Spend a little time, use a little cleaner, and invest in an airbrush gun that won’t clog, sputter, or spit.
You invested a lot of money buying an airbrush, a compressor, paints, stencils, and accessories. The last thing you deserve is a gun that won’t work right. So why is your airbrush sputtering? Why does your paint splatter? What is causing that annoying clogging?
Perhaps your airbrush needs a more thorough cleaning. Nail airbrush paint dries very quickly, and bits of dried paint can easily clog the narrow orifices of the gun. Dried paint and debris can build up in the gun and cause all sorts of painting problems. Cleaning your gun regularly eliminates these problems and ensures a longer life.
To clean your airbrush, you’ll need an old toothbrush, an old polish corrector pen, a pipe cleaner, a bowl, a small squeeze bottle filled with airbrush cleaner, and paper towels. Baby wipes and paperclips also come in handy.
You can purchase augers, which are metal tools to clean the orifices of the airbrush, but these may be too harsh for the delicate guns used by nail airbrushers. Paper clips are small enough to fit in the airbrush when the fluid nozzle is off. Don’t use a cotton swab because cotton strands can clog the airbrush and the tip of the swab can break off during vigorous cleaning and get struck in the airbrush gun. The same is true for toothpicks and pins.
Improper cleaning can result in a cracked nozzle or bent needle. Says Larry Miller, president of East Coast Air Brush (Merrick, N.Y.), “The most common error is taking off the fluid guard and fluid nozzle without removing the needle first. When the nozzle is damaged, you have to replace both the needle and the nozzle.”
There are basically six parts on the airbrush gun that require cleaning: needle cap (on the tip of the airbrush); nozzle guard (also called nozzle cap, directly behind the needle cap; it protects the fluid nozzle); fluid nozzle; needle; paint cup or paint reservoir; and chuck nut (on the rear of the airbrush; it holds the needle in place.
Only remove the chuck nut if you are very experienced, as this is a delicate area of the airbrush. For thorough cleaning and maintenance, send your airbrush to the manufacturer.
If you’re experiencing painting problems, it’s probably due to a buildup of dried paint. How do you tell where the problem is coming from?
A lack of paint flow is the most common problem facing airbrushers. Often it is simply caused by paint clogging either the paint siphon or the airbrush tip. To clear a plugged tip, soak an old soft-bristled toothbrush in cleaner and brush it around the tip. Or use a polish corrector pen and rub around the tip. Then, before spraying paint on the nail, spray it on paper towels. The first blast should clear the clog; if not, open the needle valve farther and clean around the tip again.
If the clog still persists, remove the paint cup (if your gun has one) and soak it in cleaner. Remove the needle cap and needle and clean the siphon area with a pipe cleaner or toothbrush soaked in cleaner. A polish corrector pen is convenient because it can reach into the paint reservoir and siphon areas and around the holes. (The pen also can be used to clean paint from around your clients nails.)
Splattering (also called over-spray), the next most common problem, is often caused by debris or paint clogging the fluid nozzle. Turn the air pressure up to about 30 psi and spray until the splattering stops. The high-pressure spray of air should blow out any debris. Turn the pressure back to normal (about 15 psi).
If the splattering continues, you need to soak the fluid nozzle in cleaner (remove the needle cap and needle first). Jewelry cleaning bowls are perfect (or soaking the nozzle cap.
If your gun sprays an uneven pattern, it could be caused by a cracked nozzle. If this happens, you’ll need to replace it and the needle. The nozzle can crack if dried paint collects on the tip and the needle valve is forcibly closed. The needle pushes the hard, dried paint against the tip, and causes it to crack.
If you get bubbles in your color cup or reservoir, debris or paint could be partially blocking the orifice of the tip, channeling the air back up into the reservoir. Clean the tip with a polish corrector pen soaked in cleaner.
If your gun is painting uneven lines, this also can be caused by dirt or dried paint in the tip.
Different colored chunks of paint coming out is caused by dried paint inside the tip or siphon that has come loose with the flow of fresh paint. Clean the gun thoroughly between clients and between every third color.
Saving Cleaner Costs
You can never use too much cleaner! Paula Alduenda, educator for Pacific Airbrush (Anaheim, Calif.), goes through four ounces of cleaner every three hours of use. She uses approximately two ounces of cleaner to clean the airgun at the end of the day. Says Alduenda, “Don’t be afraid to use a lot of cleaner. Many cleaners contain a lubricator, so it’s good for the airbrush. Pacific Airbrush offers 32-ounce containers of cleaner for around $12, and you dilute it to make a gallon, so it comes out to about 50c a day to clean your airbrush.”
East Coast Air Brush has concentrated biodegradable airbrush cleaner in 16-oz. containers that makes one gallon.
At the end of the day, follow these four steps of cleaning.
- Remove the paint cup if your gun has one. With the needle opened to its full open position, spray out all remaining paint onto a paper towel. Fill the paint reservoir or siphon with cleaner and spray it through the airbrush. Fill the reservoir with cleaner again and spray through. Repeat until the gun sprays clear.
- Wipe the gun dry. Remove the needle cap and needle and place the needle on a paper towel. Pour a puddle of cleaner over it and let it soak for a while. Later, roll the needle back and forth until it is completely clean. If there are any paint spots that won’t come off, San Francisco Nails Art Company’s video, Airbrush Basics for Fingernail Art, advises using a pink eraser on the stain until it becomes clean.
- Pour cleaner liberally on a corrector pen or toothbrush and use it to clean off any dried paint in the paint reservoir. Clean around all sides of the well, pouring cleaner in the reservoir two or three times during this process. Make sure all the air holes are thoroughly gone over. Get all the paint out to prevent paint in the nozzle from drying and clogging it. Don’t be afraid to be vigorous. You can’t harm the airbrush if the needle is removed. Next, remove the fluid guard and clean it, using lots of cleaner. Remove the fluid nozzle and clean it. Replace the fluid nozzle, nozzle guard, needle, and needle cap. If necessary, soak the needle cap, fluid nozzle guard, and fluid nozzle in cleaner for a few minutes. You can let the fluid nozzle and fluid guard soak overnight or for 24 hours for thorough cleaning.
- Reinsert the needle in the airbrush gun. Slide the needle back in while holding the trigger down until the needle slops. Don’t force the needle in. Tighten the needle. Once again, fill the well or cup with cleaner. Spray it through as if painting to remove any remaining particles of paint that have come loose during step 3, before putting it away for the day. You can tell by the sound the gun makes if there is any dried paint left in the gun. If there is a spitting sound and then the sound stops, there is a bit of paint still in the gun. Fill the gun with cleaner again and spray it through until the gun sprays clear and there is no sputtering.
Finish by thoroughly wiping the gun dry. Use baby wipes to clean the outside of the gun, then dry it with fresh paper towels.
Cleaning Between Clients And Colors
You don’t have to clean the gun before colors. If you progress from light colors to dark colors, simply spray out any of the remaining color on a paper towel before going on to the next darker color. Spray a little of the darker color onto a paper towel before you spray on the nail to make sure the color is right. You can also gently move the needle in and out while spraying to remove any particles of paint lodged in the airbrush gun.
If you’re going from a dark color to a lighter one, you need to clean the gun first. Spray out all the remaining first color, and with the trigger depressed and pulled back, fill the paint reservoir with cleaner, and spray until the gun sprays clear. Refill the reservoir with cleaner and repeat if necessary. Then go to the next color. Follow the same procedure between clients.