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Soaking vs Rinsing an Airbrush

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One of the forum members asked me a question and I thought I'd share my response with everyone. I've also decided that there's just no way around me posting short novels. I figure more information is always better than less.

Do not soak your airbrush. You'll create more problems than you solve. Here's why.

First, you'll remove the grease that keeps the trigger action nice and smooth. Lubing up the needle isn't really for the needle. It's for the needle packing o-ring deep inside the airbrush. Most people can't get all the paint out of this area, and, as we all know, paint is glue. The glue will stick to your needle and the o-ring. There is some contention that lubing the needle will also help prevent tip-dry. This is debatable. Some are for others are against. You will also remove the oil around the air valve piston (the dangly piece off of the trigger on most Iwata airbrushes--but still separate on the High Performance and Custom Micron series). I strongly recommend Super Lube because it won't mess with your paint. We tested it and know it doesn't react with uros or acrylics or lacquers. If you use the wrong kind of lube you can get something called fish-eye--it's mixing oil and water. Also don't use WD-40 or any kind of penetrating oil solvent. It's not the right substance to lube sealed o-rings. I had a chat with the WD-40 company and they agreed.

Second, when you soak an airbrush you're attempting to dissolve the paint into a solution. A material that can go into solution can also come back out of it. When a solute precipitates out of solution it can deposit itself anywhere. The translation is paint goes into the cleaner but it doesn't always stay there--especially if the cleaner is evaporating. When it comes back out of the cleaner it can deposit itself anywhere--and I do mean anywhere--in the air valve, behind the spring guide, in the trigger housing, inside the air passage (that's a really hard place to try and clean out by the way)

Third, if the substance you're soaking in has ammonia the brass inside your airbrush acts as a catalyst and makes this ugly, greenish-black, icky crude on all the brass surfaces. It looks like corrosion but its not. You can clean it off with some cleaner, some brushes and some elbow grease.

Fourth, if the substance you're soaking in is a solvent, like lacquer thinner, or automotive reducer then you're going to first swell and then eat away those o-rings that are inside the airbrush. This first causes the trigger to stick, then to leak. The leak direction depends on what configuration of airbrush you have. Whether it's a gravity or siphon feed. A gravity feed or pressurized siphon feed will blow paint back into the trigger housing, whereas a siphon feed airbrush can get an air leak into the paint system, causing skipping.

Here's the proper cleaning method. It's based on the idea that if you clean the airbrush while the paint is wet you won't have to clean it when it's dry.

Color change rinse:

Gravity Feed:

Empty the color cup of excess paint.

Squirt some cleaning solution appropriate for your paint into the bowl

Wipe it out with a paper towel.

Squirt more cleaner into the bowl.

Spray the cleaner through the airbrush until it sprays clear.

Dump or spray through the rest of the cleaner until the airbrush is dry.

Move on to the next color.

Note: If you've thought through your color changes and blends you can avoid a color change rinse by mixing the right colors in the right order.

Siphon Feed:

Remove bottle of paint.

Attach bottle of cleaner.

Spray until spray is clear.

Remove bottle of cleaner.

Spray air until dry.

Attach next color.

End of Session Cleaning:

Do a color change rinse appropriate for your airbrush.

Instead of using the next color remove the handle.

Remove the needle chucking nut (the acorn).

Remove the needle.

Gently wipe down the needle (don't stab your self).

Carefully replace the needle.

Give the needle a quarter turn counter-clockwise.

Replace the needle chucking nut.

Replace the handle.

You're ready for the next day.

Thorough cleaning:

Well...I've already made this email long enough so I won't go into that here. I'm also working on some cleaning how-tos specific to each model with pictures. In short though you need to pull out the cleaning brushes and have at it. You shouldn't have to clean an airbrush this way very often if your cleaning out the airbrush while the paint is wet.

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You described exactly whats going on with my airbrush. The trigger has been sticking and driving me crazy. I have been soaking my airbrush in lacquer thinner.....! I was just wondering if you could tell me what kind of cleaner I should use with water-based paint? I've always just used water before. Any suggestions will be appreciated.



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you can soak your tips in laquer thinner to get hard to reach paint that has dried on accident. I only use a thinner for the syphon section down, and never soak your trigger area. As for a cleaner for your water base paint, use windex. You can buy the stuff from badger or createx to blow out paint with but it is only windex. I am actually an illustrator, and have been using the airbrush for techinical illustrations for years. I only use a badger 150 though. After you shoot a color you just hold the trigger down and back and shoot Windex or what ever cleaner you want into the gravity feed section and then hold it down till dry.

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There's all kinds of great cleaners for water based paints. Mine is Medea Airbrush cleaner. It's like a soapy detergent (not ammonia like windex). It's great for cleaning wet paint--but for cleaning dry paint you'll need a little more elbow grease before the detergent can get into the crevasses and pick it up.

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