All About Soda Blasting: Your Go-To Guide

Welcome to the wonderful world of soda blasting! If you're looking for a safe, effective, and environmentally friendly way to clean or remove coatings from surfaces, you've come to the right place. Soda blasting uses baking soda as its abrasive medium and offers a host of benefits over traditional methods like sandblasting. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know‚ÄĒfrom the basics to advanced techniques and equipment.

 

soda blasting auto body

What is Soda Blasting?

Imagine cleaning a surface so gently that it feels like magic. That's soda blasting! This technique uses sodium bicarbonate (yes, the same stuff in your kitchen) to clean and remove contaminants without damaging the underlying material. Propelled by compressed air or water, these tiny soda particles work wonders on a variety of surfaces.

Soda blasting, also known as sodium bicarbonate blasting, is a versatile and environmentally friendly abrasive blasting technique. It uses sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as the abrasive medium to clean, strip, and restore surfaces without causing damage. 

How It Works

Here we break down soda blasting into its most simplistic form. The process is simple, though in reality there are quite a few more components and processes in place to make soda blasting efficient and productive. More on that later on in the guide.

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Soda blasting operates on the principle of propelling sodium bicarbonate particles against a surface using compressed air or water. The impact of these particles breaks down contaminants and coatings without damaging the underlying substrate. The key components of the soda blasting process include: 

  1. Medium: Sodium bicarbonate particles.
  2. Propellant: Compressed air or water.
  3. Nozzle: Directs the medium particles onto the target surface.
  4. Surface: The material being cleaned or stripped.

The soda particles hit the surface, breaking down unwanted surface coatings and impurities without harming the substrate. It's like a gentle yet effective scrub for your surfaces!

Chemical Properties

¬†Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO‚āÉ) is a white, crystalline powder with a slightly alkaline pH. Its mild abrasive properties make it suitable for delicate surfaces, while its water solubility ensures easy cleanup.¬†

A Brief History

When I hear "baking soda," my mind immediately drifts to the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting from the oven. For years, I only associated this white powder with culinary delights, blissfully unaware of its broader applications. However, as I grew older and began to appreciate the intricate dance of chemistry in our everyday lives, baking soda morphed from a kitchen staple into a fascinating substance with a myriad of uses.

Soda blasting was developed as a kinder, gentler alternative to harsh abrasive methods like sandblasting. Over time, it has evolved into a versatile, go-to technique for a variety of cleaning and restoration projects.

But how did this unassuming kitchen staple become a superstar in the surface preparation and cleaning industry? The tale begins in 1984 with the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Project engineers were up against a formidable obstacle: they required a blasting abrasive delicate enough to preserve the statue's copper skin. Traditional sandblasting proved too abrasive and generated excessive dust, a significant issue in the statue's tight interior spaces. Enter baking soda. Its mild yet powerful abrasive properties made it the ideal solution, and over 200,000 pounds of it were employed to complete the restoration.

Following the successful restoration of the Statue of Liberty, soda blasting quickly gained recognition across various industries. Its unique benefits, including non-destructive cleaning and environmental friendliness, made it a popular choice in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, marine, and food processing.

The Benefits of Soda Blasting

Sodium bicarbonate is one of the most unique mediums used in blasting. Not only does it do a fine job of removing surface coatings, contaminants and stains, but it also has a few other unique properties. Sodium bicarbonate also explodes on impact encapsulating the particles it removes while also serving an interesting role in odor removal. That's right, not only will it look clean, it will smell like it too.

  • Non-Destructive (Gentle) Cleaning:¬†One of the standout benefits of soda blasting is its non-destructive nature. Sodium bicarbonate is softer than many other abrasives, which means it can remove contaminants without damaging the underlying surface. Perfect for delicate materials!
  • Versatility:¬†From metal to wood, glass to plastic, carbon fiber to fiberglass, rubber to masonry soda blasting can handle it all. Its gentle nature makes it suitable for a wide range of materials, so you can tackle multiple projects¬†with one blasting media.
  • Environmentally Friendly:¬†Soda blasting is not just effective; it's also kind to the planet. Sodium bicarbonate is non-toxic and biodegradable, making it a sustainable choice. Plus, it produces less dust and fewer airborne contaminants, making it safer for everyone involved.
  • Health and Safety:¬†Soda blasting is safer for operators and bystanders due to its non-toxic and non-hazardous nature. While inhaling sodium bicarbonate dust can cause mild irritation, it is far less harmful than the chemicals used in traditional cleaning solvents.
  • Cost-Effective:¬†While the initial cost might be slightly higher, the long-term savings are significant. Reduced surface damage means fewer repairs and replacements, making soda blasting a smart investment.
  • Helps Handle Odors:¬†Baking soda neutralizes odors by balancing both acidic and basic odor molecules, effectively reducing or eliminating unpleasant smells.

What Can I Soda Blast?

Soda blasting is incredibly versatile. Here are some common uses for soda blasting:

  • Paint Removal: Strip paint without damaging the surface.
  • Protective Coating Removal: Get rid of coatings without harming the material underneath.
  • Food Processing Equipment: Safe for cleaning machinery in food facilities.
  • Automotive Restoration: Perfect for cleaning car frames and parts.
  • Graffiti Removal: Say goodbye to unwanted graffiti without damaging the wall.
  • Industrial Maintenance: Rotors, Fans, Conveyers and more.
  • Oil and Grease Removal: Clean machinery and equipment efficiently.
  • Marine Applications: Ideal for cleaning boat hulls and marine equipment.
  • Historical Restoration: Restore artifacts and buildings delicately.
  • Masonry Cleaning: Clean brick, stone, and other masonry surfaces.
  • Wood Restoration: Remove paint and finishes without damaging the wood.
  • Mold Removal & Remediation: A popular choice for removing mold in basements, crawlspaces, walls, and other surfaces in homes. Not only will it remove and kill the mold, the soda also controls odors.
  • Fire Restoration: Fire and smoke damage is notoriously difficult to clean. Soda blasting is commonly used to remove damage and also to remove the unmistakable odor after a fire.
  • This is a just a small sample of the applications for soda blasting.

We also have a great comparison of before and after photos relating to soda blasting, if you are curious.

Soda Blasting Equipment

 The Essentials

To get started with soda blasting, you'll need a few key pieces of equipment:

  • Air Compressor: Generates the required CFM for your nozzle size and desired blast pressure.
  • Air Cooler:¬†Cools air. Cool air allows for the quick removal of moisture.
  • Moisture Separator:¬†Spins the cool air to remove the moisture from the air.
  • Blast Pot:¬†The specialized pressure vessel which typically holds the soda media and also where the compressed air mixes with it.
  • Blast Hose:¬†The hose that carries the mixture of air and soda to the desired blasting location.
  • Nozzle: Directs the¬†soda media onto the target surface.
  • Sodium Bicarbonate: The star of the show!
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):¬†This includes full face respirator mask, coverall suit, gloves, and ear protection. Safety first!¬†

Types of Equipment

  • Mobile Blasting: Mobile blasting refers to having your blasting equipment in a mobile configuration. An example would be your blasting equipment permanently mounted to a trailer with a compressor for easy off-site transport.
  • Blast Cabinet Blasting or Booth Blasting: This type of blasting is more popular in automotive and industrial applications. A specially designed booth or cabinet is used to contain the blast area, remove airborne contaminants, and minimize noise associated with running the equipment.¬†

Choosing the Right Gear

Consider the size of your project, the material you're working on, your budget, and whether you need portability. The right equipment makes all the difference! Most professional soda blasters will have a highly customized soda blasting equipment kit to suit their common use patterns.

For example, an engine rebuilding operation would likely have a blast room or large cabinet for blasting parts. They are likely to have an electric compressor and a stationary blast pot that is either part of the blast cabinet or secured nearby.

Alternatively, a fire restoration company would have a mobile trailer with all the equipment mounted permanently so that they could move from job to job with ease and efficiency.

Maintenance Tips

Keep your equipment in top shape with regular cleaning, inspections, and proper storage. A little maintenance goes a long way in ensuring optimal performance. Key maintenance tasks include:

  • Cleaning: Regularly clean the blast pot, hoses, and nozzles to prevent clogging.
  • Inspection: Inspect the equipment for wear and tear, and replace worn parts as needed.
  • Storage: Store the equipment in a dry, cool place to prevent moisture buildup.

Soda Blasting Media ‚Äď Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is a soft abrasive with a MOHS hardness rating of 2.4. It's water-soluble, non-toxic, and biodegradable, making it perfect for delicate surfaces and environmentally conscious projects.

Properties of Sodium Bicarbonate

Unlike other abrasives like silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, and steel shot, soda cannot be recycled or reused. However, its softer nature makes it suitable for delicate substrates, as it removes contaminants without damaging the surface and leaves no particle residue.

  • MOHS Hardness Rating: Sodium bicarbonate has a MOHS hardness rating of 2.4, making it suitable for delicate substrates.
  • Water Solubility: Sodium bicarbonate is water-soluble, ensuring no abrasive remains in critical areas.
  • Non-Toxic and Biodegradable: Safe for the environment and non-hazardous to health.

Specialized Media

For the best results, use soda specifically manufactured for blasting applications. This ensures consistent particle size and quality. This will also significantly increase efficiency and production.

Where to Buy

Soda Works BB100 Soda Blaster

Soda Blasting Equipment

Any equipment company that has a blast pot is going to tell you that it can be a soda blaster. While technically true, what they wont tell you is that it will not do a very good job for any serious soda blasting project. They will use 2-4X the amount of soda to do the same project vs a purpose-built soda blasting setup that properly meters the soda. Its also common to see clogs and other downtime on "we can run any media" type blast pots since their internal components are engineered for abrasive media that is not as likely to clump with wet air.

Of course we are biased, but the genesis of our company 20 years ago was out of frustration for the generic blasting systems that claimed to do a good job with soda and simply do not deliver results needed to run a profitable blasting operation. If you are serious about soda blasting, talk with us first.

  • Consider working with us at Soda Works to ensure you have the right equipment catered to your specific application. We will help you be more efficient and cost-effective than any other soda blasting equipment available in the world.

Soda Blasting Media

Soda blasting media can be purchased from vendors that sell other types of blasting materials and equipment, like Soda Works. When purchasing, consider the following: 

  • Quality: Ensure the media is specifically formulated for blasting applications.
  • Quantity: Purchase the appropriate amount based on the project size.
  • Vendor Reputation: Buy from reputable vendors to ensure quality and consistency.

The Soda Blasting Process

 Soda blasting is a non-destructive cleaning and stripping method that uses sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as the blasting media. It is a versatile surface preparation process that can be used on various surfaces, including metal, wood, concrete, and more. Let's dive into the step-by-step process:

Preparation

  1. Surface Assessment: Evaluate the surface to be blasted and identify any areas that require special attention.
  2. Protective Measures: Cover and protect surrounding areas to prevent unintended blasting and blast media finding its way into unwanted areas.
  3. Equipment Setup: Set up the blasting equipment, ensuring all components are in good working condition.
  4. PPE: Ensure the operator is wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Blasting

The tips below are general in nature, your actual equipment configuration may vary based on the various components.

  1. Media Loading: Load the sodium bicarbonate media into the blast pot.
  2. Turn Everything On: Turn on compressor and air cooler.
  3. Pressurize the Pot: Pressurize blast pot.
  4. Pressure Adjustment: Adjust the air pressure to the appropriate level for the surface being blasted.
  5. Blasting Technique: Hold the nozzle at the correct distance and angle from the surface, and move it in a steady, controlled manner.
  6. Monitoring: Continuously monitor the blasting process to ensure even coverage and avoid over-blasting.

Post-Blasting

  1. Inspection: Inspect the blasted surface to ensure all contaminants and coatings have been removed.
  2. Cleanup: Clean up any residual media and debris from the work area. There are also specialty vacuum and containment systems that you can use to make this process faster.
  3. Surface Treatment: Apply any necessary post-blasting treatments, such as rust inhibitors or primers, to protect the cleaned surface. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Soda Blasting

  • Using Incorrect Soda Grade: Choosing the wrong grade of soda can lead to ineffective cleaning or surface damage. Soda media that is specifically formulated for blasting is critical to ensuring efficient and productive blasting. Blasting soda generally features larger and more consistent particle sizes than regular baking soda.
  • Overblasting: Excessive blasting pressure or prolonged exposure can cause surface pitting or damage. Using the right nozzle, at the right flow, with the right air settings, at the right distance can negate this entirely.
  • Neglecting Cleanup: Failing to plan for cleanup is a mistake. Always consider cleanup in your bidding and preparation process. Be sure to remove residual soda and debris promptly if necessary.

Safety Considerations

Though soda blasting is probably one of the safest blasting mediums you can use in terms of respiratory safety, it still is not a good idea to breathe in any particulate matter. Your eyes, ears, skin and nose need to be properly protected! Some people may say otherwise but we recommend taking these precautions seriously. Its not the soda in most cases, its what the soda is removing that you need be mindful of.

Safe Handling of Sodium Bicarbonate

While sodium bicarbonate is generally safe, it is essential to handle it with care to avoid irritation:

  • Avoid Inhalation: Minimize exposure to airborne dust by using proper ventilation and respiratory protection.
  • Avoid Contact with Eyes: If sodium bicarbonate gets into your eyes, rinse them immediately with plenty of water.
  • Skin Irritation: Wash your skin thoroughly if you come into contact with sodium bicarbonate dust.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  1. Respiratory Protection: Use respirator to protect against inhaling sodium bicarbonate dust and any dust from the surface coating you are removing.
  2. Eye Protection: Wear a face shield to protect your eyes from particles.
  3. Skin Protection: Wear gloves and long-sleeved clothing to protect your skin from irritation.
  4. Ear Protection: The air leaving the end of the nozzle is moving at such a fast pace that the noise is dangerous to your ears without proper protection.

Our preference is a full face respirator with coverall, gloves, and ear protection.

Safe Operation of Equipment

  1. Training: Ensure operators are adequately trained in the safe use of soda blasting equipment. For example, at Soda Works, we offer hands-on training to ensure anyone who purchases an equipment package from us is familar with the operation of the equipment, proper safety measures, and how to perform work on various applications.
  2. Inspection: Regularly inspect equipment for wear and tear, and replace worn parts as needed.
  3. Maintenance: Perform routine maintenance to keep equipment in good working condition.

Soda Blasting and Rust

Soda blasting is great for removing light surface rust. But, for more substantial rust that has began to deform the metal other abrasives like recycled glass or sand may be more effective.

Preventing Rust

After blasting, rinse with a rust inhibitor and quickly apply a primer coat to prevent flash rusting. Dustless Blasting equipment allows you to mix rust inhibitors in your blast pot for added convenience.

Natural Rust Inhibition

Sodium bicarbonate can act as a natural rust inhibitor, leaving a protective coating on the metal that prevents rust for a period of time. However, if bare metal is to sit for extended periods of time before being refinished, it is suggested to apply a sealer/rust inhibiter as well. 

Costs of Soda Blasting

Soda blasting can be slightly more expensive than other blast media. The initial costs include the purchase of soda blasting equipment and media. However, the benefits of reduced surface damage, lower environmental impact, and safer working conditions often offset these costs. In terms of just the media cost, it is considered to be in the lower middle across the various mediums used for surface preparation.

Generally speaking the cost of equipment will vary based on the level of efficiency and specialization you are comfortable with. It is often best to buy equipment that is suited specifically for your blasting uses rather than having a "machine that does everything." The operational cost and production will by many times lower on a "jack of all trades" machine vs a machine specially engineered for a specific media or application. For example, our purpose-built soda blaster is typically 20-50% more efficient and productive than a pot engineered for other media types.

 

Long-Term Savings

In many cases, the long-term savings in maintenance and surface restoration make soda blasting a cost-effective choice. Reduced surface damage means less need for repairs and replacements, resulting in long-term cost savings.

Cost-Effective Alternatives

Of course there are alternatives. When it comes to soda blasting how "cost effective" they may be is debatable. Equipment that is specifically built to blast with soda media will curb a significant amount of those costs. Since the properties of soda are unique in most applications, replacing the soda is not the answer. Instead, consider purpose-built equipment instead. Using equipment that allows for a variety of abrasives, including cheaper options like recycled glass or sand, may seem more cost effective, but for any significant amount of soda blasting use, it will cost you far more in wasted media, clean up, efficiency.

Environmental Impact

Soda blasting is a green choice. Sodium bicarbonate is non-toxic and biodegradable, making it safe for the environment and the more sustainable option. Soda blasting is generally considered safer and more environmentally friendly compared to traditional methods like sandblasting. 

A properly tune soda blasting system produces less dust and airborne contaminants, reducing health risks for operators and bystanders. This makes it a safer choice for both indoor and outdoor applications.

While soda is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, caution should be exercised when blasting near plant life. Best practices include setting up containment to prevent media contact with plants and using water to suppress dust. 

Soda Blasting is the Gentle Way to Get Rid of Tough Stuff

In conclusion, soda blasting offers a safe, effective, and environmentally friendly solution for cleaning and restoring surfaces across various industries. By harnessing the power of sodium bicarbonate, this innovative technique delivers exceptional results while minimizing environmental impact and preserving surface integrity. 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need a Special Nozzle?

Yes, nozzle selection is crucial for optimal results. Ensure your air compressor provides the appropriate amount of air for the nozzle size and type
you are using. Inadequate air supply can greatly reduce performance and
efficiency.

Is Soda Blasting Non-Destructive?

Yes, soda blasting is a non-destructive method suitable for many cleaning, paint stripping, and maintenance applications. Its gentle nature makes it ideal for delicate substrates.

Is Soda Blasting Environmentally Friendly?

Yes, soda blasting is considered safer and non-hazardous compared to alternatives like chemical solvents. Sodium bicarbonate is non-toxic and
biodegradable, making it a more sustainable option.

Can It Remove Tough Coatings Such as Powder Coating and Tar?

Yes, it certainly can. We often see it used asphalt manufacturing facilities and in scenarios where powdercoating needs to be removed.

Is Soda Blasting Media Just Baking Soda?

While all baking soda is chemically the same, it is recommended to use
soda specifically manufactured for blasting applications. This ensures consistent particle size and quality, resulting in optimal blasting performance.

Which is Better: Soda Blasting or Sandblasting?

Well, it depends on your application. If your intent to remove surface coatings and leave no damage or trace on the metal, plastic, wood, masonry, etc. you are blasting, then soda is the right choice. In application where etching, warping, etc. are acceptable, sandblasting may be a more useful option.

Can Soda Blasting Remove Rust?

Soda blasting is effective for light surface rust but not for severe rust.

Is soda blasting safe for all surfaces?

While soda blasting is
gentle on most surfaces, it may not be suitable for delicate materials like ultra-thin sheet metal or soft woods. It's essential to conduct a test patch and
adjust blasting parameters accordingly.

Can soda blasting remove stubborn stains or coatings? 

Yes, soda blasting is effective at removing a wide range of contaminants, including paint, rust, grease, and graffiti, without damaging the underlying surface.

How does soda blasting compare to other cleaning methods? 

Unlike harsh abrasives or chemical cleaners, soda blasting offers a non-destructive, environmentally friendly approach that preserves surface integrity and minimizes environmental impact.