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Cleaning and maintaining an airbrush


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Here it is - an airbrush maintainence tutorial. A lot of people neglect the fact that their airbrush is a precision tool and does need to be maintained. Furthermore, many do not know that all airbrushes are not created equal. Though the general principal is the same, many do not know that the seals in their airbrush are not solvent resistant. This means that running solvent-based paints (lacquers etc.) through your airbrush shrinks, twists, dries out, and essentially dissolves the components that keep your airbrush running smoothly. In the following steps I'll go through what I do to keep my airbrushes in new working order.

Step 1 - Tools you need - Createx Airbrush Restorer, lacquer thinner, lubricant (Iwata, Badger, and other companies all have a version I use Professor Bubba's mineral oil), cosmetic applicator brushes (I like these due to the flat broad end and the pointed tip work great for airbrush cleaning), Dentech floss brushes, a bit of 0000 steel wool, a set of nylon paint gun brushes or pipe cleaner, containers for the parts to bath/rinse, paper towels, and small tools as necessary - refer to your airbrush's manual.


Step 2 - disassembly. I've broken my 'brush down to it's bare components which are the needle cap, nozzle, needle cone, body, air valve, needle, needle packing seal, trigger, needle chuck, and handle


As you can see in the picture the needle packing seal at the back has paint on the outside. This should not happen. The seal's become distorted and air pressure is forcing paint back to the rear portion of the needle.


Step 3 I create a bath with the Createx Airbrush Restorer and distilled water for rinsing. 30 minutes to 2 hours for the airbrush to soak. The restorer will do its thing and loosen water based acrylic paints. I've made sure that all seals are out of the brush as the restorer will also swell up and damage seals.


While those parts soak, I take a bit of lacquer thinner and clean off the needle. Be careful as to not croche hook the needle as it's not cheap to replace. After cleaning I give it a couple swipes with the steel wool.


I also pull the bad seals out of the brush. Comparing new to old. The old seals on the left have endured many hours of acrylic, lacquer and urethane paints. They are solvent resistent but not solvent proof. Research your airbrush and it should tell you if you can spray solvents through it or not. The picture shows the needle packing seal is shriveled and about half the size it should be. The other seal is from the nozzle cone and, it too, is narrower in size and slightly ridged on one side. Bad air pressure means bad performance.

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After soaking the parts for a 1/2 hour, I used a Dentech brush to clean the nozzle. The evidence clearly shows that though it may have looked clean, it definitely was not.




Next up - new seals replacement. The seals creat a solid air pressure which allows your brush to run smoothly and precisely as it should.


Lubrication begins. Take a drop of oil and just wipe the needle from the front 1/3rd to the tip. This reduces friction at the nozzle and potential for worn and cracked nozzle cones. It also helps keep the paint from sticking to the needle. Also add a drop to the needle chuck assembly so it slides in and out of each other smoothly. IF you so choose a bit of lubricant on the trigger assembly doesn't hurt either.


Lastly, assemble your airbrush and test for leaks etc. Your airbrush should run like new now and the trigger should moved smoothly as well. I can now spray smooth dagger strokes without issue again.


90% of the problems I have encountered with my airbrushes are at the front end nozzle section. A quick way to figure out if you have a leak is to turn on the airbrush and mist a little Windex on the nozzle. Bubbles means an air leak and bad seal and bad performance. If you are getting bubbles in the paint cup, you have a nozzle blockage forcing the air back in to your airbrush and not letting air and paint through.

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Thanks very much for the names of some of the cleaning products that you use.
I was told some years ago that the real pros do not break down their airbrush and give it a deep cleaning at the end of each day, and that just shooting some cleaner through it does the trick..... Nope.


I'm not a pro, but over the years I've gone to a total and deep cleaning after each and every use. It only takes about 10 minutes and the airbrush is ready to go without any problems the next time you are in the mood to paint. I've also discovered that some dental gear, such as the small brushes you identify, are very helpful in getting into the tip cone and other small places.


Any way you look at it, a clean airbrush is essential to a problem free and stress free painting session.

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Dick - I do custom airbrush painting on the side (much of the reason I haven't had time and been modeling the last year). I use everything from water based acrylics to heavy duty urethanes. A quick rinse, or leaving a couple drops of reducer in the brush cup, is OK for leaving the brush overnight to use the next day. But the routine I generally follow is to remove the needle and nozzle assembly, then give a thorough cleaning of those components and remove paint residue. I use either the small airbrush cleaning sets on a ring available at Harbor Freight or Menards, and/or a pipe cleaner is a very versatile tool as well. I've read where people will put their entire airbrush in an ultra sonic cleaner and that's bad as it gets water where it shouldn't be and greatly affects airbrush performance and swells seals until they dry out. Breaking the airbrush down to its individual components is the only way to go when your airbrush is really gunked up and needs a thorough cleaning.


The Createx Airbrush Restorer is a fantastic product and will strip caked on and hardened acrylics with a good soaking. Even when the airbrush looked clean, I was still getting paint and residue out of my airbrush. I highly recommend it.

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Mike, I agree...... Sounds like you airbrush with considerable frequency and you 've got a system down pat.

I need to head to the Local Hobby Shop and see if they stock Createx Airbrush Restorer....give everything a good scrub with it.


I've found a lot of my cleaning issues are resolved once I come across a brush that fits the piece or area to be cleaned.


Very helpful to hear how others are handling this important task. Thanks to Mark H for starting the thread....and thanks to all who have posting some excellent tips.

Edited by Dick Montgomery
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Thanks guys and you are welcome. If you have airbrush questions, I'll be happy to answer and help out. If you have ideas for an airbrush topic you'd want me to do, send them my way and I'll do what I can. Or if you want to private message me, with questions I'm open to that as well.


Dick - you very likely will not find the Createx Restorer at a hobby store. Maybe a Hobby Lobby if you are lucky. If not a good art store that sells Createx should have it or if you look at Chicago Airbrush Supply that's where I get most of my products from.

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I'd like to add a quick note to this thread...


The cosmetic applicators that Mike references in this tutorial can be purchased at Target.


A similar applicator may be purchased under the Studio 35 name from Walgreens.


The ones from Target are the least expensive. Walgreens is a little more money.


Just wanted to add this in case anyone is looking for those items.


And, if all else fails, the Dentak Easy Brush cleaners can be found through Amazon. What can't? :P

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