How to Take Apart and Clean Your Airbrush

My relationship with my airbrush has not always been an easy one.  My first attempt went well, but after that it was all downhill.  A few years and several guns later, I’m finally have a better understanding of how my machine works, and what went wrong all the times before.

Most of my beginner airbrushing woes were the result of two things, the improper care and cleaning of my equipment, and not being able to reassemble a gun once I had taken it apart.  So, when I ran across this amazing breakdown by Laura, of Cadillac Cookies, I begged her to share.  I hope it helps others to avoid the frustration of my early airbrushing days.

Updated Blog Break

Be good to your airbrush, and your airbrush will be good to you. I learned the hard way just how true this is. After a frustrating day of colors spitting and spattering on my cookies, I learned that if I wanted to continue airbrushing cookies, I would actually have to maintain my airbrush. Crazy, right?

Now, I’m a stickler for cleaning my airbrush immediately after use. In between colors, I rinse out the color cup with warm water and spray until clear.  And once I’m finished airbrushing (or after using sheens), I clean my airbrush with warm water and a clear ethanol like Vodka or Everclear using The Bearfoot Baker’s method.

Regular cleaning is good, but to really keep my airbrush in tip top shape, I take it completely apart and give it a deep cleaning once a week.

Before you freak out, most people (as long as you’re not having problems with clogging or spitting) will only need to do this about once a month. But because I use my airbrush five to six days a week, I do it more often.

Cleaning your airbrush might seem complicated at first, but once you know the basics, you don’t need a mechanical engineering degree to do it.

First, mix two tablespoons of white distilled vinegar with two cups warm distilled water (tap water is ok if you don’t have hard water) in a glass bowl and set aside.  You can also use premixed airbrush cleaner, but be sure not to use any products that contain ammonia.  It will corrode the brass parts & cause a funky build up. Ick!

Airbrush Cleaning Supplies

Before taking apart your airbrush, make sure it is disconnected from the air hose. You’ll want to work on a flat, clean, light colored surface. Some of these pieces are itty bitty, and can be hard to find if you drop them (trust me). I use a white pillow case that I’ve numbered from one to ten. It’s washable and the labeling helps me keep the parts in the same order that I removed them in. I just spread that over my work table, and it makes the process go much more smoothly.

Note: I’m demonstrating with a Duff airbrush, but all gravity feed airbrushes are essentially the same. The only difference between cleaning the Duff and KopyKake airbrushes is that the trigger/main lever can be removed from the KopyKake model.

Now, for the fun…disassemble the airbrush in the order below.  Here are some very brief instructions. Keep in mind there are a few different approaches, this is just my preference.

1. Unscrew needle cap
2. Unscrew nozzle cap
3. Use wrench to loosen and remove nozzle
4. Unscrew handle
5. Unscrew needle chucking nut
6. Very carefully remove needle, by pulling it out, towards the back. Sometimes, you might need to twist it a tad.
7. Unscrew spring guide. The threading is long, so it might take a while.
8. Remove spring
9. Pull out needle chucking guide
10. Remove auxiliary lever, by twisting 90º and pulling straight out.

How to disassemble an airbrush

Have you ever wondered what all of these parts are called? No worries, I’ve labeled them just for you! That’s a mouth full, right?

Airbrush Parts

Once you’ve disassembled your airbrush, you’re ready to clean it. It’s amazing all of the color build up you don’t see until you take it apart.

Keep in mind, it’s best not to let your airbrush parts soak overnight. It will not ruin your airbrush, but it can completely remove the lubrication that allows the airbrush to work smoothly.Airbrush Cleaning Solution

So, now that your airbrush parts are sparkly clean (and dry), you’re probably wondering how in the heck to put it back together. Once you get past the first step, it’s super easy! Here’s a quick peek at the order that they go back together,

Airbrush Assembly and Parts

To assemble, follow the instructions below:

Assembling an airbrush gun

Placing Auxilary Lever

reassembling airbrush gun

After you’ve replaced and tightened the spring guide (Step 4), double check your trigger. Pull it back and make sure it’s not too loose. If it feels too loose, then you’ve not tightened the spring guide enough.

Reassembling Airbrush Nozzle

Airbrush Needle

Reassembling an airbrush

Airbrush Needle Nozzle Cap

Airbrush reassembly

Voila! Your airbrush is clean!  Here’s a before and after.  You can really see the difference.

How to Clean an Airbrush

Before you go, here are some tips and additional troubleshooting.   If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below.

Airbrush sprays without pulling the trigger:

Make sure needle is in all the way–remove handle, remove nut, gently pull needle back about an inch or two, then very gently push needle back in to the very end. Tightly Replace chucking nut, and then handle. It’s ok for air to be coming out, not color unless pulling the trigger

The trigger is loose or does not have any resistance when pulled:

The spring guide is not properly tightened. See steps two though four above.

The trigger is stuck, or has too much resistance when pulled:

There are several possibilities.  This includes improper assembly, mineral buildup (use distilled water for cleaning to prevent this), or loss of lubrication from repeated cleanings. To re-lubricate your gun, use a clean cotton towel to apply a light cooking oil such as EVOO or food-grade sanitary lubricant the moving parts of the gun. This includes the auxiliary lever, needle chucking guide, spring guide, and the portion of the needle that slides when the trigger is pulled.

Airbrushing with pearl sheens or white:

Airbrushing with sheens or white colors can wreak havoc on your airbrush gun. If you notice spitting or spattering when you normally don’t, it’s time to take it apart to clean it.

Now, that your airbrush is sparkling clean it’s time to go forth and spray ALL the things!

Cadillac Cookies Airbrushed Cookies

For more tips on cleaning and assembling your airbrush, check out the links below:

Don’t forget to hop on over and “like” Cadillac Cookies on Facebook to check out all of Laura’s amazing airbrushed designs.