Over time, your sanding belts will clog up, especially if you work with resinous woods, paint, or softer metals. Heat generated by the sanding process can cause these materials to soften, stick to the belt surface, and accumulate dust and debris. Not only will your sanding jobs take longer, but all of that clogged dust can scratch or burn the workpiece and leave a substandard finish.

Fortunately, abrasive sanding belts can be cleaned and reused without much difficulty. The time you spend clearing or washing away all of that built-up material will be minimal compared to the cost of a replacement belt, which can add up to significant savings. 

Purchase a Belt-Cleaning Stick

Fintech Abrasives sells cleaning sticks specifically designed for sanding belts. They are made from rubber and look like a giant pencil eraser. Our sticks are 8" x 2" x 2", but cleaning sticks can come in different sizes to accommodate the various belt sanders on the market. Our cleaning sticks are not intended for use on a wide belt or conveyer type sander.

If you have a larger sander, open the belt housing first so you can access the belt. You don’t have to remove it; simply lift and secure the housing. Handheld sanders can be clamped upside down onto your work table using a vise, so that the belt faces the ceiling. Make sure that it’s securely in place before you turn it on, as the sander will move around during the cleaning process.

Turn on the sander and run the cleaner stick back and forth across the belt surface, covering an inch-wide section at a time. The abrasive will eat away at the stick and remove the stuck-on residue from between the grit. Keep moving it until all grime and build-up have been cleared away.

Additional tips:

  • Be careful to not use too much force, as the stick could catch on the moving belt.

  • If you were only able to find a smaller cleaning stick and you’re worried about catching your fingers while working on a wide-belt sander, you can secure the stick to a piece of scrap wood using layers of industrial tape.

Once your sanding belt looks clean, shut the machine off and check the abrasive for any residual dust. If you still see build-up, turn the sander back on and hold the cleaner stick against the dirty area. It should clear up after a few rotations, but if it doesn’t, it may be time to replace the belt.

Buy a Specialty Cleaner

If you use a wide belt sander, you can buy specialty liquid cleaners to remove stickiness and grime from both paper and cloth-backed belts. Most of them are water-based alkaline cleaners that are biodegradable and non-flammable. When applied, they emulsify the build-up so that it’s easier to remove.

To apply the cleaner, loosen the tension on the belt. Then rotate it carefully while spraying the solution on the abrasive and blow the dirt off using an air house. If the belt is still dirty, let it dry and repeat.

For poly-backed, 100% waterproof belts, you can use a non-toxic cleaner like Simple Green. Just make sure that the belt backing is not a poly-cotton blend, or it may stretch and lose its shape. Apply the cleaner while the belt is standing up (not lying flat against a surface) and let it dry for at least two days before using the belt again.

Use an Old Shoe

We wouldn’t recommend this for larger industrial machines like a wide belt sander, but you can use the rubber soles of shoes to clean belts for smaller grinders or belt sanders. The rubber sole of your shoe will work in the same way a rubber cleaning stick would. 

After removing and throwing away the shoelace, clamp your sander securely upside down on your workbench. Then power it on, lightly press the shoe sole against the running belt, and move it slowly from side to side until the belt surface is clean. For best results, use a crepe-sole shoe.

Other Options

  • If you own a smaller handheld sander, you can clean narrower belts using natural or synthetic wine corks. Depending on the condition of your belt, you may have to use more than one cork, so have a few on hand.

  • Some people buy a tube of silicone caulk and let it cure. Once it’s hard, peel the cardboard away from the material and use it like a regular belt cleaning stick. 

Properly Storing Clean Belts

Once your sanding belts are clean, hang them on special conditioning racks near your belt sander, so that they remain acclimated to your workshop’s ambient temperature and humidity. These racks should:

  • Have non-metallic hangers that are at least 4” in diameter and 4” from the shop wall.

  • Keep the belts at least one foot off the floor.

  • Ensure the hanging belts don’t touch each other.

  • Avoid direct exposure to sunlight and any of the elements.  

What Coating Do You Use?

With abrasives, coating refers to the amount of grain on the backing material. There are three main types:

  • Closed coat: The grain is spread evenly across the belt without any gaps or voids. It provides a smooth and even finish on solid materials and is typically used for applications that don’t involve wood.

  • Open coat: The grain covers less of the belt surface (usually between 50% and 70%) and allows more material buildup to expel during sanding. Open-coated abrasives are commonly used in woodworking applications.

  • Semi-open coat: With semi-open coats, grain coverage falls somewhere between open and closed coats, with 30% being the average.

If you sand wood regularly, an open-coat abrasive lets more residue fall off and minimizes the chance of it getting wedged between the grains. On the other hand, if you’re working with harder woods and metals, a closed-coat abrasive will prevent large chunks from being caught and damaging your workpiece. Choosing the right coating for your sanding belts will therefore reduce the need for frequent cleaning.

Contact an Industrial Abrasive Specialist

While cleaning your sanding belts can extend their working life significantly, there will come a time when you need to replace them. At Fintech Abrasives, we produce high-quality sanding belts designed for maximum longevity. For more information about our products, speak to a technician today by filling out our contact form or calling (888) 223-8768.

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