Photo by Pramote Soongkitboon @123RF.com
Used to smooth wood and paint and remove materials and layers from surfaces, sandpaper comes in handy for a variety of tasks. While it’s a great tool, sandpaper can be costly, and the waste adds up. Soon enough, you’re headed back to the home improvement store for more, adding more time spent on a project.
Is sandpaper recyclable? Sandpaper is not recyclable. Most items made of multiple materials cannot be recycled. The adhesive component in compound items such as sandpaper makes it very difficult to decompose and reuse.
While sandpaper can’t be tossed in your recycle pile, there are a variety of ways you can reuse it to keep costs down and enhance your ecological footprint, and there are a variety of environmentally friendly alternatives.
Why Isn’t Sandpaper Recyclable?
Regular paper is recyclable, so why isn’t sandpaper, a substance created from paper, recyclable? It has to do with the abrasive compounds used to create it.
This post from TerraCycle, an organization whose mission is to recycle everything and eliminate waste, explains it well:
“It seems that separating the grit from the backing material would render a pulpy, substance that could be recycled. How can we do this with no residual sand left in the pulp, which would make it much more difficult to process? What do we do with the sand that is left?”
Beyond the residual substances, there are so many types of sandpaper made with different materials, grits, and types of abrasives that it’s nearly impossible to account for all types of substances within sandpaper.
How To Reuse Sandpaper
When you finish a sanding project, don’t toss out your used sandpaper! The material can actually be reused – if you clean it correctly.
Here are three different ways to clean sandpaper and ready it for reuse:
Soak It in Water
Eco Brooklyn, a New York contracting and design firm, discovered a way to effectively clean sandpaper to reuse and reduce sanding waste:
- Soak the sandpaper in water for a few hours.
- Gently brush debris off with a steel brush.
- Let it dry, and you’ll have a fresh pad of sandpaper ready to go!
Use An Eraser
If you don’t have a steel brush, try rubbing a large eraser across the material to clean out the gunk and debris. While this method is slightly less effective, it will still make your used sandpaper ready for another round of projects.
Use an Old Shoe
If you have a sander, this method will easily clean your sandpaper. Taking an old worn-out shoe, gently run the rubber sole against the sandpaper as your sander is running. After one or two passes, your sandpaper should look like new!
This video is a helpful visual for this method.
While these methods are useful, don’t reuse sandpaper for major woodworking projects. Used sandpaper can scratch wood surfaces and cause further damage. Take caution when reusing cleaned sandpaper.
Uses for Old Sandpaper
Old and used sandpaper is also useful in a variety of ways other than cleaning and reusing it. Before your toss your used and dirty sandpaper, consider using it in one of these ways:
Glue Down on Slippery Surfaces
Sandpaper, once past its prime, may have lost its ability to offer its best service on your woodworking project. But here are a couple of ways you can take advantage of sandpaper’s grip:
- Sandpaper provides really good traction on slippery surfaces.
If you have a notoriously slippery walkway or set of stairs, glue some pieces of sandpaper down. If these surfaces are outdoors, make sure to seal the sandpaper with a weather-resistant finish to keep your new traction surface long-lasting. You can also use it for low-lit basement stairs to avoid a scary tumble.
- Are the soles of your favorite shoes worn down?
Glue your old sandpaper to the bottom for an effective grip. If you don’t like the idea of a pad of sandpaper on the bottom of your shoes, you can also use it to scuff your soles.
According to this Shoe Zone blog post, to scuff your soles with sandpaper, rub the paper on the sole of your shoe until small grooves appear. It will also remove the slippery coating from the sole, making it even more slip-resistant.
Sharpen Knives and Scissors
Sandpaper makes a great sharpening tool for dull knives and scissors.
- To sharpen your scissors, simply make a few cuts on the sandpaper. The rough surface will sharpen the blades and even remove any stickiness on your tools.
- Sandpaper can also remove rust from your sharp tools, knives and scissors. Rub the rough side of the paper on the side of the blade until the rust disappears, making your tools look brand-new! If the grain on the sandpaper is very coarse, take care not to scratch the surface.
Create Unique Labels and Business Cards
Take your labels business cards to a new level with sandpaper! Add a thin layer of paint to it or use it to create a rustic feel for labels.
Sandpaper business cards are a popular product that add texture. While you can buy them online, why not reuse your sandpaper to create your own for much cheaper? They feel cool and will be an unforgettable small gift to potential clients or partners.
While it may sound far-fetched to run sandpaper through a printer, it’s actually fairly safe in inkjet printers, if you can adjust a few printer settings. This blog post goes in-depth on how to safely print on sandpaper.
Turn your old sandpaper into a work of art! If you’re a painter or sculptor, sandpaper can add a new texture to your masterpieces. Use it as a canvas to give your paintings a sandy look and feel. Sandpaper is also useful for smoothing out canvases, but make sure your use it lightly and don’t be too abrasive.
You can also create a unique paper-mâché sculpture as a fun at-home project. Glue pieces of the sandpaper onto your sculpture and paint over it to make a fun and creative piece of art.
Materials You Can Use Instead of Sandpaper
There are natural substances out there that you can use instead of sandpaper. If the ability to recycle is an important aspect of your project, consider these abrasive materials over sandpaper:
Sand and Sharp Stones
If you live in a rural area or near the beach, these materials are abundant – and free, especially if you live far away from the nearest home improvement store. If you have access to it, quartz is a great alternative to sandpaper. Simply wrap the sand or rocks in a cloth and rub the wood to smooth it out.
Pumice, a volcanic rock substance, is very hard and abrasive. To sand with pumice, first, moisten the wood, then dust the pumice on top. Rub the surface with a cloth, and you’ll have a perfectly smooth wood surface.
Crushed Walnut Shells and Corn Cobs
If you love walnuts, save those shells for your next sanding project! Crushed walnut shells and corn cobs are great abrasive substances. If you don’t want to crush shells yourself, you can find a big box of ground walnut shells on Amazon here. It’s an environmentally friendly, cheaper alternative.
Don’t Toss That Sandpaper Just Yet!
Sandpaper might not be recyclable, but as you can see, it can have a fruitful life beyond its first use! Hopefully, we’ve given you some ideas for how to make your sandpaper last and even turn it into something useful in a different and unexpected way!