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AR-15 Cleaning and Maintenance [Ultimate Guide]

Cleaning an AR-15 doesn't have to be rocket surgery. We break down the process with an easy-to-follow guide (with tons of pictures) that makes cleaning a breeze.

    So you just bought a new AR-15 and took it to the range.

    You ripped through a few boxes of ammo and now you’re home and you need to know….how do I clean this thing?

    Maybe you’ve pulled the pins and separated the upper and the lower and you have no idea what to do from there.

    AR15 Cleaning
    Wondering where to go from here?

    It looks intimidating, right?

    Feeling a bit overwhelmed?

    No need for that, cleaning the AR-15 is pretty easy!

    I’m going to show you just how easy it is to tear your rifle apart, clean it in depth, and put it all back together without fear of damaging anything or leaving any parts out.

    Now…with a quick video too!

    If that helped, please subscribe to our YouTube channel since we’re adding new videos every week!

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    Step One: Get the Tools to Clean Your AR-15

    If you already have other guns, and you’re cleaning them like you should be (you are cleaning your guns regularly right?) then you most likely already have just about everything you need to clean an AR-15, except for some AR-specific things like a bore brush for your particular caliber.

    If you don’t already have cleaning supplies, or if you want to build a complete AR-15 cleaning kit that you can carry to the range or competitions, you have two options: build a kit, or buy one.

    Which one is better?

    That’s going to be a decision you have to make for yourself.

    If you just want a kit that works, or maybe you don’t shoot your AR a lot and aren’t worried about maximizing your cleaning efficiency, then just buying a pre-made kit is perfectly fine.

    Everything is fine dog
    Actually fine, not like this.

    But, if you are a high volume shooter and you need to clean your rifle frequently, or you’re like me and just enjoy the Zen-like process of cleaning your guns, you’ll probably want to build the perfect kit to meet your needs.

    Let’s look at the pros and cons of these two approaches.

    Buying a Pre-Made Gun Cleaning Kit

    First, if you want to order a kit that will have just about everything you need, there’s no shame in that.  Not everyone has the time or energy to build a kit from scratch, and there are several good options out there.  The downsides of buying a totally pre-made kit are you can only reliably find universal cleaning kits that are going to include a bunch of extra brushes and bore snakes that you won’t necessarily need.

    All Gun Cleaning Kits
    All Gun Cleaning Kits

    Think of the pre-made kit like an off-the-rack suit.  Sure it’ll work, but its never going to be as nice, or as personalized as a bespoke option.

    Basically, off-the-rack is fine, but you wouldn’t want to wear it to your wedding or wear it every day.

    The same goes for these pre-made kits…you wouldn’t want to rely on them for something important, say, if you’re a competition shooter,  and you’ll want a more personalized option if you’re going to be using it a lot.

    That being said, these kits are perfectly fine for most folks, and they’ll be good if you have other guns or other AR-15 calibers, or are looking at acquiring some in the future. Our favorite is the GuardTech.

    at Amazon

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    With these kits or any kit, you buy/build, you’ll want to make sure that they include the correct size bore snakes and brushes, as well as the other tools that work with your AR-15.  Make sure you match the caliber to your gun, or you’re going to have to buy another…and you’ll feel a bit silly in the process.

    Check out all our favorites in Best Gun Cleaning Kits.

    Building Your Own AR-15 Cleaning Kit

    Because cleaning a gun is a process that can vary so much from person to person, it’s best that you build a kit that meets your own needs.  You can always pick up several different pre-made kits and combine them into one giant “frankenkit”.

    The best kit is always going to be the one you build and customize yourself.

    If you’re going to build your own kit, I recommend buying a nice case such as this Plano 3-Tray Tackle Box with Dual Top Accessbut anything from a cardboard box on up will do.

    at Amazon

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Next, you’ll want a cleaning mat to keep your parts visible and to keep everything organized.  A white sheet or tablecloth will do, but I like this Gun Cleaning Mat because it also includes a handy parts list, making it perfect for a beginner.

    at Amazon

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    From there, you’ll want to buy the brushes and bore snakes/rods for your particular AR caliber.  I’ve included some links to .223/5.56 caliber ones below since these are the most common flavors of AR on the market, but you’ll need ones that match your particular caliber.

    Here are some kits that include more or less everything you need:

    With these kits, you should have the brushes, bore snakes/rods, punches, and other various and sundry things you will need, other than your consumable cleaning supplies such as solvent, lubes, and cleaning patches.

    The only other things you may find useful (especially if you want to get into some light gunsmithing) is a better punch set like this Ultimate Arms Roll Pin Punch Set ($29.99) and an AR-15 Vise Block ($49.99) that fits into the mag well of the rifle so you can secure it in a bench vise without scratching the finish on your gun.

    Best AR-15 Cleaning Solvents and Lubricant

    Step 2: Prep the Area and Clear the Firearm

    First, lay out your cleaning mat and throw on some gloves.  Some of these chemicals are toxic and you want them in the gun, not on your skin or in your body.

    Next, round up all the ammo for your gun, and move it off the table.  Seriously.  Get it out of the room, if possible.  This eliminates the possibility of a round finding its way into the chamber at any point.

    Next, clear and render safe your firearm.  (That’s fancy talk for making sure the gun can’t go pew, pew pew, or pew pew pew for any reason.)

    Here’s the full procedure

    1. Point the rifle in a SAFE direction.
    2. Remove the magazine.
    3. Place the weapon on safe (don’t worry if you can’t because the hammer isn’t pulled back).
    4. Lock the bolt to the rear.
    5. Visually inspect the chamber and remove any ammunition that may not have been ejected.
    6. Release the bolt.
    7. Place the weapon on safe.

    Step 2: Separate the Upper Receiver from the Lower Receiver.

    Push the take-down pins out and pull the two halves apart. Some pins can be pushed out with your finger, others may require the use of a punch. Be careful whatever you use so you don’t scratch your finish. I recommend a nylon punch from one of the kits above for general use.

    Use a nylon punch to remove any pins without worrying about scratching your finish

    Step 3: Remove the Charging Handle and Bolt Carrier Group

    The bolt carrier group and charging handle slide back and out of the body of the upper receiver.

    Step 4: Disassemble the Bolt Carrier Group

    Rotate the cam pin to the side to remove the bolt.

    First, push the bolt to the rear (pictured above) and remove the firing pin retaining pin using your pick. Remove the firing pin and set it aside. Rotate the cam pin ninety degrees and remove it. Now the bolt should slide right out!

    Step 5: Disassemble the Bolt

    AR15 bolt
    Once the bolt is out, its time to remove the extractor.

    Once you have the bolt out of the bolt carrier group, use a punch and your mallet to remove the extractor pin, and then remove the extractor and set it aside.

    Removing AR15 Extractor
    Make sure you keep track of the extractor pin as they have a habit of rolling off of tables, never to be seen again.

    Step 6: Remove the Buffer and Buffer Spring from the Buffer Tube

    Using a calloused finger, or a punch, press down on the buffer retainer.  Remove the buffer and spring from the tube. Remember the retainer is under pressure, so try not to push down on it too far and slip once the pieces are out.

    AR-15 Buffer
    If you’ve removed all your ammo, this little guy should be the only projectile you have to worry about.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend the next few hours looking for it after it springs off to the other end of the room.

    Step 7: Clean the Chamber and Barrel

    Everyone has their method for this, but there are a few things you need to remember.

    The most important thing is that you clean the chamber and barrel from rear to front. You want to make sure the debris comes out the front of the barrel, and that any brush you use on a rod is inserted from the rear – go with the bullet.

    AR-15 Cleaning Brush
    Clean with the path the bullet takes from the gun.

    This helps keep the rifling intact. The movies are wrong; you don’t clean from the muzzle to the chamber!

    This area takes some creativity to clean up, but with time you’ll find what works for you. This is a good place to drop a little bit of that Bore Cleaner you picked up.

    AR15 Cleaning Patch
    Keep running patches through until they start coming out clean.

    Step 8: Clean the Bolt Carrier Group

    This is easier than the chamber and barrel.

    Give everything a good scrub. Look for carbon buildup, especially at the rear of the firing pin.

    Cleaning AR15 Bolt
    Your cleaning kit should have come with brushes just for this, but a stiff toothbrush will do in a pinch.

    Clean the extractor well, attention to detail is key.  I make sure my rags are all plain white and cleaned after every use with bleach.

    Set one aside as an “inspection” rag so you can easily find missed carbon.

    When you’re finished, reassemble the bolt carrier group in the exact opposite order of disassembly.  Make sure your bolt is fully to the front so it can be reinserted in the upper. A flick of the wrist helps this along.

    Step 9: Clean the Buffer Assembly

    This part is easy.  Get a rag with a little lube on it and wipe it all down.

    AR15 Buffer Spring
    This part should be pretty easy.

    Unless you took your rifle to a really cool obstacle course, you probably won’t need to get back in the tube itself.  Wipe down the spring and buffer and you’re all set.

    During this step, if you have a collapsible stock it’s not a bad idea to remove it and wipe down the outside of the buffer.  It’s an option if you have been in a messy environment, but not needed for range trips.

    Step 10: Clean the Charging Handle and Upper Receiver

    Just like the buffer assembly, a lightly oiled rag is all you should really need here.

    AR15 Charging Handle and BCG
    Wipe everything down until you can touch your inspection rag to it and not pick up any carbon.

    You’ll find what works best for you, but once reassembled the charging handle should move effortlessly within the upper receiver.

    Step 11: Clean the Fire Control Group (FCG) and Lower Receiver

    This takes a brush, oil, and patience.

    It generally doesn’t get too fouled up. Pay attention to your FCG and make sure there are no cracks on the hammer or anywhere on the lower receiver.

    AR15 Lower Cleaning
    Make use of those brushes for the hard to reach areas.

    Step 12: Reassemble your Rifle

    Work backward from the takedown, just like the bolt carrier group. After the fifth time, you do this it will become second nature! It should look something like this when you’re done.

    Reassembled AR-15
    Be proud of your hard work! And get ready to do this a few hundred more times.

    Step 13:  Lubricate your Rifle

    There are more details to this, but I’m going to keep it simple for right now.  All the pieces of your bolt carrier group and your charging handle should receive a light coat of lubricant. It should have a nice sheen to it.

    Your FCG, mag release button, bolt catch button, safety selector should all get a drop or two of lubricant.  Fiddle with them a touch to work it in there.  Bottom line, anything that moves needs to have a bit of lubricant on it.

    Mr. Bean meme
    If you know what I mean.

    Step 14: Perform a Function Check

    You put all your ammo away at the beginning of this whole deal (right?) so there should be no way a round is anywhere near the chamber but do a safety check just in case.


    1. Point the weapon in a safe direction.
    2. Pull the bolt to the rear and release it forward.
    3. Place the rifle on safe. Squeeze the trigger.  If the hammer doesn’t drop, you passed that step.
    4. Place the rifle on fire and pull the trigger.  The hammer should fall.  If it does, then you’re all finished with the hard part.
    Congratulations meme
    You have done well, assuming the gun is clean and you didn’t shoot yourself in the foot.

    Step 16: Clean Your Magazine

    This is an often overlooked step.  It doesn’t need to be cleaned after every trip to the range.  Just pay attention to it during loading.

    Does it bind up?  Can you hear dirt rattling around in there?  Is it hard to load?

    Cleaning the magazine is just like cleaning the buffer assembly.  Use a pick or whatever you have handy to remove the base plate.

    Remove the spring and follower.  Wipe it all down and clean it up.  Reassemble in the reverse of disassembly.

    These are pretty straightforward.  If you’ve invested in anti-tilt followers for your GI magazines, this is a great time to install them.

    Step 17: Maintenance

    Just like the break-in procedure, every rifle has its own maintenance schedule. Consult the manufacturer for more. A general rule of thumb is to give your rifle a thorough inspection every thousand rounds. Once you hit the five thousand round mark, it is a good idea to move to inspections every five hundred rounds.

    The most common failures occur in the various springs (specifically the extractor spring), and in the O-Rings on the bolt carrier group.  If failures begin, start there!

    AR15 O-ring check
    If you see any cracked or frayed O-rings, its time to swap them out.

    Keeping a clean and properly lubricated rifle will naturally reduce the risk of failure and extend the life of your rifle. During each cleaning, inspect all parts of cracks, burrs and general wear and tear that may bring your rifle out of spec.

    Some Final Thing to Consider When Cleaning an AR-15

    Do you shoot corrosive ammo?  Check out our handy guide for more information and proper cleaning instructions.

    Take your time.  You want to be as thorough as possible.  Really get inside the bolt carrier with every rag and cleaner you possibly can.

    When inserting the firing pin retaining pin, remember the big hole is where it goes in.  If you put it in the small hole on the other side, you’re going to have a bad day.

    Anything that moves on your rifle should get at least one drop of lubricant whenever you clean.  Just like an engine, that oil is important! I cannot stress this enough.

    That about does it for this one folks, if you have any questions or want to tell us about your own cleaning procedures, drop us a line in the comments below! Want to see what can happen when you DON’T clean your AR…check out 8 Most Common AR-15 Failures.

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    23 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar

      Anybody ever had an issue with the ejector "button" and / or spring getting fouled? Recently I have been getting occasional light primer strike and I suspect maybe its the ejector. It's pretty hard to depress on my 308.

      April 1, 2023 7:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Johnny’s video is really, really good, but he failed to start by telling the viewer to make your weapon safe and be sure that there is no ammunition anywhere near the weapon while you are cleaning it. The written content in this otherwise very good article does emphasize this really, really important safety measure.

      February 1, 2023 11:48 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Barry Bouchard

      This was very helpful.i recently bought my first ar-15.the ruger 556.its a bit overwhelming taking it apart to clean etc.i think this article will help me,make it easier to understand.

      July 3, 2021 4:17 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Michael CRAWFORD

      I started shooting the NRA National Match High Power Rifle Course of Fire about 50 plus years ago and changed to "Run and Gun Shooting" in the late 1980's.
      I don't profess to know it all but, I clean all of my firearms at about 200 rds and never had a failure. My cleaning process also includes an inspection of all parts and replace as needed.
      I also use "Kroil" to clean all the parts and barrel of my firearms. "Kroil" in a penetrating oil that does an excellent job removing all the crud.
      I experimented with "Moly Coating" my rifle bullets one year and cleaned the action and bolt carrier group at 200 rds and cleaned the barrel at about 800 rds and found no major decrease in accuracy but had to replace the barrel midway through the next season.
      I changed to "High Tek" coated handgun bullets about 10 years ago and found that my hand guns cleaned up very eazy with no decrease in accuracy.
      Finally, a barrel typically has 2 to 6 seconds of barrel life, measured in time the bullet is in the barrel. So a typical barrel is shot out in 1,200 to 1,500 rds. Some last longer but in any event is gone completely by 2,000 rds.
      For those of you that folly with the idea that you can shoot an AR for extended periods (200+) without cleaning, your just wearing out your barrel and rifle quicker.
      Additionally, never over oil your rifle and especially an AR-15/10 just wipe on a small amount of top quality oil in a few critical wear spots works, refer to your owners manual.
      STOP using grease on your firearms, grease is just a dirt magnet.

      April 22, 2021 7:30 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I am a newb to the realm of AR ownership and found this article in a web search. Doing a breakdown inspection and cleaning on my first AR. Found ammo today - now just need the sights to come in and I'm off to the range. Feel like a kid at Christmas who got a new toy that came without batteries, and all the stores are closed!

      Thanks for the tips on the breakdown and cleaning!! I noticed the action is MUCH smoother now that the manufacturer's grease is off the BCG.

      July 31, 2020 5:10 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      tyler ross

      do you recommend lubricating the barrel as well?

      July 24, 2020 7:37 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Haha. No.

        December 20, 2021 10:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Michael Wisner

      Very good video! I use Lucas gun oil, love the stuff! I take the upper off, BCG out and use Hopes cleaner (because it was I have currently). I use blue shop towels (Because I also use them in the garage and really like them). I do not disassemble the BCG, no special cleaning system other than look at everything, wipe it off, clean the bore, look for black stuff and bam, bam I am ready to go.

      July 19, 2020 11:03 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Dan Mahoney

      I soak the BCG in Brownells carbon remover. I put the same on the bolt and barrel locking lugs and have a bore snake dedicated for use with carbon remover in the bore. After I wipe off all the carbon cleaner from all the disassembled parts, I use a quality cleaner like shooter’s choice to remove any carbon from inside the barrel, the lower or BC Key. Everything is left to dry completely. I than use a quality oil (like Remington aerosol oil) to put a light coat on all moving parts. All of my BCG’s have a melonite coating so carbon comes off rather quickly. A final wipe of the barrel and lugs to check for excess Oil and any residual carbon with a dedicate bore snake for oiling, finishes the job. The next day I function the parts and apply, if necessary, any additional oil. The AR can not be run dry, so oil accompanies wherever I go. This doesn’t mention the break in period with JB Bore Cleaner on all new bores which is a separate procedure. I was trained by the FBI as a Police Counter Sniper, and their protocols have stuck with me.

      June 16, 2020 8:19 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thank you, Johnny. I had never cleaned an AR before. While watching your video, I had no problems disassembling, cleaning and reassembling my AR. I appreciated your humor too.
      Thanks again!

      January 25, 2020 4:30 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thanks Cameron, from a 19K to a 19D, great tips on cleaning. You are helping so many folks with their rifle maintenance. Scouts out!

      January 19, 2020 10:05 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      You ask what a person uses for cleaning, I use large shotgun cleaning patches to wipe down and clean my weapons.

      August 29, 2019 12:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I cleaned and reasembled my colt M4 and the trigger seems harder than usual, and also its kinda gritty.

      Is it just psychological because I hate pulling the trigger on an empty chamber or is it possible to "damage" the trigger by cleaning it ?

      What I did :
      I cleaned it with ballistol, sprayed everywhere, and Qtips but I don't see any residue anywhere.
      Opened it again, soaked in ballistol and played with the hammer and pulling the trigger but it doesnt change anything.

      Thank you :)

      March 5, 2019 9:00 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I am a complete noob. That being said, I have read and watched multiple videos on cleaning the AR. I learned NOT to add any oil, cleaner, CLP etc to the inner trigger assembly. 1. It doesn’t usually need it because it doesn’t get too dirty.2. If anything the oil can actually attract more particles than had you not added anything at all. Best to use one of those compressed air cans. He did say to lightly oil the top part of the hammer because that’s where the friction hits. That’s it. I also learned not to use too much oil either. An average amount spreads out a smooth layer. Not soaked.
        Again, total noob, but also a total nerd that’s done quite a bit of research. Do double check what I said, ask someone experienced, but I just want to help since I learned that.

        August 22, 2019 6:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul G

      I love the use of memes, this is the only site I get gun tips from!

      September 7, 2018 2:02 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David L

        Glad to help!

        September 7, 2018 2:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      John Foley

      Great article. Would like to have a copy, but cannot print. How can I get a copy?

      July 6, 2018 12:49 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      About a year ago, I purchased a DMPS AR 223/5.56 rifle. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the magpul front and rear sights do not line up with each other because the front rail is lower than the rear rail. I spoke with DPMS to see how this infraction could be corrected but they were no help. I purchased a scope, but it made the rifle heavier. I have searched high and low for .338 rail/front to increase the height so it would match the rear rail but have been unsuccessful. If you have any suggestions that could correct this issue, I would be eternally grateful. Rebuilding the rifle is not an option for me due to lack of funds.

      April 19, 2018 5:14 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Garrett Mitchell

        you may need to get a low plane front sight. it sounds like your front sight is on the gas block right?
        it may be the front sight you currently have is meant to be on the hand guard, not the gas block, you could also try moving it if it's the kind that mounts on a picatinny rail.
        there are also front sights that are specifically meant to be on the gas block.
        i'm way late but in case you haven't figured it out yet, there is my two cents.

        December 7, 2018 7:25 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Good information presented well. Thank you sir.

      April 2, 2018 4:49 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Skip Gracey

      Great job,not really new to the AR but had a 60 most of my enlistment...and just loved it Who didn't. your guide brings me back in focus from many many years ago .Hope I can wiz through it in a few cleanings of taking my time and following your detailed instructions...Thanks for your time served and your future .

      February 25, 2018 4:51 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Joe L

      Great guide. Very detailed! I'll definitely be sending new shooters here when they ask me how to clean their AR. Personally, I clean mine in a slightly different order. After I remove the BCG, I spray the barrel. inside the upper, and charging handle with cleaner and set aside. Then I take apart the BCG, spray all the parts, and set aside. After that, I go back to the upper, barrel, and charging handle and clean them with brushes, snakes, patches, rags, etc. After I am satisfied with the everything else, I move on to cleaning the BCG. In my experience, it seems that letting the cleaner "soak" into the components(even for just a few minutes), it really helps getting rid of the carbon build up. (I do the same thing with handguns.)

      There are only two other differences in my cleaning routine, but they are mostly just personal preference. I generally don't pull the buffer every time I clean, maybe once per 1k-1.5k rounds. And I only pull the extractor to clean every 500 rounds or so (barring any issues), I do shoot some lube in it every time I clean the BCG and wipe it off. I've went through 1k+ without pulling the extractor without any major carbon build up. The majority of what I shoot is non-corrosive steel-cased surplus ammo.

      April 24, 2017 9:58 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jim M.

      Cameron, thanks for your service! HOOAH!

      April 24, 2017 2:52 am
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