What Is Dust-Free Sanding? A Full Guide

Posted Jun 6, 2024 | Professional insight, Tool Insight | 0 comments

As a professional decorator, the three biggest changes I have noticed in the industry over the past ten years are probably the growth of spraying, the development of (and improvements in) water-based paints for woodwork, and the emergence of dust-free sanding. But what exactly is dust-free (or dustless) sanding? How does it work, and what are the pros and cons of using it when compared with traditional methods?

 

What Is Dust-Free Sanding, and How Does It Work?

 

A traditional sheet of sandpaper has a rough, abrasive side which, when rubbed against uneven filler for example, gradually erodes the surface to make it smooth.  Conversely, it can also be used on ultra-smooth surfaces (cured gloss paint or varnish, for example) to provide a “key” (“rough it up a little”) to help subsequent coats of paint to adhere well.  The surface that is being rubbed down falls to the floor in the form of a very fine dust. Although, being so fine it is prone to being blown around the room by the slightest breeze, and can linger in the air for several days.

Dust-free sanding erodes the surface in the same way, but removes the dust, resulting in a cleaner working environment.  How can it do this? Put simply, by combining two power tools and some innovative abrasive technology.  Clearly, that sounds a bit more complicated and expensive than a sheet of sandpaper, so let’s look at what a dust-free sanding set-up is comprised of:

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Tools Needed for Dust-Free Sanding

 

The three big names in dust-free sanding tools are Festool, Indasa and Mirka.  Apologies to Festool and Indasa – all the photos and examples used in this article are Mirka, because that is what I use, but no disrespect is intended; I hear nothing but good things about Festool and Indasa products (but I still love my Mirka!).

Vacuum

The dust is removed by use of a vacuum.  The clever part here is that the power switch on the vacuum has three settings:

 

Off / On/ Auto

For use as a regular vacuum cleaner, or when the “on” button on the sander is pressed, the vacuum automatically starts, so one triggers the other to make life simple!

Mirka dustless sanding extractor

Hose

This connects the sander to the vacuum, and is the means by which the dust is transported from one to the other.  Obviously, it needs to be a good “snug” fit at both ends, otherwise dust will escape.  Also, I would recommend getting a decent length hose (probably about 4m), otherwise you will feel like you are chained to the vacuum and your movement will be restricted

 

Sander – various shapes and sizes are available, designed for different situations:

  • Circular random orbital sander (e.g. Mirka Deros) is a great all-purpose tool, I use mine all the time for making walls smooth prior to decorating
  • Rectangular sander (e.g. Mirka Deos) is ideal for large flat surfaces such as doors, window sills, worktops etc
  • Triangular (“iron-shaped”) sanders, such as the Mirka Deos Delta, are great for getting into awkward corners; I tend to use mine mostly for woodwork, but it can be used on other surfaces as well.  Good as a “detail” sander.
  • Circular sander with a pole attachment, e.g. Mirka Leros – these make sanding ceilings without getting a stiff neck so much easier!
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Sanding discs

This is where the “magic” happens!  Unlike traditional sandpaper, the discs (which come in various shapes and sizes to fit the various sanders) are made of an abrasive “mesh”, which means that as soon as dust is created it is sucked through the mesh, down the hose and into the vacuum.

mirka sanding disc mesh

Pros and Cons of Dustless Sanding

 

Pros

  • Better finish – because the machines provide such a consistently smooth finish and are so easy to use, there is no excuse for not doing your prep thoroughly
  • Faster working – a dust-free sanding set-up saves time both in the sanding, and in the clearing up at the end of the day.  And time is money…
  • Less mess – this is a massive selling point, especially when you are working in somebody else’s home.  So much so that some decorators charge a premium for using dust-free sanding
  • Healthier working environment – the health benefits of not breathing in clouds of powdered filler and old paint all day are fairly obvious.  The other thing to mention is that these tools have been ergonomically designed, so they fit nicely in your hand without putting strain on your joints when used over a long period.

 

Cons

More expensive – without a doubt, the cost of the initial set-up is prohibitive for many.  Two sanders and a vacuum are going to set you back £1200+, plus the sanding discs are more expensive than regular sandpaper.  However, there are always deals to be had, and buying the complete kit as a “package” can often work out cheaper than buying the individual components separately.

 

FAQs

 

Do dustless sanders really work?

In my experience, I would say absolutely yes, they do.  However, I wouldn’t claim that they are 100% dust free all the time.  But they do collect over 95%, maybe as much as 99% of the dust.

 

Is dustless sanding worth it?

Again, based on my own experience, I would say yes.  When I first started work as a decorator I used to sand everything by hand.  The dust went everywhere; up my nose (even with a mask on), all over the customers’ furniture…and if you put dust sheets down first, you then disturbed all the dust again when you lifted them.  At one point I had to visit the doctor because of breathing difficulties, they thought I might be asthmatic – I’ve had no problems since I went dustless, and no complaints from customers about the dust being everywhere.  Yes, there is undeniably a big cost to get started, but once that money is spent you soon forget the pain because the dust-free sanding experience is so much better than the old-fashioned way.

 

Are there cheaper alternatives to buying expensive Dust-Free Sanding Set-Ups?

Yes, there are.  My feeling is that once you’ve tried dust-free sanding, you will probably want to upgrade to a system specifically designed for the job, but if you’re looking to get into dustless prep for the first time, click here for some ideas on budget dust-free sanders for decorating.

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Dust-Free Sanding – Conclusions

 

The initial cost of getting into dust-free sanding make it prohibitive for many decorators, never mind DIY enthusiasts.  Looking at it long-term though, once that initial cost has been paid the benefits in terms of health, finish, time saved and happier customers are huge. I believe that dust-free sanding will become the norm in time, especially for large, flat surfaces.  It is, as they say, a “game changer”.

Posted Jun 6, 2024 | 0 comments

About the Author

About the Author

With years of decorating experience, Robin set up his own business – Wokingham Decorating Services – in 2007, carrying out mainly domestic work. He enjoys trying out new products and learning as much as he can about the decorating industry

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