Surface cleaning by wet blasting, also known as wet sandblasting or vapor blasting, is an industrial process of removing surface contaminants by blasting a water and abrasive mixture, otherwise known as a slurry, at a surface using compressed air. It is a cleaning process powerful enough to remove all dirt, grease, oils rust and other contaminants from a variety of surfaces, including metals, alloys, and composites.
Aerospace component cleaned by wet blasting - Copper feeder wire after and before wet blasting - Additive manufactured component before and after powder removal by wet blasting
Unlike dry blasting, brushing or several other finishing processes, wet blasting cleans surfaces without damaging component surfaces, thanks to the cushioning effect of water (see our benefits of wet blasting page to see how the different industrial finishing processes compare with one another). This is particularly important when cleaning more delicate surfaces like carbon fibre, when even a small degree of operator error, like dry blasting a surface for too long, can result in damage. Additionally, the use of water in the process helps to prevent heat build-up and warping of metal surfaces that can occur with traditional dry blasting.
Even cleaning processes like brushing can have an effect on surfaces by leaving undesired microscopic brush marks on surfaces.
Cleaning by wet blasting is a key process in the preparation of surfaces for coating, bonding, or inspection. Cutting tool inserts, for example, must be perfectly clean for coating processes . That is why our automatic Tiger wet blasting machines include several cleaning and rinsing stages including an ‘ultrasonic rinse in ionised water’ stage.
Composites are wet or vapor blasted to remove all greasy residues and other contaminants prior to bonding and aircraft wheels are wet or vapor blasted during MRO operations to help make crack detection significantly easier and more accurate. The same crack and defect detection is applied to aluminium extrusion dies when wet blasting makes the process of inspection and correction easier and more reliable.
Cleaning by wet blasting is also a key stage in the surface preparation of hygienic surfaces like medical instruments and medical trolleys for sterilisation.
Wet blasting machines, or vapor blasting machines, can be split into two broad categories, manual and automatic. machines like our Vapormate and Puma manual wet or vapor blasting machines are ideal for cleaning components infrequently or in small volumes and / or when components typically differ from one another. Automatic machines, like our Puma +, Cougar +, Tiger and Tiger + wet or vapor blasting machines on the other hand are ideal for larger production volumes where the components are similar to one another. Automation offers the advantage of increased productivity and the assurance that the entire area of the component’s surface will be cleaned to the same degree every time.
Watch our Puma+ automatic wet blasting machine clean an aerospace component, extrusion die and trays of cutting tool inserts
As surface finishing process wet blasting, or vapor blasting, has significant environmental advantages over other cleaning processes like dry blasting and chemical cleaning. Dry blasting creates significant amounts of dust that if not controlled properly can create a health hazard and explosion risk. Unlike chemical cleaning processes, there is no need for the expensive removal of chemicals following cleaning.
Cleaning by wet blasting is a well established process in a multitude of different industries and applications like, cutting tool insert manufacturing, aluminium extrusion dies, aerospace MRO and OEM operations, medical instrument and implant manufacturing. In wire and cable manufacturing, aluminium and copper feeder wire is cleaned prior to extrusion, whilst graphite and heat scales is cleaned off steel wire leaving it perfectly clean for further manufacturing processes. In additive manufacturing, powder is completely removed from surfaces and the complex internal channels that are typical found in many additive manufactured components.
In conclusion, wet blasting is an effective and versatile method of surface cleaning that offers numerous advantages over dry blasting and other types of cleaning processes methods.