Airbrushes are becoming a very popular “must have” among the miniature painter crowd and for anyone new to the practice of airbrushing models there are usually a lot of questions to go along with that. For lots of folks, they get all tooled up and ready to airbrush and it occurs to them that they’re going to need to clean their airbrush during paint sessions in between color changes and then thoroughly clean it after their painting session is over. This brings us to the topic of airbrush cleaner.
Keeping your airbrush clean is fundamental to having a hassle free and fun airbrushing experience so it’s a good idea to develop a good cleaning regimen. It’s also important to have the right tools and cleaning agents to keep that airbrush working well. Today we’re going to talk about saving money on airbrush cleaner.
What Kind of Cleaner Can You Use To Clean Your Airbrush?
There are a lot of different products that are suitable for cleaning an airbrush. These range from name brand products made by the same companies that make airbrushes and airbrush paint, to run of the mill household items that you probably already have under the sink or in the garage.
The name brand products like Medea Airbrush Cleaner and Vallejo Airbrush Cleaner tend to be the default cleaners that everyone assumes are necessary. These products are actually very expensive considering that you’ll be using some cleaner between color changes and quite a bit during post paint session cleanup. The truth is that you can use some very inexpensive cleaners to do the same thing. Some folks don’t run cleaner through the airbrush between colors. When I ask why they do it this way the answer is almost always “to save money”. This is why I use less expensive cleaners.
First lets talk about cost. A bottle of Medea Airbrush Cleaner from an art supply store like Dick Blick or similar will run you between five and six dollars for a 16 ounce package. I looked at Blick today and their price for the 16 ounce squeeze bottle is $5.29. That works out to 33 cents per ounce (approx). This means that a gallon of this product will eventually cost you a whopping forty two dollars. By comparison Vallejo Airbrush Cleaner comes in a 200ml bottle – about 6 ¾ ounces – and costs around $8 a bottle. The Vallejo product is more than one dollar per ounce. Multiply that by the number of ounces in a gallon, 128, and you get the idea. (I would usually use Amazon pricing for this comparison but to be quite honest the prices for these products on Amazon are insane. Here’s a link to the Medea Airbrush Cleaner so you can see what I’m talking about).
Secondly, what you’re actually buying is, for the most part, a mix of water, concentrated detergent and alcohol. A lot of other cheaper cleaners are made up of the same or very similar stuff. There’s really no reason to use such spendy cleaners in your airbrush when a readily available and much cheaper substitute can be used.
Fortunately, there is a great alternative. Quite simply, you can use a generic brand of automobile windshield washer fluid as an airbrush cleaning fluid and it will cost you pennies compared to the name brand cleaners. Take a look at this image taken at my local Walmart the other day.
I’ve been using this product or a similar one for about 5 years. Besides water, the active ingredient is methanol. There’s also a little bit of detergent. As you can see from the image above the price for a gallon of Supertech Windshield washer fluid is under $2 a gallon, even after adding in sales tax. I squirt a bit of this into the airbrush paint cup between color chang4es and run it through, then a bit of distilled water (you don’t have to use distilled water, but where I live the water is very hard and stains/scales up everything so I use distilled).
Since manhandling a gallon size bottle is tricky, I manage this by transferring the cleaner and water to a couple of these LDPE wash bottles with the hook nozzles. The bottles cost a few bucks each but you could use just about any container that will give you good control when dispensing the cleaner – an old counter top detergent bottle or a used water bottle with a sport top/pop top.
When doing clean outs and color changes I spray leftover paint, cleaner and water into one of these Iwata Medea airbrush cleaning stations. I find that the jar is large enough to hold all of my waste from a typical painting session so I just empty and rinse it in the sink afterwards. I also like that the jar has a built in airbrush holder on the handle. Using the jar keeps the vapor and odor in my work area to a minimum and completely prevents any spills.
An Important Distinction About Generic Airbrush Cleaner
I’ve seen people use lots of different stuff including Windex and Simple Green, for cleaning airbrushes.. My one caution is that if you use a generic or household cleaning product, make sure you’re using one that does not have ammonia as a component. Ammonia is a little bit reactive with some metals and alloys and can cause corrosion or tarnishing.
While you can certainly use other cleaning agents in your airbrush, I like good ‘ol windshield washer fluid the best because it’s cheap and you can find it almost anywhere. Walmart, the auto parts store, convenience stores, even the automotive section at the supermarket has it sometimes. Using windshield washer fluid as an airbrush cleaner will save you a TON of money over the long haul.