The AR-15 is one of the most popular rifles used in service rifle competitions, 3-Gun competitions, tactical competitions, hunting, and just plain old plinking.
The AR-15 is a pleasure to clean compared to other semi-automatics since it can be cleaned from the breech end by unhinging the receiver and removing the bolt carrier assembly. A very useful accessory to have when cleaning an AR-15 is a product called the Sinclair AR-15 Cleaning Link that you can get through Sinclair International. This handy gadget holds the upper and lower receivers apart but fixed in position so you can clean the rifle easily from the breech without the upper and lower receivers flopping around. This allows you to use a breech style cleaning rod guide like the Sinclair Rod AR-15 Rod Guide. When the rifle is separated with a “Link” and sitting in a cradle, the muzzle is positioned downward so any excess solvent flows out the muzzle and not back into the action.
Sinclair Cleaning Link and O-ring style Rod Guide
Cleaning the AR-15 barrel is no different than cleaning the barrel of a bolt gun. The only factor to remember is the gas port on the inside of the barrel. If you decide to use a paste cleaner on the bore, make sure you blow out any paste from the port opening by using one of the aerosol cleaners with an applicator tube/straw and spray some through the gas tube. Then run a few patches through the barrel to remove anything that was blown out.
The action of the AR-15 requires some special attention due to the amount of carbon that builds up due to the gas operating system. Since the bolt carrier has already been removed from the rifle to access the breech, the cleaning of the chamber and lug recess area is relatively simple. We use a Sinclair AR-15 Lug Recess Tool to clean the lug recess area, which is part of the barrel extension.
Sinclair Lug Recess Tool with compressed cotton roll in route to AR-15 lug recess
Use wet solvent on the cotton rolls installed on the lug recess tool to remove any accumulated debris and old grease. Then follow up with some dry cotton rolls to finish the job. When cleaning the chamber, use a cotton swab or patches wrapped around an old brush to remove any foreign debris from the chamber. You can also use a Sinclair AR-15 Chamber Cleaning Kit to clean this area thoroughly.
If you don’t know how to disassemble the AR-15 bolt carrier and bolt, we would highly recommend getting the “U.S. Marine Corps M16A2 Technical Manual” or “The AR-15 Complete Assembly Guide” by Walt Kuleck and Clint McKee (A Scott Duff Publication). They include complete instructions for the disassembly and reassembly of the M16/AR-15 rifle. They also have diagrams, instructions, and procedures for parts replacement. Another wonderful aspect of the AR-15 is that it is relatively easy to disassemble including removing the ejector and extractor. A good roll pin punch kit should be part of your maintenance/field kit for the AR-15 as well as a spare parts kit containing commonly replaced small parts (gas rings, ejector spring, ejector roll pin, firing pin retaining pins, extractor, extractor pin and spring assembly, and a firing pin). A Sinclair AR-15 Bolt Vise provides a third hand when removing bolt pins and gas rings.
Sinclair AR-15 Bolt Vise with AR-15 Bolt
When you have the bolt removed from the carrier assembly, spray down the bolt with a good degreaser. The bolt face needs to be wiped off, the back end of the bolt needs to be flushed out and brushed with a small brush (.17 caliber). Brush the locking lugs with a utility brush and degreaser.
Clean the bolt carrier with patches, swabs, and solvents. A large bottle brush with a half sheet of paper towel does a good job on cleaning the bulk of the interior. Clean out the carrier key with a small brush and use a Sinclair/Brown Carbon Scraper to clean built-up carbon out of the recess inside the front end of the bolt carrier. Inspect the three gas rings to make sure none of the gaps are aligned; gas rings should be replaced at least once a year if you are shooting any significant amount of rounds.
Re-grease the bolt and bolt carrier with a good quality grease of your choice. We use a good quality bolt grease on our personal AR’s and have never had a functioning problem due to improper lubrication There are “Mil-Spec” greases specifically made for the AR-15 available through us. Remember, whatever you use, grease is wonderful as a lubricant but unfortunately acts as a trap for foreign particles so the grease should be frequently cleaned off and reapplied.