How to Properly Clean your AR-15 and More

Posted by TekMat on May 21st 2019

You've fired a couple thousand rounds through your AR-15 and you know you need to clean it, but you also want to take care of such a big and precious investment. This blog post shows you how to clean your firearm thoroughly and gently, restoring it to tip-top condition. It also briefly outlines the differences between the different types of AR-15's. If you want to know how you can best clean your firearm, check out this article.

Firstly, it's important to note the differences between the two types of AR-15's. There's a direct impingement system and a piston operated system.


The most common AR-15 platform on the market is the direct impingement system. When the bolt is forward in the lock position and the trigger is pulled and the primer is struck, the bolt and most of the gases exit out the barrel. Some of the gases make their way back up through the gas tube. There's a gas lock there that goes up through the tube and comes back into the action area. When the bolts are released it throws the bolt carrier back, a new cartridge is grabbed, and it moves forward again. So all of those hot gases make their way back into the action area of the AR-15. With a piston operated system, instead of those gases making their way all the way back into the action, there's a piston that the gases push against and the pistol in turn pushes the bolt back, allowing it to come forward and cycle again. The big advantage for a lot of people is that a piston operated system tends to run cleaner. There are some other nuances to it and you'll find people who prefer one system over another, but we'll leave that choice up to you.

Before we jump into the actual cleaning of the firearm, we want to make sure that it is safe. Pull the charging handle back and then push in the bolt catch.

This allows you to both visually and physically inspect the firearm to make sure that it's unloaded.

Next you need to make sure you have the right materials. First you'll need the TekMat, of course, which is nice because it has a visual diagram of all the parts as well as a full gun parts lists.The exploded view of the AR-15 on the mat shows you where the parts go if you've disassembled the firearm and have a question about how to put it together. The TekMat is also handy because it protects both your firearm and your workbench. It features a rubber backing, which prevents any sort of chemicals making it through the mat and harming the surface you're working on. It also protects your firearm and keeps small parts from rolling around and getting lost. Secondly you'll need a cleaning rod, a chamber brush that is specific to an AR-15, a bore brush, and a jag. You'll also need a few cotton swabs, a nylon brush, some thick and thin patches, a TekMat TekTowel, and your chemicals: cleaner, lubricant, and protectant, separate.

Step One: Disassembly. Push out the take down pin, which allows the upper and lower to separate.

Then move your pivot pin at the front, so you can completely separate both the upper and the lower. 

Slowly pull the charging handle back and then pull the bolt carrier group out and set it aside. Remove the charging handle.

This next part is the hardest to disassemble: the bolt carrier assembly. First, remove the retaining pin. If you can't pull it out with your finger you can use your jag. 

After removing the retaining pin just tip the bolt carrier assembly backwards and the firing pin should slide out. Once the firing pin is removed you can now remove the cam pin. To remove it, push the bolt in towards the rear of the assembly and then rotate the cam pin so that the straight edges of the pin are parallel with the bolt carrier assembly, and then pull it out. 

Lastly, remove the bolt by simply pulling it out. You can also remove the extractor if you'd like to clean that bit. Now push down on the buffer retaining pin and that will let your buffer come forward.

Step Two: Cleaning. You start off by first cleaning the barrel. There are a couple of ways you can do this but we prefer just to put some solvent on the bore brush, thread that onto the cleaning rod, and run that through. 

It's important to remember that we always work from the chamber end of the rifle. A swiveling cleaning rod is nice because it allows the bore brush to follow the rifling on the AR-15 in the barrel. That means you can just pull the rod back through the barrel rather than pulling it out and constantly working in one direction. Once you've got the solvent in the barrel you can leave it to soak and move on to the chamber brush.

The chamber brush has two sizes of brushes - the cartridge of a .223 or a .556.

This larger size cleans the lugs where the locking bolt engages. Drip some solvent on the lugs, get the chamber brush in there, and give it a spin. 

That helps to get the solvent around the lugs. Now look in and make sure everything is nice and wet. If it is, you've got enough solvent in there so you can put some on your nylon brush and work that around inside the action area. You can let that area sit and soak while you move on to the other areas of the firearm.

We like to use droppers for our chemicals because it lets us control how much solvent is used in the various areas.

More solvent is needed for spots that have more buildup or grime. Next we'll drip some solvent on the bolt, scrub it in with the brush, and let it soak. Do the same thing with the firing pin, bolt carrier, charging handle, and anything else that looks dirty. Use a bit of cleaner to get the area wet, move it around with the brush, and let it sit and soak for a while. Also focus on your magazine catch, just inside the magazine, and where the pin moves.

Now that you've scrubbed pretty much everything that needed cleaning, it's time to let what you just cleaned soak while you go back and clean up the upper portion of your firearm. You can now clean off the cleaning solvent on your barrel, the bore, and the chamber. With your thinner patches and your jag you're going to clean out the barrel. Wrap one patch around the jag and push it through the barrel. 

We're going to do this until the patches come out clean, because then we know that we've got all of the cleaner and solvent out. The thinner patches are nice because they're more porous and seem to pick up a lot more grime as you move through. Continue to push patches through until you have one that comes out clean.

For the chamber area we like to put the .22 bore brush back on the cleaning rod and use some of the thicker patches. Just roll it around the brush and pull tight. That allows the bristles on the brass to help grip the patch, ensuring a more solid clean.

Slip the cleaning rod into the chamber, spin it around, and pull it back out.

Follow that same pattern for the rest of your firearm. Just wipe up the remainder of the solvent using your cleaning rod, the patches, and the cotton swabs when you need to get into little nooks and crannies.

Now you're going to use the rough side of the TekTowel to give your firearm a quick wipe down. Just pick up the parts and give them a good wipe down to ensure that all of the cleaner and solvent is off.

Now that your firearm is completely cleaned and wiped off, it's time to lubricate high-wear areas. The difference between lubricant and protectant is that the lubricant is slightly thicker and is perfect for high-wear areas. The protectant is a bit thinner and acts like a conditioner for the metal so we're going to put that everywhere else.

It's handy to clean a firearm that has seen some use because then you can see the high-wear areas more easily. With those areas you're going to use your dropper to put a few drops in to make sure those areas are conditioned.

It's best not to make your firearm too wet. Most locations for shooting are somewhat dry and dusty and if your firearm is too wet it'll attract dirt, which can become abrasive and actually really harm your weapon.

The lubricant can be applied as you are re-assembling your firearm. To re-assemble you just do everything that you did to disassemble it, but in reverse. There are just a couple of things that you need to keep in mind.

While putting the bolt carrier assembly back together, when you put the cam pin back in, make sure to rotate it so that the straight edges are perpendicular to the assembly, otherwise the firing pin won't go in all the way.

Also, when you're putting the bolt carrier assembly back into the upper, make sure that the bolt is pulled out, so that the assembly will fit back in.

After everything is reassembled, drip some protectant on your TekTowel and give your firearm a good wipe down. The protectant will work its way into the metal and help to prevent corrosion and rust from happening. Remember that lubricant goes in high-wear areas and protectant covers pretty much everything else. It's not necessary to lubricate or protect any of the plastic pieces. If by some chance reason either lubricant or protectant happens to get on the plastic pieces, that's okay. The chemicals won't hurt the plastic.

So that's it! It's probably a lot easier than you thought to get this all cleaned and ready to go, which is always a good thing. Cleaning your firearm is important to make sure that it stays in good working order, but it's also important to remember to enjoy yourself and learn while you're doing it. If you have any problems while putting the weapon back together, simply refer back to your TekMat to get the names and locations of the parts you need to focus on. Also, if you have any suggestions or comments or if we missed anything, feel free to leave a comment below so that we can improve. Feel free to check us out on to see the wide variety of products we offer that were designed to make your life easier.

Final note: The TekMat's themselves are super easy to clean. After you've cleaned your firearm several times and the mat looks like it could use a cleaning itself, simply scrub it with some soap and water, rinse it off, and let it air dry. It'll be back to new in no time.

Interested in seeing how to clean your AR-15? We have a great in depth video with the owner of TekMat. He dives deep into the difference between direct impingement and gas piston AR-15's and how to properly clean your AR-15.

Tools Used:

TekMat AR-15
TekMat AR-15 Ultra
AR-15 Cleaning Kit



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