Maintaining and Cleaning an Airbrush

When it comes to airbrush painting, there is always the sensitive issue of equipment maintenance and assembly / disassembly. While an airbrush compressor does not require heavy maintenance, the airbrush itself is a precision tool that need proper cleaning. This is precisely what we are going to see in this article.

Cleaning an airbrush

Note that I use an Iwata Eclipse for this tutorial, so you may encounter some slight differences in the assembly/disassembly of your airbrush depending on the model you own. However, the general principal is the same and these techniques can be adapted to virtually any airbrush model.

How to Clean an Airbrush Between Colors

First of all, it is important to understand that contrary to popular belief, total disassembly / reassembly of the airbrush is not necessary and even less systematic at each color change. In fact, it is sufficient to pour a little thinner into the cup (no need to put a large quantity in or to fill the cup) and to spray its contents in bursts rather than continuously.

A light gargle – if your airbrush head allows it – can sometimes be welcome to “scrape” and stir up leftover paint and help it drain away if the cup starts to get seriously clogged. To do this, simply plug the nozzle with your finger while you pull the trigger back, as if you were spraying paint. Since air can’t get out of the front of the nozzle, it flows back into the cup, mixing the contents.

Quick color change

Between 2 colors, gargling with thinner before expelling it allows to better evacuate the paint remains.

When It’s Time to Take a Break

If you take a break for any length of time during the work session, I strongly recommend pouring a small amount of thinner – or even cleaner if the break is going to be a long one – into the cup to prevent any remaining paint from drying out in the spraying devices.

This way, when you take your airbrush back to work, you can simply spray the bottom of the product and move on to the next color without any additional maintenance, as if nothing had happened.

Cleaning an Airbrush After a Spray Session

Once the work session is over, you still need to clean the airbrush before storing it carefully. The final cleaning is a crucial step in keeping the equipment working and in good condition. It usually takes no more than 5 minutes, so don’t neglect it!

1 – A Quick Initial Cleaning

Before you do anything else, I urge you to pour some suitable cleaner into the cup. If the head of your equipment allows it, make a light gargle to scrape off the remains of paint, then spray the contents of the cup by jerks rather than long pressures, to ensure that the cleaner passes well through the various organs of spraying and to evacuate the maximum of paint which could remain there.

Rinse after a spray session

A gargle with the cleaning product before its expulsion makes it possible to properly eliminate the remainders of painting.

2 – Disassembling the airbrush

It is now necessary to disassemble the assembly to be able to clean it in detail. The first step is to unscrew and remove the handle, which protects the rear part of the needle.

Unscrewing the handle

Unscrew the handle.

Then loosen the needle chucking nut and pull it back slightly so that the needle tip is protected in the cup, but do not remove it completely.

Unscrew the needle chucking nut

Loosen the needle chucking nut.

Pull back the needle

Then slightly pull the needle back to secure the tip in the cup.

Now that you don’t risk damaging the needle by removing the front part, it’s time to loosen the head. Depending on the model used, this step may require a special tool (usually a small wrench). Once the head is removed, also remove the nozzle (the smaller brass part).

Unscrew the needle cap

Unscrew the needle cap.

Remove the needle cap

Remove the needle cap

Remove the nozzle

Remove the nozzle.

Now it’s time to safely remove the needle. To do this, push the needle out of the front end of the airbrush to avoid any risk of twisting the needle tip.

Push the needle out of the airbrush

Push the needle out of the airbrush…

Pull the needle out

… in order to recover it from the front.

Now remove the needle chuck by unscrewing it, then remove the trigger

Unscrew the needle chuck

Unscrew the needle chuck.

Remove the needle chuck

Remove the needle chuck.

Remove the trigger

Remove the trigger.

Congratulations, your airbrush is now disassembled!

Airbrush disassembly

The airbrush is dismantled to allow for complete cleaning.

3 – Deep Cleaning

We will now proceed to clean the sensitive parts with a cotton swab soaked in airbrush cleaner.

Airbrush cleaner

Soak a cotton swab in cleaning product.

Start by cleaning the needle all the way down the shaft to the tip to make sure it is immaculate.

Needle cleaning

Clean the needle.

Then clean both ends of the nozzle with your cotton swab. Using a cleaning needle specially adapted to this exercise, clean the inside of the nozzle to scrape off any dried paint that may remain.

Be careful never to force it! The nozzle is made of brass, it is very fragile, and forcing a needle inside could damage it irreparably!

Soak the nozzle

Wipe the tip of the nozzle with your cotton swab impregnated with cleaning product.

Scrub the inside of the nozzle

Scrub the inside of the nozzle using a suitable cleaning needle or an extra small cleaning brush.

Using a set of brushes, make sure to clean the inside of the airbrush body if there is still paint on it.

Note that this step is optional. It is not necessary unless paint has backed up inside the airbrush, or the nozzle is clogged or the pressure is too high. The rest of the time, you can skip this step and only do it once every 3 or 4 work sessions.

Push cleaning brush down into the airbrush body

Brushes and pins are used to clean the body of the airbrush.

Finally, all that’s left to do is clean the inside of the cup with your cotton swab soaked in cleaner. Make sure there is no trace of paint left in the bottom part of the cup.

Clean the color cup with cleaning solution

The cleaning of the inside of the cup is done with a cotton swab soaked in cleaning product.

4 – Optional Lubrication

While this step is optional, it is highly recommended to keep your equipment in good, long-lasting condition. Put a few drops of lubricant on the needle, as well as in the nozzle neck (note that this step is not necessary for Harder and Steenbeck airbrushes, which have a different nozzle attachment system) to allow for easy removal later.

Needle lubrication

Lubricating the needle will make it easy to remove in the future.

Nozzle lubrication

The lubrication of the nozzle neck goes hand in hand with that of the needle.

5 – Reassemble the Airbrush

With the cleaning and maintenance completed, it is now time to reassemble the airbrush. Start by inserting the trigger back into its place, and then reattach the needle chuck.

Insert the trigger

To reassemble the airbrush, we start by inserting the trigger.

Screw the needle chuck

Then it is the turn of the needle chuck, which is screwed back on..

Next, insert the needle. Again, always do this from the front of the airbrush, then pull it out slightly so that the tip is protected in the cup. The advantage of this is that you don’t risk twisting the very fragile tip by inserting it through the back tube or attaching the nozzle.

Re-insert the needle

Re-insert the needle and make sure not to damage the sharp tip

Protect the tip of the needle

slightly pull the needle back to protect the tip in the cup.

All that remains is to re-attach the nozzle, then the cap.

Insert the nozzle

Insert the nozzle.

Screw on the head cap

Screw on the head cap

Once the head cap is properly tightened, all that is left to do is to apply slight pressure on the back of the needle to advance it into the nozzle until you feel resistance, at which point you can tighten the needle cap.

DO NOT USE EXCESSIVE FORCE AT THIS STAGE, AS IT COULD DAMAGE THE NOZZLE!

Needle fixation

The needle is pushed very slightly into the nozzle before tightening the fixing ring.

The only thing left to do is to put back the handle to protect the lower part of the needle.

Needle packing seal

We end up screwing the handle back on.

6 – One Last Spray for the Road

Your airbrush is now reassembled and cleaned. Do a final spray to get rid of any remaining paint or cleaner in the airbrush. A simple gargle with thinner before spraying will be more than enough to get rid of anything that might be left.

Gargle with thinner

Pour some thinner into the cup, then gargle.

Empty the cup

And we empty the cup.

Congratulations! Your airbrush is perfectly cleaned and maintained, ready for the next work session!

One Last Piece of Advice

The most common problem is a clogged nozzle. If your airbrush suddenly starts sputtering or the air pressure varies erratically, it is probably partially clogged.

First, check that a small mass of dried paint has not formed on the tip of the needle: a simple cotton swab is enough to remove it without risk. If this is not the case, the nozzle may be too clogged, in which case you can try gargling and spraying with a cleaning product, which may be enough to clear it.

Finally, the 2 methods mentioned above do not change anything, it is perhaps time to proceed to a complete disassembly and cleaning before continuing.

All that’s left now is to put it all into practice! 🙂 Have fun!

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Vincent