Knowing Air Compressor Parts

How to Clean Air Compressor After Painting

If you’ve used a paint sprayer, you’ll now be faced with the unfortunate job of cleaning your air compressor. Here we explain how to clean your paint sprayer air compressor with minimal fuss and time.

When it comes to performing painting jobs, many painting experts prefer to use a spray painter as an alternative to brush and roller. Although spray painting requires the purchase or rental of a lot of equipment, the job tends to be done much faster and has a more professional look.

However, the downside to spray paint is that when you are done with the job, clean-up is required like any paint job. Spray painting equipment is a much more intensive process when it comes to cleaning, and one of the biggest pieces to worry about is making sure you have a clean air compressor.

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Air Compressor

When it comes to using an air compressor for painting job, a big setback is that air naturally has two enemies that an air compressor does not like. One is moisture and the other is airborne particles.

While an air compressor usually does a decent job at removing solid particles from entering its system, moisture is more difficult to keep out. In order to have a clean air compressor, you need to rid of any buildup of dust and moisture to keep its mechanical parts protected from damage and protecting your paint’s composition from being altered.

Knowing Air Compressor Parts

It is important to note that preventing moisture from getting into your air compressor is impossible since air usually has some level of humidity in it. Therefore, cleaning your air compressor will have to be done periodically. This moisture if present, can have numerous impacts on the equipment itself, as well as any future paint jobs you will undertake.

The water left in a compressor can cause negative visual and texture effects on the finish sheen on your next job. It can also create mold if left untouched for a while, or even get into the mechanics of the compressor and damage some of the components. 

Receiver Tanks

The first step is to drain the receiver tank. The receiver tank is where the compressed air is usually stored, and where most of the moisture within the tank can reside. When air is compressed, the uptake in pressure can cause the moisture to condensate on the edges of the tank.

Cleaning Receiver Tanks
Receiver tanks

When air is released, the air is no longer homogeneous and so initially dry air comes out leaving moisture behind. However over time, this moisture content builds up to the point where if too much water is present in the compressed air, it can mix in with the paint and destroy the composition of your paint spray.

A few options for cleaning the receiver tanks are to either use a mechanical separator or a manual drain. A manual drain involves opening your tank and draining out the liquid build up. Since water is below its boiling point, in most cases any moisture should be in a liquid state and should drain out without issue.

If you want to be extra cautious, you can also use a refrigerated air dryer, which can get even more water out if the temperature in the tank stays above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. A mechanical separator can remove moisture through centrifugal force, by separating out water from air. 

Water Trap and Filter Regulator

Although most of the moisture found in an air compressor is in the tank, an air compressor does have what is called a water trap, where it enters a trap and tries to collect moisture at the bottom of it so it drains out.

The bigger concern with the water trap is an accumulation of dirt and debris however, and it is important that you clean these components so that dirt and debris cannot get into any other parts of the compressor.

A water trap is also complemented with what is called a filter regulator that is meant to catch any debris that does not escape through the water trap. Typical debris that gets caught here is dust or any other airborne particles that can collect through air intake. It is also important to clean out this air filter as well.

Cleaning of both these parts requiring a simple opening them up and gently wiping the surfaces with a cloth. You can use a little bit of alcohol for rubbing the outside parts but make sure it does get into the inside of trap as alcohol is a flammable product and can do damage inside a compressed air environment. If you use your air compressor a lot, you may want to eventually replace the filter occasionally.

Clean the Exterior

In any environment, the air compressor can collect dust which if it gets into any of the machinery can damage the compressor. It is important that when you are done with a paint job, that you wipe down all your surfaces with a damp cloth. This includes the fan, the motor, and air inlet, to minimize any dust getting into the system. If there are any exposed coils, you will also want to wipe these down as well. 

Final Thoughts on Cleaning Air Compressors

Investing in an air compressor is investing in equipment, and like any machinery or mechanical infrastructure, these need constant care and maintenance to perform well and for a long time.

So, the next time that you complete a long paint job, make sure you take a few extra minutes to clean your air compressor. You would be surprised to know that a clean compressor is a difference between a great paint job and a shoddy paint job. After all, if the goal is to provide a professional finish, then you will want to make sure that the equipment you invested in is going to operate at a professional level. 


  • Todd Davis

    A jack of all trades, Todd has been a DIY enthusiast, traveler, and writer for many years. He has a deep understanding of all types of painting tools and door hardware, and has shared many articles on these topics throughout the years.

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