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Painting and Finishing Aircraft Models

Tech Tip: Cleaning Your Airbrush

By Michael Benolkin

We all have our favorite airbrushes though you may notice your happiness diminish over time. If you're like me, you clean your airbrush regularly but eventually the airbrush just doesn't seem to work as well as it did when it was new. While that sounds like an obvious observation, not so fast. Just how thoroughly are you cleaning your airbrush?

I've been using Iwata airbrushes for many years now and I really like their design making cleaning an easy process. When it is time to clean, simply release the hose quick disconnect, remove the needle, and clean as needed. When the airbrush goes back together, I shoot cleaner though the brush and either move on to the next color or set the airbrush aside. When I've put a lot of paint through an airbrush, I'll break it down further and run the parts through an ultrasonic cleaner filled with Windex which attacks any remaining acrylics.

Over time, I've noticed that the air valve on one was sticking and no matter how well I cleaned another, the needle seems to find some leftover paint and seize after sitting a few days. You know when you're getting tired of the little problems when you start looking at the newest airbrushes. When Iwata recently sent over their cleaning mat with raised edges and their airbrush cleaning kit, I decided to see what I wasn't doing without this set.

I dismantled the airbrush as usual but I realized that I'd never had that little nozzle tip off the airbrush. The tool in the cleaning kit addressed that problem. I've never had the air valve out of the brush either and this too was easy to remove using some pointed needle nose plyers to engage the holes on the retaining nut. For the first time, I've dismantled the airbrush completely and I put all of the parts through the ultrasonic cleaner.

Using the small brushes in the cleaning kit, I can access the tiny holes in the airbrush and found where the paint had been hiding even after an ultrasonic cleaning. Even the air valve stem had minor paint contamination which was easily cleaned and while I was there, I used some of the non-petroleum/non-silicone lubricant on the valve and now the double-action trigger articulates just like new. The parts all go back together with ease and those few that did drop fell into that edged mat and stayed out of the carpet. The whole process took about 30 minutes and it worked so well, I cycled my other airbrushes through the process one at a time. Each of them now behaves like new.

Here's a video demonstration of this airbrush cleaning system:

This was an interesting revelation because I thought I'd been getting my airbrushes clean up until now and while they still worked fine, they just weren't 100%. Having these extra tools opened new possibilities and now I am certain my Iwatas will last much longer around here. What tools am I using:

One point on the ultrasonic cleaner. When I wrote that tip, I'd owned that unit a little over three years and now it is over seven years old and still going strong. Who new that an inexpensive eBay tool would endure? No complaints from me...

Now go build something!

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