Sanding belts do a lot of work, whether it be stock removal, grinding, shaping, or polishing to a sheen. This means that over time they become clogged, especially if you work a lot with resinous wood or paint. When the belts are left uncleaned, not only will sanding tasks take longer, but all that accumulated debris can leave marks on the workpiece surface or even burn it, resulting in a flawed finish.
Fortunately, your only option isn’t buying a new sanding belt. Well-manufactured belts are comparatively easy to clean and reuse, and the amount of time you spend getting them back in shape is negligible compared to what you’d invest in new ones. In this blog, the team atRed Label Abrasives shows you how to extend the working life of your sanding belts by cleaning them.
Why You Should Clean Your Sanding Belts
It doesn’t matter whether you have a hobby shop in your garage or oversee an extensive production line: you don’t want to spend any more money on supplies than you have to. This is especially true for sanding belts and discs, as good quality abrasives aren’t cheap. Aside from the purchase price, you may have to custom cut rolls of abrasive to accommodate your sander, which represents an investment of your time. Some preemptive cleaning will ensure that your abrasive cuts better and with less risk of burning your material, than one that is clogged.
So how should you clean your sanding belts? Let’s explore your options below.
Abrasive Cleaning Sticks
This is the method preferred by the pros, and it’s easy to see why. Made from rubber and resembling an oversized pencil eraser, anabrasive cleaning stick can be used to remove residue created by metal, old finishes, paint, wood, and other substances that often clog sanding belts. These materials stick to rubber, which is also soft enough to preserve the sharpness of your abrasive grains.
All you have to do is turn the belt sander on, press the stick against the belt as it passes through the sander, and let the rubber literally ‘erase’ any clogs. Abrasive cleaning sticks do a thorough job and offer excellent value for your money.
If you use a wide belt sander, a liquid cleaner can help you cover the entire surface of the belt more quickly. These water-alkaline cleaners dissolve the debris clogging your abrasives, making it easier to remove. (Note: they work best on substances like paint, wood, or resin, and aren’t as effective on metal buildup.)
Start by spraying the liquid cleaner on the belt's abrasive side and letting the solution emulsify the buildup. (The manufacturer's directions will indicate how long it takes to remove any clogs.) Then remove the softened debris using compressed air or a hose.
If you don’t have access to an abrasive cleaning stick, chances are that you have an old rubber-soled shoe like a sneaker lying around. If your belt sander is a smaller one, you can use this popular DIY hack to clean its belts. For best results, use a crepe-sole shoe, which does a great job of collecting dust and dirt.
Once the shoelace has been removed and discarded, clamp your sander securely upside down on your workbench. After you power it on, press the shoe sole lightly against the running abrasive belt and move it slowly from one side to the other until the belt surface is clean.
If you own a smaller handheld sander, you can use wine corks to clean narrower belts. Both natural and synthetic corks will do. Make sure you have a few on hand, as belts with more build-up will require multiple corks to clean up.
If you have an unused tube of silicone caulk lying around, you can make your own belt cleaning stick by letting it cure. Once the silicone is hard, peel the cardboard covering away from it and use it like you would a regular abrasive cleaning stick.
Tips for Extending the Life of Your Sanding Belts
The tools and strategies outlined above can remove any existing buildup. However, the ideal solution is to prevent debris from accumulating in the first place. There are two ways to accomplish this: using the right coating and lubricating the belts before each use.
Using the Right Coating
Abrasives are classified according to how much grain is on their backing material. In general, there are three types:
Closed Coat:With closed coat abrasives, 90 to 95% of the surface is covered with abrasive material, making them ideal for hand sanding and working with wood and metal surfaces. Since there are fewer gaps between the grains in closed coats, they cut more aggressively and provide a smoother finish.
Open Coat:During sanding, an open coat allows more material to be expelled because the grain covers a smaller portion of the belt surface (usually between 50% and 70%). Abrasives with open coats are often used on soft woods such as cedar, pine, fir, and spruce, as well as on softer metals such as aluminum, brass, and zinc.
Semi-Open Coat:The grain coverage of semi-open coats is somewhere between open and closed coats: about 30% on average. Although it has slightly more cutting ability than open coat surfaces, it is still less aggressive than closed coat surfaces.
So how do you select the right one? The answer depends on the application.
If you work with wood, open-coat abrasives let more residue fall off and minimize the chances of it getting stuck between the grains. In contrast, if you're working with metal and harder woods, a closed-coat abrasive will prevent large chunks from getting caught and damaging your workpiece as well as the belt.
Lubricating the Belt
Preventing clogging and loading is another way to prolong the life of your belts. If you work mainly with metal, you can do this by applying an abrasivebelt grease stick before using the belt, which can reduce both the friction heat and the risk of clogging. Red Label Abrasives sells a grease stick with aluminum oxide powder mixed into the formula, increasing the life and cutting power of coarser-grit ceramic and zirconia belts.
Proper Belt Storage is Also Important
How you store your sanding belts is just as important as how you maintain and use them. To keep them in the best possible condition, follow the steps below.
Monitor Temperature and Humidity
Sanding belts can be damaged by heat and humidity. It is best to store your belts at a temperature of 60 to 80℉ with a relative humidity of around 45 percent. Any lower and they can become too brittle, while higher humidity can soften them to the point that they tear or break apart more easily.
Hanging Up the Belts
It is recommended that you hang your belts vertically at least 24 hours before you are planning to use them. Don’t leave them lying directly on concrete, as concrete releases damaging moisture even in drier environments, or leave them exposed to sunlight.
Hang the belts on racks with pegs that are at least 4” long and made of non-metallic materials. (In this case, wooden dowels are ideal.) Make sure that they hang at least one foot off the floor and one foot apart from each other.
The best abrasives represent a significant investment for you, and you don’t want to replace them frequently due to clogging or poor storage issues. Fortunately, best practices and preventative maintenance go a long way: regular cleaning, using the right abrasive coat for the application, routine lubrication, and proper storage methods will effectively extend the working life of your sanding belts.
Red Label Abrasives: A Cut Above The Rest
The ability to clean and maintain your sanding belts makes it easier to invest in a higher quality product. At Red Label Abrasives, we manufactureabrasive belts for wide belt sanders, hand held sanders, and everything in between. Our materials are equally varied, from aluminum oxide designed specifically for woodworking or metalworking to premium EdgeCore Ceramic belts that are an asset to any metalworking operation. We can even do custom orders for special applications- just ask!
If you have questions or would like to speak to an abrasive technician about a custom order, call844-824-1956 orfill out our contact form and we’ll respond as soon as possible. We look forward to serving you!
David Kranker is a writer and creative maker who has been covering the abrasive and knife-making industries on the Red Label Abrasives Blog since 2020. David spends his time continually researching sanding and bladesmithing to provide readers with the latest and greatest information. In his free time, David utilizes abrasives for many different home and auto projects at his home in Delton, MI.