Maintenance and cleaning is an essential component of responsible firearm ownership. If the worst should happen and you come to rely on your firearm in a self-defense situation, the last thing you want is to wonder whether or not it will function. Even if you only use your firearm for target practice or competitions, meticulous cleaning will keep it accurate and true. Maintaining an AR-15 is in principal no different to maintaining any other firearm. You should have a clean, ventilated, well-lit space with sufficient work area and you should make sure you have time to complete the job in one sitting. This article focuses on AR-15 maintenance and cleaning.
One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to cleaning an AR-15 is “How often should I clean my rifle?”. The simple answer is that there is no right answer. There are so many variables to consider; How many rounds did you shoot? Do you use cheap reloaded rounds, or match grade ammo? How much time do you have to devote to cleaning your firearm? Factors such as these will directly influence how often you should clean your AR-15. There is no possibility of over cleaning so if you choose to clean it after every range session then more power to you! If you don’t have the time to clean it so often then set yourself a reasonable number of rounds through the barrel between cleanings.
It is, of course, important to have all of your tools, equipment and supplies ready before starting any disassembly. The last thing you want is to have your AR-15 stripped and then discover you don’t have any oil!
The following is a list of recommended cleaning and maintenance equipment, it is not exhaustive, and you will eventually come to develop your list based on your preferences, but it is certainly a good starting point:
- Maintenance mat.
- Rags and Q-Tips.
- Bore Snakes.
- Cleaning rod with brass and steel brushes.
- Firearm cleaning solution.
- Nylon punch.
As a side item, it is useful to have a fishing tackle or general hardware box to put components into as you separate them from the rifle. It is very easy to knock these small pieces off your workbench, but not so easy to find them again after!
Once you have your equipment and workspace prepared you should work out your plan. It is a good idea (especially for a novice) to have an instruction list standing by, guiding you step by step through the whole process. This article aims to provide those basic steps for maintaining an AR-15, but as with anything else, practice makes perfect. Get to know your rifle, learn how each part interacts with the others, look after it and it will look after you.
So, now you have a cleaning and maintenance kit assembled, and you’re ready to start, there’s one more thing to remember before you start stripping down; safety first! It cannot be overstressed that when cleaning an AR-15 (or any other firearm) you should always handle it as if it were loaded. This should remain the case until the AR-15 is disassembled to the point where it can no longer fire. To prep, the rifle for maintenance, first ensure it is clear by following these steps
- Switch the safety to ‘SAFE’.
- Eject the magazine.
- Lock the bolt open by pulling back the charging handle, holding down the bottom half of the bolt release button and then slowly returning the charging handle to its housed position.
- Look inside the chamber for any ammo, removing shells if necessary.
- Release the bolt by pushing the release button.
Once you are satisfied that the weapon is clear, the next stage is going to be removing the upper receiver. Remove the take-down pins with your nylon punch and lift the upper away from the lower receiver. One the two halves are separated, remove the charging handle and bolt carrier group by pulling back on the charging handle grip itself.
The next step is to disassemble the bolt carrier group and the bolt:
- Push the bolt all the way to the rear of the carrier group.
- Remove the firing pin by taking out the retainer pin.
- Rotate the cam pin and remove the bolt.
- Remove the extractor pin from the bolt with your punch.
The final stage of disassembly is to remove the buffer and spring from the buffer tube. To do so push firmly on the buffer retainer with a punch.
Now the fun begins! You’ve disassembled your AR-15, and now it’s time to clean it. The best advice is to clean each group of components separately. Once each set is clean, put it to one side and move on to the next. Use your toothbrush, rags, Q-Tips and cleaning solution to scrub the parts clean of carbon deposits. It’s a good idea to keep one clean rag for the end of each operation to scan for any dirt you may have missed. After having scrubbed the components, rub a lightly lubed rag over them.
When cleaning the chamber and barrel with your rod and brushes, remember to follow the path of the bullet. Always clean from the chamber forwards; this will help to preserve your rifling from damage. You can also use bore snakes for this part of the job, but as with the cleaning rod, they should pull from the rear towards the front.
During the cleaning process, you should take the time to inspect the components for damage or wear. Many parts are made of aluminum, which is lightweight and strong but can be brittle under certain conditions and therefore liable to crack. AR-15 rifles are very easy to repair thanks to their modular nature. However, this is only the case if parts are replaced before catastrophic failure which in some cases can prove to be fatal.
Always reassemble your AR-15 in the exact opposite sequence to which you took it down. Take your time and make sure you put every pin back securely, checking for excess play or movement. Once it is back together place a drop or two of lubricant on any moving part, remembering that less is more; you do not want the rifle swimming in oil!
Finally, you will need to perform a functionality check before putting your AR-15 away. You ensured the rifle was clear before taking it down, but just in case, perform another check to make sure the chamber is clear.Pull the bolt to the rear, put the safety selector to ‘SAFE’ and pull the trigger: you are looking to make sure the hammer doesn’t drop. If this test is successful, put the safety selector to ‘FIRE’ and pull the trigger, listening for a hammer drop. If either test fails, take the rifle back down and reassemble to make sure everything went back together as it should have. If your AR-15 passes both tests, then you’re all done, Congratulations!
AR-15 maintenance can seem a little daunting, to begin with, but by sticking to a plan, you’ll manage it with ease, ensuring years of issue free enjoyment from your rifle.