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How to Clean a Spray Gun: the Correct Way

Cleaning your paint gun after each use prolongs its life if you do it right.

Are you looking to start a new painting project, but you’re worried about the logistics of cleaning a spray gun? Not doing so can lead to clogged nozzles, damaged parts, or uneven paint coats. We’ll show you how to clean a spray gun in different situations.

Key Takeaways

  • Use appropriate cleaning products like acetone, lacquer thinner, or a spray gun cleaning kit.
  • Clean the spray gun between coats by wiping the nozzle with a rag.
  • After use, disassemble the spray gun, clean its components with paint thinner, and reassemble.
  • For dried paint, remove parts, rinse the sprayer, prime it, and clean the inlet strainer.

What to Use to Clean a Paint Sprayer

Painter holding spray gun on black background

If you want to learn how to clean a paint sprayer, you need to know the different products you can use and when to use them.


Acetone is an excellent choice as a cleaning fluid for cleaning your electric spray gun. It is good at dissolving paint and grease, as well as cleaning the many components you should take apart.

Acetone is widely available for purchase at many different retail outlets, making it a highly helpful solvent for cutting costs. It is a risk-free alternative to consider providing that you use just a very small amount of the solvent.

After the sprayer has been disassembled, soak the components in the acetone for about an hour. The cleaning is almost automatic. Then discard the acetone and wipe the components clean using paper towels.

Lacquer Thinner

A spray gun can also be effectively cleaned using lacquer thinner, but it does not present quite the same safety level as acetone.


Due to the high flammability of lacquer thinner, it is essential to handle the substance with the utmost care whenever you are working with it.

After taking the spray gun apart, put all the smaller components in a container, and pour the solvent over them.

Soak for half an hour and remove any residue from the components by wiping them down with a clean, dry towel.

Spray Gun Cleaning Kit

You can also find specialist cleaning kits on the market, like this HVLP Air Spray Paint Gun Cleaning and Maintenance Kit. They can be used on most types of spray guns and include a variety of different pieces. These kits can be used with acetone and lacquer.

How to Clean a Spray Gun Between Coats

If the gun is properly sealed, there is no need to clean it between coats. Being properly sealed means all the parts are assembled properly and tightly. After applying each layer, clean the nozzle by wiping it down with a rag.

If you’re waiting between coats overnight, then wrap the nozzle in plastic to ensure air doesn’t get inside and dry the paint.

How to Clean a Paint Gun After Use

You should always clean your spray gun once you’re finished with your paint job to prolong its life.

What You’ll Need

  • Paper towels.
  • Paint thinner.
  • A piece of cardboard.
  • Q-tips.
  • Old toothbrush.
  • Clean container.

1. Empty the Sprayer

Detach the air compressor, remove the air regulator from the sprayer and empty the paint from the container. If you didn’t add a hardener, you can put the paint back in the original can. Grab some paper towels and clean the lip and the container to remove paint residue.

2. Add Paint Thinner

Add paint thinner to the sprayer’s cup. Put the cap back on the spray and shake it gently to ensure the thinner coats the entire cup inside. This helps dissolve paint residue properly.

Make sure the thinner reaches the gun’s mechanisms as you empty the contents and properly dispose of this waste. Point it at a piece of cardboard and spray as you normally would.

Clean the sprayer with dry paper towels and repeat the process several times to ensure you’ve cleaned it thoroughly.

3. Disassemble the Sprayer

Take out the paint cup from the sprayer. Remove the fluid adjustment knob and take out the spring. Press the trigger to remove the fluid needle.

Remove the air cap located on the front of the paint gun. This allows you to take out the fluid nozzle and clean both these parts using paint thinner.

4. Clean the Gun

Rinse the entire tool in both thinner and water. If the little bits that have been soaking in the thinner require additional scrubbing, do so immediately. Ensure that you remove paint off all gaskets and difficult-to-reach spots with an old toothbrush and Q-tips.

This step may appear lengthy and tedious, but a thorough cleaning will ensure that your paint gun is ready for use next time.

5. Dry the Parts

Rinse all the parts that were cleaned with paint thinner. Grab the paper towels and dry all the parts. Double-check that everything is dry before attempting to put the gun parts back together.

6. Reassemble the Gun

When all the parts are rinsed and dried, it’s time to put them back together. You can also use a lubricator on the moving parts. Wipe the gun clean with a microfiber cloth to get rid of excessive oil.

How to Clean a Spray Gun with Dried Paint

After going through this process once, you’ll never leave your paint in your spray gun again!

What You’ll Need

  • Garden hose.
  • Two five-gallon water buckets.
  • Small brush with soft bristles.
  • Solvent.
  • Pliers.

1. Remove the Parts

Before you can move on to any other job, the tip and nozzle of the tool will need to be meticulously cleaned. There is a good chance that the hole is clogged with oil-based or water-based paint. Using the brush with the soft bristles, carefully scrape off as much paint as possible to unclog it.

You can use the garden hose to moisten the area and possibly loosen some of the dried paint. You may also reach in there with the pliers and pluck out larger pieces of paint.

In most spray guns, the handle assembly contains a filter that may be detached for cleaning or replacement purposes. Turn the handle counter-clockwise to remove it, and then wipe it down and thoroughly clean it.

2. Rinse the Sprayer

You should now be able to run clean water through the sprayer since you have finished cleaning the primary components. Begin removing the remaining paint by first filling a bucket with water and sticking the sprayer inside, letting it run and circulate.

3. Prime the Sprayer

Refill the bucket with clean water and repeat, but spray the contents into a second bucket. This is called priming.

When you prime the sprayer after cleaning it, you eliminate the possibility of any leftover paint being spread throughout the siphon tube or the rest of the system.

4. Clean the Inlet Strainer

There may still be some built-up latex paint on the grate of the input strainer, located near the base of the siphon tube. Scrape the paint off and rinse it to ensure no paint gets back into the system.

Cleaning a Paint Gun with Brake Cleaner

You can use a brake cleaner for cars to clean paint guns, but you must learn how to do it properly. It’s a powerful solvent that can remove many things from the metal, but you can’t just spray the cleaner on the gun and leave it like that.

Put hot water inside a bucket. Spray the paint gun with the automotive brake cleaner and clean the parts using a bristle brush.

Put some shaving cream on your hands and rub the different parts of the gun. Shaving cream grabs the paint and also helps scrub away residue.

Dip the brush in some hot water and continue to scrub the parts. When finished, rinse with warm water.

How to Clean Spray Gun Tips

These tips might come in handy to ensure your sprayer is kept clean between uses. The following pieces of advice work for HVLP and airless guns.

Use the Right Solvent

It is essential to use the appropriate spray gun cleaning solvent to maintain the cleanliness of your paint gun. Most paint thinners available for purchase in stores are typically not robust enough for oil-based and enamel paints, as well as undercoating and Rust-Oleum.

100% acetone is the best product to use. It’s what most professional painters use to clean their spray guns.

Consider Paint Cup Liners

You can use disposable paint cup liners for your sprayer to reduce the number of harsh chemicals and substances you have to clean. These disposable cups come with lids and are retrofitted to attach to your paint intake.

They preserve the paint longer, letting you take longer breaks, and are easy to rinse out. But you can also store the excess paint in them.

Quickly Rinse the Nozzle

If you wait for the first coat of paint to dry, remove the nozzle and rinse it quickly. This will prevent paint from drying and clogging the nozzle, ensuring a smoother application of the second coat.

Clean if You Switch Contents

It’s a good idea to clean the gun if you’re switching from paint to lacquer. It’s also recommended to clean the gun if you’re changing paint colors.


Can You Leave Paint in a Sprayer Overnight?

Yes, you can store paint in a sprayer for up to three days. Just make sure the tip is placed in the paint to prevent air from drying it out. Cover the bucket or tray with plastic to preserve the paint.

What Causes a Spray Gun to Sputter?

If your spray gun sputters, it’s likely that something is not screwed on properly. For example, it could be a loose fluid nozzle or a loose packing nut.

Sputtering is basically a result of unwanted air trapped somewhere in the gun. The best method is to take it all apart and reassemble it, ensuring everything’s tight.

What Kind of Lubricant Do You Use for a Paint Sprayer?

You can use protective oil for piston pumps, but some swear by petroleum lubricating grease.

Final Say

You’ve learned how to clean a spray gun; now it’s time to put that knowledge into good practice. Remember that taking proper care of your spray gun is beneficial because you don’t have to spend money on a new one come to the next paint job.

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About the Author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author and Award-Winning Interior Designer. Using her years of hands-on experience, she now writes about design and DIY. She currently resides on the rocky East Coast of Canada with her family and slobbery bulldog.