How to Clean an AR-15

Posted by Printed Kicks Team on

How to Clean an AR-15

The AR-15 is a beautifully crafted, historically relevant rifle. It has been used by American troops for decades in several major wars and is a staple of American gun culture. The first version of the AR-15, known as the M-16, became the standard weapon for U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of negative stigma attached to this historical weapon, so much so that there has even been talk within the government of outlawing the sale of AR-15s entirely. Fortunately, many brands like Printed Kicks are standing up for the rights of gun owners, providing apparel and accessories for them to proudly display their beliefs. 

Owning an AR-15 is a huge responsibility. Not only do you have to be extremely cautious when operating your rifle, but you’re also going to have to clean it as well. 

However, cleaning an AR-15 can be complex for a beginner. You need to be fully informed of the different parts of your rifle and how to disassemble and reassemble it. You also need to be cautious of how you actually clean the gun. Of course, each individual weapon is different, so you should read your manual or seek out the manufacturer’s instructions before you start the cleaning process.

To keep your rifle performing at its highest level, a routine clean-up is mandatory. Failing to clean your rifle is a surefire way of destroying its functionality and shortening its life span. Don’t be overwhelmed, though. Today, we’re going to be breaking down step-by-step how to clean your AR-15. 

Get The Proper Tools

Before getting started, you’re going to need the right tools. If you already own other guns, you can use some of the cleaning supplies you already have. However, you’ll need some AR-specific items. Most importantly, you’ll need a bore brush and boss for your particular caliber. If you’re unsure of the caliber of your rifle, check out this educational video by Howcast.

If you don’t have any cleaning supplies already, consider buying a pre-made gun cleaning kit. A traditional gun cleaning kit will include items like a mallet, scraper, gun boss, bore brush, punch, pick, cleaning rod, polishing cloth, and more. 

Disassemble The Rifle

The first and most important step is to unload your rifle and put all your ammo aside. Make sure there is nothing in the chamber, and there isn’t any ammunition even near you while you’re cleaning. 

Now, it’s time to take your rifle apart. If you’re unfamiliar with the different parts of your AR-15, it is worthwhile to first learn the anatomy of the rifle. Then, you’ll be ready to disassemble it. 

First, you want to separate the upper receiver from the lower receiver. To do so, push the take-down pins out and pull the two halves apart. You may need to use a punch to push them out. Be very cautious to not scratch the finish of the gun. 

Next, you have to remove the charging handle and bolt carrier group. The bolt carrier group and charging handle slide back are located outside of the upper receiver’s body. Push the bolt to the back and detach the firing pin using a pick. Set the firing pin aside. Now, rotate the cam pin ninety degrees and detach it also. You should be able to slide the bolt out smoothly now. 

Once you have removed the bolt from the bolt carrier group, use a punch and a mallet to remove the extractor pin. Then, remove the extractor and set that aside as well.

Lastly, use a punch to press down on the buffer retainer. You may also be able to do this with a calloused finger as well. Separate the buffer and spring from the tube. The retainer is under pressure, so do not push down on it too hard once you’ve extracted the pieces. Otherwise, your punch might slip, ejecting them powerfully, several feet away. 

Clean the Chamber and Barrel

Using a small cloth or brush with some water or bore cleaner, rub along the chamber and barrel from rear to front. It is very important to clean in this direction, so the debris comes out the front of the barrel. 

If you use a brush on a rod, make sure it is inserted from the rear and that you go with the bullet when you clean; similarly to how when cutting meat, you go with the meat as you cut. Cleaning the chamber and barrel keeps the rifle functioning. 

Clean the Bolt Carrier Group

Cleaning the bolt carrier group is typically easier than cleaning the chamber and barrel. When cleaning the bolt carrier group, scrub deeply. You want to remove any buildup of carbon that could interfere with your rifle’s performance, especially at the rear of the firing pin. 

Be sure to clean the extractor thoroughly as well. It is useful to use multiple rags while doing this. Once you’re all done, put together the bolt carrier group in the opposite order of assembly. In other words, ensure that your bolt is fully to the front so it can be reinserted correctly. 

Clean the Buffer Assembly

To clean the buffer assembly, use a lightly lubricated rag to wipe down the surface. Chances are, unless your rifle is excessively dirty, you don’t need to access the tube itself. After wiping down the spring and buffer, you’re good to go. 

Clean the Charging Handle and Upper Receiver

Similar to the buffer assembly, all you need for the charging handle and upper receiver is a rag that is slightly lubricated. 

Wipe down both the charging handle and upper receiver until there is no more carbon present. If you do a solid clean-up job, the charging handle should move smoothly within the upper receiver once reassembled. 

Clean the Fire Control Group (FCG) and Lower Receiver

Use a brush and some lubricant to clean the fire control group. This area usually doesn’t get too dirty, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be cleaned. While cleaning, examine your fire control group and look for cracks on the hammer or on the lower receiver. Cracks can cause damage to the gun and prevent it from functioning properly. 

Reassemble Your Rifle

Just like how you reassembled the bolt carrier group, you need to put the rest of the rifle together in the opposite order. Work backward. Think about what direction each part needs to face. 

Before reassembling, cover the pieces of your bolt carrier group with a light coat of lubricant. Do the same to your fire control group, bolt catch button, and safety selector. Anything that is going to move throughout the gun needs to be oiled up at least a little. 

It is also prudent to do a quick safety check again at this point and just check the chamber one more time for any loose bullets. You can never be too safe. Make it a habit to perform safety checks as often as you can.

Next, point the rifle toward a safe space with no one around. Pull the bolt to the back of the gun and release it. Turn on the safety of the rifle and squeeze the trigger. If the hammer hasn’t dropped, you’re in good shape. Now, turn the safety off and pull the trigger again. This time, the hammer should fall.

For more in-depth tips to stay safe while using a firearm, check out this guide from The Firearm Industry Trade Association (NSSF). It is important to be responsible when handling a firearm of any kind and follow official safety procedures. 


The cleaning process can be organized into three distinct steps: disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. By cleaning your AR-15, you will also become better acquainted with it. Cleaning your rifle should make you feel confident and more comfortable in handling it. 

Despite the background knowledge you need, it is fairly simple to clean an AR-15. After your first few times cleaning it, you should be able to get the hang of it. The most essential part about cleaning your rifle is cleaning it consistently. 

Clean your AR-15 regularly, and don’t allow it to become too dirtied up. By doing so, you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches in the future. Keeping the inside of your rifle clean will keep it running flawlessly and prolong the life of the gun. 

If you are a proud gun owner and believe that it is a fundamental right for Americans to bear arms, consider checking out our web store at Printed Kicks. We provide an abundance of fashionable apparel and accessories related to gun rights and the 2nd amendment. We’re on a mission to destigmatize owning guns and educate the general public on gun safety.

Keeping our guns clean is an essential aspect of maintenance. However, making sure that we keep our guns at all is crucial to our freedom and protection. Let’s continue to make our voices heard and represent our country proudly. 



Firearms Safety -- 10 Rules of Safe Gun Handling | NSSF  

AR-15 Parts & Components | Diagram of Rifle Breakdown | Wing Tactical 

What Is a Gun's Caliber? | Gun Guide | Youtube 

A Brief History Of The AR-15 | NPR 

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