AR-15 Cleaning and Maintenance Guide [Ultimate Guide]


photo credit: SolidMaks

Your AR15 is a versatile rifle popular among hunters, tacticians, and shooting competitors. Fun Fact: There are approximately 20 million AR15s in the US. You wouldn’t believe it, but the gun’s popularity puts it in the same class as the AK’s. However, unlike the AK47 which can shoot even in the worst conditions, the AR15 needs frequent cleaning and proper maintenance to function optimally.

A dirty AR15 can misfire, experience jams, etc. Imagine cartridges getting stuck and ruining an important shot, rust getting into important parts, or springs losing their bounce – these are just a few bad situations that can happen if your AR-15 isn't clean. 

This guide will be like your map, carefully created to give you the knowledge and skills to keep your AR-15 in great shape. From taking your rifle apart to picking the right cleaning tools, we'll guide you through each step, making sure your firearm runs smoothly. 

Brief Overview of AR-15

The AR-15, originally known as the ArmaLite Rifle, has gained widespread recognition in the world of firearms, establishing itself as the quintessential modern sporting rifle. First crafted in the 1950s as a lighter alternative to the M14, its appeal grew due to its adaptability, dependability, and user-friendly design.

Commonly using 5.56 NATO ammunition, the AR-15's modular structure allows users to personalize it extensively. By connecting its upper and lower receivers with two pins, modifications become easy to complete in seconds. 

Components like barrels, handguards, stocks, triggers, and sights are interchangeable, enabling the transformation of the firearm from a lightweight carbine for competitions to a longer-range rifle for hunting or target practice.

This flexibility, combined with its accuracy and manageable recoil, has made the AR-15 a favored choice for various activities. Hunters appreciate its precision and lightweight. Competitive shooters use its modularity to fine-tune performance, and recreational users value its reliability and easy maintenance. Additionally, its use in law enforcement and military contexts has solidified its reputation as a trustworthy and effective firearm.

The 9 Most Popular AR-15 Picks of 2024

Bravo Company Recce MCMR 14.5
Bravo Company Recce MCMR 14.5
This firearm is a lightweight, semi-automatic rifle designed for tactical use.
  • 14.5-inch barrel and a 
  • Modular handguard system
  • Mid-length gas system
  • BCM Gunfighter stock 
  • BCM Mod 3 pistol grip
Radian Model 1
Radian model 1

The Radian Model 1 is a high-end AR-15-style rifle.

  • Billet aluminum receiver set 
  • Radian Raptor charging handle 
  • Radian Talon ambidextrous safety selector 
  • 16-inch barrel
  • Mid-length gas system
  • Geissele SSA-E trigger
IWI Zion
IWI Zion

The IWI Zion is a budget-friendly AR-15-style rifle that is designed for hunting and recreational shooting. 

  • 16-inch barrel 
  • Mid-length gas system
  • Free-floating M-LOK handguard
  • Collapsible stock
  • Single-stage trigger
Faxon Firearms ION-X
Faxon Firearms ION-X

The Faxon Firearms ION-X is a lightweight, semi-automatic rifle.

  • 16-inch barrel
  • Mid-length gas system
  • Free-floating M-LOK handguard
  • Faxon Gunner profile barrel
  • Hiperfire EDTDM trigger
  • Mission First Tactical Minimalist stock
Sig Sauer M400 Tread
Sig Sauer M400 Tread


The Sig Sauer M400 Tread is a versatile, mid-range AR-15-style rifle.

  • 16-inch barrel
  • Mid-length gas system 
  • Free-floating M-LOK handguard
  • Single-stage trigger 
  • Magpul SL-K stock
  • Sig Sauer Matchlite Duo trigger
Knights Armament SR15
Knights Armament SR15

The Knights Armament SR15 is a high-end AR-15-style rifle.

  • 16-inch barrel
  • Mid-length gas system
  • free-floating URX 4 handguard
  •  two-stage match trigger
  • Magpul STR stock 
  • Knights Armament Micro Front Sight
Springfield Saint Victor
Springfield Saint Victor

The Springfield Saint Victor is a mid-range AR-15-style rifle.

  • 16-inch barrel
  • Mid-length gas system
  • Free-floating M-LOK handguard
  • Single-stage trigger
  • BCM Gunfighter stock 
  • Springfield Armory Blast Diverter
Noveske Gen 3 Diplomat Pistol
Noveske Gen 3 Diplomat Pistol

The Noveske Gen 3 Diplomat Pistol is a compact AR-15-style firearm. 

  • 7.5-inch barrel
  • Pistol-length gas system
  • Free-floating NSR handguard
  • Geissele SD-C trigger
  • KAK Shockwave brace
  • Noveske KX3 Flash Suppressor
Daniel Defense Mk18 SOCOM
Daniel Defense Mk18 SOCOM

The Daniel Defense Mk18 SOCOM is a high-end AR-15-style rifle that is designed for military and law enforcement use. 

  • 10.3-inch barrel
  • Carbine-length gas system
  • Free-floating RIS II handguard 
  • Geissele SSA trigger
  • Daniel Defense Buttstock
  • Daniel Defense Flash Suppressor

Safety Precautions Before Cleaning your AR-15

Before embarking on cleaning your AR-15, always keep in mind that safety comes first. Firearms, even when not loaded, require careful handling. The following are essential steps to ensure your safety and prevent accidents during the cleaning process for your AR-15.

Treat Every Firearm as if it's Loaded

 The first rule is to never assume that the weapon is unloaded. Approach your AR-15 with the mindset that it could contain ammunition. This ensures that you handle it with the necessary caution and avoid complacency.

Double and triple-check for Ammunition

Clearing the firearm is the initial and most crucial step. Remove the magazine, pull the charging handle, and visually and physically inspect the chamber and magazine well to discharge any remaining rounds. Repeat this process multiple times to guarantee the complete absence of ammunition.

Choose a Safe Workspace

Opt for a clean, well-lit area that is free from distractions and foot traffic. This reduces the risk of accidents such as tripping, bumping, or inadvertently knocking over cleaning tools or the firearm itself. Make sure the space is well-ventilated to avoid inhaling harmful cleaning solvents and firearm lubricants.

Unload the Magazine and Keep it Separate
credit: Dmitri Toms

After clearing the firearm, take out the magazine and store it securely in a designated location away from the cleaning area. This eliminates the chance of accidentally loading the firearm while cleaning.

Maintain a Clear Communication

If sharing the workspace with others, explicitly inform them that you are cleaning a firearm. This ensures everyone maintains a safe distance and avoids interference with the process.

Keep Cleaning Chemicals Out of Reach

Store cleaning solvents and lubricants in a secure place away from children and pets. These chemicals can be harmful if ingested or come into contact with the skin. Clearly label them and keep them tightly capped when not in use.

Avoid Distractions

Minimize distractions like phones, televisions, or music while cleaning. Concentrate solely on the task at hand to prevent lapses in concentration that could lead to unsafe handling.

Remember, safety is not a choice; it lays the groundwork for a successful and enjoyable cleaning experience. You can ensure a safe and efficient cleaning process for your AR-15 by prioritizing these precautions. This allows you to maintain its performance and functionality with confidence.

Essential Tools and Supplies for Proper AR-15 Maintenance

Maintaining your AR-15 is important to ensure it works well and lasts a long time. While some tasks need special tools, a basic cleaning kit can handle most routine needs. The following are the things you need to keep your rifle in good condition:

Cleaning Rod and Bore Brushes
Cleaning Rod

Choose a sturdy stainless-steel rod with a threaded tip for attaching brushes. Avoid aluminum rods, as they can bend or break. Consider a segmented rod for easy portability and storage.

Bore Brushes

Use bronze brushes in different sizes for the barrel (usually .223/5.56mm) and chamber. Nylon brushes are gentler for scrubbing the gas tube and receiver. A bore snake can also help with quick cleaning in the field.

Patches and Solvents

Use lint-free cotton patches to scrub the bore and chamber. Avoid rough materials that can leave a residue.


Choose a gun-specific solvent made for removing carbon build-up and fouling. Avoid harsh chemicals that can damage the finish.

Gun Oil

Use high-quality gun oil for lubricating moving parts like the bolt carrier group and trigger assembly. Avoid WD-40, as it attracts dust and dries quickly.


Apply a thin coat of gun grease to specific points like the gas tube, gas rings, and bolt carrier group for optimal performance and wear protection.

Other Tools
Punch Set

A punch set helps disassemble the gas system and remove pins when needed. Choose non-marring punches made of plastic or brass to avoid scratching the finish.

Cleaning Mat

Protect your work surface and keep parts organized with a non-slip cleaning mat.

Rags and Paper Towels

Use clean rags and paper towels to wipe down parts and remove excess solvent.

Optional Items
Vise Block

A dedicated AR-15 vise block secures your rifle in a vise without damaging the finish, making disassembly and cleaning easier.

Armorer's Wrench

A multi-tool specifically designed for AR-15 maintenance that combines several functions like a castle nut wrench and a torque wrench.

Remember, regular cleaning and lubrication are crucial for smooth operation, accuracy, and preventing malfunctions. Invest in quality tools and supplies, follow a good cleaning routine, and your AR-15 will serve you reliably for years.

Field Stripping the AR-15

Maintaining your AR-15 involves giving it a good cleaning from time to time, and a crucial initial step is taking it apart. This allows you to get to the important AR-15 parts for a thorough cleaning and adding some lubrication. And, of course, don't forget about safety! Always make sure your firearm is empty and safe before you start.

Step 1: Get Your Tools Together

Grab a cleaning rod, bore brush, patches, solvent, bore cleaner, lubricant, and a small punch if you have one.

Step 2: Separate the Upper and Lower Receivers

Separate receivers
photo credit: gsagi

Pop out the takedown pins by pressing on their detents with your thumb or a punch. Swing the upper receiver and lift it away from the lower.

Step 3: Remove the Charging Handle

Remove AR15 charging handle

Photo source: Optics Planet

Pull the charging handle back and take it out of the upper receiver. Be careful, your BCG will also come out and may fall on the floor if you are not prepared. 

Step 4: Take Apart the Bolt Carrier Group (BCG)

Bolt Carrier Group

Locate the cotter pin underneath the gas key. The firing pin will come out the rear.

Push the bolt inward, turn the cam pin 90 degrees, remove, then slide the bolt pinward to let the bolt and ejector spring loose.

Step 5: Clean the Important Parts

  • Barrel: Push a patch soaked in solvent through the bore from the chamber end. Follow up with a dry patch, repeating until they come out clean. Use a bore brush and cleaner, then finish with dry patches.
  • Bolt Carrier Group: Soak the BCG in a solvent, scrub off any built-up debris with a brush, and wipe it down with a solvent-dampened rag. Make sure it's thoroughly dry.
  • Receiver: Use a brush or solvent soak patch to clean debris around your gas tube
  • Charging Handle: Wipe it down with a solvent-dampened rag and let it dry thoroughly.

Step 6: Put it Back Together

Go through the steps in reverse, making sure everything lines up correctly. Put the takedown pins back and push until they click into place.

Tips for Regular Cleaning

  • Barrel: Keep the bore and chamber clean for accuracy.
  • Bolt Carrier Group: Clean this group well after each shooting session since it gathers the most debris.
  • Chamber: Regularly clean it to avoid malfunctions.

Remember, these are just basic guidelines. Always refer to your specific AR-15's manual for more detailed instructions. Following these steps and focusing on these essential parts will help you take apart and clean your AR-15 properly, ensuring it works well for a long time.

Cleaning Procedures 

The AR-15, known for its adaptability and reliability, is a favored rifle for many shooters. However, like any machine, it requires proper care and maintenance to ensure smooth operation. Here is a closer look at the ins and outs of AR-15 cleaning:

The Core Component: Barrel

Credit: SolidMaks

The barrel, responsible for guiding the bullet, is essentially the heart of the AR-15. Maintaining its cleanliness and keeping it free from debris is crucial for accuracy and safety. Here's how to tackle the grime:

Preparation and Tools
  • Use a good quality cleaning rod designed for AR-15s, preferably made of fiberglass.
  • Employ nylon brushes for initial cleaning and bronze brushes for more stubborn carbon buildup.
  • Select lint-free patches of various sizes matching your bore diameter.
  • Opt for a reputable solvent like Hoppes #9 or MPro 7.
Cleaning Process
  • Field Strip: Take apart the upper receiver and bolt carrier group (BCG).
  • Patch Application: Soak a patch in solvent and run it through the barrel from breech to muzzle until it comes out clean.
  • Brushing: Attach a nylon brush to the rod and run it through the barrel, followed by a bronze brush for persistent carbon.
  • Swabbing: Use bore swabs soaked in solvent to clean the chamber and gas port.
  • Drying: Run dry patches through the barrel until they come out clean. Allow the barrel to air dry for at least 30 minutes.
The Engine: Bolt Carrier Group (BCG)
Credit: Ballistic Advantage

The BCG plays a crucial role in cycling ammunition and extracting spent casings. Its cleanliness directly affects reliability. Here's how to give it the care it deserves:

  • Disassemble: Use a punch tool to remove the firing pin and cam pin, then disassemble the bolt from the carrier.
  • Spring Maintenance: Take out and clean the extractor spring and ejector spring.
Cleaning Process
  • Solvent Soak: Place all disassembled BCG parts in a solvent-filled container for 10-15 minutes.
  • Brushing and Swabbing: Use a nylon brush and swabs dipped in solvent to remove grime from all surfaces, paying attention to the gas port and carrier key.
  • Rinse and Dry: Rinse the parts in clean water and thoroughly dry them with a lint-free cloth.
  • Spring Reinstallation: Put back the extractor spring and ejector spring.
  • Putting It Together: Reassemble the bolt and carrier, then insert the cam pin and firing pin.
The Base: Lower Receiver

The lower receiver houses internal components like the trigger group. While it doesn't need deep cleaning as frequently, regular maintenance ensures smooth functionality.

Field Strip
  • Separation: Push out the takedown pins and separate the upper and lower receivers.
  • Trigger Group Cleaning: Release the hammer by depressing the trigger.
Cleaning Process
  • Solvent Wipe: Use a solvent-dampened cloth to wipe down the inside of the lower receiver, focusing on the trigger group housing and areas prone to debris accumulation.
  • Lubrication: Apply a light coat of gun oil to contact surfaces like the trigger and hammer sear surfaces.
The Choice of Power: Solvents and Lubricants

Selecting the right chemicals is essential. Choose reputable brands and match the solvent to the task:

  • For general cleaning, use a bore cleaner like Hoppes #9; opt for a stronger solvent like MPro 7 for stubborn carbon buildup.
  • For general lubrication, use a gun oil like CLP (cleaner, lubricant, protector); for areas exposed to friction, such as the trigger group.
Carbon Fighters
  • Bronze Brushing: Use a bronze brush soaked in solvent for stubborn carbon and scrub thoroughly.
  • Patch Routine: Utilize bore snakes for quick cleaning, followed by a rod and brush for a more thorough cleaning.
  • Cotton Swabs: Employ cotton swabs soaked in solvent to clean areas like the gas port and chamber corners.
  • Mind the Solvent: Avoid excessive solvent usage, as it may damage finishes and seep into sensitive areas.

By adhering to these step-by-step instructions and selecting appropriate products, you'll guarantee that your AR-15 remains neat, works perfectly, and stays a dependable partner for years to come.

Keeping Your AR-15 in Good Condition
photo credit: SolidMaks

Regularly checking and taking care of your AR-15 is just as important as keeping it clean. Proactively identifying wear and tear can help catch potential problems early on, preventing malfunctions. 

Checking for Wear and Tear
  • Barrel: Take a close look at the inside for any signs of damage or excessive dirt. Run a bore snake with a patch through it to feel for any roughness.
  • Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): Look for cracks, chips, or extra wear on certain parts. Make sure the carrier and/or gas piston move smoothly.
  • Trigger and Fire Control Group (FCG): Ensure the trigger and hammer don't have too much play. Check that the springs are in good shape and not rusty.
  • Receiver and Magazines: Look for cracks, dents, or loose parts. Make sure magazines go in and out smoothly.
When to Replace Parts
  • Replace gas rings if they're worn out. Leaky rings can affect the gun's reliability.
  • Think about changing the extractor spring every 5,000 rounds. A weak spring can cause issues with extraction.
  • Replace trigger and FCG springs over time. If they're not working well or the trigger pull is heavier, consult a professional gunsmith.
  • Replace magazines that don't work well or are damaged. Damaged magazines can lead to jams.
Spotting Possible Issues
  • Too much Dirt Buildup: Indicates a need for better cleaning, and too much oil can cause problems.
  • Stiff or Rough Trigger Movement: This could mean the springs are wearing out or there are issues with the trigger mechanism.
  • Issues with Extraction Ejection: This may suggest problems with the extractor or springs, leading to jams.
  • Problems with Magazine Feeding: Damaged magazines or faulty springs can cause ammunition jams.

Why Regular Maintenance Matters

Regularly checking and maintaining your AR-15 helps prevent problems and ensures it operates smoothly for a long time. Ignoring small problems can turn into bigger issues later on, costing more to fix. 

Always check your owner's manual for specific instructions on taking apart and maintaining your AR-15 model. If you're not sure about inspecting or replacing parts, ask a professional gunsmith for help.

Assembly and Function Check

Once your AR-15 is all clean and shiny, start putting it back together. 

  • Assemble the bolt carrier group carefully, making sure the springs and pins are in the right spots. 
  • Put the charging handle and BCG back into the upper receiver, and don't overlook the dust cover! 
  • Gently slide the upper receiver onto the lower part and line up the takedown pins. Press them in firmly until you hear a click.
  • With an empty magazine and the safety on, pull back the charging handle a few times. Watch for the bolt carrier group's smooth movement and feel for any unexpected resistance. 
  • Squeeze the trigger – the hammer should drop. 
  • Lastly, check that the safety turns off smoothly when you switch it. Make sure it does not fire with the safety engaged. If everything works smoothly, your AR-15 is good to go!

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Shooting AR15
credit: DBTN

Even a well-kept AR-15 can sometimes run into issues. Here's how to deal with common problems:

Feed Issues

Make sure the magazine is loaded correctly and properly placed. If the problem persists, check the chamber for dirt or damaged ammo. Sometimes, worn or dirty magazines can also cause problems.

Trouble Ejecting

If the extractor spring is weak or dirty, it might be an issue. Ensure proper lubrication and think about changing the spring if needed. Gas system problems can also be a factor – consult a professional gunsmith for a closer look.

Trigger Glitches

A sticky or unresponsive trigger could be due to dirt or worn parts. Take apart the lower receiver and clean the trigger group thoroughly. If the problem continues, get advice from a gunsmith.

Remember, it's crucial to identify and understand the problem. Start with simple solutions and move on if necessary. Always handle your firearm with care and safety during troubleshooting.

The Bottom Line

Caring for your AR-15 goes beyond just keeping it looking nice. It's about making sure it works reliably and safely. By spending time on regular cleaning, lubrication, and function checks, you prevent issues and extend your firearm's life. Keep in mind, that a well-kept AR-15 is a trustworthy companion on the range or in the field. Shoot confidently, knowing your firearm is ready for action, thanks to your commitment to proper care.


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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may receive a commission. This won't affect your purchase price.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may receive a commission. This won't affect your purchase price.