Cleaning and Maintaining Your AR Rifle
Let’s assume that you have spent a few months creating your perfect AR out of all the best after-market parts that you can cobble together. You’ve tested it out and are now putting a lot of rounds through it. You enjoy it, so why not use it. But to really make it last, you are going to need to maintain it properly. Cleaning your gun is one thing, but really maintaining it is quite another, and if you want to get the most out of your rifle, you need to go a bit further than just a quick clean.
Many people only make a half-hearted attempt at cleaning their AR, and might go as far as splitting the upper and lower receivers and pushing a brush up the barrel, but you can do much more than this for your AR. There are plenty of moving parts in your weapon and all of those will need a good, periodic clean to make sure that they work in the right way. In fact, you are going to need to assemble a pretty extensive array of cleaning tools and liquids that will keep your AR in tip-top condition. Your cleaning kit should include:
A soft rag to wipe off excess carbon and solvent
A firm bristle toothbrush for scrubbing stubborn carbon
A Barrel snake for your chambered caliber
Q-tips to get into tight areas with solvent
Your choice of reputable solvent and lubrication
While many parts on your AR will be similar to others and cleaning regimes will be pretty much aligned, the one major difference is the caliber of your rifle and, subsequently, the brush system that you need to use for pushing or pulling through it. AR calibers can vary from the .22 NOSLER right up to the enormous .50 BEOWULF or BMG round. Since, to get a good clean, you need to have a close-fitting brush (to really sweep through the rifling) so that means having one that is closely aligned to your particular caliber. If you have an AR10 chambered for a .308, then you need a brush that reflects that caliber. Too small will be difficult to get through and may damage the barrel surfaces, and too large is almost worse than useless for cleaning.
Enter, the barrel cleaning kit.
Which, if you spend money on a good one, will give you a range of brushes for cleaning a whole host of caliber sizes. These compact, rod-type cleaning kits usually have everything you need to clean your barrel and protect the accuracy and reliability of your AR-15. Kits like this includes a number of different tools such as combination bore illuminator/safe chamber indicator that also pushes out takedown pins, aluminum rod sections, brushes, slotted tip, picks, and patches. Brushes are typically brass bodied with phosphor bronze bristles that clean effectively but won’t damage the bore of your rifle.
Next, you’ll want to ensure that it stays in good condition if you are not using it for a while, so that means applying a good oil such as Break-Free CLP-4 Cleaner Lubricant Preservative, but even if you are going to leave your weapon for some time, you need to then run a couple of cotton-based dry patches through to take up the excess oil. If oil dries out naturally, it can leave carbon build ups that will damage the inside of your barrel. Oil is good, but don’t leave anything other than a very thin protective film on any surface. You can clean off any excess oil with a solvent
So, that’s the bore sorted; what can we do elsewhere to keep our AR in the best condition?
Well, next, you need to strip the gun and inspect every part before giving it at least a good clean with solvent and wipe down with a clean rag. If you are a heavy user, then there will be a good deal of gunk and crud that builds up in your weapon, so a good, regular, and deep clean will keep it working well. You can start by stripping it down.
Prepare your area and have plenty of sturdy clean cotton-based cloth around; you’re going to need it.
First, with the magazine removed, you need to split the upper and lower receiver, and inspect them both for dirt. This is the main firing area of the gun and are is going to attract the most dirt build-up. Remove the buffer, buffer spring, and bolt carrier group and inspect them. You will probably find a fairly hefty build-up of crud, so they are going to really want a good clean.
Give each part a really good squirt of solvent and then give them another good clean with the cloth. You’ll probably find that you get a whole lot more dirt out, so repeat the process until you end up with a clean cloth. If you are a heavy user, you might need to bathe certain parts in solvent overnight and then even work it in with a soft-brush. If you are going to soak parts, you need to break them down onto the smallest possible parts so that you can be sure that the solvent has really go in and cleaned them.
Everything needs to be thoroughly dried off using clean cloth and inspected for signs of wear before you start to reassemble them. Now you are ready to lube your parts up and get ready for reassembly. There is a whole load of debate over the best lube points, but generally you should be lubing the:
Takedown (pivot) pins
Buffer spring and inside of tube
Chamber walls and Bolt-Carrier Group (use a heavier lube)
Bolt and Magazine catch
Inside of Dust Cover
This is probably the minimum areas where you need to be applying lube, so also if you feel that you should be putting lube in other areas, do so. Obviously, you shouldn’t over-lube and any excess should be mopped up with fresh, dry cotton-based cloth.
Once you have lubed, you can start reassembling your AR. Start with the bolt carrier group and the upper and lower receivers, and build the whole weapon back up from there. You can also apply lube to other areas as you go, making sure that you don’t over-do it, and wiping off excess oil as you need to. Always make sure to oil your trigger well every time to keep it smooth and crisp, and get a fair amount of oil down the buffer tube too.
Unless you are putting an insane amount of ammo through your weapon, you can probably get away with doing a cursory clean after each use, and a good strip-down job every fourth clean. Do this, and your AR will last you a lifetime.