Silencers are a buzzword right now–so why not capitalize on some of that sweet, sweet google traffic? Not only are silencers really newsworthy right now, but there are a lot of abhorrent silencer nerds at Breach Bang Clear. So many nerds that we argued about how to clean them to the point of dousing ourselves with Unicorn Dick Lube and Grecco Roman wrestling to decide who got to write the article about it.
I won, but I’m not proud of it. And I can’t look Merrill in the eye anymore.
In my mind silencers get looped into three main categories: rimfire, pistol, and centerfire rifle. Yeah, there is a shotgun silencer out there but no one bought it so it doesn’t matter. Within these three categories the rimfire and pistol are pretty similar in cleaning procedures. The centerfire rifle is different and will be addressed later.
Before we get into the cleaning procedure(s) let’s look at some of the most prevalent metals being used in silencers today. Rimfire and pistol silencers are usually made of some combination of 6061 aluminum, 7075 aluminum, 17-4 Stainless, and in some cases 6AL4V titanium. Cleaning stainless and titanium is pretty similar, but aluminum requires a gentler touch in most cases.
Silencer manufacturers recommend ways to clean their rimfire and pistol products. Gemtech recommends a 50/50 mix of automatic transmission fluid and mineral spirits, soaking for 24 hours, then scrubbing with your choice of cleaner. Dead Air recommends a firearm solvent bath, tumbling in stainless media, ultrasonically cleaned, or The Dip. I am going to say it now: The Dip can be very unsafe and requires HAZMAT disposal of lead acetate. Don’t use it. Lead acetate can kill you pretty easily. Furthermore, if you use The Dip with aluminum parts, you won’t have a silencer anymore.
I haven’t had very good luck with standard ultrasonic cleaners as the carbon and lead is baked onto the baffles. Using a blasting media is effective, however most people don’t have one in their garage and you have to careful not to damage any finishes or coatings. My go-to method is scrubbing each baffle with a stiff brush and quality solvent. It is, however, very labor intensive, and I can’t really say it’s a labor of love either.
Frequency and Prophylactics
How often should you take apart and clean your silencer? Again, each manufacturer has recommendations ranging from every 250 to 2000 rounds, ammo dependent of course. I’ve found it best to simply take the silencer apart after using it, not necessarily doing a scrub down, but just removing the baffles from the tube. This keeps them from seizing together from lead and carbon build up. Pistol silencers require a little extra attention given that they have a Nielson device. The Nielson device needs to be cleaned regularly as it is a moving part and carbon does build up on the face. Without cleaning, the Nielsen device can seize in the compressed position–this isn’t an end of the world situation and can be fixed fairly easily, but can be avoided altogether with a little preventative maintenance. If you choose to run your cans wet they will be easier to clean, but will need to be cleaned more frequently.
Centerfire Rifle Silencers
Don’t clean centerfire rifle silencers. Article complete.
Okay, centerfire rifle silencers require a little maintenance. Keeping the mounting surfaces clean, whether that’s some kind of muzzle device or a thread on silencer, is the main objective. Certain types of silencer mounts are prone to failure if not maintained (thankfully there are fixes for the worst offenders). Nobody likes to launch a can downrange but it definitely happens. Most centerfire rifle silencers are not designed to be taken apart, and doing so will mess them up and void the warranty and probably lead to someone in customer service to committing suicide or homicide. A few general rules do apply to centerfire cans: don’t use cleaning patches, but bore snakes are fine. If you soak them in anything (you really shouldn’t need to) let them completely dry before firing, and make sure they align properly with the barrel before firing.
If you’re really giving your silencer a workout with a lot of full auto fire or short barrels you should inspect the outside regularly and look for bulges or deformities. On that same note, if you are using a centerfire can for rimfire shooting, that’s cool and all but be sure to blow all that crap out. If it’s a 5.56 silencer shoot a magazine or so out of it to get rid of the extra lead and carbon from rimfire; if it’s .30 cal shoot that. After that stop being lazy and buy a dedicated rimfire can. It’ll sound better, look better, and probably get you laid (all true but the last part).
For my mounts I use a carbon solvent, brass brush, and occasionally if the buildup is really bad, a dental pick. I’ve found that keeping the mount clean will alleviate a stuck silencer down the road. However, if your silencer does get stuck you can use a few methods to free it. We’ve been known to heat the mount area with a torch and then some *gentle* persuasion with a mallet to free the can. We also have a Bio-Circle tank where we’ll soak a silencer for up to a week then use the mallet and maybe a strap wrench or two. Taking the silencer off when it’s still warm can also help mitigate the chances of it becoming stuck. I’ve heard of but never seen some folks loosening their silencer as much as possible then simply shooting it off into a berm. I guess that would work too?
So there you have it. Clean your silencers, but not too much. And not like dumbass.