In this post you can find several tips how to thoroughly clean a common modeler Airbrush.
Let’s begin with a little bit of anatomy: We can start with the construction diagram containing the Airbrush parts – some of which are mentioned below. Thus it can serve as a kind of reference to you while reading the rest. The whole cleaning process described is for the common gravity feeding, dual-action Airbrushes with screw nozzle (pls. see the picture above). Thus it could be used only in part for other possible kinds of Airbrushes. I am sure you would agree modelers are quite creative people so they could easily accommodate the whole process to their own Airbrush type and construction.
If you need to cleanse your Airbrush during the airbrushing process because of the pigment settling, you can use this instant method: move the Airbrush control lever backwards, then seal the diffuser/needle cover using your fingertip and push the control lever down (see the picture below).
Air will start moving back through the nozzle into the paint cup and start bubbling. This can serve just like “first aid” and usually works well. Now you can continue spraying your project.
Later on as you’ll spend all paint from the paint cup you can fill it with solvent, then spray it out and continue airbrushing using paint again. If this instant cleansing doesn’t work, you should probably want to proceed with the deep one.
Note: With Airbrushes where the diffuser/needle cover is petal-shaped (or spoke-wise-cut into segments) you will want to unscrew it prior to Airbrush bubbling. Otherwise the air wouldn’t flow into the Airbrush paint cup – it would leak outside through the gaps in the diffuser. By pulling the control lever move the needle backwards. Then seal the small opening in the nozzle cover directly using your fingertip and push the control lever down (pls. see the picture above).
Deep cleaning is also recommended when you are not going to use your Airbrush for a longer time period or if you are going to use it with a notably different color – i.e. if a light color paint will be sprayed after a dark one, or if a common paint will be used after a metallic one, or if a clear varnish will be used after any paint and so on. Here is how to do it step by step:
Step 1. Put your project into safety – i.e. away from your working place. Or cover it up, put it inside the box, etc. You can benefit from my laziness here – I badly crippled a nearly finished model during the Airbrush cleaning. This alone is a good reason for this step 😀 .
Step 2. Empty the Airbrush paint cup. The paint can be simply poured out or sucked out by a syringe or a plastic pipette – this keeps the outside Airbrush surfaces clean.
Hint: You would probably want to have a solo pipette used separately with metallic paints. Mark it by masking tape for instance, or a marker pen. This can help you avoid mixing the metallic paint remnants into the Airbrush during the cleaning process or mixing the metallic paint into non-metallic paints during airbrushing, etc.
Step 3. Remove the rest of the paint still remaining deeper inside the Airbrush. Paint remnants which can’t be fully poured or sucked out should be sprayed out instead. You can spray everything into the Airbrush Cleaning Pot, or a cleaning cloth, paper handkerchief and so on.
Saving Tip: Relatively large quantities of paint tend to remain deep inside Airbrushes – enough to be used for coloring tiny parts of other model kits. It can save you time and money.
Step 4. Fill some solvent into the Airbrush. Both the syringes and plastic pipettes work well:
In this stage you can use a soft brush or a cotton swab to wipe out the paint remnants off the inner surfaces of the paint cup and its bottom side :
If you work with a detachable paint container, remove it and clean its thread, sealing surfaces, O-ring or jointing under the cup.
Step 5. Flush the Airbrush by spraying out heavily thinned paint remnants. Smaller doses and repeating steps 4 and 5 work well. You should continue until the outgoing solvent is completely clear. The Airbrush Cleaning Pot can be used here again.
Note: Steps 1 to 5 should be enough for a basic cleaning. To clean your Airbrush more thoroughly it is better to continue with at least a partial disassembly – then cleaning its solo parts.
Step 6. Clean the Diffuser. Firstly unscrew the diffuser/needle cover off the nozzle cover. You can pull the diffuser onto the cleaning brush of appropriate thickness then pour it into the solvent and finally clean it by moving it along the brush.
Safety precaution: Please be sure to keep the needle fully backwards (by moving the trigger by your finger) or to remove the needle off the Airbrush prior to unscrewing the diffuser. You could damage the subtle needle tip or harm your fingers otherwise.
Cleaning brushes can be get in practical sets (upper picture).
Step 7. Clean the Nozzle Cover. Unscrew the nozzle cover off the Airbrush body first. Then you can pull it onto the pipette (or syringe) tip and flush it using solvent streamed into prepared container. Repeat the step if needed.
You should avoid cleaning the inside of the nozzle cover with the cleaning brush, because of possible damage it could do to its inner walls and very precise front opening. It is better to use a soft brush instead. The TAGORE Airbrush nozzle cover can be seen on the upper picture while on the picture below you can see a similar one made by TAMIYA.
Safety precaution: Please be sure to keep the needle fully backwards (by moving the trigger by your finger) or to remove the needle off the Airbrush prior to unscrewing the nozzle cover. You could damage the subtle needle tip or harm your fingers otherwise.
Step 8. Clean the Nozzle of your Airbrush.
To clean the nozzle from the outside use a soft brush dipped into appropriate solvent/cleaner and a paper handkerchief or cleaning cloth.
If you feel like there are some paint clumps or remnants inside the nozzle, unscrew the nozzle carefully using the original nozzle wrench. Then put and hold the nozzle inside the syringe pipe and flush its inner space with stream of apt. solvent/cleaner:
Safety precaution: Please be sure to have the needle removed off the Airbrush prior to unscrewing the nozzle. You could damage the subtle needle tip or harm your fingers otherwise.
Hint: Heavily clogged nozzles can be cleaned by a toothpick. You might need to sharpen the toothpick with sandpaper or a nail file first. Please be very patient and clean the nozzle gently.
Step 9. Clean the needle of your Airbrush. Firstly loosen the needle by unscrewing the needle-chucking nut (please refer to the construction diagram depicted above) and pull the needle gently out of the Airbrush body. It should be enough to gently moisten the needle by a solvent dipped brush and wipe it by a rag, paper handkerchief or cotton swab. You will want to manipulate the needle with utmost care not to damage its vulnerable tip.
Hint: If you are going to put you Airbrush away for a longer time period it is useful to apply a drop of non-drying oil (such as sewing machine oil) onto the needle. It is also recommended to keep the needle slightly back – in this position it will not touch (or press onto) the nozzle inside walls. Both steps may extend the nozzle and needle service lives.
Step 10. Reassemble the Airbrush. Start with the nozzle, continue with the nozzle cover, then with diffuser/needle cover and finish with the needle. Put the paint container on (if removed).
Please note: Take special care not to damage or strip the thread while screwing the nozzle on! It is highly recommended to use the original nozzle wrench.
Please note: I have to mention the needle again – please do take special care inserting it into the Airbrush body. Be careful not to keep the trigger (operating lever) too high or too low – the needle tip could suffer damage otherwise!
Interesting link for you: For further and deeper Airbrush cleaning skills please visit www.airbrushguru site.
After the Cleaning
1/ If you are not going to continue airbrushing and you’ll leave your Airbrush resting for a longer time you would probably want to have the paint container covered – to avoid dust settling in it.
2/ If you continue airbrushing, flush the tool with the original thinner for the particular paint you are going to use. After this step you can add the paint and start airbrushing. I do it this way every time to be sure not to mix the remnants of different thinners/solvents (S-based, C-based, Water-based act.) or cleaner/solvent remnants with the following paint – which could be of different kind /base.
Example: I was using synthetic-based paint, the Airbrush was cleaned using the synthetic-based solvent. I am going to use the Gunze C paint – thus the tool will be flushed by the original thinner for Gunze C laquers prior to airbrushing.
Or: I was using M.R. Paint and to save money the Airbrush was cleaned using any C-based (Nitrocellulose) solvent. I am going to use the Gunze C paint so the tool will be flushed by the original thinner for Gunze C laquers prior to airbrushing. Why? I do not want to mix C-based (Nitrocellulose) solvent into Gunze C paint. Even though the original Gunze C thinner has the same base as Nitrocellulose solvent it has not exactly the same properties.
And finally one more hint for you: Clean your Airbrush in steps which won’t be changing. Having your preferred (cleaning) process automated you will save lots of time. This way you’ll be able to plan the next step in model painting process already during the cleaning of your Airbrush. And please keep in mind that modeler time is a specially valuable thing – look at all those unbuilt kits waiting inside your storage 😀
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Images and Text Copyright © 2017 by Marcel Meres.