There are two main kinds of cleaning required for those who use airbrush makeup. The first is cleaning between application of different makeup; the second is cleaning after completing your makeup routine. For those new to airbrushing this may seem a little daunting but it's really no worse than keeping your regular makeup tools clean. Remember, airbrush makeup guns will not work properly without regular and proper cleaning. This article will help you cut down cleaning time significantly and also contains information on the correct cleaning products and tools you should be using when cleaning the airbrush makeup gun.
Most airbrush makeup kits come with a branded fluid cleaner. This will most likely be alcohol or chemical based. However, for daily cleaning and rinsing it is usually enough just to use soap and water or even just water alone. The most important thing is not to use regular tap water as it contains trace elements and metals that build up in your airbrush gun over time and will eventually damage or clog it. Use distilled water or filtered water only. Some airbrush makeup kits also come with a cleaning kit which contains the right tools (usually brushes of various sizes) as well as instructions for cleaning the airbrush. It's very important to be aware of these instructions because they can be extremely helpful but it's also good to know how to clean your airbrush without fancy equipment and branded cleaners. Really, just a q-tip and a cotton swap (or, lint free cloth) is all you need. For those with an eco-conscience, there are many chemical free cleaners which will be up for the job of cleaning your airbrush gun. Look for a cleaner that is non-toxic, food-grade, hypoallergenic and pH balanced.
There are two main types of airbrush makeup: silicone-based makeup and water-based makeup. As you might imagine, the former is harder to clean. The main parts of the airbrush gun that you need to focus on are the needle/nozzle area and the cup area. The cup is the region where you drip in makeup and the nozzle is where the makeup is sprayed out of the gun.
Using a Q-tip (or cleaning brush) wipe out residual makeup which will be inside the cup. Always be careful not to damage the needle which is just below the area you are cleaning. This step will not clean all the makeup out so you must then rinse with distilled water or cleaner by 'back bubbling'. Back bubbling is the technique used to mix makeup where the trigger is pressed half-way causing some air to bubble up into the cup causing the makeup to mix together. If you do this with just water alone, the bubbling effect will have a physical cleaning action and will effectively rinse out the airbrush gun. To back bubble, block the nozzle of the airbrush gun either with your finger or a nozzle cap (provided with some airbrush makeup kits) and pull back the trigger which will cause air to escape through the cup (as opposed to the nozzle). Once you are satisfied that the makeup is loosened from the cup area, unblock the nozzle and spray the liquid out through the nozzle onto a tissue. You may have to repeat this two or three times before the makeup is fully rinsed out and only clear water/cleaner comes out of the airbrush gun.
Don't forget, distilled water is better than tap water because it is free from minerals like calcium which will cause a residue build up over time.
Now you must clean the needle. Do this by removing it according to the manufacturer's instructions and wipe off any excess makeup. I highly recommend using a lint free cloth for this as cotton wool or q-tips may tear or leave bits of material inside the airbrush.
A cleaning technique that most airbrush makeup artists use is to soak their airbrush overnight or while they are not using it. Some manufacturers actually sell special cups, or 'docking jars', designed for this purpose and will fit your airbrush perfectly. However, there is no need to go to the extra expense if you have a spare container handy. The airbrush gun must be soaked in distilled water and be face down. Simply place it in the container and leave it until you want to use the airbrush again. You'll find that the excess makeup will have been diluted in the water and, since the airbrush is immersed in liquid, the makeup will never harden inside the components.
Every now and then it doesn't hurt to do a maintenance clean of the nozzle. Do this by removing the air-cap and then wipe gently with a q-tip soaked in water or cleaner. Again, it may be better to use a lint free cloth which will not leave any fibers on the needle. Many people do use tissues but it really isn't worth taking the risk.
Don't forget to be very gentle around the needle as this can be damaged easily and the airbrush will not work without it.
So, you see, it is not very hard at all to maintain a clean, fully-functioning airbrush makeup gun. The back-bubbling technique should form part of every airbrush makeup artists' routine as should regular soaking in a docking jar. You don't have to disassemble and reassemble the airbrush every time you use it, but keep in mind that the cleaner the airbrush gun the better it works and the longer it will last.