How to Clean a Suppressor
July 22, 2019
Suppressor cleaning is a topic that regularly comes up, particularly when dealing with sealed suppressors that can’t be taken apart. The cleaning of a “can” is sometimes a source of hot debate that might only be made hotter if you express favor for one handgun caliber over another, or perhaps one political candidate over another. But since we are in the business of selling silencers and not making our customers angry, we’ll hold off on the caliber and political debate and focus on what we do best, which of course is silencers!
Now, of course, the lazy way out is to refer you to the instructions for your given model of silencer, and that should always be the end-all answer to how to maintain your particular silencer. But, since we have some of our own skin in the silencer manufacturing game and have invested eye watering-ly large sums of cash into scientific test, design and manufacturing equipment, we’ve got a few general thoughts on the matter as well.
There are several types of silencers out there. Broadly speaking, these fall into two types – sealed, and user-serviceable. Silencers are also typically designed around rimfire, handgun and rifle caliber pressures, so it is possible to find multiple types of silencers for each type. There are also other, largely obsolete designs like wet silencers, and those using cloth wipes, but we won’t touch on those, as they are pretty much historical curios at this point. So let’s start breaking this down so you have a better idea of when, why and if you should clean a silencer.
How to Clean a Sealed Suppressor
Sealed silencers are just that: fully sealed units that can’t be serviced by the owner. These range from inexpensive rimfire silencers, to some of the most advanced tactical rifle caliber suppressors. But the cleaning instructions vary wildly depending on what you’re shooting.
Rimfire silencers will always need to be cleaned, some after as few as 350 rounds. A general rule is that after you shoot a brick of ammo, it’s time to clean your can. Rimfire ammo is filthy, messy stuff, and suppressors used on rimfire rounds quickly build up carbon and lead deposits that, left uncleaned, will literally clog and fill up your silencer.
As always, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular silencer, but they will always involve some sort of solvent. For a sealed silencer, you have to dissolve the carbon and lead away, then let the unit dry before shooting it again.
Your pistol caliber sealed silencers may or may not actually need cleaning, or might rarely need it. If you are shooting a lot of lead ammo, then eventually you’ll get the same problem as with a rimfire suppressor, and you should clean it regularly. If you aren’t using lead ammo, there’s a good chance that that pressure buildup in the suppressor body is enough to literally blast the fouling away. When in doubt, give it a good clean with solvent every couple thousand rounds or so.
Sealed suppressors for rifles pretty much don’t need cleaning. As we mentioned a moment ago, the high-pressure buildup inside a suppressor blasts away any fouling. At most, you are left with a thin amount of fouling at any given time, but physics dictates that fouling just doesn’t have a chance to accumulate.
Sealed suppressors can last many tens of thousands of rounds before they wear out. Odds are you’ll burn up multiple barrels before you need to send a silencer back to the factory for any kind of service or repair work. Most don’t even need much in the way of cleaning, or at best, a quick solvent bath every now and then. Aside from rimfire, they are largely self-cleaning. Which we think is pretty cool.
Cleaning User-Serviceable Silencers
The same cleaning rules for sealed silencers apply here. Rimfire suppressors get hideously dirty fast, while rifle and pistol suppressors are mostly to fully self-cleaning. Physics just works whether the suppressor is sealed or not.
That said, there are a few things worth touching on for user-serviceable silencers. When you take your silencer apart, you’ll either find a baffle stack (Like in our BANISH line of suppressors) or some sort of inner core with weird looking holes and patterns machined into it. In either case, the goal is to trap and contain gas from firing a round and contain it long enough to reduce pressure and create a quieter shot. No matter what the inside of your silencer looks like, you may still have to clean it. Keep reading for how to use our baffle removal tool to clean your suppressor or watch this video.
Again, consult the manufacturer for specific cleaning instructions. Failure to do so may void your warranty.
For suppressors that are self-cleaning, you may still be tempted to take them apart now and then and give the guts a good scrubbing. Among the suppressor accessories we sell is the baffle removal tool, which makes the takedown of most user-serviceable silencers (including our own BANISH and Varminter lines) easy.
Once inside, use a good solvent and brush to clean your suppressor. If your suppressor uses a piston, now is a good time to clean and lube that system. You should also inspect and replace if needed, any rubber O-rings.
In short, sealed or user-serviceable, you really don’t have to clean a rifle suppressor, and rarely should be getting inside of them unless there are components that require examination now and then. Rimfire silencers should be cleaned often, while handgun suppressors may need cleaning based on the type of ammo you use and the manufacturer recommendations.
Suppressor Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts
- DO follow manufacturer guidelines and instructions. Failure to do so may void your warranty or even make your silencer unsafe to use.
- DO reassemble your silencer correctly. If you don’t do this, all manner of catastrophic failures could occur. While this makes for informative and possibly even entertaining internet videos, we’d prefer a world without that sort of thing. Consult your silencer manual for instructions on assembly.
- DO clean any rimfire silencer every 350-500 rounds.
- DO use a good solvent designed to dissolve lead and carbon fouling when cleaning your silencer.
- DO use gloves and clean your silencer in a well-ventilated setting. Dispose of used solvent in a safe, environmentally friendly fashion.
- DO NOT use a vibrating tumbler when cleaning your silencer. It can strip the finish from parts, and even cause precision threaded areas to lock up with each other.
- DO NOT shoot a silencer that still has wet solvent inside. This can lead to Bad Things happening.
Maintaining Your Suppressor
Modern silencers are particularly easy to maintain and keep clean. In some cases, you don’t even have to clean them, and in others, cleaning is fairly easy. Most of the time, it literally just involves dunking your silencer in a container of solvent, walking away for a while, then pouring it all out and letting it dry. Pretty rough, huh?
Even when you have to take apart a silencer, cleaning is still easy, which means less time cleaning, and more time enjoying quiet shooting.
While complex to build, silencers are pretty easy to own and operate, which is exactly how it should be!