December 08, 2022 5 min read

When To Change Sandpaper Belts, Discs, & Sheets

When used under the right conditions, the best abrasive products have a long working life. Sooner or later, though, you’ll want to replace them. The question is: how do you know when you should change sandpaper belts, discs, and sheets? In this article, the abrasive specialists at Red Label Abrasives share some tips for determining when it’s time for replacement.

Signs That It’s Time to Replace Your Sandpaper

When your sandpaper experiences performance problems, the first step is to determine why. If the abrasive takes too long to do its job or you have to apply more pressure to get results, it’s likely that the grains are clogged with debris or the abrasive side has worn down. In either event, it’s likely time to replace your sandpaper.

In addition:

  • When you notice that some spots on your sandpaper are worn out more than others, you should change the sandpaper. Sandpaper that is too rough can damage surfaces and prevent you from achieving the results you want.
  • Sometimes worn-out sandpaper maintains an even surface, making visual confirmation difficult. Try feeling the surface- if it’s too smooth, it’s wearing out. 
  • If you’ve cleaned the sandpaper (more on that below) and both performance and results are still subpar, replace it.

Can You Reuse Abrasive Products?

If you haven’t been working with abrasives for a long time, you might be inclined to either discard your sandpaper as soon as you start noticing early signs of wear and tear or keep using it until the abrasive side is almost entirely gone. You do, however, have a third option: recycling / reusing it, although how you go about it will mainly depend on the type of abrasive product you have.

How to Clean Sandpaper Products

If your sanding belt or disc looks clogged but otherwise in decent condition, you can try cleaning it before you resort to throwing it away. If the backing is not made from paper, try soaking it for a few hours and using a steel brush to remove debris after it has softened. Once the sandpaper is clean, let it dry out before using it again.

If your abrasive product has a paper backing or the clogging is relatively minor, try cleaning it by rubbing an eraser against the grain to eliminate debris. Sanding belts can be cleaned by:

  • Using an abrasive cleaning stick. If you don’t have access to one, an old rubber-soled shoe will also work. Turn on the belt sander, press the stick or shoe against the belt as it passes through, and let it clear any clogs. If you have a narrower belt, you can use cork instead.
  • Applying a liquid cleaner to eliminate paint, wood, or resin build-up (not so effective on metal).

Reusing a Sanding Disc

If you have been using an orbital sander, you may have noticed that the abrasive pad is wearing down, especially if you’ve been using it for a while. Instead of throwing it away, mount the sandpaper disc on a piece of wood and use it for manual hand sanding instead. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Remove any debris from the used sandpaper.
  • Place the sanding disc on a thin wood surface, such as MDF or softwood.
  • Make a trace of the sandpaper shape on the wood.
  • Using the sandpaper disc's shape as a reference, cut out the wood. Attach the sandpaper disc to the wood.
  • Glue a small MDF block to the wooden sheet's back to create a handle.

How Long Does Sandpaper Last?

It’s hard to tell exactly how long your sandpaper will last. It really depends on what you use it for, as well as how frequently you use it. 

For example, if you sand by hand or only use abrasives for polishing or touch-ups, a good product will last you for months. However, if you have an orbital sander or belt sander, the sanding disc tends to lose its sharpness more quickly due to the faster speed and rotating power of the machine.

Making Your Sandpaper Products Last Longer

When you invest in a premium abrasive, you want to get as much out of your investment as possible. Using the right coating for the application, lubricating sanding belts before each use, and proper storage practices can help you keep your products in prime condition.

Choosing the Right Coating

Coating refers to how much grain is on the backing material. There are three types of coating: 

  • Closed Coat:A closed coat abrasive covers 90% to 95% of the surface, making it ideal for hand sanding and working with metal and dense hardwoods.
  • Open Coat:The grain covers a smaller surface area (usually between 50% and 70%), allowing more material to be expelled during sanding.
  • Semi-Open Coat:The coverage for semi-open coats is somewhere in the middle: about 30% on average.

Woodworkers benefit from open-coat abrasives because more residue falls off and is less likely to get stuck between grains. For metal and harder woods, a closed-coat abrasive reduces the risk of large chunks becoming caught and damaging the belt and workpiece.

Keep the Belt Lubricated

When working with metal, apply an abrasive grease stick before running the belt to reduce friction heat and clogging risk. For coarse-grit ceramic and zirconia belts, Red Label Abrasives sells a grease stick with aluminum oxide powder mixed into the formula.

Store Sanding Belts Properly

  • Heat and humidity can damage sanding belts. You should store your belts at a temperature of 60 to 80°F with a relative humidity of around 45 percent. 
  • Hang your belts vertically at least 24 hours before you plan to use them. Keep them away from sunlight and avoid contact with concrete, which releases moisture in drier environments. Hang them at least one foot off the floor and one foot apart.

Can You Recycle Sandpaper?

You can’t recycle sandpaper like you do with bottles, cans, and paper because it is made from multiple materials that don’t decompose. If you’re reluctant to throw old or worn sandpaper away, try reusing it in the following ways:

  • Sharpening scissors or knives
  • Scuffing the soles of new shoes to create a stronger grip on smoother surfaces
  • Applying it to indoor stairs to reduce the risk of slipping

If you own a business that uses sanding as a core process, you can even try cutting out rectangular pieces and gluing them to the back of your business cards to give a unique impression.

Red Label Abrasives: A Cut Above The Rest

When you’ve spent hard-earned money on top-quality abrasives like zirconia or EdgeCore ceramic, it’s normal to want it to last as long as possible. However, there will come a time when it no longer does its job, and you have to either replace it or risk degrading the quality of your work.

At Red Label Abrasives, we can replace your most valued abrasive products with sanding belts, sanding discs, and sandpaper that let you maintain your tradition of quality workmanship. We have different grits, backings, and sizes in stock and can even do custom orders for unique applications. For more information or to place an order, please call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form today.


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