Is Wet Sanding with Electric Sander Possible? And How to Do?

If you have a sanding job to tackle in your home, wet sanding can be a great way to smooth down paint jobs, beautify woodwork, or prep a surface for painting. Can you wet sand with an electric sander? Is it safe, and what is the best way to wet electric sand? Let’s find out.

Yes, you can wet sand with an electric sander. You must be careful, however, to not allow the water being used to come into contact with any of the electrical components in the electric sander. There are also contexts in which it is not advisable to use an electric sander to wet sand, and where wet sanding by hand would be more appropriate.

Keep reading to learn more about how to safely wet sand using an electric sander, and where this method can help you around your home or shop.

What is Wet Sanding?

Wet sanding is the practice of using water or another liquid as a lubricant on the surface that is being sanded. You can wet sand metal, wood, or any other material that you’re smoothing out and working on.

Wet sanding is often done at the beginning and at the final stages of sanding, during polishing of a finished paint job, or to correct blemishes in dried paint.

Benefits of Wet Sanding

Wet sanding hydrates the material being sanded, and gives the finished item a smoother, softer look and texture. Using water during sanding also helps to wash away any tiny particles of sanded material, which will cut down on roughness and abrasion.

Wet sanding is great for delicate sanding jobs, as the use of water lessens the abrasiveness of the sandpaper, and helps the finished job come out smoother and finer. It can also add polish and glow to the finished sand job, and give a look that is somewhere between dry sanding and a light varnish.

The use of water can also help your sandpaper from becoming caked with sawdust or metallic particles, giving you a smoother finish and allowing your sandpaper to work more efficiently. You’ll go through fewer rounds of sandpaper this way, and might save some money.

Where Would You Wet Sand?

Wet sanding is great for sanding down drywall in preparation for painting, as it cuts down on dust in the air, and results in a more delicate polish.

Wet sanding metal is a great way to remove minor scratches and blemishes from metal work, and give a truly polished and flawless look. The water acts as a cushion between the metal and the sandpaper and hydrates the metal’s surface as you work. The results are truly beautiful.

Likewise, wet sanding a car’s body is also a popular way to help make a sanding job on a car truly smooth and professional and to make sure that the raw metal is optimally primed for paint.

Wet sanding wood adds greater polish and beauty to a finished sand job, and helps the wood hydrate and smooth out naturally as it slowly takes on moisture and dries. Wet sand between layers of wood varnish for a smooth glow.

Wet sanding also works great between layers of dried paint, to help wear down blemishes in the paint job and get a smooth finish. Use it to buff away the orange peel, dried paint flecks, and inconsistently thick paint layering.

Can You Wet Sand with an Electric Sander?

Yes, it is possible to wet sand with an electric sander. Wet sanding with an electric sander can give a smoother and more beautiful finish to any material you’re sanding. You have the benefit of consistency and hydration when you use this sanding method and can help cut back on over-sanding or a rough finish.

Water helps hydrate, smooth, and wash away dust and particles as you sand. Feel free to wash and hydrate often to wash away particles, add more water, and refresh the surface as you sand.  Sand, wet, repeat.

You’ll want to be careful, though, as wet sanding with an electric sander needs some special considerations and extra precautions as you’ll see below.

How to Safely Electric Wet Sand

Mixing water and electricity is a dangerous and even deadly move. This can cause socks, burns, injuries, and even death. As a result, you’re going to want to take some extra precautions when wet sanding with an electric sander.

If you wet sand by hand, you can easily wet the sandpaper itself as a successful wet sanding method. But using electricity makes things more complicated, and to keep water as far away from the electrical components of the sander, you’ll have to keep your sandpaper dry to start.

Instead, lubricate the surface you’re about to sand while the sander is turned off. Once the surface is hydrated to your preference, turn on your electric sander, and start working. Turn off your sander before applying any additional water to the surface, and make sure to store your sander away from any water sources when not in use.

Using a double insulated electric sander can help minimize dangers, too. These sanders have special rubber or plastic layers between the electrical components and the air outside. Take the previously mentioned precautions no matter what kind of sander you’re using, however. Safety has no price tag and is worth the extra care.

Tips for Successful Wet Sanding

Before you begin to wet sand, make sure the surface you’re about to work on is completely clean and free of any dust, debris, or particles. Any foreign material, no matter how small, on the surface of your work item can cause abrasions and scarring as you sand and needs to be removed.

You can remove dust and particles with water, a clean cloth, or both.  This has the added benefit of pre-lubricating the surface and allowing you to inspect the surface before you get to work.

Next, make sure you’ve got the right sandpaper grit for the job. The higher the grit number used, the more subtle the sand job will be. The lower the grit number, the coarser and rougher the sanding job will be. Adjust your grit number as needed, or work from a low grit up to a high grit for the best and smoothest polish.

Make sure to take time out as you sand to visually inspect for any blemishes or imperfections, and take your time. Re-hydrate the surface between buffing rounds, and use as much water as you like.

What Kind of Lubricant Can You Use?

So, what kinds of liquid can be used for wet electric sanding? Can you use almost anything, or should some liquids be avoided?

The simplest substance to use is plain old water. It does a great job hydrating and won’t add any unnatural or foreign components to the material you’re sanding. This can be especially helpful if you’re sanding something delicate and porous, like wood. In addition, hydrating the wood will cause the wood to swell up ever so slightly and then dry, giving you a smoother surface to work on in the end.

If you’re wet sanding metal, soapy water can be used, as well. The soap in the water won’t be absorbed by or harm the metal and can add a bit of cushion and elasticity to the hydration job as you work. Soapy water can also be used when wet sanding blemishes in dried wood varnish, as it won’t hurt the wood beneath, and can give a smoother shine.

When sanding bare metal, WD-40 can also be used as a sanding lubricant. It’s a bit too harsh to use elsewhere, so we don’t recommend it on anything but hard metal. It can help give metal some extra shine and polish, though, and is a great substance to have on hand overall.

Penetrating oils and mineral spirits can also be used to wet sand certain kinds of wood, such as walnut, mahogany, and any other tighter-grained wood. Simply lubricate with the penetrating oil or spirits, sand, and check for blemishes along the way.

Don’t get too creative with hydrating liquids beyond this. Experimenting with substances can cause damage to delicate surfaces, and make things more complicated.

Where Would You Want to Avoid Electric Wet Sanding?

Electric sanding in general can give you a more uniform sanding job, but can also apply a bit too much pressure compared to manual sanding. If your sanding job is especially delicate and requires a very, very light touch, wet sanding by hand would be the better option.

If your sanding job requires the lightest of touches, constant inspection, or encompasses a very minute or delicate area, wet sanding by hand is best. There are some places where an electric sander just can’t go, and those are the places where wet sanding by hand is safer and smarter.

When you wet sand by hand, you have the option to either wet the sandpaper directly, wet the surface, or both. Electrocution is not a danger here, so feel free to use as much water as you want, at every stage, and take your time as you go.

Conclusion

Electric wet sanding is the process of applying lubrication to a surface as you sand, and can lend a beautiful and smooth look to wood and metal. Be sure to hydrate the surface and not the sandpaper, keep water or other lubricants away from the electrical components of the electric sander, and keep the sander off while applying water, oil, or mineral spirits to the surface. Store the sander away from all liquid, even when off.

Wet sanding with water is great for wood or metal, and WD-40 can also be used on bare metal for extra shine and beauty. Electric wet sanding can also be used on drywall to prep for painting, and in between coats of varnish for extra gloss and smoothness.

Electric wet sanding should be avoided on very delicate surfaces, or within very small areas where extra care and nuance are needed. Instead, wet sand these areas by hand for a careful and detailed shine.

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