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How To Clean Sanding Belts and Tips to Extend Belt Life

Jul 20th 2021

Belt sanders are fantastic tools for stripping, shaping, and grinding things down quickly. However, the belts can get clogged with dust and residues from old finishes, paints, oily woods, metal, and more, long before they wear out. But replacing them just because they become clogged can get expensive and slow you down when working on a project.

Can you clean sanding belts, or are they useless once they're clogged up? It turns out that you can clean them reasonably easily, significantly extending their lives. Below are some methods to quickly clean your sanding belts and some tips on proper maintenance to extend the life of your abrasive belts.

Why Clean Sanding Belts

If you work with wood or metal regularly, you're well aware of how quickly sanding belts get clogged, and you've probably gotten frustrated at how expensive replacement belts are. You also have to have space to store all those belts, which can likewise get irritating depending on how much space you have.

Perhaps you've tried to clean them to no avail, so you're stuck buying tons of sanding belts for every project so you don't have to worry about burning or unevenly scratching your surfaces. Thankfully, the cleaning process itself is fairly easy with the right tools on hand.

The Best Method (Abrasive Cleaning Stick)

The best and easiest belt sander cleaner is an abrasive cleaning stick. An abrasive cleaning stick is a rubberized stick you hold against a sanding belt as it's running through the sander.

Cleaning sticks work on wood, paint, and wood finish residue, along with metal shavings and other materials that commonly clog sanding belts. They look like large pencil erasers and essentially "erase" the clogs on your sanding belts, extending their lives, increasing their efficiency, and improving cuts and finishes.

These are the best method for cleaning sanding belts, designed specifically for that purpose. They are easy to use, last a long time, and are much more affordable than constantly replacing belts.

The Desperate DIY Shoe Method

This cleaning method is a popular DIY hack. Who doesn't have old shoes lying around that they can destroy to save some sanding belts? Since using rubberized products works best at cleaning sanding belts, you can use the sole of an old shoe to clean your belts in much the same way you'd use a cleaning stick.

Check out this video below to see how easy it is to clean sandpaper with a shoe:

You'll get the best results with a crepe-soled shoe, which is a shoe with a sole made from layers of latex. They're not the best soles for doing things like hiking, but the material collects and traps a lot of dirt and dust, which is why they're suitable for cleaning sanding discs and belts.

If you do opt for the shoe method, just make sure they are an old pair that you don’t plan on wearing again. The grinder will tear off enough of the sole to make the shoes unwearable.

Liquid Cleaners

For wide belts, you can buy water-alkaline cleansers instead. Most of them are biodegradable and emulsify the materials clogging your belts, making them easy to remove. They generally only work on materials like resin, wood, and paint, so won’t be useful for cleaning metal that has loaded up the sanding belts.

With this method, you first spray the abrasive side of the belts with the liquid cleaner. The solution will emulsify the build-up on the belts. Grab an air hose or compressed air to blast off the gunk.

What are Belt Sander Cleaner Sticks Made of?

An abrasive cleaning stick uses natural or synthetic rubber in its construction because the material that most commonly gets stuck between the grains of a sanding belt sticks to rubber.

Rubber is also soft enough that it won't reduce your sanding belts' abrasiveness. That's how they remove dust, residue, and debris without reducing the belt’s life, too.

PRO TIP - Using a Grease Stick Before Grinding

Another way to extend the life of your belts is to prevent clogging and loading in the first place. This can be done with an abrasive belt grease stick that goes on the belt before use. These sticks have a lightweight grease that spreads a thin layer of lubricant over the surface of your sanding material.

Lubricating belts prevents clogging from the start and reduces friction heat, extending the life of the belt. It also helps ensure your belts cut more effectively and are excellent for people who work with metal objects like blades.

Properly Storing/Maintaining Belts

In addition to knowing how to clean sanding belts, you should also know how to maintain and store them so you can get the most out of them.

Cleaning Sanding Belts

One of the best ways to properly maintain a sanding belt is to ensure it's clean after each use so anything clogging them has no chance to set. Abrasive cleaning sticks are easy enough to use that you can clean your belts quickly after each use.

Simply expose the sanding surface, turn your sander on, and run the stick lightly back and forth until the surface is clean. At that point, you can turn your sander off, remove the belt, and put it away.

Temperature and Humidity

Two of the biggest things that can damage your sanding belts are heat and humidity. You should try and store your sanding belts in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of around 45 percent.

If you only occasionally use a belt sander, you might not find this feasible. However, for those whose sanders see more than occasional use, proper temperature and humidity are crucial to their belts' longevity. Low humidity can cause the belts to become brittle, while high humidity can soften them.

Brittle or softened belts can snap while you're using them, posing a safety hazard. Storing them in temperatures and relative humidity levels as close to optimal as possible is critical not just to their lifespan but also to your safety.

Hanging Sanding Belts

You should take your belts out of their packaging and hang them vertically at least 24 hours before you plan to use them. The wider they are, the more important this is because they need a chance to acclimate to your workspace.

Use non-metallic racks with pegs that are at least four inches long on which to hang your sanding belts. Wooden dowels work well for this purpose. And it’s typically a matter of the larger, the better, depending on the size of the belt and your sander.

Also, make sure your racks are at least one foot off the floor and one foot apart from one another. Avoid storing them directly on concrete, too, as concrete constantly releases moisture even in dry conditions.

Final Thoughts

You already know how expensive sanding belts are, and you probably can't stand replacing them frequently because they clog up.

Fortunately, you have options when it comes to extending your sanding belts' life, including an easy-to-use rubberized abrasive cleaning stick. These sticks remove the dust, dirt, and residues that cause your belts to lose their efficacy and efficiency, extend their lives, and reduce the headaches that come with sanding.

Still Have Questions

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