to pull the bolt forward into the unlocked position and then remove the firing pin retaining pin. Then push the bolt into the locked position and drop the firing pin into your hand. Place the firing pin and firing pin retaining pin somewhere safe. 

Rotate the bolt cam pin about a ¼ turn and lift it out. Now the bolt will freely exit the BCG. Now our BCG is stripped and ready. Use your brush to free any baked-on carbon off of the gun while applying a light coat of CLP

Once the BCG is clean, give it a wipe down with your rag and leave a light coating behind. Grab your bolt and use your brush to clear out carbon. Pay special attention to the bolt lugs and gas rings. Give them some love with the brush, then wipe them down. You can remove your extractor but do not need to unless the parts are broken. 

Give your firing pin a quick wipe down, and ensure your firing pin retaining pin and cam pin are in good working order. You should give your charging handle a quick wipe down as well, focusing on the underside that sits inside the receiver. Once the upper and BCG are clean, you can put them back together. 

The Lower Receiver 

Now with the lower receiver, we are going to remove the buffer and buffer spring from the receiver extension. Press back on the buffer and press down on the buffer retaining pin. Pull the buffer and spring out. The buffer and buffer spring stay fairly clean, but give them a wipe down with the rag and return them to their dark cave of a receiver extension for a home. 

Use your brush and a little oil to scrub the inside of the receiver. Focus on the mag well, and give a little love to the trigger group parts you can reach. Once cleaned, you can wipe off excess oil and carbon with your rag. Use the rag to twist and bend to get into those hard-to-reach areas. 

Once the inside is done, focus on the lower receiver’s outside. Use your rag and brush to clean the area around the magazine release, and bolt lock. 

Putting it All Together. 

Reconnect the Uppers and Lower and then apply a light, and I mean light, a layer of CLP to the outside of the weapon. A little will protect the weapon from rust and corrosion. Too much, and you’ll draw in dirt, dust, and everything else. Keep it light. 

Make sure you inspect the barrel and muzzle device. Scrub both is necessary to remove rust, dirt, and debris. Then apply a light layer of oil to prevent rust. 

That’s it, that’s a basic field cleaning. 

Going Advanced 

If you’re at home after a nice weekend class with a high round count, then it’s time to do an advanced cleaning. Get yourself a full cleaning kit, and get ready to dive in. Most of the steps remain the same, and I won’t repeat every detail. However, I will say, make sure you clear your rifle. Remove the magazine, lock the bolt to the rear, and visually and physically inspect the chamber to ensure a live round is not present. 

Go ahead and take the rifle apart. Separate the lowers, remove the buffer and take apart the BCG. Repeat all the steps for a field clean, including scrubbing and wiping down the basics of the weapon. That is all still required, but we’ll have some deviations. 

The Bore 

First, instead of using a bore snake, let’s get a series of punch rods and disposable cotton patches. I love bore snakes, but they get dirty and never clean your bore fully. CLP works okay to clean a bore, but bore solvent works better. Bore solvent will free any stuck carbon or metal stuck in the bore. 

Apply bore solvent to your wire bore brush. Then press the bore brush in and out of the bore and go all the way in and all the way out several times. Now, replace the bore brush with a jag and white patch.

Push the white patch down the barrel with your jag and cleaning rods. Once it pops out of the barrel, near the chamber, pull it back through. Now remove the dirty patch, attach a clean one, and repeat this process until the patch comes out clean. Once that’s done, your bore will be nice, shiny, and clean. 

Replace the jag with a wire chamber brush and push it through the upper receiver into the chamber. Once it’s tight in the chamber, rotate it clockwise. If you rotate it counterclockwise, the chamber brush will unscrew. 

So dig in and spin. If you have chamber cleaning pads, you can replace your chamber brush with the pads and then insert and rotate them to better clean the chamber. If not, try to get in there with your rag to remove any remaining carbon in the chamber. 

Once done, repeat the steps listed in the field clean to finish out the upper receiver. 

The Bolt Carrier Group – Deep Clean 

Take the BCG and strip it down, including removing the extractor from the bolt. To do this, place one thumb over the top of the extractor to pin it in place. Use a punch or even your firing pin to push out the roll pin of the back of the extractor. Now slowly lift your thumb and remove the extractor while paying close attention to the spring and O-shaped ring attached to it. 

We’ll start with the extractor because the parts are small and easy to lose. Flip the extractor over and observe the lip. That catches the back of your brass. Clean this lip out, use your brush, and even your pick if necessary. Clean the ejector slot in your bolt well, and then put the extractor back into the bolt. 

Now with our bolt in hand, we’ll apply oil, brush it down, then wipe it. Now grab your carbon pick and carbon scrape and get the carbon from the little corners of the bolt, between the lugs, and inside the firing pin channel. Use your pick in the firing pin channel to get carbon oil and deposit a drop into this channel. Carbon typically sticks near the gas rings and will likely need to be scraped off. 

Grab your firing pin, oil, brush, wipe down and then scrape any remaining carbon off the firing pin. When cleaning the bolt carrier, pay special attention to the hole where the bolt rides. Apply oil, and use your brush, rag, or anything similar. You want this area clean, so your bolt moves with ease inside of the bolt carrier. 

Any area that has an inside needs a deal cleaning, and using a carbon scraper and picks can get it deep cleaned. A dedicated AP brush often has a smaller brush on the rear end that can fill these areas in. 

On the top of the carrier sits the gas keep. Drip some CLP into this thing and push a pipe cleaner through it. Do it over and over, and you’ll quickly clean the gas key. 

The Lower 

Oil, brush, and wipe the outside and inside. Remove the buffer and wipe it down. You may need to use a scraper, but it’s unlikely. Use your scrapers, rag, and maybe some q-tips to clean inside the trigger group. Place your thumb over the hammer and pull the trigger and allow the hammer to rise slowly, 

Clean both sides of the hammer and inside of the trigger area. It’s unlikely to be too dirty, but a little cleanliness goes a long way. Also, ensure everything has a light layer of oil applied. 

Take your time and ensure the magazine well is clean, the areas around the controls are clean, and the controls move smoothly. Clean the outside, including the furniture, and if necessary, remove a collapsing stock and clean the outside of the receiver extension. This way, your stock moves smoothly and remains stable. 

The Whole Cabana 

Once the nooks, crannies, and bore are clean, slap the weapon back together. Lightly oil the outside and scrub off and remove any dirt, rust, or debris. Now you have a rifle clean enough to eat off of! Well, don’t actually eat off of it. I imagine that CLP and bore solvents are quite toxic. 

Proper maintenance will extend the life of your rifle, increase reliability, and ensure that you monitor the weapon for necessary maintenance and replacement of parts. Every time you clean your weapon, it’s a good time to make sure bolts are tight, castle nuts remain staked, and your gas rings aren’t worn out. 

Cleaning Component Definition Check Latest Price
Dewey Cleaning Rod Clean the inside of the barrel. Check Amazon
Otis Ripcord Multi Caliber 10PK Great for pistol barrels Check Amazon
Tipton Bore Brushes The good ones are inexpensive Check Amazon
Cleaning Patches Useful for cleaning. Check Amazon
Parker Hale Brass-style jags The part that holds the patch Check Amazon
General Purpose Brushes Every kit needs at least one Check Amazon
Shooter’s Choice MC#7 Bore cleaner Cleaning solvent helps removes build-up Check Amazon
Break Free CLP Oil Rust prevention and lubricity/function. Check Amazon
Flambeau Outdoors Tackle Box Container to hold your kit Check Amazon
Tipton Firearm Cleaning Pick Set Optional Extras Check Amazon
Q-Tips Optional Extras Check Amazon
Grypmat Tray Optional Extras Check Price
Needle Oiler Bottle Optional Extras Check Amazon

The Best Cleaning Kits 

I won’t leave without throwing down some of the best cleaning gear you can get on the market. I’m going to toss on a few of my favorite kits and follow up with a few accessories and handy tools and accessories for keeping your AR 15 as clean as possible. 

My Favorite Field Kit – Otis 5.56 Cleaning Kit 

When I went on patrols, I always kept an Otis kit on hand. The small Otis Technology 5.56 Cleaning Kit offers you everything you need to give your rifle a decent cleaning in the field and at home. It’s all packed in a compact package that is easy to stow and go with. 

This includes the basics like an AP brush, barrel rods, a rag, a flexible style barrel rod to attach a bore brush to it, CLP, white patches, and more. For deeper cleans, you get picks, carbon scrapers, chamber brushes, and more. It’s a complete kit built to be lightweight and easily carried. 

It’s not the cheapest kit, but for the size, it’s one of the most efficient. Otis makes solid field gear, and their quality should be ignored. It’s a kit that lasts and won’t tear up or wear out quickly. 

Real Avid Rifle Cleaning Kit 

The Real Avid brand makes some neat and innovative tools and solutions to age-old problems. This budget-friendly cleaning kit offers you almost everything you need for a good deep cleaning, as well as a simple field clean. You might want to toss in a rag, some CLP, and bore solvent. 

After that, you’ll be off to the races. This kit comes packed with Real Avid’s innovative tools, including a snake-style bore brush setup, rods, chamber patches, and more. It’s packed in a hard case that fits easily in a range bag. 

CLP and Bore Solvent 

I’m not special in enjoying the smell of Hoppes No.9, and you shouldn’t be shy about it either. Hoppes has long been the go-to for generations of sportsmen and shooters. It’s a simple lubricant that works, is fairly cheap, and doesn’t gum up or harden. 

On top of the lube, Hoppes makes a solid bore solvent that, like the lube, is widely available, proven, and cheap. If you need one or the other, you can’t go wrong with Hoppes. 

Hoppe’s No. 9 Wipes 

Speaking of Hoppe’s, they make these excellent wipes that are basically baby wipes for your gun. These wipes are coated with Hoppe’s No. 9 and pop right out of the container. They are Clorox wipes for cleaning your weapon instead of your kitchen counter. 

These things are super handy, very easy to use, and self-contained in a big plastic jug. They replace your need for a rag and apply oil as you wipe and clean. 

Otis Technology Blue Nylon Cleaning Brushes 

If you have the need for some actual, purpose-built brushes, the Otis Tech brushes will take you far. They cost about a dollar, and you can buy them by the ten pack. These brushes use stiff nylon that is rugged and picks carbon right off these parts and pieces. They work way better than any old toothbrush and offer you both a big front and smaller back brush. 

Keep It Clean 

There we have it. Hopefully, we are leaving you equipped with both the knowledge to know how to clean your weapon and the equipment to do so. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask below! 


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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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