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When should tip cleaner be used?

Tip cleaner is an important product that helps maintain and prolong the life of airbrushes and spray guns. Knowing when to use tip cleaner is key to getting the most out of your equipment. In this article, we’ll explore when and how often to use tip cleaner.

What is Tip Cleaner?

Tip cleaner is a solvent formulated specifically for cleaning the tips of airbrushes and spray guns. It’s designed to quickly break down and dissolve dried paint, clear coats, primers, and other finishing products that can build up on the tip.

Tip cleaner works by softening and dissolving residue to restore smooth paint flow. Using tip cleaner regularly prevents clogs, spitting, and bubbling that occurs when material builds up inside the airbrush or spray gun tip.

When Should You Use Tip Cleaner?

Here are the main times when tip cleaner should be used:

  • Between color changes – Tip cleaner should be sprayed through the airbrush or spray gun before changing from one color paint to another. This prevents colors from mixing and contaminating each other.
  • After finishing a session – At the end of a painting or spraying session, tip cleaner should be sprayed through to remove any remaining paint residue and prevent drying/clogging overnight.
  • When spray pattern deteriorates – If the spray fan becomes irregular or spitting occurs, it’s a sign material has built up on the tip and it’s time to use cleaner.
  • Before long term storage – Tip cleaner helps fully flush out paint and dissolve dried residue when storing an airbrush or spray gun for an extended period of time.
  • After cleaning with solvent – Tip cleaner helps remove any remaining solvent residue after general spray gun cleaning.

How Often Should You Clean The Tip?

For optimal performance, the tip should be cleaned multiple times during a spraying session. Here are some general guidelines on frequency:

  • Clean the tip every 1-2 hours during continuous use.
  • Clean between every 4-5 paint refills.
  • Clean after every 10-15 minutes when spraying heavy bodied paints or primers.
  • Clean after every 2-3 panels/sections when painting large surface areas.
  • Clean if paint flow becomes irregular or spit occurs.

Following these guidelines ensures paint does not have a chance to dry inside the tip. How often you need to clean depends on the specific paint, spray settings, and your spraying habits.

Signs It’s Time to Use Tip Cleaner

Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to spray tip cleaner through your airbrush or spray gun:

  • Spitting from the nozzle
  • Bubbling in the paint
  • Splitting or spidering spray pattern
  • Dry tip with paint buildup
  • Reduced airflow and paint flow
  • Sputtering when spraying
  • Spraying unevenly
  • Excess overspray

As soon as these issues appear, it’s best to stop spraying and clean the tip immediately to avoid worse clogging.

How to Use Tip Cleaner

Using tip cleaner properly is important to get the best results. Here is the best process for cleaning with tip cleaner:

  1. Spray tip cleaner into a small container.
  2. Point the airbrush or spray gun into the container.
  3. Spray tip cleaner through the equipment for 10-20 seconds.
  4. Remove the fluid tip or nozzle and wipe clean with a cotton swab.
  5. Replace tip or nozzle and spray more cleaner for 10 seconds.
  6. Wipe the needle and tip again if needed before spraying.

Always spray tip cleaner into a separate container to catch the dissolved paint residue. Avoid spraying it directly onto surfaces. Wiping the tip while cleaning reaches buildup inside the nozzle.

Tips for Using Tip Cleaner

Follow these tips when using tip cleaner to maintain your equipment:

  • Shake the tip cleaner before each use.
  • Store in a sealed container to prevent evaporation.
  • Spray at full pressure for best cleaning results.
  • Dispose of dirty cleaner properly.
  • Check compatibility with equipment seals and o-rings.
  • Rinse with water after if switching solvent-based to water-based paint.
  • Lubricate the needle after cleaning.
  • Allow tip cleaner to soak if there is stubborn buildup.

Benefits of Regular Tip Cleaning

Here are some of the main benefits you’ll gain from cleaning the tip regularly:

  • Prevents paint buildup and clogging
  • Maintains smooth, consistent spray pattern
  • Allows easy color changes
  • Extends airbrush/spray gun lifespan
  • Reduces overspray and waste
  • Minimizes sputtering and spitting
  • Saves cleaning time

Overall, timely tip cleaning keeps your equipment in top working condition for quality paint jobs.

Potential Issues From Delaying Cleaning

Delaying tip cleaning can lead to some frustrating problems, such as:

  • Permanent clogs that ruin the tip
  • Blocked airflow reducing spray power
  • Bubbling and splattering of paint
  • Fan pattern too narrow or splits in two
  • Paint flowing unevenly
  • Having to replace tips more frequently
  • Contaminated colors when switching paints

Waiting too long between cleanings allows residue to build up rapidly and can lead to irreversible damage. Get in the habit of quick tip cleaning to avoid problems.

Types of Tip Cleaners

There are a few main types of tip cleaners available:

  • Solvent-based – Most common cleaners use solvents like acetone, xylene, MEK to dissolve paint.
  • Alcohol-based – Contain isopropyl or ethanol alcohol as the active ingredient.
  • Bio-based – Made from plant-derived and biodegradable ingredients.
  • Specialty cleaners – Formulas for specific coatings like clearcoat, polyurethanes, etc.

Solvent cleaners work well for dissolving oil-based paints while alcohol formulas are good for water-based acrylics and inks. Check the cleaner’s compatibility before using.

Popular Tip Cleaner Brands

Some popular tip cleaner brands include:

  • Iwata Medea Airbrush Cleaner
  • Badger Air-Brush Co. Tip Cleaner
  • Paasche Airbrush Cleaner
  • Testors ELO Airbrush Cleaner
  • Createx Airbrush Cleaner

Ask other airbrush users for product recommendations. Having a high quality tip cleaner you can rely on is important.

Alternative Homemade Tip Cleaners

Some homemade alternatives can be used in place of commercial tip cleaners in a pinch. However, these may not be as effective and should only be a temporary solution.

  • Distilled white vinegar – Helps break down dried paint.
  • Rubbing alcohol – Good for water-based paints.
  • Denatured alcohol – More powerful than rubbing alcohol.
  • Acetone nail polish remover – Strong solvent properties.
  • WD-40 – Lubricates and dissolves paint.

Avoid household cleaners with additives. Always test on a piece first and check compatibility.

How to Store Tip Cleaner

Storing tip cleaner properly maintains its cleaning power and reduces waste. Follow these storage guidelines:

  • Keep in tightly sealed bottles.
  • Prevent direct sunlight exposure.
  • Store at room temperature.
  • Keep away from heat sources.
  • Don’t mix with other solvents.
  • Label container clearly.
  • Refill from larger container instead of contaminating main supply.

Opened cleaner absorbs moisture from air which reduces effectiveness so sealing containers is critical. Store away from any ignition sources since many solvents are flammable.

How to Dispose of Tip Cleaner

Since tip cleaners contain harsh solvents and substances like paint residue, they require special disposal methods. Here are some options:

  • Allow to fully evaporate in a well ventilated area then discard dried remains.
  • Dispose according to local household hazardous waste guidelines.
  • Save and take to auto paint recycling events in your community.
  • Contact local waste management companies for disposal.
  • Some municipalities have special facilities for hazardous liquid waste.

Never pour tip cleaner down the drain or dispose of it improperly. Dirty tip cleaner should be handled as a hazardous waste material.


Using a tip cleaner regularly is essential for maintaining an airbrush or spray gun. Solvent-based cleaners work quickly to dissolve paints but require safe handling. Clean the tip multiple times during use whenever spray pattern deteriorates. Allowing material to build up can lead to permanent clogs and damage. Get in the habit of conscientious tip cleaning to extend the lifespan of your equipment and produce flawless paint jobs.