Do you want — or need — to clean your suppressor? It’s not always necessary depending on your particular can and the caliber you’re shooting.
But let’s talk about if and when you should clean your suppressors (AKA silencers) plus some common methods of doing so. Because of the wide variety of suppressors on the market, I’ll talk mostly in generalities. As always, consult your suppressor’s manual or contact the manufacturer directly for the specifics of your model.
Do Suppressors Really Need to be Cleaned?
As carbon and lead fouling build up, the suppressor loses internal volume. That means less room for the gasses to calm down inside the can, and the suppressor won’t work as well. If the carbon/lead fouling gets bad enough, it’s possible for it to actually obstruct the bore.
That interferes with the path of the bullet’s flight and can cause baffle strikes and other bad things. That may be an extreme example, but at minimum, a suppressor performs worse the dirtier it gets.
High Pressure vs Low Pressure
Here I’m referring to the ammo your firearm is chambered for. Pistol calibers and .22LR are generally considered low-pressure ammo. They create chamber pressures that commonly range from 25,000-35,000 psi (plenty of exceptions, I know). These pressures are roughly half that of common rifle cartridges which are 55,000-60,000 psi. These pressures determine how clean your suppressor stays.
Lower pressure suppressors like .22 and pistol calibers build up a lot of carbon and lead fouling. Rifle suppressors don’t and won’t necessarily require any cleaning. The high pressures blast out the old carbon leaving a light coating of new carbon. This repeats with every shot, so not enough sticks to create significant build-up.
.22 Rimfire Suppressors
Rimfire suppressors get dirty. Very dirty. They should be cleaned every 300-500 rounds, or after every range session. The biggest issue with .22 suppressors and why they need to be cleaned so often is lead buildup.
Lead shavings from the ammo gets packed into the baffles/monocore and steadily build up. If you don’t clean it out, your suppressor will eventually turn into a solid tube of lead and carbon.
Even if you run jacketed bullets, it is still recommended to clean these suppressors just as often.
Pistol suppressors are similar to rimfire cans. In general, they should be cleaned every 750 rounds or so. Lead bullets aren’t as common in pistol cartridges so lead fouling isn’t quite as bad. Either way, it’s still recommended to clean them often, otherwise, they too can end up like the suppressor pictured above.
They don’t really need to be cleaned at all. The overwhelming majority of rifle suppressors can’t even be disassembled. Advanced Armament Corp. (AAC) states that their sealed rifle suppressors can handle up to 30,000 rounds without any decrease in sound reduction.
That being said, they do experience some degree of buildup, and they state that a solvent bath is a common way to clean them. AAC is just one example. I’ve read anecdotes about rifle suppressors with over 100,000 rounds through them with no cleaning and no decrease in performance.
If you do clean your can, remember that carbon, lead and solvents are not good for you. Wear gloves and work in a ventilated area.
Suppressors are made of materials similar, if not identical, to firearms. So, in general, you can use the same cleaning solvents for both. Suppressors are often made from aluminum, stainless steels, titanium, and Inconel. Hoppes #9, CLP, acetone, paint thinner, soapy water, these options will aid in breaking up/removing the carbon without damaging your suppressor.
Know what your suppressor is made of and choose appropriate cleaning aids. Suppressors are also often painted with Cerakote, so double check the coating and make sure your solvent won’t hurt that either.
Something like CLP will be your safest bet no matter what. A nylon brush is my go-to for all my cleaning, especially aluminum parts. If there is stubborn carbon buildup, a small piece of wood or stiff plastic works well to scrape it off without any risk of scratching or damaging the parts. Be careful with (or avoid) Simple Green. It can damage uncoated aluminum if left to soak.
Disassembling and Cleaning a Self-Maintained Suppressor
Self-maintained means the suppressor can be disassembled and maintained by the end user. As always, follow the instructions for your specific suppressor. This applies to recommended cleaning supplies as well as the disassembly and reassembly instructions. Here I am cleaning AAC’s Ti-RANT 45-M suppressor. I start at the muzzle end and remove the A.S.A.P piston system.
This type of device will be found on other pistol suppressors as it is designed to aid in the function of firearms with moving barrels, like pistols.
Next, remove the end caps and push out the baffles (or monocore). They may be stuck or hard to push. Grab a wooden dowel (I’m using the plastic handle of my nylon brush) for added leverage to push them out.
If they still won’t come out, double check the instructions and make sure you’re going at it from the correct side, otherwise lightly and carefully tap the dowel with a hammer until they come out.
Once fully disassembled, start cleaning. The big thing to look for is large deposits of carbon/lead. These need to be removed. Otherwise, scrub everything clean like you would your pistol.
Pay special attention to the threads. All threads need to be cleaned thoroughly. Check all O-rings for serviceability, especially in piston systems like the A.S.A.P.
If any are damaged or frayed, replace them. If any solvents were used, make sure they have fully evaporated before reassembling. I’ve used CLP, so I don’t need to wait. If cleaning a pistol suppressor with some type of piston system, pay attention to the instructions as you will likely be asked to grease some portion of that piston system.
This suppressor specifies a small amount of lithium grease or anti-seize compound on the rear cap O-ring. Gemtech pistol suppressors want similar grease on the spring/piston area. Follow your can’s instructions.
To reassemble, again, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. This can be critical with baffle style suppressors as they likely need to be stacked in a specific way.
A monocore is a little simpler. Improper assembly can make for a BAD day. This is a good point to double check all your threads for cleanliness and serviceability.
Cleaning Sealed Suppressors
If you have a sealed suppressor — one you can’t open yourself — you can soak it in solvent. Make sure it’s an appropriate solvent for your can’s materials/finishes used.
Since “soaking” would need a lot of solvent, I seal one end of the can and fill the suppressor. If the seal is good enough, you can shake it up a bit to really try to knock some carbon free. Then rinse it and repeat until it doesn’t look like any more carbon will come out.
Definitely make sure your suppressor is thoroughly dry of solvent before use. But that’s really all you can do. Ultrasonic cleaners MAY be an option, but some makers don’t recommend it.
AAC says “no” to ultrasonic cleaners on their aluminum suppressors. They claim it weakens the aluminum. There are also plenty of reports of ultrasonic cleaners ruining Cerakote and other finishes.
If you really want to clean your sealed suppressor, call the manufacturer and see what they recommend. Chances are, they’ll say “don’t worry about it.”
Hopefully, this will answer some of your questions about cleaning a suppressor. Remember, if in doubt, check your manual and/or contact the manufacturer.