An airbrush gun is a very precise piece of equipment consisting of numerous parts matched with each other. In order to ensure that you can keep unleashing your creativity for the longest period of time, it is crucial that you know how to clean an airbrush regularly.
Nothing will clog up your airbrush faster than neglecting to clean it thoroughly every time you use it!
The Right Method of Cleaning Your Airbrush
An airbrush gun should be cleaned after every use. To clean your airbrush in a thorough manner, you will need to disassemble your airbrush gun to all of its individual parts and remove all the paint residues carefully.
If you notice a change in color between operations, you should rinse your airbrush gun with a cleaner or water. In doing so, you will prevent unwanted color mixing during color changes. Before filling your gun with new colors, always check to see whether the cleaner or water is blown out. Otherwise, new colors may become too diluted.
With that said, the first few times I cleaned my expensive new airbrush, I took photos of the pieces in a step-by-step sequence with my cell phone as I took it apart. That way I had a fool-proof way to reassemble my airbrush exactly like new. Hey, I’ve learned the hard way not to trust my memory on unfamiliar repairs and upkeep with fiddly tools! (ask me how my wristwatch reassembly went….)
What You’ll Need to Clean an Airbrush
To give your airbrush gun a thorough clean, you will need all of the following tools:
- Disassembling tools for the airbrush gun
- Airbrush cleaner or water
- Cellulose cloth (or any other cloth) or kitchen rolls
- Cotton swabs
- Cleaning brushes of various sizes
- Nozzle cleaning needle
- Ink duct cleaning utensils
Cleaning Color Residues
Before you proceed to do anything, make sure to empty your gun’s paint container. If there is still some paint in the container, you could pour some water into the cup to dissolve it and then soak it up with a kitchen roll or cotton swab.
Alternatively, this container can easily be cleaned with a brush. Also, don’t spray out the water through your gun’s nozzle because this may clog it up. Instead, just pour it out. Once you’re done with the first few rough cleans, add a few drops of cleaner (or water) into the container and then spray it out of the nozzle onto clean kitchen paper to check whether any paint is left in the gun.
Oftentimes, water isn’t sufficient to clean ink residue, depending on the medium of ink. If you don’t have an airbrush cleaner, you can switch to isopropanol/alcohol or a window cleaner. If any of these liquids have colors, make sure to clean them with water later. Finally, let some air pass through your gun to get rid of any residual moisture.
Step-by-Step Procedure On How To Clean An Airbrush
As soon as you have cleaned all color residues from your gun’s color channel, you can start working on each individual component. However, before you can begin, it is super important that you read through its user manual to learn the appropriate method of disassembling an airbrush and airbrush paint compressor.
Typically, if the manual states that you will need certain tools, they will be included with the gun. Of course, there are also some models of airbrushes that can be disassembled without tools. In either case, I recommend you collect each disassembled part in a small container because small parts can easily get lost.
Usually, the disassembly of airbrush guns starts by removing the needle. You can also steer clear of unnecessary contamination inside the gun by pulling its needle out from the front. If your gun doesn’t have plug connections, then you will need to remove it using a special tool. With this taken care of, the only thing that will remain are the needle chuck and operating lever.
Once disassembly is done, you can begin cleaning each individual part with fine brushes, a clean cloth, an airbrush cleaner or cotton swabs. Try not to apply too much pressure because this could damage the parts. Finally, you can also submerge metal parts in a container full of cleaner to loosen up stubborn paint stains.
To clean an airbrush needle, soak a clean cloth with cleaning fluid, place the needle inside the drenched cloth, and pull it out in a light rotational motion. You can repeat this process a number of times until all the paint residue has disappeared.
While cleaning the needle, you should work from back to front, Going the other way could result in injuries and damage the needle.
An airbrush nozzle can only be cleaned from the inside with a very fine brush or a nozzle cleaning needle. However, be particularly careful while doing so because you may end up damaging the nozzle.
Air Head, Ink Duct, and Nozzle Connection Cleaning
We recommend that you use a cotton swab sprinkled with an airbrush cleaner. The easiest method of cleaning your gun’s paint channel is with the help of a fine brush, which is commonly found in a cleaning set. That said, the best way to make sure all seals are kept intact and functional is by thoroughly removing all the paint residue.
Paint Container, Gun Body, and Needle Chuck Cleaning
You can easily clean the paint cub using a paper towel and cleaner liquid. If the paper towel doesn’t seem to work (perhaps because of its size), you can switch to using a cotton swab. The needle channel is located at the back of the airbrush gun and can be given a thorough clean using a brush. You can also give it a nice clean without having to dismantle its needle chuck.
Once all the components have been given a nice clean, you can proceed to attach the operating lever, paint container and needle check back on the body and pushing the needle in from the front. Make sure not to do so from the back as you may end up bending it.
Next, you will have to insert the needle into the gun’s body in a manner that it makes its way to the needle chuck in the back. If you see the needle in the paint container, then it has been placed correctly and you can now proceed to mount the nozzle.
When the nozzle has been mounted, go ahead and push the needle towards the front until you see the tip appear in front of the nozzle. Lastly, screw the body of the gun tightly and your job is done.
While your airbrush gun is still disassembled, you will also have the opportunity to inspect its threads and seals. This is a necessary step to ensuring the proper functioning of airbrush guns. In other words, you will be able to maintain an optimal pattern in use, which is the most fun way of using an airbrush.
Here’s a bit of advice that will go a long way for your airbrush’s maintenance. If you clean the toll while it is still wet, you wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning it when it has dried.
Useful Tips For How To Clean An Airbrush
Dealing With Solid-End Caps
If your airbrush gun comes fitted with this type of cap, don’t rush to start cleaning with a tissue or cloth while you’re flushing it through. Many users and websites recommend doing so but this practice inevitably leads to a blow-back.
This will especially be the case when your airbrush has not been fitted with a sufficient amount of internal seals. As a result, this can lead to waste materials building up inside the main body, therefore, requiring more cleaning.
Instead, if you wish to clean the end cap as part of a routine cleaning or before removing it, then hold a clean cloth or tissue in front of the end cap while flushing through.
In doing so, a sufficient amount of cleaning agent will collect in the end cap during the cleaning process without forcing back waste materials in the brush’s body.
Dealing With Slotted and Crown End Caps
Slotted and crown end caps help the user hold cloth materials over the gun’s nozzle while cleaning the paint chamber. As a result, you clean the needle tip and cap simultaneously. However, you need to make sure that you don’t block the end cap completely, since this will result in blow-back.
Using Cleaning Sets
There are quite a few useful and inexpensive airbrush cleaning kits available in the market. These kits are sold with all the necessary materials for the job. They consist of matching brushes, cleaner fluids, storage containers for components, and other useful accessories.
Time to get out all the cleaning tools that should have come with your airbrush!
Dedicated airbrush cleaning agents usually work best, but you can always replace them with run-of-the-mill household cleaners. For instance, you can make use of any window cleaner instead of expensive dedicated cleaners.
You can also replace cleaning brushes with a dental brush. However, their bristles may be far too short to provide optimal cleaning. Cleaning brush bristles are a lot longer and can clean needle channels thoroughly.
Using Solvents as a Cleaning Agent For Airbrush Cleaning
Generally, you should be very careful while using solvents. Not all airbrush guns have the ability to tolerate harsh chemicals. Even the gun’s seals, which are usually resistant to solvents, may get damaged if they are used too often.
We don’t recommend using acetone as a solvent since it instantly begins to attack the fragile rubber seals of the gun. Also, acetone is quite poisonous and the fine mist it creates can be quite dangerous if inhaled.
Using an Ultrasonic Bath to Clean
Ultrasonic baths are ideal if you wish to clean individual components of the airbrush gun. This treatment usually takes only a couple of minutes and is quite effective. In addition, cleaning with ultrasonic baths also reduces the overall risk of damaging airbrush components.
You can never have too many airbrushes
If you are like me, having one airbrush just wets your whistle to wanting to buy more! More expensive may not necessarily be a great fit for you though, so check out my article on my 23 favorite airbrushes!
And if you want those super-fine details for making fabulous miniatures, you’ll need an airbrush capable of going fine, fine, fine! Here’s my top recommendations for the best airbrush for those tiny spots.
If you want to produce a permanent and optimal spray pattern, you need to master how to clean an airbrush. If you repeat this process a couple of times, you will only need a few minutes to give your airbrush a quick clean! Like most things in life, the first time takes the longest.