As a responsible gun owner, you’re probably looking for every piece of information to keep your gear clean and ready to run. In this article, we’ll be covering why suppressors get dirty, some of the most discussed cleaning methods, suppressor materials (and what techniques not to use on respective materials), and parts of a silencer to clean.
We’ve partnered up with SilencerCo to give an in-depth perspective on suppressor cleaning tactics, and we’re ready to report the facts about each method so that you don’t have to try them out yourself. By no means does this article cover every base regarding servicing a silencer, but we’ve attempted to provide the most common and beneficial options.
Disclaimer: before we get started, please note:
Always ensure your host firearm is clear / unloaded before removing your silencer
Due to the potential toxicity of certain aspects of cleaning a suppressor, take the necessary precautions (glove, goggles, etc.) during the process
Always look to your manufacturer’s user manual for the proper way to disassemble your suppressor
Dirty Ammo and Dirty Suppressors
When it comes to cleaning a suppressor, there are several options at your disposal to reach the end goal: a high-performing, fully-functioning silencer. However, it’s important to avoid damaging the suppressor itself and its components (namely, destroying the serial number and making it illegal), which (unfortunately) is easily achieved when utilizing certain toxic chemicals and abrasive devices.
Unlike most high caliber suppressors (5.56mm, 7.62mm, and large bore), rimfire and pistol suppressors don’t have a self-cleaning capability which can make them quite dirty. So dirty, in fact, that it could impede on your suppressor’s performance.
Rimfire suppressors, specifically, are the main culprits in terms of dirtiness due to the unjacketed .22LR ammunition that is used. And although pistol suppressors generally use at least partially jacketed ammo, they are also prone to modest lead buildup, which directly affects your suppressor’s life expectancy, and how it performs.
Generally, there are two culprits that accumulate within silencers: carbon and lead. You’ll be targeting these elements when cleaning your suppressor.
Carbon Fouling: As seasoned gun owners are all too familiar with, carbon is the byproduct of combustion in the chamber / barrel that accumulates as black residue pretty much everywhere. In the firearm industry, you may have heard it referred to as carbon fouling.
Lead Fouling: Lead, on the other hand, directly involves the projectiles that travel through the firearm’s barrel. As the projectiles make their way through the rifled barrel, minute grooves in the barrel “peel” off small slivers of lead and dispense them throughout the silencer’s interior. Not often found on the flat surfaces of silencers, this silvery, rigid buildup typically accrues within nooks and crannies.
How to Clean a Suppressor
As we discussed, there are different ways to get the same job done. We’ve categorized the most common suppressor cleaning techniques and most discussed below and teamed up with SilencerCo to give you the details on each method, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’ll find that we’ve included two taboo methods. While both of these are extremely uncommon, there are some myths around these techniques that we’d like to dispel.
Brush and Solvent - “The Elbow Grease Method”
A very effective way to clean a suppressor is to just use a good old fashioned brush and solvent. The great thing about using this technique is that it’s the most gentle option, and also the most cost effective. While it may take a little time to clean, you’ll be able to reach nooks and crannies effectively, without harming your suppressor.
In order to use this elbow grease method, you’ll need:
A noncorrosive solvent (for example, diluted Simple Green, Hoppes #9, or soapy water)
Using the materials mentioned, disassemble your suppressor. Next, soak the tube and baffles in your solvent mixture for a few hours (some prefer overnight for maximum effectiveness). The next morning, brush / wipe away any leftover residue.
Wet Media Tumbler
Wet tumbling is another option for how to clean a suppressor. Wet tumbling uses a vibratory bowl cleaner with a noncorrosive solvent and metal media. This method is not as harmless as the elbow grease method, as it can wear on the tube finish, round thread pitch, and erode the intricacies of the suppressor parts over time, so use with caution.
A noncorrosive solvent (this is usually water and a small amount of dish detergent powder, dawn, or similar)
About 5 pounds of metal media (little pieces of stainless steel)
Using the materials above, you’ll place the media, water, solvent mixture, then suppressor parts into your tumbler. Secure the tumbler with its locking mechanism, then turn it on and let it run for a few hours. Time is a relative component here; it will be dependent upon how dirty your silencer is. When you take the suppressor pieces out of the tumbler, be sure to check every potential spot metal media could be hiding. Media can get into threads or between baffle openings, for example. After it’s done, you’ll want to make sure you get all of the water off, so be sure to give it a good wipe down. As we mentioned earlier, wet tumbling is a little more aggressive, which can erode your suppressor’s components.
Soda blasters have been a solid go to for people looking for a more power-tool route that is less abrasive on suppressors. Soda blasting uses sodium bicarbonate and compressed air to literally blast away the lead and carbon fouling. We’ve seen a lot of DIY techniques here that raise a few eyebrows at the shop. Keep in mind that sodium bicarbonate, or similar media, is an abrasive. So, if it’s not being contained, it could damage or dirty nearby appliances.
With the materials listed above, you’ll have a blaster and a blast shield. Use the soda blaster to blast away all of the lead and carbon fouling. Repeat until clean. Use a shop vac to flush airborne particulates in the interior of the blast box before opening it up.
Ultrasonic cleaners are another suppressor cleaning option, and these use a high frequency vibration to essentially get the dirt and grime off of your silencer. They’re a popular option because they can clean a lot of parts in a timely manner.
In order to clean with an ultrasonic cleaner, you’ll need:
Remove the basket from the ultrasonic cleaner and place suppressor parts onto the basket. Pour simple green into the ultrasonic cleaner, then add the basket with the suppressor parts to the ultrasonic cleaner. Let it run for a few hours. Once done, your suppressor parts will have a filmy residue that you’ll need to towel off.
Dry Media Tumbler
Another method to clean your suppressor would be to use a tumbler with a dry media, hence, dry tumbling. The dry media used on suppressors is generally walnut media. When we tested this at SilencerCo, we found it to be completely ineffective.
Using the materials above, you’ll place the dry media then the suppressor parts into your dry tumbler. Secure the tumbler, turn it on and let it run for a few hours. As we mentioned, we found this cleaning method to be ineffective. If you’ve had success cleaning a suppressor with a dry media tumbler, let us know in the comments what you used.
This method can cause bodily harm, property damage, and even death.
The Dip is the most controversial suppressor cleaning method in this bunch. While it does work, the costs associated are too great to justify the reward. If you do decide to go down this route, which we do not support in any way, shape, or form, contact your local fire department for guidance on proper disposal before you begin. The dip is also extremely detrimental to the environment so DO NOT dispose of it on your own without proper guidance from authorities. We cannot emphasize this enough.
The dip method uses:
Vat (mason jar, or similar)
Because of its danger and toxicity, we won’t be providing directions for how to use the dip as we don’t believe there is a way to safely do this at home when there are better, easier, and less dangerous solutions.
As a general rule, the suppressor’s build materials will dictate which cleaning methods can be used on your specific silencer. As you can see in the metals and cleaning methods chart below, stainless steel and titanium constructed silencers can handle harsher cleaning methods.
Metals and Cleaning Methods Chart
Brush and Solvent
Wet Media Tumbler
Dry Media Tumbler
Now, let’s examine the three primary silencer build materials and their key cleaning points:
Aluminum: Do NOT use ultrasonic cleaners, harsh solvents, or steel brushes/picks. To avoid permanent damage, only use safe chemicals and brass or plastic utensils. As a general rule of thumb, aluminum suppressors, like the SilencerCo Warlock for example, need to be serviced carefully.
Stainless steel: Suppressors constructed of stainless steel are more durable when shooting and when cleaning. They can withstand more than their aluminum counterparts, but tread lightly when using certain chemicals due to the reaction created between the metal and the solvent. You wouldn’t want to damage or accidentally remove the coating on your SilencerCo Sparrow because of how you cleaned it.
Titanium: Titanium suppressors are known for their lightweight yet durable features, so it can be treated similarly to stainless steel in regard to cleaning methods. Because titanium suppressors can be costly, we always recommend to err on the side of caution to protect silencers like the SilencerCo Switchback.
If your suppressor is composed of more than one of the elements we’ve listed (for example, the SilencerCo Octane 9 and SilencerCo Octane 45 are constructed of Stainless Steel and Aluminum), we’d recommend utilizing the manufacturer’s manual and deferring to the element that is the most susceptible to damage.
Parts of a Silencer to Service
Now, let’s dissect the primary pieces of a suppressor and how to treat each respective part.
Monocore / baffles: Depending on your suppressor’s design, the innards of your silencer are either a monocore or baffle setup. As a general rule of thumb, the flatt the surfaces are, the easier they are to clean. The devil is in the details, and that’s the internal baffle structure that’s usually easy to see and hard to reach and clean. Utilizing the solvent / toothbrush method usually works just fine. If needed, use a toothpick for the nooks and crannies, paying special attention to the places where metal meets metal.
Tube / endcaps: Chalk these components up to being a breeze to maintain. Because monocore/baffle removal essentially cleans the tube internally, all that’s needed is a simple wipe down with a twist cloth to remove minimal debris. Use the same cloth to wipe down the endcaps.
Threads: Much like the tube / endcaps components, a quick wipe down – or pass through with a toothbrush - will suffice the threads. Using anything harsh might erode the precision, causing potential issues down the line.
Boosters: Threaded handguns require the use of boosters, so these are parts that can experience some dirt. Merely remove the accompanying booster and wipe / lubricate as needed. It’s imperative that the interface between the piston and the housing is clean of debris and is also lubricated, otherwise the booster could malfunction.
O-rings: These lil’ guys are almost always located between the booster housing and the piston. A gentle clean and lube allow O-rings to function properly. Ultrasonic cleaners and other solvents degrade the O-ring material, so use caution when servicing (or avoid altogether).
This article is here to give you a starting point for your suppressor cleaning journey, but we always recommend referring to your silencer’s user manual for general care insight. Whenever in doubt, the guide provided by the manufacturer offers the best maintenance options for keeping your specific suppressor squeaky clean.
Regularly scheduled maintenance of your rimfire and pistol suppressors increases their performance and longevity. As always, contact us with any questions you might have regarding all-things silencers. Moreover, if you have personal triumphs / helpful tips regarding suppressor maintenance, please “Leave a Reply” below for your fellow suppressor enthusiasts. Cheers to clean and safe shooting.
You're harvester is a sealed silencer and baffles cannot (nor do they need to) be cleaned. There is some more info in the "should I clean my silencer" post referenced in the first paragraph of this article if you're curious about why :)
I like that you mentioned that when it comes to cleaning a silencer there are a lot of options you have. I have been wanting to buy a 9mm silencer but I wanted to make sure I was prepared to take care of it. I'll have to keep these tips in mind when it comes time to clean it and service it.
Do not use Simple Green on aluminun baffles.
Years ago, the Air Force sent out a maintenance bulletin about cracking skin structures that were aluminum and had been cleaned with Simple Green. Their testing showed that the Simple Green caused a reaction with aluminum, and when heated,
I'm getting (counting the days) a used AAC Avenger 9 mm can. It's aluminum and non-disassembleable (is that a word?).
i.e. I can't take it apart. Looking for suggestions on cleaning. I've heard that an ultrasonic cleaner is a no-no because the standard chemicals can hurt the aluminum and destroy the anodizing.
Anyone have ideas?
I have an old SWR HEMS II suppressor. The piston seems to be fused to the b
Interior wall of the booster assembly (either by the ears or at the actual faces, I canâ€™t tell). I used this with a fixed barrel spacer without cleaning frequently enough, I think.
I tried sealing the can and soaking the internals with Kroil overnight. That didnâ€™t work. Can you recommend any solvents that might be safe for that can, or perhaps another procedure?
We have had good luck with Fire Clean. It might take a variety of methods to finally break it loose. PB Blaster works well with breaking up carbon and getting into the parts. Just make sure that you donâ€™t mix chemicals that could cause a reaction.
I have an Issis-2 and have been putting high temp never sieze on all threads but I still have a hard time removing the end cap after shooting a couple hundred rounds. I only tighten it finger tight. All the other threads come apart easily. I tried loosening the end cap right after shooting before it had a chance to cool down. I still needed to use a strap wrench on the tube to get the end cap to loosen up. Any suggestions?
I just recently received my Gemtech GM22. I have about 300 rds through it. Unfortunately thatâ€™s over a two week span. The supressor is really seized up and Iâ€™m starting to damage finish trying to get it apart. Any recommendations on how to do this? I even soaked it in gun cleaner for 30m. That got some gunk out but still wont budge.
The info is appreciated but the elbow grease method along with some mechanical means is still a pain. I have a Tactical Innovations TAC-65 with K baffles and it's a bear to clean regardless of the method. A tumbler with SS media doesn't work. I've tried "the dip" which might make it a bit easier but the jury is still out. Will pull out the Dremel with a bronze brush to knock what's left of the lead off......let's hope. .22 suppressors are awesome but a PITA to clean
I have an old Pilot (AAC) 22 can that does not come apart. I use water in it that seems to keep most of the crud in solution. Every few mags I fill it about half full of water, shake well, pour out as much as will drain and shoot some more. I sometime use Simple Green instead of water. I think of it as pressure washing the inside. What drains out is usually quite dirty. It has had at least 6000 rounds through it
and it still only weighs 1/10 oz more than it did new and seems to be as quite as ever.
I have the Silencerco Sparrow and I place the baffles and the two side panels in a small glass jar filled with Hoppes 9. Then place the jar on a coffee cup warmer for about 4 hours (done in the garage or shed due to the odor). This helps penetrate the lead build up and it's not so hot I can't hold the parts. Three fourths of the baffles clean with ease while the part near the barrel threads require a small brass brush. I've done this process for two years and folks are shocked as to how clean it looks. I clean it about every 300 rounds to keep the maintenance time down to an hour.
When cooled I put the lid on the jar until next time.
While I appreciate the article I feel there is a huge, potentially life threatening error in the picture, using brake cleaner, while a common practice is extremely dangerous. Brake cleaners when exposed to extremely high temperatures releases hydrogen chloride which can kill.
Only if you use chlorinated brake cleaner, the shown cleaner is non-chlorinated and will not release deadly chemicals when heated. Also very important distinction when you are cleaning parts to be welded.
I have a Bowers VERS 45. In your earlier article you indicated that "most" pistol caliber cans can be disassembled for cleaning but I think this is one of the exceptions. While I don't plan on shooting any .22 rounds through it, I do handload and might send some cast bullets down-range. Since I don't think I can break it down, how should I go about cleaning it?
Piece of cake Eric. There is a knurled nut at the front of the silencer that can be grasped and unscrewed. I generally give it a turn or two and then push the nut down before removing it completely to break the monocore free of the outer tube (If the silencer is clean, you donâ€™t need to leave the nut on. It just gives you a little more real estate to push on than the bare threads). If it is excessively dirty, hold the tube and give the loosened knurled nut a couple of sharp taps on a piece of scrap wood or something to break it free.
I have SilencerCo Omega and Sparrow silencers. I soak them in cleaning strength vinegar overnight and it does a great job. I follow up with Johnson's Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner which works great. I use the bathroom cleaner to clean stainless barrels too. I coat the parts with welding anti-splatter spray and let dry. You can use the anti-splatter spray wet in the suppressor too. I spray a bit of white lithium grease on the baffles. The anti-splatter and grease reduces lead deposits. This removes the elbow grease in cleaning. These products are cheap and very effective.
Iâ€™m not super familiar with Scrubbing Bubbles but I do know your Sparrow has two o-rings on it. I assume that Scrubbing Bubbles is safe to use on bathroom caulk so it shouldnâ€™t be an issue. O-ringâ€™s are easy to replace anyway if the cleaning method is working for you!
I have a Tactical Solutions Ascent for .22 calibers. The first baffles that cam with it could not be cleaned and rings fell off. I used mineral spirits as suggested to clean them. I sent it in to the company and they repaired replace the baffles with titanium baffles. There were no new cleaning instructions sent. Do you have a recommendation?
I've had an AAC Pilot 2 for a few years and have been using a mixture of 1/2 peroxide and 1/2 vinegar and letting the baffles soak over night. I follow up with a rigid plastic brush to remove any extra fouling. It works well and I've done this several times. Is this acceptable or am I causing undue harm to my can?
That is what we were referring to when we mentioned â€œthe dip.â€ It is a common method for breaking up the fouling on a dirty rimfire silencer but just be careful with how you handle/store/dispose of the used solution when you are done. That pesky lead is toxic and my personal opinion is that it is a bit more difficult to handle when it is in liquid form. To answer your questions though, that method is totally fine to use.
You can take the liquid leftovers with their water soluble Lead compounds and mix with enough bicarbonate of soda (baking soda!) to precipitate the Lead out as insoluble Lead carbonate. Then dry up the liquid by leaving in a warm, dry SECURE place.
Then take the solid residue remaibing and mix it into a small ammount of cement/concrete pre mix, etc. and water. Let the cement harden fully.
You can dispose of the resulting concrete chunk with non soluble Lead compounds aggregate more safely/responsibly- I can not speak as to LEGALITY, this varies by locale.
I have a Thompson ISIS II with a mono-core. I coat it generously with gold colored anti-seize lubricant. When you shoot, the lead and carbon get trapped by the lube. The lube also acts lightly as an ablative medium. A quick wipe down and spray of break cleaner and you are done.
My Warlock II, 22 suppressor has baffles and I coat them inside and out with the anti-seize lube, as well. Again, a quick wipe down and you are done.
Weâ€™ve never tried anti-seize but that is a great idea. We have used FireClean (cooking oil jokes aside) to great effect as well. There are a number of ways to coat your baffles to make them easier to cleanâ€¦ some that even involve baking a coating onto them. Iâ€™ve found that the majority of â€œpre-treatâ€ methods end up taking more time than just scrubbing off a dirty can after the range but there is no arguing with their results. Just a question of when you want to spend the time: before you shoot the heck out of it, or after.
Maybe weâ€™ll do a post on how to pre-treat a silencer for easier cleaningâ€¦