Tool Test: Harbor Freight Soda Blaster
One of the things I love most about testing tools is that occasionally I discover a tool that I never knew existed, even though it’s not especially new. Case in point: I recently heard about a tool called a soda blaster, which is used with an air compressor to power clean dirty parts and surfaces. It’s similar to a sand blaster, but instead of using sand as the cleaning abrasive a soda blaster shoots out sodium bicarbonate, which is commonly known as baking soda. (Hence the name, soda blaster.)
The advantage of baking soda, as opposed to sand, crushed walnut shells or coal slag, is that it’s environmentally safe, much less aggressive, relatively affordable, and easily rinsed away with water. Soda blasters can be used to remove paint, rust, grease, indelible stains, and caked-on dirt from virtually any surface, including steel, aluminum, wood, sheet metal, brick, concrete, ceramic tile, granite, chrome, glass, even fiberglass.
(Interestingly the first large-scale industrial use of soda blasting was during the 1986 centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty; it was the only safe way to remove coal tar, paint and corrosion without damaging the statue’s delicate copper skin.)
Today, soda blasters are commonly used to remove rust from metal, strip paint from wood doors and moldings, clean graffiti from masonry surfaces, blast hard-water deposits off of swimming-pool tiles, and power-clean greasy machinery. After reading up on soda blasters, I decided I just had to get one. So, I bought a very compact 15-pound-capacity soda blaster from Harbor Freight Tools for less than $100. (The company also offers a larger 40-pound unit for about $135.)
As mentioned earlier, an air compressor is required to power the soda blaster. The soda blaster itself is a relatively simple device that’s composed of a steel storage tank for holding the sodium bicarbonate, a spray nozzle and hose, manifold, and water separator that helps prevent clogging. When shopping for a soda blaster, check its air requirement to ensure that your compressor can provide the necessary air pressure.
Once I familiarized myself with the tool, I cranked it up and blasted four coats of paint off of a sheet of diamond-plate steel. It took less than two minutes to clean one square-foot down to bare steel. Pretty impressive and a whole lot easier than scraping or sanding. Plus, the surface was perfectly clean and burnished to like-new condition.
Soda blasters come in various sizes, based on the their storage-tank capacity. Sodium bicarbonate is available in medium- and extra-large grit; a 50-pound bag costs about $40. When operating a soda blaster, be sure to wear protective eye goggles or a face shield, and a dust mask or dual-cartridge respirator. And be sure to follow the safety precautions outlined in the instruction manual.