Can You Clean An Airbrush With Thinner?

Today we will be discussing whether or not paint thinner is a good alternative airbrush cleaner to traditional airbrush cleaning solutions. Hint, it can be…

Now of course airbrush cleaning solutions are a dime a dozen, and finding one that works well at a desirable cost is something every airbrush artist strives to find.

But when it comes to airbrush cleaner’s you need to consider the following.

First, You need something that will break down the paint within the airbrush, yet is gentle enough it will not break down components in the airbrush.

As well, You need something that will not leave behind a film or residue that will interfere with the paint next time you go to airbrush.

Now assuming you’re using the correct airbrush thinner odds are the thinner will not break down components in the airbrush. As well, it likely won’t interfere with the paint next time around. (Assuming you use the same paint next time)

Now the real question here is:

Is airbrush paint thinner strong enough to break down clumpy, or dried paint in the airbrush?


Will it leave behind a residue in the airbrush after cleaning?

Well, When it comes to solvent based airbrush paint thinners, the thinner is typically strong enough to break down stubborn paint.

But, When it comes to water based paint thinners. Specifically, acrylic airbrush paint thinners, the story isn’t the same.

Cleaning With Water Based Thinners (Acrylic Thinners)

You see, Acrylic paint thinners are typically constructed in a way to maintain the integrity of the paint. Meaning, the thinner has additives in it that strengthen the paint.

For example, If you were to thin acrylic paint significantly using simply water. The binder within the paint (The Glue) will likely be so diluted that the paint struggles to dry in a manor that will last…

Meaning, the paint will dry with a matt finish, or even in a manor that allows the pigment to brush off / wipe off the surface.

So, in order to combat this. Paint manufacturers (Specifically acrylic paint manufacturers) will construct a reducer, that is infused with an additive to maintain a binder stable paint during reduction.

Now, the issue when using thinner as a cleaner, at least, acrylic airbrush thinner. Is simply that the additives within the thinner, that are meant to aid in maintaining a stable paint, will likely leave behind residue in the airbrush.

As well,

Its not likely to do much more for you then simply water would. For example, if you were to clean 2 airbrushes, one using acrylic airbrush paint thinner, and the other using simply water. Odds are you’ll find they both clean in a similar manor.

This is because, acrylic airbrush thinner is typically made up of ingredients that are more likely to strengthen the paint then break it down. Which isn’t ideal of an airbrush cleaner…

Keep in mind, that’s when using acrylic thinner as an alternative airbrush cleanser.

Now, Solvent based paint thinner is a different story.

Cleaning With Solvent Based Thinners

When it comes to the solvent based paint side of airbrushing. It’s quite common to use the same thinner that was used to thin the paint for cleaning purposes as well.

Given that solvent based thinner’s are designed to reduce the paint without the need for additives to maintain any aspect of the paints integrity.

It makes solvent based thinner the ideal choice as an added airbrush cleaning solution. When using solvent or oil based paints, that is.

Plus, when it comes to solvent based paints. Water or any other similar medium is not going to break down the paint in a similar manor as a medium on the same plain would (Same makeup). At least in relation to solvent based paints.


In short,

Water-based acrylic airbrush paints require a designated cleaning solution for cleansing the airbrush, while solvent based airbrush paints can utilize the thinner / reducer for both paint reduction and cleaning.

The reasoning as to why utilizing thinner as a cleaning agent in relation to water-based acrylic airbrush paints isn’t the best idea. Is simply because, Acrylic airbrush paint thinners are laced with additives to maintain the integrity of the paint during reduction.

These additives are likely to be left behind in the airbrush after cleaning, possibly contaminating the paint next time you go to airbrush. Assuming you use a different paint next time.

Its almost like cleaning your airbrush with a dirty cleaner. No matter how many times you clean the airbrush, it will always end a little dirty. Due to using a dirty cleaning agent… But in this case the agent (thinner) is intentionally dirty, as it is infused with acrylic additives for paint reduction, not cleaning.

As well, acrylic airbrush thinner will likely clean in the airbrush the same manor as straight water would… So mine as well use water as your airbrush cleaning solution when utilizing acrylic paints.

That being said, solvent based thinners are a great airbrush cleaning agent in most cases when solvent based paints are being used.

Anyway, I hope you were able to find some value here! If you have any further questions regarding the airbrush do be sure to take a look around the website. Airbrush Insider is dedicated to helping all in the airbrush community!

This is Colt signing off!

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Hello, My Name Is Colt. I have always had an interest in the artistic, and creative side of things. But personally, I enjoy the process of shading and using gradients in order to achieve a photo realistic, 3D image of my choosing! That is the why I employ the airbrush every time I work! I have found the process of Airbrushing to be very therapeutic, and allows me to utilize the creative side of my brain to a greater extent! If you'd like to learn more about me, be sure to check me out over on my About Page

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