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Without knocking the AR platform, it tends to be one of the more plagued systems when things start getting dirty. The gas system ensures that blow-back gasses containing powder residue will fill your gas tube and gas key, and spread all around the BCG and upper. That being said, if you do nothing else, keep the gas tube, the gas key, bolt face and extractor as clean as possible.
For the most part, your cleaning tools and supplies are the same as those for any other firearm. Many AR15 cleaning kits are available for the 556/223 caliber, but larger calibers will require larger brushes, slotted-tips, jags, etc. Universal cleaning kits usually come with most caliber size tools. Additionally, you may want to invest in a cleaning matte, a receiver vice block, and a roll-pin set. The following is a list of required tools & supplies;
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.
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. Here they are in no particular order: 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.
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”.
If you’re going to build your own kit, I recommend buying a tackle-box, 50-Cal size ammo can, or a range bag. Having compartments for cleaning components is more organized than just throwing it all is a bag. Also, several small plastic parts bins can be handy to separate components parts and keep pins and springs from living with the lost socks from the dryer.
Next, you’ll want a cleaning mat to keep your parts visible and to keep everything organized. While a towel or sheet is fine, the AR15 cleaning matt usually has a parts schema that is useful for understanding disassembly and reassembly.
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.
Bore cleaner and lubricating oil are also required. The bore cleaner should remove lead, copper and carbon residue, and the lubricating oil should be applied to upper moving parts.
This is where a good quality Bolt Control Group comes in handy, coating like Nickel Boron, Titanium Nitride, and Diamond Like Coating. Why? These coating can provide near zero-friction, hence the need for less lubricant. The more lubricant you apply, the more dirt, carbon and residue you attract.
Rem Oil towelettes are great to wipe down exposed parts that are not lubricated, as well as the bore. In south Georgia, even stainless will start to corrode in only a few days when left in a non-climate controlled environment, and chrome moly will start showing surface rust in under 24 hours. Around here, we wipe down the ARs with a Rem Oil towelettes, store them in their padded case, and throw in a couple of silica packets.
There's no better way to guarantee a clean bore after hundreds of rounds than to use an electric bore cleaning system. The electrified rod in the acidic solution attracts the fouling materials from the barrel. Years ago there were many brands on the market, but now they are difficult to find. We built our own using DIY info on Google. WARNING!! This process can actually etch the bore and damage the rifling. It won't happen if you do it correctly, but if you leave to running too long the damage is guaranteed.
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.
Hold the upper receiver pointing up, pull the charging handle and bolt carrier group from the upper receiver. Place charging handle in a small parts bin and place the bolt control group on the cleaning matte. Get ready to disassemble the BCG.
NEVER carry the upper with charging handle and BCG without pointing the receiver up, else the BCG will fall out and may be damaged or scuffed hitting the floor.
The cam pin holds the bolt in the carrier and has a hole through it to allow the firing pin to go through the bolt. In the picture, the cam pin in in the bottom middle.
To remove the cam pin you must first remove the firing pin. First, push the bolt to the rear and remove the firing pin retaining pin using your pick. Remove the firing pin and set it aside in the small parts bin with the retaining pin.
Next, rotate the cam pin ninety degrees and remove it. Set it aside in the small parts bin. Now the bolt should slide right out. Remember when you put it back together the correct placement of the cam pin.
Make sure to drop some cleaning solvent into the gas key on top of the bolt carrier and let it sit for a while. Run a pipe cleaner in and out repeatedly. Make sure the inside of the key is as dry as possible so as not to attract powder residue. Use a pipe cleaner in any holes and spaces seen. Wipe down the bolt carrier the solvent and then a light coat of lubricant. The more lubricant used the more residue will be attracted.
The picture shows 9 distinct parts, which are as follows;
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.
Use a punch and your mallet to remove the ejector pin, and then remove the ejector spring and ejector and set them aside in a small parts bin.
Do not try to remove the gas rings. You should clean them and wipe them dry, but you should only remove them when replacement is required.
In a Nutshell: Give everything a good scrub. Look for carbon buildup, especially at the rear of the firing pin. Clean the extractor well, attention to detail is key.
Lots of carbon and residue can get into the buffer tube, so you'll need to remove the buffer spring and buffer to clean them.
Using 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.
Just wipe them down with solvent and then dry them. Run an oversized cotton mop with solvent inside the buffer tube to clean the interior, but run a dry mop to remove any moisture. Reinstall the buffer assembly. You might consider a stainless buffer spring to resist corrosion in high humidity areas. When available, stainless parts are always better.
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.
The lower houses the springs and pins, the safety, bolt catch and mag release assembly, as well as the fire-control group. Cleaning is a good time to inspect them for wear and/or damage. There's no need to disassemble anything, just start cleaning by hand with solvent soaked patches. Make sure to wipe off all solvent, and only apply a very light amount of lubricant to the fire-control-group. Many people flood this area with lubricant and the result is a lot of dirt and debris accumulating as it sticks to the lubricated surfaces.
Stainless Parts: Now is a good time to consider swapping the fire control group and pins with stainless. The are harder and less prone to wear, breakage and corrosion.