Sandblasting is a common method of cleaning, stripping, or preparing various surfaces using abrasives. Bead blasting is almost like a type of sandblasting, just with different media. Despite the similarities between the two, there are many differences in their application. So, which one is better suited for your job or project? 

Bead blasting involves blasting beads made of glass, steel, or other materials onto surfaces at a lower pressure than sandblasting. It’s better for cleaning and may be appropriate for more delicate surfaces. Sandblasting is more harsh and abrasive, but in some cases it’s the best option for the job. 

A Comparison of Bead Blasting and Sandblasting 

Bead blasting and sandblasting are both techniques used for cleaning or stripping surfaces. Both methods use a pressurized tool connected to an air compressor to blast the abrasive materials onto a surface. The major difference, as the names suggest, is in the kind of material used to do the job. 

Bead BlastingSandblasting
MaterialsGlass, steel, quartz, or plastic beadsSand, silica, steel grit, crushed shells, and more
Pressure (power)50+ PSI70 – 120 PSI
Common ApplicationsCleaning, paint removal, buffing and smoothing Cleaning, sanding, reshaping, texturizing, rust removal
AbrasivenessLess abrasiveMore abrasive
Pricing/CostMore expensiveLess expensive
Power SourceCompressed airCompressed air

Sandblasting has become a catch-all name for the process of blasting surfaces with abrasive materials to clean, strip, or refinish them. In some cases, people may refer to bead blasting as sandblasting, just using beads instead of sand or other media.

However, bead blasting is typically less abrasive and performed at a lower pressure than traditional sandblasting. It’s preferred in some applications where a smoother finish is desired.

Whether you go with bead blasting or sandblasting, the type and size of the media will make a big difference in the end result. For example, smaller glass beads will function differently than larger, more coarse beads. 

Similarly, crushed walnut shells will behave differently during sandblasting than steel grit. Understanding the desired outcome and knowing how each material will react with the surface is critical to a successful job.  

What is Bead Blasting?

Bead blasting involves blasting small beads (usually glass) at a pressure of at least 50 PSI onto a surface. This process is used to perform surface cleaning, buffing, polishing, or to add texture. 

Bead blasting is also used to buff out small defects on some surfaces, or to prepare the surface for painting or further refinishing. 

Beads are usually made of glass, but they may be made from other materials. Steel beads are sometimes used for heavy-duty jobs. Steel beads can clean hard surfaces better and may be better suited for resurfacing or removing texture from metal surfaces. 

Glass beads are better for more delicate surfaces and they’re the most common media for bead blasting. Sometimes beads are made from quartz as well.

Changing the bead’s size can change the effect on the blasted surface. For example, very small, fine glass beads will leave a smooth finish that may even appear glossy. Larger, coarse glass beads will create a rougher surface but may be better for removing defects. 

Pros and Cons of Bead Blasting

There are many advantages and disadvantages of using bead blasting, especially when compared with sandblasting. Let’s discuss the pros and cons now. 

Advantages of Bead Blasting: 

  • Safer than sandblasting 
  • Gentler than sandblasting
  • Doesn’t change the surface’s base color 
  • Glass beads last longer, so they can be used more than once
  • Can be used in a suction or pressure blast cabinet
  • Brighter, satin or glossy surface finish
  • More environmentally friendly 
  • Can be used to remove thin surface coatings 
  • Good for removing burrs

Disadvantages of Bead Blasting: 

  • Slower process, so may take longer than sandblasting
  • Doesn’t leave texture for paint adhesion on surfaces (glass beads) 
  • May be more expensive
  • Final result and quality may vary based on operator’s skill 
  • Reductive finish
  • Glass beads aren’t as durable as steel grit or other similar blast medias

What is Sandblasting?

Sandblasting involves using pressurized sand or other gritty, abrasive materials to clean, strip, or smooth hard surfaces. Sandblasting is very harsh on the surface and can cause damage if not used properly. 

Over time, sandblasting has become a catchall for any process of using compressed air to blast an abrasive media against a surface. Still, the materials may or may not be actual sand. There are many other options to use for sandblasting today. 

Crushed walnut shells, coconut shells, corn cobs, steel grit, ceramic media, and other materials are also options for sandblasting. It’s important to choose the right media for the job to ensure the process is effective and doesn’t damage the surface. 

Pros and Cons of Sandblasting

There are plenty of advantages to sandblasting, which is why it’s one of the most common processes around for surface preparation. However, there are some downsides, too. Knowing the pros and cons can help you make the right decision for your job or project. 

Advantages of Sandblasting: 

  • Very effective at removing oil, rust, paint, or other impurities from surfaces
  • Quick and efficient
  • Variety of surface finishes based on media and application 
  • Can create a matte surface
  • Leaves texture for paint adhesion 
  • Materials are readily available
  • May be less expensive than bead blasting

Disadvantages of Sandblasting: 

  • Can’t be used on all surfaces
  • Dust can be dangerous to breathe
  • May be harmful to the environment 
  • May not be cost efficient for small projects
  • Can produce heat due to friction which may not be appropriate for all surfaces 
  • Not ideal for soft or delicate surface materials

When Should You Use Bead Blasting?

There are many applications for bead blasting, and sometimes it’s the only option depending on the project and materials. Plus, there are several options for bead materials and bead size which you can select based on the job and your desired results. 

Here are some examples of when bead blasting may be the best choice: 

  • Peening (often used in firearm metals) 
  • Deburring
  • Paint removal
  • Rust removal
  • Calcium and scale removal
  • Removing/refinishing cosmetic defects
  • Polishing metals (steel, aluminum, cast iron)
  • Preparing metal surfaces for painting 
  • Preparing metal surfaces for powder coating 
  • Automotive surfaces 
  • Aircraft components 
  • Medical tools and devices 

Bead blasting is ideal when a lower pressure is needed, or for more delicate surfaces. Bead blasting may also be the best choice if you want to reduce the amount of dust and debris in the air. 

Removing thin layers of coatings from surfaces can be difficult to do without impacting the surface underneath. Bead blasting is ideal for removing these very thin coatings. 

When Should You Use Sandblasting?

There are a wide range of applications for sandblasting since it’s such a common process. Sandblasting can be used to do all kinds of jobs, but there are some that are more commonly associated with the practice than others. 

Here are some of the most common uses and applications for sandblasting: 

  • Paint removal 
  • Stripping off corrosion 
  • Rust removal 
  • Cleaning small instruments and tools 
  • Removing rust from tools and auto parts 
  • Clearing oil, grease, and dirt clogs from machinery
  • Smoothing and polishing metal surfaces 
  • Artwork 
  • Cleaning concrete
  • Preparing surfaces for paint or refinishing
  • Cleaning and restoring brick and stone
  • Mold remediation 
  • Etching
  • Oil stain removal

Essentially, you can use sandblasting in many of the same ways and applications that you would use a pressure washer. However, the process is much more abrasive and harsh. Sandblasting also brings some environmental and health concerns. 

So, you shouldn’t use sandblasting in environmentally sensitive areas or in spaces without proper ventilation. And you should always use the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) when performing sandblasting jobs or any other similar projects. 

The Bottom Line

Sandblasting and bead blasting both involve blasting abrasive materials at a specific surface. Depending on the surface material and your goal, one method may be better suited for the job than the other. 

Understanding the difference between the two processes will help you make the best decision for your project. For more delicate jobs, or to buff or polish a surface, you’ll want to go with bead blasting. 

For heavy-duty rust removal or to add texture for paint adhesion, sandblasting is best. These are just a couple of examples of how the two processes are different in practice. 

In either case, the work quality will depend heavily on the operator’s skill. So, it’s important to be clear with what your desired outcome is for the job from the start.