Friday, November 4, 2016

Cleaning Your Airbrush

Good day plamo nerds! Allow me to share how I clean my airbrush after every painting session. No fancy-schmansy cleaning equipment or chemicals here, just some cheapo hardware store Acrylic Thinner, a small paint dish or cup, some paper towels and a couple of cotton swabs and we're good to go!

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I've been using acetone and isopropyl alcohol for cleaning my airbrush for some time, until I tried this industrial acrylic thinner I picked up at a hardware store for a budget friendly Php 38.00 (less than $1) per 350ml bottle. It smells like acetone and is also cold to the touch, but it does not evaporate quickly and breaks down dried paint like a boss. It makes for quick color changes, as it only takes a couple of flushes with this stuff to clean out the cup and tip. I do a proper clean after every session, which typically goes like this:

1. Gargle

Pour some of the Cleaner (let's refer to the industrial acrylic thinner as Cleaner from this point on to avoid confusion with regular acrylic thinner) into the paint cup, swirl it around a little bit, then do some backflowing (cover the tip with a finger, then press and pull the trigger slightly to blow bubbles back into the paint cup.). Dump the murky contents of the cup, and repeat this step 2-3 times. This should get rid of most of the paint in the cup.

2. Flush

Now that the cup is mostly clean, it's time to deal with the tip. Add a bit more Cleaner to the cup then pull the trigger back without depressing it while aiming the tip down into a dish. The thinner should then trickle out through the nozzle, flushing out paint that accumulated in the tip. Allowing a droplet to form and then holding it at the nozzle is an easy way of melting off caked paint. Shoot the remaining Cleaner out of the AB at a higher pressure. These first 2 steps are usually all I do when switching between colors.

3. Soak

For a deeper clean after a session, pull the needle back enough so it clears the cup, but not so far it dislodges the trigger assembly. Disassemble the front end and soak those parts in a dish of Cleaner. Mop the insides of the cup with a cotton swab dipped in cleaner, and polish it up with paper towel. With the cup clean, push the needle forward, exposing the front end so it can be cleaned with a cotton swab. I prefer not taking the needle out completely to reduce the risk of bending the tip, and to avoid the trouble of reassembling the trigger properly.

4. Scrub

Pull the needle back into the cup, then twist the corner of a paper towel into a thin, pointy "stick", wet it with some cleaner and stick it into the front end of the airbrush, gently moving it around to get any dried paint that may still be stuck in there. Do the same for the nozzle. The rest of the parts can be cleaned with a cotton swab or paper towel.

There are commercially available brushes for scrubbing the narrow tunnels in an airbrush, or you could use those mini interdental brushes available at many Japanese thrift shops like Daiso, but I've had no problems just using paper towel as long as there aren't any serious clogs.

Reassemble everything and you're done! It used to take much longer to get my airbrush this clean after a serious round of painting, but this cleaner really works wonders, obliterating year-old caked paint in old bottles and mixing dishes, even polishing up the metal to a shine.

This is potent stuff, so always work in a well ventilated area, and limit getting the chemicals on your skin to a minimum. I've had no issues with it so far, but I'll let you guys know if I start growing an appendage in an odd place.

Until next time, keep building plamo!


  1. would this work even if i am using lacquer paints (mr. hobby) or do i need to use industrial lacquer thinner instead?

    1. The thinner cleans both lacquer (Mr. Color) and acrylic (Tamiya / Mr Hobby) paints. I've yet to try it on enamel, as I rarely airbrush with enamel paint.

  2. good day sir, haven't tried to use that thinner. pero sir baka gusto nyo din ma try yung Lacquer flo with gloss improver. di ko na sya hinahalo sa lacquer thinner, mismo na yun ang ginagamit ko as thinner. works good with Tamiya, gaia at mr.colors... ginagamit ko din sa bosny at ibat ibang sray cans(decant lang).. at saka pag flat yung color flat padin kahit na may gloss improver sya. share ko lang sir.. matagal na din akon tagapagsunod sa blog nyo. :)
    good day po.

    1. Salamat sa suggestion! I'll pick up a bottle to try it myself, I could use a budget friendly and readily available alternative to Mr. Color thinner :)

  3. Before my airbrush nozzle snapped (due to silly overtightening), I was using an industrial lacquer thinner I got from True Value. In a span of 2 months, I noticed o-ring deterioration in the nozzle and two suspects came into mind: 1)The thinner I got or 2) im tightening the nozzle too much. Have you experience any of this using this acrylic thinner? Also, how do you clean the needle? Do you take it out the front or the back? I've read somewhere you should take it out the front and put back in from the rear to prevent paint from adhering to delicate parts. This would mean frequent dismantling of the nozzle, which is discouraged on those chinese ABs. What's your take on this? Sorry for the lengthy post as I want to prolong the life of my next AB purchase. :)

    (PS Im really contemplating on buying a Badger due to their snap in nozzle, but my wallet is not yet ready so I think Im gonna go for another chinese AB, for now. XD)

    1. So far the industrial acrylic thinner does not seem to have that much adverse effect on the seals. You can try removing the o ring and just add some beeswax on the threads to help with the seal, as a deformed o ring could mess with the alignment of the nozzle. Also, finger tight should be good enough and I never use the nozzle wrench. As for the needle, I usually push it forward and about 2/3 of the length from the front, enough to wipe it down with cotton swabs and hardly ever take it out completely.

    2. Yeah, that nozzle wrench is evil.. learned it the hard way. Do you take out the nozzle every paint session? I'll just use those acrylic thinner then. Hopefully it can clean Gaianotes paints (which is what I'm currently using) as they tend to dry harder. As for the beeswax, any in particular? I'm seeing two types: a lip balm and a hand salve. I've never used one so I'm not sure which to get. Thanks a lot!

    3. oh and by the way, do i have to completely remove the o-ring and replace it with beeswax? or an o-ring with beeswax would be more appropriate?

    4. I always take the nozzle out for cleaning after a session, because if paint dries up in the threads it makes it harder to remove it later on. I think any kind of beeswax would work, but I used burts bees. I removed the o-ring when it looked like it was already messing up the alignment of the nozzle. could just switch to a threadless nozzle airbrush, like a Badger ;)