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Best Way to Clean a Paint Sprayer (Plus, Dealing with Different Paint Types)

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Stop cursing your clogged paint sprayer. It’s your fault you didn’t clean it before storing it for the winter.

Knowing how to clean a paint sprayer is crucial if you want it to function as it should. Leaving paint inside will only lead to clogging and possibly needing to replace the sprayer.

We’ll show you the best way to clean a paint sprayer, offer pro-level tips, and how to remove blockages.


How to Clean a Paint Sprayer

Your paint sprayer has many working parts, so breaking down the cleaning process into relevant sections is easier. This procedure works particularly well with Graco and Wagner paint sprayers.

What You’ll Need

  • Bucket.
  • Mineral spirits.
  • Clean cloth.
  • Rag.
  • Soapy water.
  • Soft brush.

Pressure Relief

Before you clean your sprayer, you must first release the pressure.

  1. Press the gun trigger lock.
  2. Switch off the machine.
  3. Set it to low pressure.
  4. Take off the trigger lock and reverse the spray nozzle.
  5. Point the gun into a bucket and pull the trigger to release the pressure.
  6. Re-engage the lock.
  7. Switch the prime valve to the drain setting.

Flush Coatings

  1. Remove the guard and tip from the spray gun.
  2. Pull out the feed tube, drain the paint back into the paint can, and wipe off the excess paint.
  3. Insert the tube into soapy water.
  4. Place the drain outlet into a bucket.
  5. Switch the prime valve to spray.
  6. Point the gun at the bucket and switch it on.
  7. Press the trigger to increase the pressure.
  8. When paint stops flowing and soapy water appears, release the trigger and turn off the sprayer.

Pump Clean

  1. Hold the gun over the bucket and pull the trigger.
  2. Switch on the sprayer and work the pump until the fluid runs clear.
  3. Switch off the sprayer and release the trigger.
  4. Turn the sprayer back on.
  5. Allow the flushing liquid to circulate inside the pump and chamber until the fluid runs clear from the drain tube.
  6. Lift the tube out of the bucket.
  7. Switch off the sprayer.

Hose and Gun Cleaning

  1. Switch the prime valve to the spray setting.
  2. Turn on the sprayer.
  3. Empty the hose by triggering the gun into the drain bucket.
  4. Switch off the sprayer.
  5. Release the trigger while engaging the trigger lock.
  6. Set the gun to the lowest pressure setting.
  7. Disconnect the gun from the power source.
  8. Remove all filters from the gun and sprayer.

Cleaning the Guard, Tip, and Filters

  1. Place the tip, guard, and filters into the soapy water and clean them with a soft brush.
  2. Pump the sprayer with mineral spirits to give a protective coating when in storage during the winter months.
  3. Wipe down the hose and gun with mineral spirits or soapy water.
  4. Dry the sprayer with a clean cloth and store it away safely for the summer.

How to Clean a Clogged Paint Sprayer

Worker hand holding paint sprayer

Whether you have an airless, HVLP (high volume, low pressure), or electric air sprayer, they can be tricky to clear once they get clogged. It usually occurs when the paint dries on the filter, which stops the flow.

Unclogging an Airless Paint Sprayer

You will need a solution, like this Paint Pump Wash, to unclog an airless paint sprayer. Mix the cleaning powder in water to make three gallons of solution. Insert the sprayer feed tube into the solution and switch it on.

Point the sprayer into a bucket and allow the pump wash to feed through the sprayer. When the solution runs dry, switch off the sprayer. If the tip is still blocked, you may need another solution.

Unclogging the Nozzle

You can use either a paperclip or a pin for this. Use pliers to straighten the paperclip, insert it into the end of the nozzle, and twist it a couple of times. You use the same technique with the pin.

Use the pliers to remove the paperclip from the nozzle and rinse it in warm soapy water.

Unclogging the Spray Paint Valve

Remove the nozzle and use a knife or thin-tipped screwdriver to insert it into the back of the tip. Pull the blockage out if it has hardened enough. Failing that, try rubbing alcohol, like this Amazon Brand 99 Percent Alcohol, if the paint is sticky.

Once finished, rinse the nozzle in soapy water and attach it to the sprayer.

Unclogging a Pump Sprayer

Many pump sprayers claim to be non-clogging, but the sprayer will get a blockage if you mistreat it enough. Start by removing the nozzle and performing the same techniques above. If that doesn’t work, remove the pump spray head.

Wash it in soapy water using a toothbrush to get into the hard-to-reach areas. Try placing a small amount of water or cleaning solution in the reservoir and pumping the sprayer. Spray a small amount into a bucket, and the force of the water should clear the blockage.

If that doesn’t work, clean out the pump shaft. If that doesn’t clear the blockage, try cleaning the pump piston by removing the seal. It can be tricky but stick at it. When it comes free, wash it in a cleaning solution or warm soapy water.

Tips for Cleaning Different Types of Paints

Oil, latex, and acrylic paints react differently inside your paint sprayer, so getting some top tips to keep them clean is always welcome.

Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paint takes longer to dry, so you get more working time before the sprayer clogs. However, it dries harder than latex paints, so it can be tougher to unclog. The simplest way is to use mineral spirits or paint thinner and flush it through the sprayer.

The paint reacts with the thinner and returns to liquid form so that you can flush it out. Paint sprayers come with different size tips. It might be worth opting for a wider nozzle if the sprayer is still blocked to help the paint flow more freely.

Take Note

You need to check the local rules about flushing oil-based paints down the drain. Thinners and mineral spirits are harmful to the environment and are considered toxic. Some states require that you collect and store the paint for safe disposal.

Latex Paints

Latex paints are water-based, so they are easier to clean. However, they dry faster, so they will clog unless you maintain your sprayer. The good news is latex paints dissolve with soapy water. Flush the system through until all the paint is removed.

You can also dismantle the sprayer, soak the components in warm soapy water, and clean them with a soft brush. The easiest way to keep your sprayer in working order is to wash it out after each use.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints are water or solvent-based, containing pigments distributed via acrylic polymer suspension. You can use mineral spirits or pure vinegar to thin them and flush them from the sprayer.

The cleaning methods of water-based acrylic paint are the same as other water-based products.

General Tips

  • Strain the paint to remove impurities and lumps.
  • Don’t store your paint sprayer with water in the reservoir. It evaporates and leaves scaling in the nozzle.
  • Keep seals and pistons wet by checking them regularly while stored. Once they dry, dust and other debris cause them to seize up.
  • Deal with leaks immediately. If you leave it, it will get worse and cause paint to clog your sprayer.
  • Never leave paint inside the sprayer when you store it for the winter.
  • Clean the filters because once they get blocked, your paint sprayer dies.
  • After use, flush it through with the appropriate cleaning agent for your paint type.

Best Way to Maintain a Paint Sprayer

A wise person once said that it won’t need fixing if it’s not broken, and the same is true of your paint sprayer. If you maintain it, it will keep performing for you for years.

Wash Out After Use

Washing out your paint sprayer should always be top of the maintenance list. It is the simplest way to prevent clogs and paint hardening inside the sprayer. If that happens, you are probably looking at a new paint sprayer.

Top Tip

Acetone is highly effective at cleaning oil and solvent-based paints. This Pronto Acetone is readily available online and is cheaper than paint thinner.

Soak Nozzles in Cleaning Solution

Your sprayer nozzles come in different sizes, so keeping them clean and clear is vital. The nozzle is the pinch-point in your sprayer and the most likely to suffer from blockages. Remove them after use and soak them in the relevant solution.

Soak the tip in mineral spirits or paint thinner if you’ve used oil-based paints, and use soapy water for water-based paints.

Store Tips in Cleaning Solution

One way to ensure that the tips don’t clog when the sprayer is in storage is to store them wet. That way, they are always clean and ready to use.

Perform a Strip-Down

It may be a pain, but stripping out the components of your paint sprayer at the end of the season is an excellent way of keeping it in working order. Filters need washing, seals and pistons need cleaning, and the feed tubes and reservoir should be spotless and free of paint.

Choose the Right Storage

You risk damaging your paint sprayer if you store it in direct sunlight or in extreme cold. The best way to preserve it is to keep it in the original box at a moderate temperature. Maybe a sealed container or a lockable storage unit in the garage will suffice.

UV rays perish plastic, causing it to become brittle. Frost and ice have the same effect, placing your sprayer components under extreme pressure.

FAQs

How Do I Get a Smooth Finish With a Paint Sprayer?

If you want the smoothest finish, it’s all about the nozzle. Ensure it is clean before you start and free from paint blockages. Pop a pin into the end of the nozzle to ensure the paint flows freely.

Then, move in a sweeping side-to-side motion with the sprayer, holding the gun 12 inches from the surface.

Should I Thin Paint Before Spraying?

Most paint sprayers require the paint to be thinned, especially if it is oil-based. Some electric sprayers claim they have enough power to pull the paint straight from the can without thinning it. However, they tend to be premium models with high price tags.

Can I Leave Paint in a Sprayer Overnight?

Yes, you can, but that doesn’t mean you should. It is always recommended that you clean out the sprayer, even when you know you will use it the following day.

Can You Run Paint Thinner Through a Paint Sprayer?

You can run paint thinner through a paint sprayer. Thinner cleans the pistons, pumps, feed tubes, and nozzle. It is highly recommended you do this after oil-based paint because if it hardens, it will be a devil to shift.

Can You Clean a Spray Gun With Acetone?

Acetone is an excellent option for cleaning your paint sprayer, especially when you use oil and solvent-based paint.


Final Thoughts

Cleaning a paint sprayer with dried paint is a massive pain in the backside. It can take hours to get your sprayer back in working order (supposing that you can save it). The best way to ensure it gives you 15 or 20 years of service is to give it the TLC it needs.

So, the next time you wipe the cobwebs off your paint sprayer, consider how you stored it and whether it was clean. It could be the difference between a smooth project or a battle you didn’t need to have.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.