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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.brycetowsley.com.