As a miniature painter and fine-scale modeler, one of the most important tools I use is the airbrush. Because efficiency is important to me, I’m always on the lookout for ways to speed up my work.
Cleanup takes up a lot of time.
Airbrushes are one of the worst offenders. Fiddly parts, nooks and crannies, paint adhering to every surface.
I often get asked: “what is the best ultrasonic cleaner for my airbrush?”
In this article, I go over a few of the important things you should look for in an ultrasonic cleaner. I also provide my thoughts of 7 ultrasonic cleaners that are great for cleaning your airbrush.
What is an ultrasonic cleaner?
An ultrasonic cleaner sends sound waves through a liquid bath to produce microscopic cavitation bubbles. The formation and explosion of these many bubbles “scrubs” an object.
Ultrasonic cleaning uses cavitation bubbles induced by high frequency pressure (sound) waves to agitate a liquid.Wikipedia
Because bubbles go everywhere, delicate parts are safe from potential damage. The washing power from an ultrasonic cleaner can reach small crevices in complicated instruments, such as an airbrush.
Another way to think of an ultrasonic cleaner is that it’s a machine that makes microscopic foam.
An ultrasonic cleaner is an efficient cleaning device.
Why do you need an ultrasonic cleaner?
- No risk of part damage – Your airbrush was an investment. Although high-quality airbrushes are made with durable materials, aggressive manual scrubbing can damage your airbrush. An ultrasonic cleaner does the cleaning without harming small delicate parts and surfaces. It’s probably why ultrasonic devices are used in the jewelry industry and in the clinical setting, e.g., dentistry. One limitation: Do not put an airbrush needle into an ultrasonic cleaner. The vibration and abrasion with the sides of the bath will blunt the needle tip.
- Multi-tasking – When the ultrasonic cleaner is doing the job, you can do something else like paint more models or grab a snack.
- Cleans deep – An airbrush has a lot of hard-to-reach places. An ultrasonic cleaner is able to reach and clean those internal parts. The device is also thorough. Any submerged part of the airbrush will receive a microscopic bubbly-foam washing.
- Speed – To use an ultrasonic cleaner, you merely have to place your disassembled airbrush into the fluid bath and turn the cleaner on. It’s a lot faster than using a wire brush and scrubbing parts under a running water faucet.
- Safety – You only need clean water in your ultrasonic cleaner. I’ve used other chemicals, like ammonia-free Windex, which works great, but water is fine for most airbrush cleaning. Ultrasonic cleaners have timers that will automatically shut-off the system. This prevents over-heating or damage to the machine itself.
- Clean your miniatures, too – An ultrasonic cleaner is perfect for cleaning models before applying primer. Resin miniatures, in particular, require a bit of scrubbing to remove the casting lubricants, which can hinder a good paint job. Why not use an ultrasonic cleaner? Drop your models into the bath, turn on the machine, and come back later with clean minis ready for primer and paint!
What to look for in an ultrasonic cleaner?
- Size – You don’t want the machine to take up all your space. Choose an ultrasonic cleaner that has the footprint of a shoebox (11 x 15 inches or 28 x 38cm). Because airbrushes are generally small instruments, you don’t need large ultrasonic cleaning baths.
- Sound frequency – Ultrasonic cleaners can project sound with different frequencies, which affect the size of the cavitation bubbles. Low frequency sound will make bigger, more “abrasive” bubbles. High frequency sound will generate a delicate cleaning experience for your airbrush. In general, a more expensive ultrasonic cleaner may have an adjustable setting for sound frequency. This will allow you to decide how “abrasive” or “aggressive” you want to clean your airbrush.
- Wave sweep – If you want a thorough cleaning, a good ultrasonic cleaner should project sound throughout the fluid bath. You don’t want “dead zones”, or areas of the bath where a part may not be cleaned. To overcome this issue, some ultrasonic cleaners will use multiple sound frequencies from a single sound source (“wave sweep”). In other cases, higher-end ultrasonic cleaners may have more than a single transducer (or sound source), which can prevent “dead zones” in the bath liquid.
- Heat – All ultrasonic cleaners will generate heat within the bathing solution. Millions of exploding bubbles will do that. This is good! Heat can help remove dried paint and other contaminants. Some ultrasonic cleaners will have an additional heating system to speed up the cleaning process.
What cleaning fluid should I put in my ultrasonic cleaner?
I’ve always use clean water in my ultrasonic cleaners for my airbrushes. Granted, I only use water-based acrylic paints, so it makes sense to use water as a “solvent” in the cleaner’s bath.
I highly-recommend using cold water for airbrush cleaning. It’s all you need.
If you wanted to be more chemically aggressive, you can try ammonia-free Windex or another glass cleaning solution. These should be diluted with water.
Avoid using ammonia agents with your airbrushes, as this will corrode the metal plating. For fire safety, you should also avoid using alcohol-based solvents in an ultrasonic cleaner.
7 Highly-Recommended Ultrasonic Cleaners For Airbrushes
This is the system I currently use. The InvisiClean Pro Ultrasonic Cleaner uses dual transducers (or two sound sources). It has a footprint of only 8.7 x 5.4 x 5.6 inches, which is a great size for a compact desk surface. The tank holds up to 800ml of water, which is also more than enough for cleaning an airbrush.
There is also a timer that allows you to set the machine to run for 90 to 600 seconds. This is great, since you can walk away and let the cleaner run for up to 10 minutes at a time.
I also happened to clean a few miniatures this ultrasonic cleaner. It didn’t matter, pewter, plastic, or resin; they all came out of the water bath ready for paint. I do not recommend using the basket (included). The basket reduces the cleaning power of the sound waves in the bath.
This Nexttechnology is a no-nonsense ultrasonic cleaner. Simple, easy-to-use. This cleaner houses a single transducer, instead of two. But, you are able to control the frequency-output of the sound waves. This allows you to calibrate the level of “abrasive” cleaning you want. This cleaner also provides a more powerful transducer that can run a lot longer (up to 30 minutes) than the InvisiClean system. It is also a bit cheaper than the InvisiCleaner. For me, it’s a toss-up between the two systems.
The CO-Z 3L Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner has a few things the other models in this list don’t have. The most obvious attribute is that it has a much larger bath. It can hold up to 3 liters (or 3000ml) of water/fluid. This would allow you to clean a lot more things around your household, including your airbrush.
This ultrasonic cleaner has two powerful 60 Watt transducers. This is incredible! Some TV home entertainment speaker systems (i.e., Bose) do not have this much power. Though I suppose it would need this power to drive sound through 3L of water.
The frequency can also be adjusted on this ultrasonic cleaner.
Finally, the neat thing about this cleaner is the convenient footprint size. It takes up almost the same floor/desk space as its smaller cousins. It’s just taller. Other aspects that I find attractive include a timer (continuous operation up to 30 minutes) and a heater.
The Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner (InvisiClean) is one of the smallest ultrasonic cleaners. There is barely enough capacity in its 600ml bath to fit my largest airbrush, the Badger Patriot 105 (see this airbrush on Amazon). However, it is the least expensive ultrasonic cleaner in this list (<$30 USD).
The cleaner is also small enough to fit on a desk without much trouble. It operates with a single frequency (42kHz), which is great for delicate parts with small crevices.
The timer will operate the single sound transducer for up to 10 minutes and will shut-off the system automatically.
The Magnasonic Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner is similar to #4 in almost every respect, except it has a lot more reviews on Amazon. The power output and transducer frequency (42kHz) is the same as the InvisiClean system (in #4). If you only need a simple ultrasonic cleaner with a timer, and you want to know that a lot of other people use this device, this is the cleaner to get. Note that it is pricier.
When I was researching ultrasonic cleaners, I knew that gun owners would likely know a lot about these things. After all, guns have a lot of small parts that require a thorough cleaning. The Digital Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner is a more aggressive ultrasonic cleaner than the ones built for cleaning jewelry.
For one thing, the Digital Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner has a built-in heater for the bath. You can heat close to 80 celsius! (Note: the best cavitation temperature of water for good bubble-scrubbing action is 60 degrees celsius).
Heat combined with dual sound transducers provides incredibly powerful cleaning ability. The ability to modulate sound frequency (28kHz and 40kHz) allows you to scrub with large or small cavitation bubbles. Large bubbles are more “abrasive”; whereas small bubbles can reach into tiny crevices.
This ultrasonic cleaner also has a 2 liter bath capacity. This would make it easy to wash even the largest miniatures before assembly.
Why to buy this ultrasonic cleaner? Simple. The ability to heat the bath would is important for cleaning resin miniatures. Resin parts often have a petroleum/oil-based residue from the cast/mold-released process. Additionally, if I airbrushed with oil-based paints, as well as acrylics, I would have purchased this ultrasonic cleaner.
The Sonix 4 Ultrasonics cleaner is an ultrasonic cleaner you might find in a eyeglass store or jewelry shop. It is a fairly small, stainless steel constructed cleaner. The bath holds up to 0.8 liters, which is medium-sized compared to other ultrasonic cleaners.
What is cool about this ultrasonic clean is that it uses wave sweep technology. In a normal ultrasonic cleaner, a sound transducer projects a single frequency wave through the liquid bath. This produces “dead zones” in the tank because the waves lose energy. Many ultrasonic cleaners try and overcome this by having multiple sound transducers. However, this adds size and cost, as well as increased energy consumption.
The Sonix cleaner instead uses a single transducer that projects multiple sonic frequencies from a single source (i.e., wave sweep technology). This prevents the creation of dead zones due to lost wave energy as they travel through the liquid. A neat side effect of broadband wave generation in this cleaner is that it automatically produces larger and smaller bubbles. In effect, this provides abrasive and fine bubble-scrubbers.
For airbrushes, it could mean a deeper clean with less calibration and time. Pretty cool, huh?
As a miniature painter and fine-scale modeler, efficiency is important to me, I’m always on the lookout for ways to speed up my work. Airbrushes are one of the worst offenders because they take a lot of time to clean. An ultrasonic cleaner is a versatile device that can speed up the routine clean-up work.
Thank you for reading!
Do you use your airbrush a lot? If you do, how do you keep them clean?
Let me know in the comments!