If you’ve ever had your airbrush spray quality start to degrade, perhaps even skewing the paint stream sideways, then you likely have dry paint on the very tip of your airbrush needle that must be cleaned off.
This is not necessarily the huge annoyance you might think either, once you see how quick and easy it can be to clean an airbrush tip on the fly you’ll be doing it with confidence in no time.
To clean an airbrush tip you must remove the nozzle to expose the end of the airbrush needle and remove any wet paint using a cotton tip or rag soaked in airbrush cleaning fluid. If the paint is already dry you can use your finger nails to gently scratch the paint off the tip before using airbrush cleaning fluid to finish the job.
So the specific methods for how to clean an airbrush tip are:
- Using a cotton tip or rag soaked in airbrush cleaner to wipe the tip clean;
- Using finger nails to gently scratch off dry paint;
- Remove the airbrush needle entirely for a perfect clean;
For the sake of clarity, when I talk about ‘airbrush cleaner’ I mean any fluid you might use to properly clean your airbrush or any of its individual components.
This could be in the form of thinners of the same brand as the paint you’re using, general purpose thinners, or proprietary airbrush cleaning fluid made specifically by the manufacturer of the paints you’re using.
CLEAN AIRBRUSH TIP: METHOD 1
Use A Cotton Tip Or Rag Soaked In Airbrush Cleaner
Soak a cotton tip in thinners and wipe it between the needle and needle cap of the airbrush, spinning the cotton tip as you go.
It may take a few applications with fresh cotton tips but it should pull most, if not all, of the paint off the tip of the needle.
You can try to do the same with a rag soaked in airbrush cleaner however it may not be as effective as the specially shaped cotton tip.
If you find that there’s still some paint left on the needle you can remove the needle cap to get a more effective clean.
In this case you should also run the cotton tip along the length of the needle, from the thick end to the point, to wipe all of the paint off.
Once it’s clean simply put the needle cap back on and you’re good to go! 👊
CLEAN AIRBRUSH TIP: METHOD 2
Use Your Finger Nails To Gently Scratch Off Dry Paint
On occasion you may find that you come back to your airbrush and the paint has actually fully dried in a small clump on the tip of your airbrush, or perhaps partially dried but in a noticeable blob.
If this is the case you can use your finger nails to gently scratch off the bulk of the paint before cleaning up any residual paint using the method above of a cotton tip soaked in airbrush cleaner.
As with the last method, it may be helpful to remove the needle cap to get better access to the needle itself for cleaning.
CLEAN AIRBRUSH TIP: METHOD 3
Remove The Needle Entirely For A Perfect Clean
Sometimes it’s hard to access the needle properly even with the needle cap removed, or, perhaps you’re concerned that the needle has paint build-up along it further into the airbrush that you just can’t reach.
In this case it’s worth your while to remove the needle entirely and give it a total clean to bring it back to perfect.
Of course, if you’re using a gravity feed or side feed airbrush you’ll have to flush the paint fully before you remove the needle or paint will have the opportunity to pour straight out of the airbrush regardless of whether air is flowing through it or not.
So it may not be practical to do until you’re finished with that paint, or, unless you have a jar to store the paint in while you clean the airbrush.
IMPORTANT: It should be noted at this point that there are steps you can take to avoid paint drying on the tip of your airbrush, and phenomenon called ‘tip dry’, and save you the hassle of cleaning the tip regularly almost entirely…
What Is Airbrush Tip Dry
Airbrush tip dry is when paint accumulates and builds up on the tip of the airbrush needle due to the paint partially drying out while being atomised in the high pressure airflow.
The accumulated paint disrupts the spray pattern the airbrush creates and causes inconsistencies in the paint being laid down on your job.
Why Does Airbrush Tip Dry Happen
Airbrush tip dry happens because the paint you’re using partly dries before leaving the airbrush and then accumulates on the tip of your airbrush needle, and is more common in acrylic paints.
Acrylic paints tend to dry more quickly than enamels or lacquers and so are more susceptible to causing airbrush tip dry.
Having said this, any paint can cause airbrush tip dry, especially if it isn’t thinned properly.
How Do You Keep Airbrush Tips From Drying Out
To keep airbrush tips from drying out you can employ different measures such as using the correct thinners and paint retarder in the right quantities, adding glycerin, needle polishing, and needle lubrication.
The methods of avoiding tip dry are:
- Using Paint Retarder: this will force your paint to dry more slowly.
- Using Brand Thinners: to avoid quick drying or turning into a pasty mess you should use the brand thinners designed specifically for the paint you’re using.
- Increase Thinning Ratio: the thinner your paint, the less chance it has to dry quickly in the airbrush.
- Add Glycerin: glycerin is a lubricant that will aid the flow of paint and stop it from drying so quickly before it leaves the airbrush.
- Lubricate Your Needle: lubricant covers any imperfections in the needle that cause paint to grab and dry on the tip.
- Polish The Needle Tip: an advanced method of removing needle imperfections that cause paint to grab and dry on the tip. For more details on exactly how to safely polish and sharpen the tip of your airbrush needle check out this detailed article. 👍
Final Thoughts On Cleaning The Tip Of Your Airbrush
Cleaning the tip of your airbrush needle when experiencing tip dry is not difficult, it just takes a little care and of course being attentive to when tip dry is happening, as it’s not always immediately apparent.
If you can get away with using a cotton tip soaked with airbrush cleaner then great, but if you have to dig into it with your finger nails then so be it, just be gentle so that the needle doesn’t get damaged and also so that you don’t damage yourself with the needle.
And if you just can’t get it clean then try to avoid letting it get worse and ensure the entire is removed and cleaned such that it’s back to being perfect again.
And then, of course, make sure you always take precautions to avoid tip dry in the first place as detailed in this article.
Follow all of these steps and having to clean the tip of your airbrush will almost certainly be a thing of the past! 😎