How to Choose the Right Blast Abrasive Media

Choosing the Right Abrasive

A coating is only as good as the preparation of the underlying surface.

Professional wet abrasive blasters know that choosing the right abrasive is key to achieving a coating application that lasts. With the right abrasive, you’ll maximise profits by getting the job done more efficiently while consuming the minimum volume of abrasive.

These are the factors to consider when choosing your abrasive.


Surface Characteristics

As a general rule, the blaster should use the finest abrasive necessary to attain the required surface preparation characteristics. A fine abrasive will give you more impacts per volume. The more particles in the stream, the more work is accomplished within the same time. When blasting concrete or wood, you don’t need a hard, expensive abrasive, or a coarse particle. Crushed glass makes an excellent, inexpensive choice for work on relatively soft surfaces.

However, when preparing iron and steel for a protective coating system, there are additional considerations. Coatings adhere poorly to hard, flat surfaces, so the blaster is required to develop a pattern of indentations that the coating can anchor to, aka the anchor pattern.


Blast Abrasive Media Impact on Garnet Example

Example: Garnet

An 80-mesh garnet particle leaves up to 3.6 mil depth profile in steel.

1. 177 microns = 7 mils

2. Peak

3.  76.2 microns = 3 mils

4. Valley

*Note - Prior to choosing your abrasive, check the datasheets from the coating manufacturer’s website to obtain the optimum surface preparation conditions.

For example:

Iron & Steel – SSPC-SP6 – 2 mil profile.


Contact an Expert

Please enter a value
Please select
Please enter a value
Please enter a value
Please select
Please enter a value
Please enter a value

The Anchor Pattern

When a sufficiently hard abrasive particle strikes steel, it deforms the surface into a valley and pushes up peaks. The distance between the top of the peak and the bottom of the valley is known as the depth profile.

In the U.S., the depth profile is measured by mils – thousandths of an inch. In the metric system, the micron (one-millionth of a meter) is used.

            1 mil = 25.4 microns.

For optimal adhesion, the applied coating should completely fill the valleys and cover the peaks. The deeper the profile, the more anchoring occurs. However, if the profile is too deep, the peaks can protrude beyond the surface of the coating, causing pinpoint rust and premature failure of the coating. In some cases, the contractor may need to work over the area again with a finer abrasive to reduce the surface to specified profile depth – a costly mistake.

Generally, the correct profile depth will be 25-30% of the dry film thickness of the total coating system. For most industrial coatings, the typical steel profile is between 2-3 mils, not typically exceeding 5 mils.


Abrasive Properties

Knowing the surface characteristics and the profile depth you need to achieve; you are ready to select your abrasive. There are four properties of abrasives that contribute to profile depth: size, shape, hardness and density.


All things being equal, the bigger the particle, the deeper indentation it will make, but blasting large particles will give you fewer impacts than an equal volume of smaller particles. Small particles clean faster, provide better coverage, and result in a more uniform profile. The most efficient approach is to use the smallest particle necessary to achieve the desired profile.

Particle sizes are commonly classified by mesh sizes, often given a range, for example: 30/60. This indicates that 95% of the mix will fall through a 30 mesh but not pass through the 60. The mesh size number indicates the number of mesh lines per square inch in a sieve, ranging from 6 (coarse) to 327 (powder).

Abrasive Media - Mesh size chart


The shape of the article affects how deeply it cuts into the coating and underlying substrate. Shapes are classified according to angularity.

Angular particles cut through soft coatings and rust, cleaning faster, and producing sharper anchor patterns. Rounded particles produce a more even, peened surface, suitable for breaking away hard, brittle coatings and mill scale.

  • Crushed glass
  • Coal slag
  • Olivine
  • Plastic
  • Garnet
shape3 (1).jpg
  • Staurolite
  • Walnut
shape4 (1).jpg
  • Glass bead
  • Silica sand


Generally speaking, the harder the particle, the deeper the profile it will impart, except in cases where a high-velocity hard particle shatters, delivering less than maximum force.

Softer abrasives, like organic materials and plastics, are suitable for removing dirt, oil, grease and paint without creating an anchor pattern in the underlying substrate.

Abrasives by Hardness (MOHS)
Plastic 3.0 - 4.0
Walnut 3.0 - 4.0
Glass Bead 5.5 - 6.0
Silica Sand 5 - 6
Crushed Glass 5.5 - 7
Coal Slag 6.0 - 7.5
Olivine 6.5 - 7.5
Staurolite 7.0 - 7.5
Garnet 7.0 - 7.5


Dense particles impact with more kinetic energy over a smaller surface area, resulting in a deeper profile. Dense particles also deform less, absorbing less energy upon impact.

Abrasives by Density (Specific Gravity (g/mL))
Water 1.0
Walnut 1.2 - 1.35
Plastic 1.5
Glass Bead 2.5
Crushed Glass 2.5
Silica Sand 2.65
Coal Slag 2.7
Olivine 3.3
Staurolite 3.6
Garnet 3.5 - 4.3


It comes as no surprise that high-speed impacts cause deep profiles. Velocity is the only factor that can be easily adjusted in the field. Once you’ve selected the abrasive that puts you in the ballpark; you can fine-tune the depth profile by adjusting your blast pressure.

Abrasive Descriptions

The following data is intended for orientation purposes only. These are approximations of general product categories. Specific products vary significantly. Check the manufacturer’s datasheets for the most current and accurate information.

Depth profile estimates are based on mild steel at 90-100 psi, nozzle at 18” at a 110-degree angle using a Geoblaster GB 600 wet abrasive blaster.

Abrasive - Sand

Silica Sand

Silica sand is the original blasting abrasive; however, it is no longer recommended for blasting applications due to the occupational hazard silicosis. It is included here for comparative purposes only.

Mesh sizes: 6-270 | Hardness: 5-6 MOHS | Density: 2.65 SG | Shape: Rounded | Cost: $



Garnet is a gemstone with excellent naturally abrasive properties. This hard abrasive is fast-cutting, low-dust producing and low-consuming, excellent for removing tough coatings, paint, rust and mill scale from steel. Garnet also permits precise feathering control. A good general outdoor surface preparation abrasive.

Mesh sizes: 30-120 | Hardness: 7-7.5 MOHS | Density: 3.5-4.3 SG | Shape: Subangular | Cost: $$$

Mesh Size Max Profile Recommended Usage
30/60 2.4 - 4.7 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium
80 1.5 - 3.6 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium
120 0.5 - 2.0 Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium, Fibreglass, Brick, Boat Bottom Paint
150 0.5 - 1.5 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium, Fibreglass, Brick, Boat Bottom Paint
Abrasive - Crushed Glass

Crushed Glass

Made from 100% recycled glass, this abrasive creates a sharp profile and is useful in removing a variety of coatings. It produces a whiter, cleaner finish than slags and mineral sands. Crushed glass is the abrasive of choice for preparing concrete.

Mesh sizes: 30-400 | Hardness: 5.5-7 MOHS | Density: 2.5 SG | Shape: Angular | Cost: $


Mesh Size Max Profile Recommended Usage
20/30 2.5 - 4.5 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium, Fibreglass, Brick
30/70 2.0 - 3.5 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium, Fibreglass, Brick, Boat Bottom Paint
50/100 0.5 - 2.5 mil Steel, Concrete, Asphalt, Aluminium, Fibreglass, Brick, Boat Bottom Paint
Abrasive - Olivine

Mineral Sands

Mineral sands, like olivine and staurolite, are fast-cutting, low dust abrasives that contain less than 5% silica per volume. Useful for removal of rust, paint, weathered coatings and mill scale.

Mesh sizes: 20-120 | Hardness: 6.5-7.5 MOHS | Density: 3.3-3.6 SG | Shape: Angular to subangular (olivine), subangular to rounded (staurolite) | Cost: $$

Abrasive - Slag

Coal Slag

Coal slag is a by-product of coal-burning power plants, considered a “green” abrasive because it would otherwise be disposed of as waste. It is a relatively inexpensive, low dusting abrasive with low free silica; however, it is considered a dirty abrasive and not widely used in wet abrasive blasting due to the high number of “fines” (fine particles) mud up on the surface. Typical applications include the removal of rust, paint, weathered coatings and scale from steel and concrete.

Mesh sizes: 12-80 | Hardness: 6-7.5 MOHS | Density: 2.7 SG | Shape: Angular | Cost: $

glass bead

Glass Beads

Glass beads are used for general cleaning, peening and cosmetic finishing of sensitive metal surfaces. They can also be used for removing automotive paint, brightening grout and removing fungus, as well as calcium deposits from tile; polishing cast iron, stainless steel, aluminium, propellers and turbine blades.

Mesh sizes: 30-325 | Hardness: 5.5-6 MOHS | Density: 2.5 SG | Shape: Rounded | Cost: $$$

plastic abrasive


Plastic is a soft, light abrasive that leaves no anchor pattern, good for stripping paint and mould from sensitive surfaces, deburring and deflashing aluminium, brass, plastics and fibreglass. It is also considered a less-hazardous alternative to chemical stripping, and faster than hand-stripping.

Mesh sizes: 12-80 | Hardness: 3-4 MOHS | Density: 1.5 SG | Shape: Angular | Cost: $$$

walnut abrasive


Nutshells and other organic materials don’t cause anchor patterns, making them useful for cleaning dirt, grease, oil, carbon, scale, burrs and paint without changing the underlying substrate. Useful for cleaning auto body panels, electric motors and aircraft engines, dies and moulds, polishing watches and jewellery, and restoring antique surfaces.

Mesh sizes: 6-100 | Hardness: 3-4 MOHS | Density: 1.2-1.35 SG | Shape: Subangular | Cost: $$$


The right abrasive for the job is the finest grade that can impart the depth profile required by the coating system. Before purchasing abrasive, visit the manufacturer’s websites for the latest product specs, or browse our directory of abrasive manufacturers product datasheets.

Abrasive Name Mesh Sizes Hardness Density Shape Cost
Silica Sand 6-270 5-6 2.65 Rounded $
Garnet 30-120 7-7.5 3.5-4.3 Subangular $$$
Crushed Glass 30-400 5.5-7 2.5 Angular $
Mineral Sands 20-120 6.5-7.5 3.3-3.6 Angular to Rounded $$
Coal Slag 12-80 6-7.5 2.7 Angular $
Glass Bead 30-325 5.5-6 2.5 Rounded $$$
Plastic 12-80 3-4 1.5 Angular $$$
Walnut 6-100 3-4 1.2-1.35 Subangular $$$

Contact a blasting expert

Please enter a value
Please select
Please enter a value
Please enter a value
Please select
Please enter a value
Please enter a value