Can You Use Water To Clean An Airbrush


Can I Use Water To Clean An Airbrush

You can use water to clean an airbrush if the paints you are using are water based paints.

If a paint is capable of being thinned perfectly with water and gives the same high quality paintwork results when compared to if it was thinned with proprietary paint thinner, then it is safe and effective to clean your airbrush with water.

In a practical sense this will only be possible with acrylic paints as enamels and lacquers need to be thinned ideally with proprietary thinners that have a specific chemical make-up, and water is insufficient or ineffective to properly thin the paint, and in some cases can be very detrimental.

So just how detrimental can it be to your airbrush if you use water to thin a paint that’s not supposed to have water added, or to clean your airbrush if you’ve been using paints that do not take well to water…

What Happens If I Use Water To Clean Non-Water-Based Paint

If you use water to clean your airbrush after you’ve been using a paint that shouldn’t be mixed with water, the remaining paint can turn into a sludge that becomes exceedingly difficult to remove.

How bad the sludge effect is will vary depending on the brand and type of non-water-based paint you’ve been using.

In this case, simply using more water will not fix the problem, and may well make it worse.

If you’ve found yourself with thickened paint sludge in your airbrush you should do the following:

  1. Use an airbrush cleaning brush to dislodge the paint, and
  2. Use an appropriate airbrush cleaning fluid to effectively break down and flush out the paint.

Which brings us to what you should be using to clean your airbrush…

What Can I Use To Clean My Airbrush

There are three main options when it comes to what you should clean your airbrush with:

  1. Proprietary branded airbrush cleaning solution;
  2. Thinners specific to the paint you are using;
  3. General purpose thinners;

Cleaning Your Airbrush With Proprietary Airbrush Cleaning Solution

Many paint manufacturers will make a proprietary airbrush cleaning solution which is the best thing for cleaning your airbrush after using their paints, although may be a little on the expensive side.

An example of this can be seen below which is an airbrush cleaning solution for the Tamiya brand of paints, and can be used with any paint types offered by Tamiya, from acrylics to enamels to lacquers.

Tamiya Airbrush Cleaner (250ml cleaning fluid)


However if your brand of paint doesn’t have a specific airbrush cleaner in the range, or if you simply don’t have any proprietary airbrush cleaner available, you can always fall back on paint specific thinners…

Airbrush Modeler

Cleaning Your Airbrush With Paint Specific Thinners

If your particular paint comes with an accompanying specially made thinner, while being the thinner you would obviously use to thin the paint for airbrushing, it will also be perfect for using to clean your airbrush.

The paint will perfectly thin with specific brand-made proprietary thinners and so will also make clean-up an easy task.

Personally I don’t use a proprietary airbrush cleaning solution at all, I would rather use the thinners specific for the paint I’m using, but having said this the paint specific thinners is still my number two choice…

Airbrush Modeler

Cleaning Your Airbrush With General Purpose Thinners

General purpose thinners bought from a hardware or automotive store will seldom be perfect for thinning paint for airbrushing, and it’s often excellent at cleaning virtually any paint out of your airbrush as well.

General purpose thinners is my go to airbrush cleaning fluid for the following reasons:

  • It easily loosens, mixes and disperses all types of paint, from acrylics to enamels to lacquers;
  • It’s cheap;

General purpose thinners can be obtained at lot more cheaply that special airbrush cleaner or paint thinners, and given you go through it relatively quickly it’s worth

Additionally, if I’ve gunked up my airbrush with any type of paint for any reason, general purpose thinners has always easily cleaned it out for me, especially so with the additional use of an airbrush cleaning brush.

Can I Clean My Airbrush With Acetone

Acetone will be effective in cleaning out virtually any type of paint, however it will also be effective at attacking and damaging the chrome on an airbrush and also any rubber o-rings inside your airbrush.

If you’re in a pinch and don’t have anything else to clean your airbrush with then you can use it rather than let the paint fully harden inside the airbrush paint tubes and cup, but if at all possible avoid using acetone to clean your airbrush.

Can I Clean My Airbrush With Ammonia

Ammonia has proven excellent for cleaning water based paints, however much like acetone, it will attack chrome and also brass to an extent so should be avoided.

Both ammonia and acetone can cause the chrome to flake off over time and may cause a green reactive substance to build up, most notably on the brass components which often make up the internal body of an airbrush.

Can You Use Windex To Clean An Airbrush

Products like Windex and other window cleaners sometimes have ammonia in them which is a decent airbrush cleaner for acrylic paints, however the ammonia will damage the chrome and brass on an airbrush over time possibly making it unusable.

If you’re using products like this for anything to do with airbrushing then make sure you check the label first so you know what to avoid.

Admittedly, the amount of ammonia in these products may be small, but there’s no point in tempting fate when there are many better and equally cost effective solutions available. 👍

Can I Clean My Airbrush With Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol, or IPA, is a decent airbrush cleaning fluid as it will be reasonably aggressive in removing and cleaning away paint but not so aggressive that it will quickly destroy rubber o-rings or chrome plating.

You may find that some paints are a little temperamental with it and won’t react all that well, possibly going a little clumpy or sludgy, but for many paints it will work suitably well.

At the end of the day though, isopropyl alcohol wouldn’t be my first choice to clean an airbrush.

Final Recommendations On Cleaning Your Airbrush With Water

Water is not an ideal airbrush cleaner as it will only be effective on water based paints but will likely cause problems with other paint types by causing them to become sticky and hard to remove.

While there are a number of proprietary options, my go-to airbrush cleaning solution is general purpose thinners due to its effectiveness and low price.

My final recommendation is to avoid water for cleaning and give some general purpose thinners a go instead, I think you’ll be suitably impressed! 👍

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