What is Sodablast?
Sodablast is a process of removing paint and contaminates from surfaces with little or no impact to the original surface. A combination of sodium bicarbonate and air are blasted onto the surface at relatively low pressure (40-100PSI). The soda particles fracture when they meet the hard surface and the energy created by this fracture displaces paint and/or other contaminates. The Sodablast compressor propels a bicarbonate-of-soda based media via compressed air onto the surface to be cleaned. This process gently removes the material without harming the substrate and can be performed wet or dry.
How was Sodablast developed?
Back in 1972, when New York State engineers were looking for ways to clean the Statue of Liberty, they had many concerns involving issues of the environment, waste disposal, and protection of the statues surface itself. Any use of any abrasive material to clean the surface would have been very harmful to the soft copper plates, let alone the waste in the water surrounding the statue. Sodablast was invented because it would not only do the job while having a negligible impact on the waterways and harbour, but it was also non-abrasive. Just like the surface of the Statue of Liberty, this non abrasive action allows Sodablast to be used on surfaces that currently popular abrasive media would damage. i.e.: aluminium, stainless steel, brick, stone, glass, fibreglass, wood, some plastics, seals, bearings, splines, radiator cores, transmission cases, and hydraulic cylinders. In some cases, using dry blasting, shutdown of electric motors and pumps is not necessary.
How does Sodablast work?
The sodium bicarbonate used in the blasting process is a larger particle than the baking soda used in the food industry, although it is the same purity. The particles are propelled by compressed air through specialised blasting machines. Sodablast particles remove surface contaminant by the energy released as the particles explode when pressure-driven into contact with the contaminant surface. The resulting energy release disrupts the contaminant surface and blows it away – thus leaving the substrate completely unaffected. Air pressures and hence, Sodablast particle velocity, can be varied from as low as 20 psi (pounds per square inch) on soft bases to 150 psi or more on hard surfaces. The operator sets the air pressure depending on the nature of the substrate and the type of contaminant to be removed.
Is water used as part of the Sodablast process?
Water is often not used as part of the cleaning process. Water is sometimes used as a dust suppressant. It is sometimes used to activate the baking soda to allow its cleaning qualities to be realised as well as it’s virtues as a blast media. For softer substrates such as wood, water reduces any cutting action by as much as 20 to 30 percent thus preventing substrate damage. When water is used with the Sodablast process it is not used to propel the blast media. It is used to provide a moist surface to prevent dust, activate baking soda and reduce cutting action of soda. The result of this is that only a tiny amount of water is used in comparison to water blasting/ pressure washing. When it is appropriate to use water in the Sodablast process, the water literally trickles out the end of the Sodablast hose. Examples of where water would and would not be used follow:
  Boat hull cleaning and preparation – no – dust and paint / antifoul are contained in a purpose built plastic tent and disposed of in environmentally safe way. Not using water near public waterways is a major advantage of cleaning boats with Sodablast
  Food preparation equipment cleaning - sometimes – activating the cleaning quality of baking soda is generally advantageous. Water is also used after blasting to wash soda and contaminant remnants away
  Graffiti cleaning – generally no - may be used as a dust suppressant in confined areas
  Vehicle paint stripping – no – other than to wash away soda remnants
  Monuments – generally no – unless required as a dust suppressant
  Masonary – generally no – unless required as a dust suppressant
  Machinery – generally no - other than to wash away soda remnants
Is Sodablast better than sand and garnet blasting?
Sand and garnet blasting remove contaminants by wearing away the contaminant. It is unavoidable that whilst doing this, the underlying substrate is also worn away to some degree. Depending on the substrate material and what it is being used for, it is often the case that the substrate is damaged. By contrast, Sodablast particles remove contaminants by the energy released when the particles explode as they come in contact with the surface to be cleaned. This results in no damage to underlying substrates.

Sodablast does not activate metal. By contrast, sand and garnet blasting do. Activating metal causes it to react to its surroundings. In the case of ferrous metals, they rust. The result is that ferrous metals that have been sand blasted will require immediate coating to prevent rusting. By contrast, metal that has been cleaned using Sodablast will rust at a much reduced rate and can be coated days after blasting rather than hours.

In the manufacturing of a metal object, sometimes an engineer will specify that metal should be sand blasted using a specific grade of blast media. The reason for sand blasting is to create a specific surface profile. Except in cases of rusting, sand blasting is generally not specified because it is the best method of cleaning the metal but rather for its ability to profile. Sodablast will not create a surface profile as the metal will not be affected by the Sodablast process. In this case, it is appropriate to sand blast the metal rather than Sodablast.
Is there any heat build-up as there is in sand blasting?
There is no heat build up when blasting with sodium bicarbonate. Since there is no heat build up, warping is eliminated.
Is there any risk of fire with Sodablast?
Its non-flammable properties allow sodium bicarbonate to be used for cleaning in the petroleum industry where other methods could not be used. Static electricity is an unavoidable by product of using high pressure air to propel blast media. Whilst Sodablast reduces the amount of static produced, there is still a need to properly ground a metal object. However, sodium bicarbonate does not produce electrical sparks the same way that sand striking metal does. This is an obvious advantage where flammable gases and liquids might be present.
Is Sodablast good at cleaning engines and greasy deposits?
Sodium bicarbonate breaks down hydrocarbons, which makes it an excellent method of cleaning engines and engine parts, or other areas where oil and grease are present.
Is rusting a problem with Sodablast as it is with sand blasting?
A major advantage of Sodablast is the fact sodium bicarbonate does not break the surface tension of metals, thus the problem of flash rusting is eliminated. Bicarbonate of soda is also a rust inhibitor which leaves a protective coating on the surface being blasted. This allows for time to pass before the surface has to be repainted. This is unlike a sand blasted surface that must be repainted immediately.
Would soda-blasting work on graffiti removal?
Absolutely! The removal of graffiti is a difficult and costly operation using just about any conventional method. Sodablast provides a very viable alternative to these methods. Since it uses a non-abrasive media it can be used to remove graffiti from painted surfaces, in some cases without damage to the base paint. On wood, brick, sandstone, marble and other sensitive surfaces, it will remove the graffiti without leaving any evidence of its use behind. With the use of a wet blasting system, you would be providing a dust free method of cleaning. Naturally, care must still be taken when setting the pressure, airflow, and media flow as damage can still occur from improper application. Testing in a non-visual area is still a good idea.
What about preparation, clean up and waste disposal?
Preparation is usually minimal as the soda causes no damage to the surrounding environment and leaves very little residue as it disintegrates on impact. Masking or tenting is always advised if there is sensitive equipment nearby. Sodium bicarbonate has a pH of 8.6 and can be disposed of in most wastewater treatment systems. Disposal regulations should always be followed, as this will vary depending on the contaminant being removed. Paint chips and other material removed can be separated by dissolving the spent media and using a filtration system. Normally only the hazardous material removed needs to be disposed of in special areas. Sodium bicarbonate can be further neutralized by either a vinegar/water solution, citric acid solution (less then 3 % acid to water) or just water dilution. The Sodablast method is endorsed by the USDA (United States Dept of Agriculture) and the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and is Kosher approved.
Do I have to wear protective clothing and breathing apparatus like sand blasters have to?
A protective mask is not usually necessary unless working in a confined space or tented area. As to protective clothing, not in the usual sense as that which sand blasters wear. Sodablast operates at pressures of up to 150 pounds. It would be a good idea to count on long sleeves and full length trousers/pants to protect against blow back or possibly an error in aim. Ear protection and safety glasses or goggles must be worn at all times while blasting is taking place. Ear and eye protection should also be provided to people working in the immediate vicinity.
Do I have to mask off areas like glass or chrome trim like sand blasting requires?
Hardly ever. In fact, unlike the abrasive property of sand, bicarbonate of soda does not harm window glass or the rubber seals around the glass. However, it may be harmful to certain types of plastic trim, because you are using 150+ pounds of pressure in some instances. For this reason, you may want to remove or protect those possible areas. Other areas that may need protection; are wood, soft plastic, membranes and electric components
Is Bicarbonate Soda environmentally safe?
Yes, otherwise known as baking soda and used in everyday cooking; this product is also used to settle an upset stomach. Its alkaline properties could harm plants and vegetation if not rinsed properly and all areas should be washed down with water during the clean up process. All remnants of the paint or other contaminates may need to be collected or filtered. But the soda itself has no impact on the environment and is completely safe. The Sodablast method is endorsed by the USDA (United States Dept of Agriculture) and the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and is Kosher approved.
How do I remove the left over paint? (Or grease, waste, etc)
Clean up is easy. The soda dissolves in water when you spay the area down. What is left behind will be the waste product. Usually this waste is in such small particles that when it dries, the dust can be vacuumed up. Or, by using filter cloth or an old sheet under a small project, the waste will stay on the sheet. Disposal of waste may fall under hazardous material classification, especially when dealing with old lead based paints or oil, grease, etc. For this reason, clients will need to check with local regulations in order to make sure that any disposal will comply with local regulation regarding these materials. Most local councils have hazardous disposal sites open to the general public, specifically designed to handle waste oil, paint, and other materials that would fail under the hazardous waste classification.
What about noise?
The Sodablast process is noisy as a large compressor is forcing air and media out of a relatively small exit. Sodablast operators are required to wear ear protection at all times while blasting and anyone else in the immediate vicinity should do the same.
How long does it take?
It is hard to estimate the length of time required to Sodablast without any details of the job. However, Sodablast, in most applications, reduces the normal cleaning time significantly – in some cases in 1/10th of the time. Preparation and clean up are minimal thus reducing the completion time.
Can Sodablast cause damage?
If used correctly by a trained operator, the likelihood of the Sodablast causing damage is highly unlikely. As part of their training, operators are taught to evaluate the surface to be cleaned, as well as surrounding surfaces carefully, and to blast a test patch if required. Sodablast has been operating in the U.S for several years and there are excellent resources available for reference. Using Sodablast on a surface that is softer than the soda, i.e. some plastics, soft wood, leather, vinyl etc will cause scratching and surface removal. Sodablast operators will always make enquiries to establish whether certain surfaces are suitable for the process.