Commercial airbrush cleaners are quite expensive. Most airbrush cleaners from reputable brands go from 12 $ all the way up to 20 $ for a 16 Oz. bottle. If you want to use a no-name then you will still be looking at at least 9 $ for the same amount.
These prices and the fact, that you use up a 16 Oz. bottle up in no time made me look at possible alternatives to commercial Airbrush cleaners. And I found a whole lot of interesting substitutes that you might want to try for yourself. You will be surprised at how well some of them actually work!
In short, the best alternatives for airbrush cleaners are denatured alcohol, simple clean, windshield washer, or Windex for acrylic paint and cellulose thinner or windshield washer for enamel paints. Isopropyl alcohol works great for most commercial airbrush paints. Make sure to flush your airbrush with water after cleaning.
As you can see there are actually a lot of alternatives for every type of airbrush paint out there.
You can find more detail about each of them down below.
One very important thing to mention is, that a lot of window cleaners contain ammonia which can damage the chrome and brass parts of your airbrush over longer periods of time.
To avoid any damage through ammonia it is very important to flush your airbrush with water after you are done cleaning it. To get rid of any residue from the cleaner.
Denatured alcohol is very cheap and available in large quantities.
It is normally used for priming wood, floors, or plaster but it can also be used to clean lacquer paints.
You can use denatured alcohol as an alternative for airbrush cleaners if you are using lacquer based paints such as enamel paints for example.
Simply fill the reservoir with some of the denatured alcohol and clean the reservoir from any leftover paint with a piece of cloth or with some tissue paper.
You should wear gloves while handling denatured alcohol.
Once the reservoir is clean simply fill it up with some denatured alcohol and spray it through the airbrush until the reservoir is empty.
Then flush the airbrush with some regular water several times by filling the paint reservoir with some water and then emptying it again by spraying it all out. repeat this step for a couple of times to flush out any leftover alcohol.
I personally used denatured alcohol a lot for cleaning enamel paints and it works like a charm. YOu only have to be careful not to get it on your skin. And it is way cheaper than a commercial airbrush cleaner.
If you are looking for a green, non-toxic, and biodegradable alternative to regular airbrush cleaners then simple green is probably the best choice out there.
It is an all-purpose cleaner that works great for cleaning acrylic paints, enamel paints, and most commercial airbrush paints.
And it is way cheaper than regular commercial airbrush cleaner too. You can check the price right here on Amazon.
It is not as aggressive as denatured alcohol and you won´t need to protect yourself when using it because it is non-toxic.
You might need to use a little more of it and you will need to use a little more elbow grease to clean your airbrush when using simple green compared to when you are using denatured alcohol. But it didn’t really bother me at all.
The paint still comes off quite easily.
Windshield Washer, Windex, and Other Glass Cleaner
You can use glass cleaners like Windex or a no-name windshield washer to clean your airbrush.
Windshield washer in particular works really well and it is dirt cheap! Check the price here on Amazon.
You can also buy automotive windshield washer at your local hardware store.
You can use glass cleaner for almost any paint but I found that it works best for acrylic paint and enamel paints. Some airbrush paints can be a little hard to clean with this.
A lot of pros actually don´t like to use glass cleaners to clean their airbrushed because it contains ammonia which can damage chrome and brass parts of the airbrush.
While that is true you don´t really need to worry about that.
Here is why:
Ammonia only damages brass and chrome when these metals are exposed to ammonia for a long period of time.
So all you have to do is flushing your airbrush with lots of water after you cleaned it with glass cleaner. This way you will flush any remaining glass cleaner out of the airbrush thus avoiding any long-term contact with the brass parts of your airbrush.
I personally used glass cleaner for a long time to clean my airbrush and after two years my oldest airbrush is still working just fine.
As long as you flush your airbrush with water after cleaning it you will be just fine.
Cellulos thinner is a little harde to get than most other items on this list.
It´s also only slightly cheaper than commercial thinners.
You can buy it at some hardware stores or in your local crafts store.
It cleans the airbrush from almost all sorts of paints. Enamel paints, as well as acrylic, paints come right off without any issues.
You should not inhale the fumes of cellulose thinner though and you should also avoid any skin contact.
I personally like to use it sometimes but it’s not my favorite substitute for commercial airbrush cleaners.
Isopropyl alcohol is very easy to come by and it is very cheap as well.
You can also buy it at a general store or at your local supermarket.
Isopropyl alcohol is not as cheap as other alternatives on this list but it works extremely well for almost every kind of paint.
I usually like to use it for Enamel and Acrylic paints. Especially if I have to clean the needle or other parts of my airbrush.
However, I rarely use it to clean my airbrush after using it. I really only use Isopropyl alcohol for cleaning specific parts.
Isopropyl alcohol is really great for cleaning dirty needles or clogged airbrush nozzles because you can mix it with some water and then simply submerge the part in the alcohol and water mixture for a couple of minutes.
When you take it out after a few minutes almost all types of dried paint will be gone. It’s just really convenient.