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June 05, 2023
Airbrush Cleaning Guide

Many hobby enthusiasts, model painters and crafters enjoy using an airbrush for helpful painting, decoration and finishing techniques. An airbrush is a standard hobby tool, but it can be challenging to maintain and clean. Explore how to disassemble, clean and reassemble an airbrush accurately.

Airbrush with red background

Airbrush Parts Overview

Understanding the parts of an airbrush can help you disassemble and reassemble the tool and learn how to clean it properly. From the part controlling the paint flow to the trigger, inner spring and fluid cup, many components help you create exciting pieces or decorate model cars. Here are the common parts of an airbrush and their uses:

  • Head and nozzle cap: The head and nozzle cap is attached to the tip and contains the inner working of the head washer, needle and needle bearing. 
  • Tip or nozzle: The tip, also called the nozzle, is the top part of the airbrush and is attached to the head and nozzle cap. It is an essential airbrush part and may wear out over time.
  • Spray regulator or air cap: The spray regulator, also called the air cap, helps regulate the amount of paint spray coming out of the tool.
  • Back lever: For airbrushes that use a trigger, the back lever helps create a spray-gun-like action when the trigger is pressed.
  • Spring screw: The spring screw surrounds the needle and needle tube spring while helping to keep the inner workings in place.
  • Main lever or trigger: Airbrushes either use a controlled top lever or trigger, which acts like a spray gun. The lever or trigger is pushed to spray paint. You can find dual-action trigger styles and helpful spray gun styles for artists with arthritis or mobility issues.
  • Needle tube and tube spring: The needle tube holds the tube spring, which is an essential part of creating compressed air for detailed paintwork.
  • Needle chuck: The needle chuck is an inner device that surrounds the needle and connects to the needle tube and spring.
  • Needle: The needle uses compressed airflow for precision painting and decorating
  • Handle: The handle of the airbrush allows for freedom of movement and gives the hobbyist something to hold when painting.
  • Stem: The stem of the airbrush sticks out from beneath the tool and is connected to the main body of the airbrush.
  • Lid: The lid over the fluid cup keeps the paint in the airbrush.
  • Fluid cup: The fluid cup, sometimes colloquially called the bowl, contains the paint.

Feed Styles

It can be helpful to explore different feed styles, which influence the kind of paint compression system your airbrush contains. When learning how to clean your airbrush gun, you'll want to familiarize yourself with your airbrush's feed style. There are five types of feed styles:

  • Gravity feed: Gravity feed styles draw paint into the airbrush from a fluid cup which is often mounted on the top of the tool. The feed system uses gravity to force paint through the airbrush. 
  • Gravity C-style: Gravity C-style cups hold more paint and are especially useful for painting large 3D objects since you can tilt the tool at different angles. 
  • Gravity B-style: Gravity B-style cups have small fluid cups and usually don't have a lid. If you plan to use a little paint at a time and spray on small scales, consider the B-style cup for your needs.
  • Siphon feeds: Siphon feeds, also called bottle feed or bottom feed, draw the paint up from a fluid cup or jar located beneath the airbrush tool.
  • Side feeds: Side feeds draw paint from a fluid cup or bottle at the airbrush gun's side. You can find side feeds in various sizes and attachment styles, including left or right side feed types.
Siphon feeds also called bottom or bottle feed

Extra Features

Some airbrushes come with extra features. You can also buy different types of air guns or equip the tool with additional parts to perform how you want. Here are a few additions to keep in mind:

  • Micro air control (MAC): A MAC helps control the airflow of paint in increments. You can use fine or medium sprays, create stipples, or test new airflow techniques.
  • Preset handle: Some airbrushes come pre-equipped with a preset handle. The knob on the handle limits how far you can pull back the main lever, letting you set consistent line widths each time you spray.
  • Fluid cup: Contrary to popular belief, not all airbrushes come with a fluid cup. The fluid cup addition holds the paint and can be connected to gravity, siphon or side-feed airbrushes. For small paint usage, you can find fluid cups with additional lids or no tops.
  • Cutaway handle: A cutaway handle shows the needle chucking nut and allows you to pull the device backward. You can push the main lever down and back to flush cleaner through the airbrush. 

Items You'll Need to Clean an Airbrush

When properly cleaning an airbrush, you'll need the right tools for the job. Here are a few items you'll need to clean an airbrush gun:

  • Needle removal tool: A needle removal tool helps you disassemble the airbrush to clean the small parts of the needle and nozzle.
  • Small wrench: A small wrench helps you unscrew the airbrush parts without damaging the equipment. 
  • Airbrush cleanser: Find a standard airbrush cleanser at a hardware or craft store. You can also opt for plain water as a safe alternative. 
  • Cotton swabs: Cotton swabs allow you to reach between crevices and safely clean fragile materials. 
  • Microfiber cloth: A microfiber cloth is durable and easy to clean while effectively wiping up paint and debris.
  • Micro cleaning brushes: A small cleaning brush helps you reach the airbrush parts where a cloth or swab might not clean.
  • Airbrush cleaning pot: An airbrush cleaning pot spray cleans your tool with the desired cleaner. If you want to quickly and effectively clean your airbrush, consider this helpful tool.
  • Nozzle cleaning brush and needle: These tools help you clean the airbrush nozzle, which often collects paint within the small parts.
  • Plastic nozzle cap: The nozzle cap can be used for backflushing, which helps clean out the inner parts of the airbrush.

How to Disassemble an Airbrush

When taking apart an airbrush, you'll want to research how to disassemble your model to avoid accidental breakage or cracks. Here are seven general steps for taking apart an airbrush gun. 

1. Clear a Space

Clean your workspace before taking apart the airbrush. Clear a space on a table or workbench and wipe it down with a cleaning solution before disassembly. You should be able to set out the parts and have your cleaning supplies within reach.

2. Dump out Extra Paint

Dump out any extra paint still left inside the airbrush. Turn the fluid cap and airbrush over and shake them into a trash can. You'll want to rid the airbrush of all the extra paint before moving on to the next step.

3. Unscrew and Remove the Needle Cap

Unscrew and remove the needle and nozzle cap. Both are located at the front end of the airbrush and cover the needle's point. The needle cap is small and round, while the nozzle cap is a bit larger and flares out. You can use pliers if your fingers are not strong enough.

4. Detach the Nozzle

Take off the nozzle once you've removed the nozzle cap. Use a small wrench or remove the cap with your fingers or pliers. Carefully place the nozzle cap with your other parts so you don't lose it.

5. Take the Handle Off

Take off the airbrush handle by grabbing the back part and twisting. You'll expose the needle assembly, which you can take apart in the following steps. Set the handle to the side with your other parts.

6. Remove the Needle Chucking Nut

Next, remove the needle-chucking nut from the airbrush. To do so, remove the cover and pull the partially threaded chucking nut partway through. After unscrewing the nut, the needle should feel loose.

7. Take out the Needle

Take out the needle once it's loose and pull it from the front end. Avoid pulling from the back as it may spread excess paint into the middle of the gun and cause a clog.

How to Clean an Airbrush Gun

Follow your manufacturer's instructions for cleaning your airbrush. Here are the general steps to clean an airbrush properly.

1. Place the Parts in a Bowl

Place the airbrush parts in a large bowl. Be sure to use a glass bowl or a material that can contain vinegar and cleaning solutions. Avoid using metal as it can react badly to the cleaning agents and damage your airbrush parts.

2. Fill With Water and Vinegar to Soak

Use distilled water and vinegar

Fill the large bowl with distilled warm water and a few tablespoons of distilled white vinegar. Using distilled water and vinegar ensures they won't react badly with your airbrush parts. Let them soak for a few minutes, and then remove the parts from the bowl. Be sure not to let them sit for too long, as prolonged exposure to cleaning fluid can wear away the airbrush's inner lubrication and decrease its performance qualities. If you want to use a different cleaner than vinegar, consider rubbing alcohol or a store-brand airbrush cleaner fluid.

3. Wipe the Parts

Wipe the parts with a wet paper towel and clean all surfaces on every piece. You can use a cotton swab or cleaning brush to reach tight spots and corners of the device. Be careful when cleaning around the needle, as it is very sharp. Wipe the needle from back to front to prevent any stuck parts.

4. Clean the Gun Channels

Next, you can clean the gun channels with a pipe cleaner. Choose a size that fits well within the airbrush channels and move it around inside while turning to clean them thoroughly.

5. Clean the Paint Cup

Clean the fluid cup with a cotton swab and wipe it around the inside surfaces. Clean the narrow funnel where the paint flows through with another swab. When cleaning a siphon feed-style airbrush, use a wider pipe cleaner for the channel's inside. The paint feeds through here into the tool and needs to be wiped out.

6. Rinse the Parts With Water

Rinse the airbrush parts with distilled warm water once you've finished cleaning. Be sure to remove all cleaning liquid during this step.

7. Set the Parts to Dry

Once you've rinsed the airbrush parts, set them out to dry on a towel and shake off excess moisture. Let them completely air dry before putting the tool back together. 

How to Reassemble an Airbrush

Proper airbrush assembly is essential for the airbrush to work well during your model painting or kit assembly. Here are the general steps to reassemble your tool. 

how to reassemble an airbrush

1. Slide the Needle

First, slide the airbrush needle into the chucking guide. Push the needle forward, starting from the back with the pointed side first. Push the needle toward the front of the airbrush and gently guide it through the chucking. When the tip sticks out from the front, you can stop pushing. After sliding in the needle, insert the nozzle and tighten the device. You may find it easier to insert with pliers, which can help you reach inside the airbrush. Tighten the nozzle with a wrench until you can no longer turn it.

2. Screw the Needle

Screw the needle-chucking nut onto the device and slide it over the needle. It should reach the threads with the narrow end facing the gun's back. Tighten the screw by turning it.

3. Replace the Nozzle and Needle Cap

Replace the nozzle and needle cap by slowly placing the nozzle over the needle's point. The narrow end should face away from the airbrush and can be tightly screwed in place. Use pliers if you can't tighten it with your fingers. You can grip the cap with pliers and gently screw it into place. 

4. Attach the Cover

Next, you'll want to attach the back cover to the device. Slide it over the needle parts and use your fingers or pliers to screw it into place.

5. Test the Tool

Finally, you'll want to test the airbrush to be sure it works properly. You can do so by adding some water to the fluid cup and spraying it onto a spare piece of cardboard or paper to see if the gun works correctly.

Contact Auto world Store for your supply needs


Contact Auto World Store for Your Supply Needs

Auto World Store is your one-stop shop for auto-related hobby products. We offer hundreds of products, from race sets and model kits to die-cast vehicles, slot cars and accessories. With limited edition exclusives available for purchase, you are sure to find what you want. Auto World works with top licensors to find slot cars, replicas, model kits and other accessories car enthusiasts may find interesting. Explore our products online or contact us today to speak to a representative.