How To Clean & Maintain an Airbrush

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How To Clean & Maintain an Airbrush

Postby voyager » 30 Apr 2012, o 09:54

Cleaning & Maintaining an Airbrush - The Basics

This is how I clean and maintain my airbrush. Please note that for the purposes of this how-to "airbrush" refers to an actual airbrush and not a spraygun. It also assumes you're using acrylic paints and/or ink - we don't use solvents. I take no responsibility if this guide doesn't work for you or causes any problems. It works just fine with my equipment and is how I was taught to do it.

Iwata HP-C Plus. Typical double action, internal mix airbrush
Click to see full-sized image

Tools Required

1 x bowl of clean water (by clean I mean "free of particles" as opposed to "still looks drinkable")
1 x bottle of clean water. You can get squeezy things but I just have an old Pump bottle. It works fine.
1 x soft toothbrush or other soft bristly device
1 x soap. Either a bar of basic normal soap (not this moisturised crap, get the cheap stuff) or brush soap like you'd use for your normal paintbrushes.
1 x sponge (yep, a dish sponge)
1 x clean rag (see clean water, above, for what qualifies as "clean")

The Most Important Tip

AS SOON as you're done painting (including colour changes) - do your cleaning. Don't give the paint even a minute to dry inside. It makes life easier.

Part 1 - Cleaning between colours

This is nice and easy. First, remove the excess colour from the bowl of the airbrush (or remove the siphon jar). If you have a fair bit of paint you can put it back in the bottle, otherwise tip it out. Give the airbrush a quick rinse, either in the bowl of water or using the bottle. Spray a couple of heavy bursts through the gun - you do this by holding down for air, and pulling fully back on the trigger, then back to off again. Keep your air on through this. Wipe the bowl out with your rag. Next, take the needle cap off the gun and clean the needle point as if it were suffering from tip dry. Replace the cap. Give the brush a quick dunking in the bowl, empty it out, then add a couple of drops of water from your bottle and blow this out of the brush onto the rag. It should blow clear. Thats it, all done. This typically takes about a minute once you get used to it.

Part 2 - Cleaning Up Properly.

For this, we need a picture of an exploded view of a typical airbrush. Here's one.

Airbrush Parts, Exploded View. Taken from my service manual.
Click to see full-sized image

Looks a bit daunting, but we don't actually need to mess with most of it. In fact, we don't care about 80% of it. We're interested in the following parts:

Paint Cup Cap (28)
Paint Cup (part of 7)

Needle Cap (1)
Nozzle Cap (2)
Nozzle (4)

Needle (23)
Handle (25)
Needle Tightening Nut (24)

So what we do is this:

Get all your cleaning materal handy. The bowl of water should be WARM water for a final clean-up - as hot as you can bear it. The bottle of water can stay cold. I don't bother uncoupling the brush from the air hose during this as I'll use it along the way, but you can if you like.

1. Give the brush a basic clean-out as if we were changing colours, although you don't need to remove the needle cap and clean the needle at this point. Just rinse it out and clear any residual paint from the line.

2. Unscrew the handle (25), loosen (don't remove) the needle tightening nut (24) and CAREFULLY remove the needle (23). Place the needle someplace safe - I tend to rest it on the sponge in the bowl of water. You can place the handle out of the way. There is no need to remove the trigger preset (25-2) if you have one.

3. With your toothbrush and soap, give the whole brush a good scrub, including inside the bowl. You may need your sponge or rag to get right to the bottom. Rinse this off inside the bowl. You can even hit the trigger to use your air to help with the cleaning process, although without the needle there is no control and your trigger MAY fall out.

4. Remove the needle cap (1) and nozzle cap (2) to expose the nozzle and air mix area. Use your toothbrush and soap to clean this. Be GENTLE around the nozzle. Also clean the two caps you removed at this stage, as well as the paint cup cap (28). Rinse all parts thoroughly.

5. Clean the needle. This is best done by getting soap on your fingers, and GENTLY rolling the entire length of the needle between your finger and thumb. If anything persists, let it soak in water/soap for a minute, then try again.

6. Reassembly and rinse. I like to double-rinse everything so I don't get any soap build-up. Until this point you can rinse in the bowl, but now only use the bottle. Rinse the entire brush assembly (its worth squirting some water down into the brush from the back), then the needle. CAREFULLY re-insert the needle into the brush and lock it into place. (NOTE - if there is any gunk behind the nozzle you should feel & see it at this point. If you do, head on down to the Troubleshooting section for how to clean this out).

7. Rinse off the nozzle cap and carefully screw it back on. Don't get the needle caught! Rinse the nozzle cap and replace. Finally replace the handle.

8. Blow any residual water out of the brush by pressing down and then pulling back on the trigger. Now check the brush's action. Put a few drops of water into the cup and spray onto a piece of scrap paper - it should be perfectly clear. Rock the trigger back and forth to ensure the action is smooth. If these tests are passed, wipe any remaining water off the brush and put it away.

Part 3 - Basic Troubleshooting

These are the most common problems I've encountered so far (and I'm no expert, so they are limited I'm sure) and how you fix them. I've tried to list the causes in the order you should check them.

Problem: paint is spraying erratically, spattering or not spraying at all.

Cause #1: Insufficient paint in the cup
Solution: fill it up. Duh.

Cause #2: Air pressure insufficient
Solution: turn up the pressure (I assume someone reading this isn't using those stupid propellant cans)

Cause #3: Paint too thick OR particulate in the paint
Solution: Is this the same paint batch you have used successfully before? Strain it and check its viscosity. Thin as needed.

Cause #4: Paint dried on tip of needle
Solution: Clean the needle tip. Easiest way is to remove the needle cap and use your finger and thumb to CAREFULLY clean the needle, replace the cap, then purge a little paint before resuming.

Cause #5: Nozzle is blocked
Solution: Clean the nozzle. This is something you need to be careful when doing. Clean out the brush like you were changing colours. Remove the handle of the brush, loosen the nut and remove the needle. Remove the needle cap AND nozzle cap to reveal the nozzle. Use the wrench in your kit, loosen the nozzle then remove with your fingers. The easiest way to clean this is to pop it into a well on your paint palette with a little warm water and soap, and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then carefully flush it out with water. You can use a toothbrush bristle to check for obstructions but be gentle with it. Generally if there is something blocked in there you'll see it in the water in your paint palette - a colour stain will appear out of the nozzle. Rinse it thoroughly, then replace it. DO NOT OVER-TIGHTEN OR IT WILL BREAK. Can't stress this enough.

Problem: Trigger action is crunchy or otherwise not smooth

Cause #1: Bent needle
Solution: Pull out the needle (careful) and look. If its bent... well, there ARE ways to "fix" it but honestly its not worth it unless you're REALLY sure of yourself. Get a new one.

Cause #2: nozzle blocked
Solution: clean the nozzle

Cause #3: Paint dried inside brush
Solution: clean the brush. This is NOT fun, and generally requires some form of "solvent" to do the job. Personally I'd suggest taking your brush to an airbrush shop and get them to service it. If you've managed this then you quite possibly have other issues with the brush (which is why there is paint inside it in the first place) and its now a job for the experts.

Appendix A: Airbrushes, Solvents and You

A quick word on solvents and modern airbrushes. If you have an airbrush with RUBBER rings and seals, getting solvent anywhere near these parts is bad, as they will swell up and therefore not work right. MOST new, modern brushes use Teflon seals, which are solvent proof.

A mild solvent you could use is methylated spirits, which you can load into the gun, spray a little through and then leave for a couple of minutes to loosen up any gunk in there. A more serious solvent is something called "gunwash", which is suitable to clean up even enamel paints. Isopropyl alcohol, whilst safe and lots of fun at parties, just isn't harsh enough to be much use (although I still keep a bottle of it around). Just be sure to keep ammonia-based products WELL away from your brush. I've heard of people using Windex with their airbrush, but I've not tried it.

Appendix B: Airbrushes and Oil

Should you oil your airbrush? Well, yes and no. Oil and acrylic paint do NOT mix well, so alluvial oil inside your brush is a bad thing. But lubrication helps the brush run smoothly. Its worth buying some airbrush lube, called "superlube" from your supply store. It will last you a lifetime, I promise you. Just put a bit between your finger and thumb, roll the needle through it, then repack the needle into the gun. Before you start painting, give your brush a quick clean to remove any oil thats gotten where it should not. You don't need to lube the brush every time either.

A Final Word

I'm NOT an expert, just an amateur. ALWAYS ask the experts at your airbrush supply store for information relevant to your specific gun/paint/accessories. These people are usually very passionate about airbrushing, and will chat to you for hours if you show some interest. You can learn a lot, so pay attention!

*** Cross-Posted from WAU (since I wrote it, I can do it) ***
World's Slowest Painter
and now on CMoN, for better or worse

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Posts: 5
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Re: How To Clean & Maintain an Airbrush

Postby harry56 » 3 Jun 2017, o 06:11

You can use one color for many layers because their increasing opacity builds up the color transition. And we achieved the same transitions as with opaque paints. See?


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