Clean Your AR-15 in 20 Minutes

By CTD Blogger published on in Firearms

A guest post by Bryce M. Towsley

AR-15 rifles run well even when caked with crud, but sooner or later you do have to clean even the most abuse-immune AR-15 rifle. Cleaning is never fun, but there are a few tools, tips and techniques that can reduce the pain and get you back shooting a little faster.

AR-15 dissassembly with a salad bowl

A stainless-steel salad bowl works very well for cleaning and lubricating AR-15 parts.

Remove the rear pin so the upper receiver is pivoted open. Remove the charging handle and the bolt carrier group. Break down the bolt carrier group and put the parts in a container. I use a stainless steel salad bowl that was liberated from my wife’s kitchen for the chore. Then add some cleaning solvent. You don’t need to submerge them, but make sure all the parts are coated well. Set these parts aside to soak and every now and then give the container a shake to stir things up.

A “must have” tool is a rod guide. The rod guide inserts through the upper receiver and into the chamber, where it’s held in place and sealed with an O-ring. The tool makes it much easier to start a patch than trying to guide it through the receiver and into the barrel while perched on the end of the jag.

Use an aggressive copper-cutting solvent (such as Kleenbore No. 10 Copper Cutter, #2-KLC10) and run several wet patches through the bore and follow with a nylon brush that is well coated with solvent. Now let it soak for a while. As you are cleaning the other parts, stop every few minutes to run a few more solvent soaked patches through the bore.

Gun Flush with cleaning jag and brush

The chamber brush will clean the chamber and barrel extension. The chamber mop will lubricate both. The brush is handy for cleaning the upper receiver. The rod designed for clearing the bolt races on a bolt action rifle can be helpful for cleaning the upper receiver. Gun Flush leaves a coating to protect against rust.

Use a bronze brush to scrub the parts of the bolt carrier group. The radius on the bolt tail that leads to the sealing rings will usually be coated with baked on carbon. There are several tools to clean this and they are the best option. But lacking one I found that if you are careful the little disposable box cutters with the break-away blades that are sold at the check-out counter in every hardware store in America work great. The flexible blade will scrape away the carbon and when it gets dull I just snap it off and go to the next one. Be careful to only remove the carbon and not scratch the metal. What little gunk is left is usually loose enough to remove with solvent and a bronze brush.

There will also be a buildup of carbon at the base of the hole in the bolt carrier where the bolt fits, so use a carbon scraper designed to clean this part to carefully clean out the buildup.

Clean inside the bolt carrier key with an AR-15 Gas Tube Cleaner soaked with a Cleaner/Degreaser such as Outers Crud Cutter Cleaner/Degreaser (#6-1210383, $9.41). Then wipe out the solvent with a clean, dry cleaner. Note that the bolts holding this part in place are staked for a reason, do not try to remove the bolt carrier key for cleaning. Don’t ask why I know that.

AR-15 Bolt Carrier with a can of Break Free

Unlubricated moving metal parts, particularly of dissimilar metals, can get damaged or see accelerated wear. Lubricate the moving parts of your AR rifle with Break Free CLP and it will run better.

Once you have all the parts of the BCG clean, let them air dry. Then coat them with Break-Free CLP Cleaner Lubricant and Preservative (#12-1210774, $5.22). Slop it on, then go outside and blow the extra lubricant off the parts with compressed air. This leaves a film coating all the parts. Now put the BCG back together. Don’t forget to make sure the slots in the gas rings are staggered.

Soak a gas tube cleaner with a degreaser and feed it into the tube with needle nose pliers, in and out several times. Then use a dry swab to clean out the solvent. Finally, run in a cleaner that has been lightly coated with CLP through the tube, and then follow with a dry cleaner.

The bore is the most important part of any rifle. If you have been running patches through all the time you have been working it should be getting close to being clean.

The way to tell is to run a few solvent soaked patches through the bore, let it sit five minutes and push a clean patch through. If there are no blue stains, the copper fouling is gone. It may take a while, so keep working with solvent soaked patches and the nylon brush until you achieve that goal. Beware of false blue spots from a bronze jag.

Ar-15 with barrel swab being inserted

The CJ Weapons Barrel Extension and Lug Recess Swabs are very handy to use for cleaning the barrel extension lugs.

Once the bore is clean, separate the upper and lower receivers. Remove the buffer and spring from the lower. Spray them with an aerosol degreaser such as Outers Crud Cutter (#6-1210383, $9.41) and let them air dry. This stuff is the key to a fast gun cleaning and I expect to use a full can each time I clean a rifle. Spray into the buffer tube and let the solvent run out to wash out any gunk. Spray the trigger area with the receiver inverted so that the solvent washes out all the gunk. (Work outdoors and cover up. Use goggles as this stuff is nasty on your skin or in your eyes.) Let it all air dry.

Spray light oil like Royal Purple Gun Oil or Rem Oil all over the trigger assembly. Then blow out the excess with compressed air, to leave a light film on everything. Wipe the buffer and spring with a rag soaked with the same oil. A 12 gauge shotgun Tico tool (fuzzy stick) that is lightly coated with oil works great to lightly lubricate the inside of the buffer tube. Reassemble the buffer and spring.

Cleaning an AR-15 from the breech end

A good AR-15 cleaning is easy to perform when you have the right components. The gun is clamped in a vise with a lower receiver vise block, and an AR-15 cleaning link holds the gun open. An AR-15 rod guide in the receiver keeps the rod straight and eliminates solvent pouring into the lower. An aggressive copper-removing solvent will irritate your skin, so wear gloves.

Using the Outers spray degreaser, clean the upper receiver and barrel extension by directing the spray at the gunk. This spray is the fastest way I know to get the gunk out of the barrel extension and upper receiver. If some of the buildup is stubborn you may need to work at it with a bronze brush or a dental pick, then spray some more. When everything is clean, let it air dry. Run a dry patch through the bore.

Spray the barrel extension and inside of the receiver with CLP and blow off the excess with shop air. Run a patch that is soaked with CLP through the bore. Wait a minute or two and follow with one clean patch.

Use a large bore mop to wipe out the chamber area to clear any oil.

Claeaning an Ar-15 from the magwell

Use a long “pipe cleaner” to clean the gas tube. Use a set of needle-nose pliers to push it into the gas tube.

Put everything back together and go get it dirty again.

About the Author: Bryce M. Towsley is a Field Editor for NRA’s American Rifleman, American Hunter and Shooting Illustrated. His work has appeared in most of the gun and hunting magazines being published. He is the author of several books on hunting and guns as well as the action/adventure novel, “The 14th Reinstated.” Towsley is a world-traveled hunter, a competitive shooter and a gunsmith. Check out his books and blogs at

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Comments (13)

  • Smitty 550


    …but isn’t the AR more accurate than the AK at longer ranges? It seems to me that the AK might be good for “spray & pray” type shooting, but the AR (at least for coyote hunting purposes) doesn’t require blasting out 50 shots in rapid succession. Also, it appears in the article that the author advises using copper solution. The stuff can raise hell with the barrel and needs to be thoroughly rinsed out after using it. Besides, good barrels shouldn’t “copper-up.”

    If I had to go through all the rigamaroll that the author advises for the AR, I would never have bought one. Perhaps the cleaning regimen he suggests is for rifles that haven’t been cleaned in a long time, or for those that have just had several hundred rounds run through it. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I know that when I have run just a few rounds through my AR (after sight-in or some missed shots at coyotes), I clean the barrel only and lightly wipe down the carrier.


  • Giterdone


    High maintenance “mouse Gun”……. and the winner for the “BUG OUT GUN AWARD” goes to the AK-47 every time. Needle nose pliers to push a long pipe cleaner into the AR’s gas tube? You have got to be kidding. I own both types of weapons and clean/lubricate my AK’s every 5,000 rounds and clean/lubricate my AR’s every 50 rounds. Semper Fidelis




      I remember the story of finding a dead V.C. in the jungle .He had rotted over into and through his AK. Blood guts rain mud jungle rot bugs and weeks of time. The GI racked it pulled the trigger –BANG. That is a good sales pitch! {might have been a marine}


  • Mr. T


    This is entirely a lot to do with several different brands and kinds of cleaners. I use Frog Lube. All my guns have a light coat of this and have been treated previously according to Frog Lubes directions. All I do is wipe the parts down and reapply a light coat of Frog Lube again. Less than 15 minutes to clean, including my AR15. One cleaner and one lube all in one.




    AR or AK? Its been 40 years since I fired one. It sounds like the modern AR is like a high maintenance girl friend,lot of work for a little fun.If I have tickets to attend the Oscars I want to go with a supermodel. Tickets to a bar fight I am taking one of the ladies from mixed marshall arts. AR or AK? I have been told both are best.


  • djltx


    A little over kill for a standard cleaning…


  • huskerjeff1


    As much as you AR snobs detest this, this is why I love my AK-47. And btw, I own an AR. Too much work in real situations…


    • Howard


      Isn’t that the real truth!! Some mud, weeds and water and the AK-47 will still fire every time :) You can field clean it in under 7 err 5 err 4minutes also. But yes the AR is a good solid rifle for sure, just takes a bit longer to clean. ;)




      A clean gun is a happy gun.. Do the military versions of the AR require this much cleaning to be reliable during long fights in bad conditions? Will they foul out as fast as civilian models do? I fired the M16 in the navy. Would probably go with the AK in civilian type.


  • DaveW


    I still have my M-16 cleaning kit from Vietnam (1969) and it works just as well today as it did then. You can still find them available on the web. Good nylon pouch, clip for attaching to molle or web gear.


  • Tree Dee


    Get your -10, and keep a GI kit (your BII) in the butt stock or on your belt.
    Oh yeah, read the manual. I have many gizmo’s, doo dads & fiddle dee-dees.. But I always seem to go back to the basics for some reason,,,,,,


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