AR-15 Cleaning Kit Tools and Techniques

Growing up around guns and now having an AR-15, it makes sense that you’d want to seek out or build yourself a quality AR-15 cleaning kit. And yes, since you own an AR-15, it is true that understanding proper maintenance is crucial. A well-maintained AR isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about ensuring reliability, accuracy, and longevity. This guide will break down what an AR-15 cleaning kit should include, and the basic cleaning process, focusing on essential tools and effective techniques. Always remember to follow safety protocols and legal guidelines when handling firearms.

Why You Don’t Need to Clean After Every Range Trip

After a trip to the range, our dad would take out every gun we had shot, place it on the kitchen table, totally break it down, and begin a careful cleaning process that often involved blasting through entire rolls of paper towels. Looking back, this may not have been necessary, certainly not for the ARs that we just used to do a mag dump into a pile of dirt or trash.

Contrary to popular belief, the AR-15 doesn’t require cleaning after every use. Modern AR-15s are designed to operate reliably even with some fouling. In fact, a slightly dirty rifle often functions more smoothly than one that’s freshly cleaned and dried out. Over-cleaning can lead to unnecessary wear on parts and removal of beneficial carbon buildup in certain areas. For most recreational shooters, cleaning every 500-1000 rounds is sufficient, unless you’re shooting in extremely dusty conditions or using corrosive ammunition.

Real Avid AR-15 Gun Boss


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The Essential AR-15 Cleaning Kit

In a pinch, cleaning an AR can be as easy as a few paper towels (microfiber cloth is a better option) and a quality lubricant like Breakthrough, Break Free CLP, or some SLIP 2000. We pop out the bolt, do a basic disassembly, wipe everything down, put it back together, and do a quick function check. This is almost always our approach if we’ve just shot a few rounds to check zero. In fact, that is probably overkill. If you’re looking to do a deeper cleaning, you’ll want to have a few things handy. Before starting the cleaning process, gather these tools:

If time or cost is a consideration in gathering these materials, there are pre-compiled kits available that should give you most of what you need in a convenient package.

Breakthrough Clean Badge Series – 5.56Mm Pull Through Cleaning Kit With Molle Pouch


Dirty Bird Guns & Ammo

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Using your AR-15 Cleaning Kit – A Step-by-Step Cleaning Process

If we are going to do a deep clean of our AR, then these are the steps that we take…Again, this isnt something you need to do or we’d recommend after a single range trip, but rather just a few times a year, although that will be dependent on your shooting schedule. Your single range trip might be more intense than what we shoot in a year, so YMMV.

  1. Ensure Safety
    • Always start by verifying the rifle is unloaded. Remove the magazine and visually inspect the chamber.
  2. Field Strip Your AR-15
    • Break down your AR-15 into its main components: upper receiver, lower receiver, bolt carrier group, and charging handle.
  3. Clean the Bore
    • Use a bore snake coated with CLP. Insert it from the chamber end and pull through to the muzzle. You don’t want to go the other way due to the slight risk of damaging your barrel. Just remember to go from back to front, mimicking the path of the bullet. Repeat several times. For heavily fouled barrels, follow up with a cleaning rod and patches.
  4. Clean the Chamber
    • Apply CLP to the chamber brush and scrub the chamber thoroughly. Ensure you clean the locking lugs and feed ramps. These are areas where a lot of stuff will build up.
  5. Clean the Bolt Carrier Group
    • Spray the bolt carrier group with CLP. You might also consider the use of a bolt scraper to remove carbon buildup, particularly around the bolt face and gas rings. Clean the bolt carrier with a nylon brush, paying attention to the gas key and bolt housing area.
  6. Detail Cleaning
    • Use dental picks to clean hard-to-reach areas like the fire control group in the lower receiver and around the gas tube in the upper receiver. Clean the gas system to remove carbon buildup.
  7. Final Wipe Down and Lubrication
    • Wipe all parts with microfiber cloths. Apply a light coat of CLP to all moving parts and metal-on-metal contact points. Remember that over-lubrication can attract dirt and cause malfunctions. It’s also wise not to over-lubricate since, as the rifle sits in your safe, all that lubricant has the potential to slowly seep its way out of gaps between the receiver, etc.
  8. Reassemble and Function Check
    • Put your AR-15 back together and perform a function check. Cycle the action several times to distribute lubricant.

Inspect as You Go

  • After cleaning, inspect each part for wear and damage:
    • Ejection Port and Feed Ramps: Check for proper function and damage.
    • Buffer Spring and Buffer: Verify correct length and condition.
    • Bolt and Gas System: Inspect for damage, proper staking, and straightness.
    • External and Internal Structures: Look for cracks, damage, and proper function.
    • Extractor and Ejector: Check for damage and proper tension.

Maintenance Frequency

The frequency of cleaning depends on usage, but for most shooters, a thorough cleaning every 500-1000 rounds is sufficient. However, always clean your rifle if it’s been exposed to extreme conditions or if you notice any change in performance.


Regular maintenance is key to the longevity and reliability of your AR-15. While it may seem time-consuming, the process of cleaning allows you to become intimately familiar with your firearm, potentially helping you spot issues before they become problems. By following this guide and using the right tools, you can ensure your AR-15 remains in top condition, ready for whatever you ask of it. Remember, a well-maintained AR-15 is a reliable AR-15. Take the time to care for your rifle, and it will serve you well for years to come.

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