The Ultimate Guide to Abrasive Blasting

Discover the various types of abrasive blasting equipment and materials and how they are used.

construction worker performing sandblasting

What is Abrasive Blasting?

Abrasive blasting is when a high-pressure stream of air or water removes paint, rust, or other debris from a surface. It can be used on metal and non-metal surfaces and is often used to prepare surfaces for painting or other forms of finishing. This process is also sometimes used to clean graffiti from buildings or other structures.

The most common type of abrasive blasting is sandblasting, which uses sand as the abrasive material. In addition to sandblasting, other abrasive blasting includes shot blasting, grit blasting, and soda blasting. If not done correctly, abrasive blasting can harm the skin and eyes.

Components of an Abrasive Blast System

Here are the typical components of an abrasive blast system.

Abrasive Container or Blasting Pot

The abrasive container, or blasting pot, is a pressure-resistant container that holds the abrasive material and the compressed air used to power the abrasive stream. The blasting pot size will vary depending on the type and amount of abrasive material used.

Propelling Device or Mechanism

The propelling device or mechanism powers the stream of abrasive material. The most common type of propelling device is an air compressor, which uses compressed air to power the stream. Other types of moving devices include electric motors and hydraulic pumps.

Blasting Nozzles

The blasting nozzle is a device that controls the direction and flow of the abrasive stream. Blasting nozzles come in different shapes and sizes, depending on their purpose.

Portable or Mobile Blast Equipment

Portable blasting machines are moveable from one location to another. Trailers usually transport these systems. Some mobile systems use hoppers to hold the abrasive materials. Sometimes, the abrasive materials are recycled after being used, and sometimes they are not.

Blast Cabinets

A blast cabinet allows you to blast an object with high pressure using specially prepared gloves attached to the cabinet. A blasting cabinet protects the user from flying abrasives and dust by placing the object inside.

Blast Rooms

Blast rooms serve the same purpose as blast cabinets but on a much larger scale. They can be big enough to accommodate large objects such as vehicles or airplanes. An object is treated with abrasives in these rooms, depending on the needs of the finished product.

Difference Between Dry Blasting and Wet Blasting

The main difference between dry blasting and wet blasting is that dry blasting uses the impact of the propelled media to affect the surface, while wet blasting uses water propulsion to clean the surface.

Wet blasting is usually the best choice when you want a more refined surface profile. In contrast, dry blasting cabinets need a dust collector to gather and filter the debris from the blasted surface and used media.

10 Types of Abrasive Blasting

Sand Blasting

Sandblasting machines shoot tiny beads of dry silica at a high velocity, using either silica or quartz. These particles are incredibly abrasive and can achieve uniform finishes on surfaces. The high-speed particles from sandblasting remove contaminants efficiently, making it a popular method for cleaning rust off metal.

Best used for: Applicable to any surfaces.

Wet Blasting

The primary issue with air blasting is the lack of control over the amount of dust that gets airborne. Wet blasting solves this problem. This tool blasts water near the end of the nozzle to push out the abrasive at high speeds. Sometimes, water is mixed with the abrasive before it’s ejected through the nozzle.

Best used for: Surfaces blasted with materials that need to be kept under control, such as preventing dust from flying around.

Vacuum Blasting

Vacuum blasting, also known as dustless blasting, is a type of surface cleaning that uses a machine to propel abrasives at a high velocity. The vacuum suction on the machine then removes the propelled materials and any surface contaminants. Vacuum blasting is more effective in recycling spent abrasives and minimizes debris from the cleaning process.

Best used for: Any abrasive blasting that requires little to no debris spillage into the surrounding area.

Centrifugal Blasting

Centrifugal blasting, or wheel blasting, uses a motor-operated blade wheel to hurl abrasives at incredibly high speeds toward the surface that needs cleaning. The most substantial advantage of this cleaning method is that it doesn’t use compressed air pressure, making it much safer. Additionally, users have reported that it works more effectively and leaves surfaces cleaner and smoother.

Best used for: Abrasive blasting operations that require high efficiency and throughput over an extended period.

Soda Blasting

Soda blasting is a new type of blasting that uses sodium bicarbonate as the abrasive. Using sodium bicarbonate has been shown to remove specific contaminants from surfaces effectively.

Best used for: Softer surfaces that require gentle cleaners.

Steel Grit Blasting

Steel grit blasting uses small, round steels as abrasives. It’s often the go-to choice for those trying to clean metal surfaces because it removes paint or rust. Another upside to steel grit is that it can help create a smooth surface finish and strengthen the metal through peening.

Best used for: Perfect for surfaces that require a smooth finish and fast cutting removal.

Bristle Blasting

Bristle blasting is a type of cleaning that doesn’t use an abrasive. Instead, steel wire bristles are rotated against the material’s surface to eliminate contaminants.

Best used for: Ideal for uniform finish and greater precision.

Dry-Ice Blasting

A newer method that uses high-pressure air and carbon dioxide pellets, dry-ice blasting uses high-pressure air and carbon dioxide pellets. Carbon dioxide is a non-toxic abrasive blasting agent that doesn’t react with surface contaminants, making it ideal for cleaning food processing equipment.

Best used for: Any delicate surfaces that abrasives can’t damage.

Pencil Blasting

Pencil blasting, also known as micro-blasting, is a process where high-pressure air and powder are combined. They’re then ejected through a small nozzle, creating a stream that’s both precise and perfect for cleaning particular areas.

Best used for: Any blasting projects that require extreme precision.

Bead Blasting

Bead blasting is a method of using air pressure to clean metal surfaces. It uses glass beads that are effective at cleaning and deburring metal surfaces. The glass beads are spherical, and when they impact the surface, they create a micro-dimple.

Best used for: Any surfaces that require a bright smooth finish.

Industries That Use Abrasive Blasting

Industries that use abrasive blasting include:

  • Shipbuilding and hull cleaning
  • Automotive repair and restoration
  • Construction and contracting
  • Metal casting and foundry work
  • Glasswork, such as etching, decorating, and engraving
  • Monument engraving

What Are Its Pros and Cons?


The process is easy and fast if the correct security measures are in place. There are also portable options, or it can involve a lot of machines if blast rooms are used, for example. Additionally, abrasive blasting can clean various materials if you use suitable media.


If not handled properly, tiny particles can enter an operator’s lungs and cause diseases like silicosis. Some natural blast media, such as walnut shells or corncobs, can trigger an allergic response in some people, potentially resulting in anaphylactic shock.

Of course, the blasting media can also be dangerous to skin not protected by clothing when propelled at high speeds, so be careful not to expose yourself to it.

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Safety Concerns

Abrasive blasting is a process that, if not done correctly, can be dangerous. Dust created from both the media being blasted and the surface can cause health problems if inhaled—even some types of abrasives that are considered “not hazardous.” It’s crucial to research what materials will be used before starting any project like this.

Dangers also come from airborne particles during activities like abrasive blasting or removing lead-based paint, which can harm operators’ nervous systems.

Many countries require controlled environments for abrasive blasting. Despite the safety features included in blast rooms, it’s still a good idea to wear additional equipment when doing this work.

Here are some of the required equipment for operators:

  • Pressurized Blast Hood or Helmet – The helmet will have a viewing window, a safe or changeable lens, and an air-supply hose.
  • Air Supply – Grade-D supply lines carry pressurized air to the blast hood or helmet. Graded air supplies are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); this includes a pressure regulator, an air filtration system, and a carbon monoxide monitor/alarm to protect operators from poisonous gases.
  • Hearing Protection – This includes ear plugs or protectors.
  • Protective Clothing – Blasting operators usually wear clothing appropriate to the materials they are blasting. Still, it usually consists of gloves and overalls or a leather coat and chaps for steel abrasive use.

FAQs about Abrasive Blasting

Although “sandblasting” and “abrasive blasting” are commonly used in industry today, they generally describe the same process: using airborne abrasives to remove the top layer of a substrate, coating, contaminant, or corrosion.

The key distinction is the type of media used. Most abrasive companies use non-sand materials, alternative abrasives, to clean surfaces more accurately. Though sand was once a popular blasting method, it’s now much less common because sand typically contains silica—breathing in this substance can be hazardous to health.

A 1974 recommendation from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended that silica sand (or any other substance containing more than 1 percent crystalline silica) be prohibited as an abrasive blasting material because workers are at risk of developing silicosis and risk is difficult to control.

Soda blasting uses sodium bicarbonate, which is also known as baking soda. Compressed air or water propels the soda particles against a surface. Because baking soda is relatively mild, soda blasting is often used instead of harsher methods.

Although laser cleaning and sandblasting might achieve the same overall purpose of removing built-up materials like rust or paint, they go about it differently. During laser cleaning, laser ablation targets only contaminants without damaging underlying materials.

Laser ablation destroys contaminants by bombarding them with short pulses of intense energy, raising the temperature until they turn to gas.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.