By Mike Ledda
For decades, dust has been the bane of every floor sanding contractor, but in this day and age, there’s simply no reason why that should be the case. With proper dust controls in place, you can eliminate both time-consuming setup work (hanging plastic sheeting) and meticulous clean-up after the sanding is done; jobs are 30 percent faster on average, meaning less inconvenience for your customers and fewer man-hours for you. That’s why “dust-free” services are one of the fastest growing demands from customers worldwide as they seek out contractors that can sand their floors without the huge mess and hassle of traditional systems.
Dust containment can be a competitive advantage for your business, allowing you to charge a premium for your services while reducing your overall time and maintenance costs – the benefits of proper dust collection can pay for themselves ten-fold. But though many contractors may claim being “dust-free” or “dustless,” very few can walk the walk, and talk the talk.
When it comes to containing dust there are four key elements to consider:
1. Contain the dust at each stage
The first step is simple: make sure that from the sander to the dustbin, wood dust doesn’t get back into the air. Hoses should be statically grounded, durable, and sealed airtight throughout their entire length. Your dustbin should be located far from the work area and should have a system in place that lets you tie off the liner bags for simple, mess-free, disposal. Most of all, you’ll need to make sure you’re using top-quality filtration throughout the system.
2. Use vacuums with HEPA filtration
Full-unit HEPA Certification is essential for many contractors, especially for those refinishing older buildings with lead paint and varnishes, lest they run the risk of heavy fines for not meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s RRP requirements(1). But even if you’re not concerned with fines, full-unit HEPA vacuums are still an efficient way to ensure no harmful dust escapes from the vacuum. Non-HEPA vacuums, can’t guarantee top filtration efficiency and will often leave you cleaning up (or worse, breathing in) the finest dusts over and over again.
3. Understand the hazards of dust
When it comes to health hazards, the smallest dusts are the most harmful. Airborne particles smaller than 10 microns (known as the PM-10 range) can work their way deep into your lung tissue and will likely never leave. To put that size in perspective, consider that a human hair is about 100 microns thick, while airborne dust particles smaller than 20 microns are invisible to the naked eye. Not only can this dust contribute to various infections and asthmatic conditions, many types of wood dusts (e.g., oak, beech, redwood, etc.) have been shown to be carcinogenic(2).
Cloth bag filtration performance peaks at the 1-micron range. So even though it may be filling up with dust while you work, it may blow the worst dusts back into the air. As the bag fills, the total filter surface area shrinks, meaning that more and more dust is pushed out of the bag and back into the air, which is why it is recommended to empty the bag when it’s one third of the way filled.
4. Ensure proper airflow to the tools
When it comes to dust containment, you’ll often hear that a sander needs “200 CFM” to collect all of the dust it generates – but there’s more to it than just picking a vacuum with a high CFM rating. Just by doing its job, every sander blows dust away from the belt, meaning it’s already generating its own airflow pressure system. That means that any vacuum attached to the sander is going to be competing with the sander’s airflow. This situation is worsened by the long lengths of hoses needed in floor sanding, as the longer the hose, the more air resistance the vacuum has to overcome.
One way to eliminate this choke point is to relieve air pressure at the sander, which will remove most of the dust from the air, exhausting the excess airflow created by the sander, while transporting the remaining, dust-laden air to the vacuum for final containment. Once the sander can “breathe,” both it and the vacuum can perform as intended.
The last time we had wood floors refinished in our home; we erected a vented plastic room around the area being sanded. It consumed an enormous amount of time and was ultimately ineffective; the crew spent as much time cleaning the floor as they did sanding it.
With innovations in today’s dust containment technology, the methods we have to contain the dust we create almost seem limitless. A clear understanding of the wood dust that you work with along with an understanding of the different ways to contain it will ultimately allow you to be a better business person in this trade, add value to your business, and offer your customers a clean and healthy environment.
Mike Ledda is Marketing & Web Developer for Oneida Air Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.732.4065.
- Lead; Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, April 22, 2008, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2008-04-22/html/E8-8141.htm
- RoC Profile: Wood Dust; Report on Carcinogens, Fourteenth Edition. National Toxicology Program, Department of Health and Human Services, Nov. 3, 2016,