A well made AK variant can be incredibly reliable and accurate believe it or not. It still requires routine maintenance to stay at this level of overall quality though. Sure, you can neglect the rifle or run it dry (unlubricated) but it’s not the most ideal state of operation; for any weapon system for that matter. Basic cleaning of an AK is extremely quick and easy though, it can be done with a rag and some solution alone but of course utilizing proper cleaning equipment is ideal. So for this process I will discuss the field expedient steps for cleaning it in an undesirable environment. This process will not cover all the different AK based designs and their minute mechanical differences, however it will apply to the most common variants.
Before you can clean anything, we need to break the rifle down first. Before doing any disassembly we should remove the magazine and make sure that the rifle is unloaded. After this has been accomplished, we start by removing the dust cover. To do this, push the button on the rear of the dust cover forward and lift up the cover with the other hand; It should pop right off, but some can be snug or loose depending on wear. With the dust cover removed we are going to remove the spring/buffer assembly by pushing that same button forward until the entire rod/spring pops out of its fixture in the rear trunnion.
Next we remove the bolt carrier group/op-rod assembly, make sure the hammer is down and take the safety off. Then pull the BCG to the rear of the receiver and slide it up through the opening at the rear trunnion; it should lift out easily because of tension from the hammer underneath it. the bolt should twist out of the carrier in a clockwise motion with little effort.
After we set that aside, we need to remove the gas-tube contained within the top portion of the handguard. This can be achieved by flipping a small lever on the right side of the rear-sight block. By pushing the lever up into a point of alignment, the gas tube will lift up and out but, again, some variants may be a tighter fit than others.
Ok, we are ready to do a basic clean or field expedient cleaning of the rifle. So essentially we are going to use a rag and cleaning/lubricating solution (or not if you don’t have any on you) to wipe down everything. While it’s important to do your best to remove as much carbon, dirt, or grim as possible, the purpose of a field clean is to make sure the AK will function acceptably so it’s okay if it’s not perfectly clean after we’re done.
Start by wiping down the bolt carrier group. Ensure to make a pass at all the nooks and crannies, especially the surfaces where the bolt rotates and the bolt-face. Then wipe down the piston head on the op-rod; take note here because a lot of the carbon found here will be caked on, so don’t worry too much unless you’re doing a full cleaning. Next give the spring/buffer a few passes with the rag. Next wipe out the gas-tube as best you can but it usually doesn’t get too bad. Finally, the internal components should be wiped down along with the receiver walls/rails. If it’s possible, use the AK’s cleaning rod (if it has one it will be under the barrel, running parallel to it) to punch the bore and barrel with some cloth soaked in cleaning solution.
Now that everything has been quickly scrubbed/wiped down with the rag and cleaning/lubricating solution, we can re-assemble the rifle if we are only doing some quick maintenance/cleaning. This whole process can be relevant during a trip to the range, in a training/field exercise, or being in an operational environment. By maintaining a minimal level of maintenance like this, the AK weapons platform will serve you well, provided it is of quality to begin with.