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Dirty Cans: Cleaning a Suppressor

How and Why to Clean Your Silencers

We all know that guy who cleans his gun after every range trip, and we also know that guy who has never cleaned his gun. Neither are right or wrong but one thing we should all agree on is cleaning your silencer is unneeded, right? Well, sort of. Here we dive into some best practices about silencer maintenance, dos and don’ts, and the reasons behind them. Silencers are becoming very common place in today’s firearms industry and rightfully so. Everyone should want less sound, improved ballistics, and to look cooler. The market is larger than ever before, and the number of cans is staggering. So, once you pay your $200 and wait your four to 15 months, how do you keep that silencer in tip-top shape?

The best way to break down silencer maintenance is to put them into categories: centerfire rifle, centerfire pistol, rimfire, and specialty silencers. Each of these types work differently, have different mounting systems, generally they have different materials, and ultimately, they’re all maintained differently by the end user. The materials you’ll come across most often are 6061 aluminum, 7075 aluminum, 17-4 stainless steel, and 6AL4V titanium. There are other metals being used and numerous coatings, but these are the most common. Stainless and titanium are pretty tough, allowing you to be a little more aggressive with your cleaning techniques where aluminum requires a gentler touch to prevent damage.

Giving your muzzle device a scrub helps prevent silencers from sticking.

The centerfire rifle category of silencers is the easiest to deal with, as they require practically no maintenance. Some newer models come apart but if you look at these parts, they’ll have little in the way of buildup of carbon, copper, or general gun funk. This is mainly due to the high pressure and extreme temperatures these silencers endure. The buildup inside burns off. Yes, the baffles will be discolored and dirty looking, but they don’t need to be scrubbed to a sparkling clean, like they’re new. Scraping the baffles may actually weaken them in some cases. The one area of rifle suppressors that should be cleaned is the mounting surface.

Booster assemblies should be cleaned and greased regularly.

Centerfire pistol silencers also generally require very little maintenance. The most laborious part of cleaning the can will concern the Nielson Device, which is a “moving” part of the silencer. For the uninitiated, the Nielson device is the piston system that allows most semi-automatic handguns to cycle properly with the added weight of the silencer.

A spring compresses, essentially relieving the weight off the end of the barrel, allowing the handgun to complete its action. These devices require lubrication and cleaning. The piston assembly is generally made of steel and can be scrubbed to remove carbon buildup. After cleaning and inspection, a coat of white lithium or similar grease should be applied. This is recommended at different round counts from each manufacturer, but our rule of thumb is every 200 to 400 rounds.

Pistons that go unmaintained will become seized with the spring compressed. These can usually be removed and heated and/or pounded loose then cleaned. The rear portion of the silencer, where any mounts are installed, should also be cleaned of any buildup to maintain alignment. As for baffles in centerfire pistol silencers, unless very high round counts are involved or incredibly dirty ammo is used, they require little in the way of cleaning.

The owner of this poor silencer decided the best way to break carbon loose was with a ball-peen hammer. Do not do this.

Rimfire silencers do require regular maintenance. The rimfire cartridge is a nasty little bugger that gums up everything. At minimum, you should take your silencer apart after a range session and knock the debris out. This will help the silencer from becoming totally seized and unable to get it apart. Removing baffles will be easier. A truly proven method to cleaning rimfire baffles is to scrub them with a stiff brush and CLP. Each baffle and the tube should be cleaned to the best of your ability. Most rimfire suppressors are thread-on models, but it’s still important to check the mounting area for debris and keep it clean.

Many silencers are user-serviceable, allowing you access to the innards.

Specialty silencers include integrals and shotgun cans. Integrals come in all shapes and sizes, so knowing the materials used in their construction is a benefit, as this allows you to use cleaning products tailored for those specific metals. Shotgun silencers usually come apart and have aluminum and steel components, so treating them like a less dirty rimfire silencer will be best practice, if they need to be cleaned at all.

Tumblers with the right medium can make cleaning some cans a snap.

We’re advocates of the slow process of scrubbing with a brush and CLP. This isn’t a debate over cleaning products — when that happens everyone walks away dumber. Pick one you like and take your time with it; just be sure it’s not caustic to whatever metal you have. Many Internet experts will recommend a process simply referred to as “The Dip.”

The Dip is a mixture of chemicals that’ll clean a silencer like nobody’s business. The downside is that what you’re left with is lead acetate. Lead acetate is extremely unsafe and can kill your children, partner, and pets — which is why it requires HAZMAT disposal. If that isn’t reason enough, lead acetate will destroy aluminum.

Ultrasonic cleaners can be useful, where carbon isn’t cooked on to the point of no return. Media tumblers can also assist in the cleaning of parts; however, using the correct media and amount of time is important to not have the finish of your silencer wear off.

22LR silencers require extra care due to their easy accumulation of heavy metals.

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