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Cleaning and Maintaining The AR-15
Contributed by Ken Russo

 This is an excerpt from a manual I wrote for the NYPD. It details the breakdown, cleaning and equipment needed for caring for the AR15 rifle.


As with any other type of firearm, the AR16/M16 rifle should be cleaned after each time it is fired.

By design for the military, it is more than capable of being left in a dirty condition and counted upon to be reliable.  Please do not count on this to be your saving grace should the rifle be needed to resolve an armed confrontation since there will be no telling how long it has been since the weapon was serviced and under what conditions it was last deployed. The most reliable weapon is the properly cared for weapon.  Gas operated rifles require periodic cleaning and this will serve as your guide to how to complete this task.

First as with all weapons, insure that they are clear and that there is no live ammunition allowed in the cleaning area. Empty all magazines to be cleaned and store live ammunition elsewhere during the cleaning phase.

Secure AR15/M16 cleaning equipment and bring weapon and empty magazines to designated cleaning area. Cover all optical equipment to prevent solvent from damaging expensive lens coatings. Optics lenses are specially treated with a coating that helps gather light and damaged optics will not perform reliably in low light conditions.

As with most modern rifles, cleaning from the muzzle end is not recommended. The AR15/M16 based weapon system is best cleaned from the breech and with proper equipment, is easily accomplished.

Cleaning Rods

When cleaning your rifle, avoid cleaning rods like the aluminum sectional rods or the cheap military surplus sectional rods. These are best left for careful emergency use and only in barrels, which give only marginal accuracy. Jointed cleaning rods typically have rough ill-fitted joints with sharp edges, which can damage the rifle barrel and are often far from being straight. Jointed aluminum cleaning rods are very prone to becoming embedded with abrasive material over time, which can leave them reacting to the interior of your barrel like a round file.

Modern high quality one piece cleaning rods may be either coated with a synthetic material to protect from abrasion or uncoated hardened steel.  Never place the rod on a concrete bench top, never exposed to sand, dust grit or placed anywhere where it may pick up any abrasive particles. Cleaning rods should be wiped clean before and after each use and protected from bending and abuse. Storing rods in a PVC tube can protect the cleaning rod from bending and other damage.

*    Assemble rifle cleaning cradle and place onto cleaning table.
*    Remove magazine from weapon
*    Point weapon in safe direction and check chamber for live ammunition once clear, close bolt
*    Press rear take- down in with finger or punch releasing upper receiver from lower
*    Carefully pull back on charging handle removing bolt carrier assembly and charging handle from upper receiver
*    Disassemble bolt carrier assembly:
       A) Push out firing pin retaining pin from bolt carrier
       B) Put bolt in lock position (press bolt inwards until flush with bolt carrier assembly)
       C) Remove firing pin
       D) Remove bolt cam pin by turning it 90 degrees
       E) Remove bolt from bolt carrier assembly

With a solvent wet toothbrush, wet and agitate all areas of bolt carrier and bolt assembly and allow solvent to soak in. Solvent left to soak briefly tends to work better.

1) Use pistol length cleaning rod and attach AR15/M16 chamber brush. Wet brush with bore solvent and insert into chamber of weapon repeating cycle and adding more solvent. Allow area to soak. Use action brush with soaked patches to clean interior of AR15//M16 upper receiver of powder fouling and debris. The upper receiver can also be cleaned by hand using wet patches if the action brush is not available.

2) Utilize AR15/M16 cleaning link to hold upper/lower receiver apart while rifle is in cleaning cradle.  Insert AR15/M16 cleaning rod bore guide (O-Ring type with solvent port)into chamber of rifle Attach 22 centerfire cleaning brush to one piece 22 caliber cleaning rod and wet bore brush with solvent using a solvent bottle via the solventport. Begin to scrub the bore of the rifle adding solvent and allow to soak and penetrate dirt and debris before dry patching out bore. Avoid using a bore brush that has fallen to the ground to prevent inserting debris like sand into the barrel. Also only use bronze/brass bore brushes, use of a stainless bore brush will permanently damage the interior of the barrel.

3) Use toothbrush to soak and clean flash hider of powder fouling and wipe dry with rag. Use a Q-Tip to remove excess bore solvent from the crown of the barrel after patching out bore.

4) After a brief (5min) soaking period, re-insert bore brush with more solvent and scrub a second time. Switch to a .22 caliber bore jag and begin to patch out the rifle’s bore with cotton patches. Patch out the bore until it’s clean. Once the bore is clean, remove bore guide and flush out chamber/bolt lug area with degreaser with and patch out chamber area until dry. Use of a .45 cal cotton bore mop in the chamber area on a pistol rod is also suitable for this purpose.

5) Wipe down charging handle and bolt carrier, paying attention to the interior of the bolt carrier for carbon build up and bore solvent residue. Scrape out carbon fouling with tool if needed. Degrease/lubricate and prepare to re-assemble. A small amount of lubricating oil like Break Free CLP or FP10 oil can be used to lightly lubricate the interior of the bolt carrier.  Excess lubrication will be thrown from the weapon during firing and transition to weak handed or firing left handed will place you in a position to get oil in your eyes. Go lightly with the amount of oil you use to avoid oil splatter from the weapon.

6) Clean bolt and bolt face, paying particular attention to the extractor area. Inspect extractor for damage and proper function. Pay attention to gas rings for damage and alternate the spacing of the gaps in the rings on the bolt. Lubricate after degreasing with a light application of the above-mentioned types of gun oil.

7) Wipe accessible areas of lower receiver with a solvent soaked rag or large cotton bore patches. Also wipe out magazine well of carbon fouling.  Wipe the action dry with a cotton cloth.

8) Re-assemble bolt and bolt carrier assembly.

9) Lubricate interior of upper receiver on areas or contact with bolt carrier and charging handle. There are 4 points of contact with bolt carrier that need light grease. The charging handle needs a light application of grease in 5 specific locations. Proper lubrication will insure reliable function of the AR15/M16 based rifle and over lubrication should be avoided. Excess lubrication will attract dirt and debris and also splatter from bolt
movement/cycling. You should also remember to keep the chamber area dry. Liquids such as oil and grease in the chamber can lead to pressure spikes, which can lead to a ruptured case and/or failure to extract malfunctions of the weapon. Wipe down exterior of the weapon with a dry cotton rag to clean off excess oils and lubricants.

10) Reassembly of weapon
       Reinsert charging handle/bolt carrier assembly
       Close upper/lower receiver
       Reinsert takedown pin
       Operation/function check

AR15/M16 Cleaning Equipment List

Most AR15 specific cleaning equipment can be obtained from Sinclair International (260) 493-1858 -

Although the majority of the listed cleaning gear below will not be provided, properly maintaining an AR15/M16 based rifle will be much easier to accomplish if you invest in the proper equipment. It is also important to remember that most rifles sustain the most damage from improper maintenance and cleaning. Using jointed cleaning rods can severely damage the interior of the bore, chamber and crown of a rifle if improperly used. Using a one-piece cleaning rod of the proper caliber and a bore guide like for cleaning center fire bolt-action rifles will allow you to accomplish this task much more easily. Bore guides are available for the AR15 rifle and will allow you to properly clean the weapon without damaging the interior of the barrel and chamber.

Rifle cleaning cradle (MTM type)
AR15 cleaning link (used to keep upper and lower receivers separated (Sinclair # #14-900)
O-Ring type bore guide with solvent port (Sinclair #RGAR15)
O-Ring Solvent Port for above bore guide (Sinclair#RG322)
Bolt Lug Recess Tool (Sinclair#14-925)
3/8”x1” cotton rolls for above lug recess tool (Sinclair#14-930)
AR15 Bolt Carrier Carbon Scraper (Sinclair#14-5175)
AR15 Chamber Brush (Sinclair#14-810)
AR15 Action Brush (Sinclair#14-820)
AR15 Carrier Key Brush (Sincalir#14-815)
Grease Syringe (Sincalir#01-4300) Syringe empty (Sinclair#41-450)
Benchrest Quality .22 Centerfire bore brushes-bronze bristles/brass core (Sinclair#BB-22)  (available by the dozen)
One Piece 22 caliber cleaning rod with ball bearing handle Dewey or
Bore-Tech 36” length for 20” barrel with bore guide/solvent port.
30 inch cleaning rods OK with M4 barrels with use of solvent ports.
22 caliber brass bore jag (for centerfire rifle, not rimfire)
22 caliber cotton cleaning patches
Hoppe’s#9 or Shooter’s Choice bore solvent
Gun Oil/FP10 synthetic oil/Break-Free CLP spray
.45 cal cotton bore mops
Pistol cleaning rod for cleaning chamber area of AR15 carbine
AR15 chamber brush rod (Sinclair #14-830) for chamber brush or bore mop use can be substituted for above pistol rod.
Degreaser spray
Cotton rags

The above listed cleaning items are suggested for the total care and cleaning of the AR15/M16 based carbine.

Article contributed by Ken Russo

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