How To Use An Airless Paint Sprayer (Set Up Guide)

Get a uniform application on the toughest wall textures with the help of an airless paint sprayer. Their effectiveness on popcorn-effect walls and ceilings is unmatched, and they are a perfect fit for many uneven surfaces.

Airless paint sprayers are the fastest way to complete any large painting job, and once you get the hang of prepping and cleaning your new piece of painting equipment, the time will be halved even further. If you’re new to airless paint sprayers, we recommend this guide to help you get to grips with how they work and how to use them.

An airless paint sprayer pumps out paint through a hose and out of a spray tip at high pressure, up to 3000 PSI. When it leaves the spray gun tip, it breaks up the paint evenly and fans droplets of paint onto a surface. There are three main types of airless paint sprayers that you’ll find on the market. What sets one apart from another is its power and piston pressure.

  1. 1
    Piston pumps: These paint sprayers typically offer the highest pressure with the best paint atomization.
  2. 2
    Diaphragm airless sprayers: This type of sprayer will allow you to work with a higher volume of paint, and they usually have better portability.
  3. 3
    Pneumatic airless sprayers: This is an air-assisted airless sprayer and they are great when using high-viscosity paints and high-solids coatings.

Basic Components & Parts Of An Airless Paint Sprayer

  • Motor & Drive System
    The motor and drive system operate in unison to send power to the pump. Once the gas or electric motor begins to rotate, it transfers that energy to the drive source. This results in the motor and drive system pumping energy to the pump.
  • Piston & Packing Kit
    The piston is the heart of an airless paint sprayer. Its job is to draw the paint from the source bucket, and then it pressurizes the coating so it can be sprayed. It moves up to create a vacuum to suck the paint to a chamber, and when it goes down, it pushes the paint from the chamber into a high-pressure hose. The packings help protect the metal components inside your airless paint sprayer from wear and tear when the piston is moving up and down.
  • Pressure Control Knob
    Users don’t have the option to control the pressure with the gun, hose, or tip. Alternatively, there’s a pressure control knob on the airless paint sprayer unit, and it regulates the fluid pressure. We recommend setting the pressure at the lowest setting and gradually working your way up in pressure. This will stop overspray from happening and it will prolong the life of your tips.
  • Manifold & Gun Filters
    The manifold and gun filters catch large particles and small debris found in the paint from spraying onto your surface. The manifold filter is found within the sprayer, so it’s the first line of defense. It catches larger particles easier. The spray filter is inside the handle of the gun and should catch any remaining debris.
  • Suction & Paint Hoses
    An airless paint sprayer must have good suction so that the paint can go from the source bucket and up to your paint hose. It should deliver the paint at a steady stream through a hose and to the spray gun. Many hoses by reputable brands are specially designed and manufactured to hold up to the very high pressure of the suction and pump.
  • Spray Gun
    The spray gun is the final process that the paint travels through before it’s sprayed onto a surface. For an airless paint sprayer to operate efficiently, the on/off switch needs to be easily accessible to control. This will hold back on the fluid from being sprayed until the system gets to the appropriate pressure level. 
  • Spray Tip
    You can control the spray-fan size and pattern by adjusting or changing the sprayer’s tip. You can also adjust the amount of paint that is being sprayed by using larger or smaller tips to suit the size of your painting project.

How To Use An Airless Paint Sprayer (Set Up & Operating Process)

1. Prepare your paint

Latex paints are often the default paint cohen for airless paint sprayers. They work incredibly well, but they often need a chemical thinner in order for the paint to flow easily through the nozzle. We recommend adding a quarter of a cup of thinner or water to each gallon of paint. Once you have the right consistency, you then need to strain your paint to remove any little clumps of paint. This will help stop clogging from happening during the application. Simply take a strainer and strain your paint into another bucket.

paint brushes

2. Set Up an Airless Paint Sprayer

Before you start to use your paint sprayer, there are some parts and pieces you’ll need to set up first. The first thing to set up is the siphon hose. You will need to connect one end to the back of your paint sprayer and the other end into your bucket of paint. We recommend doing this before priming as it will be easier to tell when priming is complete because the paint will start coming through the nozzle.

To prime the pump within the airless paint sprayer, you should place the shorter prime tube into a waste pail and the suction tube in the bucket of strained paint. Next, switch the paint sprayer to “prime” with the pressure control knob. The paint should start flowing from the prime tube.

The last part of setting up an airless paint sprayer is installing the tip. Choose a tip that leaves you with your desired spray pattern. Insert the spray tip until the tab is engaged.

3. How to Use an Airless Paint Sprayer

Before you begin your painting project, give your sprayer one final check. Check the hose for microfractures, check the pressure is set to low, and make sure the filters are clean. Once you are happy with everything, turn on the pump and switch the paint sprayer from "prime" to "spray." Give the paint a quick test run on a surface to make sure the paint is being distributed evenly.

On your test surface, try out some different spraying techniques and adjust the pressure to your preference. We recommend staying 10-12 inches away from a surface. Once you have an evenly distributed spray, then you can begin painting a room, door, or piece of furniture.

door entrance

4. Our Recommended Tips & Tricks

  • Clearing a clog
    If you notice that the paint stops flowing from the nozzle, there’s a good chance that the tip is clogged. A good tip for this is to twist the spray gun 90-180 degrees and spray the gun on your test surface. Once the clog is clear, turn the nozzle back, and you can get back to painting.
  • Avoiding overspray and dripping
    To avoid the issue of drips and overspray, you need to make sure that your hand is moving at all times. Some DIYer’s believe spraying in sections is better than at a consistent speed; this is simply not true. It’s better to move slowly than not at all.
  • Staying safe
    Our biggest tip when using an airless paint sprayer is to always keep safety in mind. Airless paint sprayers can often operate at very high pressures, and accidents can happen if you're not careful. Always wear a mask when using a paint sprayer, and cover any visible cuts to the skin. If paint enters a wound, it can cause a "fluid injection injury."

How To Clean An Airless Paint Sprayer

Cleaning your airless paint sprayer and all of its equipment is essential after every use. You may risk breaking the machine if you don’t. The cleaning equipment you’ll need are as follows:

  • Water or Paint thinner
  • 2 x buckets
  • An old toothbrush or pipe cleaner
  1. 1
    Step up your two buckets to begin cleaning out the paint from the paint sprayer. One bucket should have water or thinner in it. Use water for cleaning out latex paints, and paint thinner to remove oil-based paints. The other bucket should be empty.
  2. 2
    Place the suction hose into the clean bucket and aim your spray gun into the empty bucket. Use both the prime mode and spray mode to push out any remaining material.
  3. 3
    Once the unit is clean, you will then need to clean the filters. Remove the pencil, manifold, and suction filter from the paint sprayer and place them into a bucket of clean water and solvent.
  4. 4
    To clean the nozzles, submerse the tips in water or thinner for 5-10 minutes and then begin to clean the tips and nozzle with the old toothbrush or pipe cleaner.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Do airless sprayers use more paint?

The average airless paint sprayer can use 40% more paint than painting with a roller or brush. A good way to reduce this number is by practicing good spraying techniques.


Do I need to thin paint for an airless sprayer?

Most of the time, you will need to thin paint before you begin spraying. For latex paints, simply add a quarter cup of water. For oil-based paints, you will need to use a paint thinner.


Can you use an airless paint sprayer indoors?

Absolutely! Airless paint sprayers are a good choice for interior work as they give a smooth, even finish. They can also cover more area in less time compared to other types of paint sprayers.


Can you spray auto paint with an airless sprayer?

It is possible to use auto paint in an airless paint sprayer. However, there is a lot of work involved. Here’s a video by The Atomic Garage to give you a better look into the typical process.


Are airless spray guns interchangeable?

The tips on the spray guns are interchangeable, but the spray gun itself is not. If you need a part for your paint sprayer, we recommend contacting the manufacturer.


How long can I leave paint in an airless paint sprayer?

For oil-based paints like emulsion, we don’t recommend leaving the paint in the airless paint sprayer longer than 4-5 hours. For latex paints, you can often leave them for up to 12 hours. Be sure to check the paint sprayer's manual as they often have different recommendations per manufacturer.


Conclusion

Now that you know how to use your airless paint sprayer like a pro, you can begin your search for the perfect model according to your budget and needs. Once you make the purchase, you’ll soon realize why so many have made the switch from paint roller to paint sprayer.

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