Dry Ice Blasting & Cleaning Blog

Dry Ice, Sponge & Abrasive Blasting: A Comparison

Worker in a confined space

Learn Which One or Combination Is Right for Your Commercial or Industrial Challenge

Commercial and industrial cleaning projects are often a highly customized undertaking. What works in one setting is not appropriate in another. The right approach is built around a careful assessment of the setting, circumstances, surface materials, and the substances to be removed.

Dry ice blasting was designed to be effective in many of the most challenging circumstances – where water and chemicals can’t be introduced, where a more delicate touch is required to prevent damage, and where dust and debris must be highly contained.

But no single cleaning method does it all, and many projects include a mix of surface areas and a variety of adherents to be removed. What works to remove thick layers of paint, for example, is not going to be appropriate for cleaning electrical components.

Careful planning, expertise and an array of different solutions are key to the success of the work we do at Polar Clean. Many times, the best results are achieved with a combination of methods.

A Closer Look at Dry Ice & Abrasive Blasting

While dry ice blasting and abrasive blasting are different approaches to cleaning, each bring distinct benefits depending on the application.

Polar Clean dry ice blasting uses CO2 pellets that sublimate on impact and a variety of proprietary nozzles for adjusting the force of the blast – all the way down to a dusting gentle enough to clean around delicate electrical components. It’s an ideal solution for surface cleaning in areas where the introduction of water, chemicals or collateral debris poses too great a risk, like food production and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Abrasive blasting uses a material – such as crushed glass – to provide a more aggressive form of cleaning, but it’s also available in food-safe formulations composed of walnut shells, corn cobs or baking soda. Sponge blasting, known as a micro-abrasive technique, uses sponge as a carrier for a variety of abrasive media. On impact, the sponge compresses, briefly exposing the abrasive material before retracting again. This method offers a safer alternative to more aggressive abrasive mediums and works well in applications where dust suppression and low environmental impact are necessary. Sponge blasting works particularly well in areas that need a higher level of abrasive power than dry ice can provide, but need more dust control than traditional abrasive methods.

A Range of Abrasives for a Range of Solutions

For abrasive blasting, various methods provide a range of abrasive force, wet and dry alternatives, and a variety of media, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. Abrasive blasting methods used by Polar Clean include:

  • Sponge Blasting: as the most versatile and effective option for abrasive blasting, sponge is mixed with foam containing a synthetic, abrasive material; upon impact, the sponge compresses, exposing the abrasive material before re-expanding, absorbing dust as it falls to the floor
  • Plastic Beads: versatile and can be engineered to fit specific needs
  • Crushed Glass: ideal for situations where cleanup and dust are not major concerns, crushed glass offers a powerful and cost-effective solution; crushed glass has replaced sandblasting since abrasive blasting with sands containing crystalline silica can cause serious or fatal respiratory disease known as silicosis
  • Corn Cob: although less abrasive, corn cobs are useful for tasks like wood log cabin restoration where a gentle approach is required
  • Walnut Shell: the most abrasive among organic options, walnut shell blasting is effective but may not be suitable for allergy-sensitive environments due to dust
  • Baking Soda: widely used in the food industry for its abrasion capabilities, baking soda is food-safe, but messy and shouldn’t be used in areas where it could come into contact with landscaping
  • Aluminum Oxide (ALOX): often specified for cleaning steam turbines at power generation plants, aluminum oxide is a less abrasive alternative to garnet or steel shot media

Choosing the Right Method: Factors & Criteria

Among the factors used to identify the best method for your project, the nature of the material to be removed ranks near the top. It takes significantly greater abrasion to remove well-adhered layers of paint than it does to remove dust and grime.

The circumstances under which the cleaning will take place is also an important consideration. Many manufacturers specify dry ice blasting because it doesn’t introduce any collateral debris and can often be done without the need for downtime. Here is an overview of criteria that go into the choice of a blasting method.

  • Nature of the Adherent: What is the substance you need to remove or clean from the surface? Paint? Grease? Soot?
  • End Goal: Does the surface need to be profiled (textured) or unprofiled?
  • Facility Specifications: Do industry-specific restrictions apply, as in food manufacturing?
  • Location and Bystanders: How and where will the work be carried out? Is containment required to prevent harm to occupants and/or products?
  • Dust Concerns: Will the cleaning process generate a significant amount of dust?
  • Water Applicability: Can water be used in the cleaning process, and if so, is it a cost-effective option?
  • Substrate Sensitivity: Is the substrate delicate or fragile?
  • Project Time Sensitivity: Is there a specific deadline for project completion?
  • Testing & Client Specification: Is there a need to conduct a patch test, and does the client prefer a particular method?

Some applications may be better for a specific application based on factors that include sensitivity of the substrate, environmental concerns, cleanup feasibility, and project costs. In many cases, the best solution is to utilize a combination of techniques, to take advantage of dry ice blasting’s safety and precision while using more abrasive methods in areas with more stubborn adherents.

Here is a comparison of the cleaning solutions we can use alone or in combination:

Feature Dry Ice Blasting Abrasive Blasting Sponge Blasting
Media used
Frozen CO2 (pellets)
Crushed volcanic glass, steel shot, aluminum oxide, glass beads, walnut shells, corn cob, baking soda
Polyurethane sponge particles packed with any of 20 different types and sizes of abrasive media
Cleanup of collateral debris
No collateral residue (CO2 sublimates)
Residue left behind (spent abrasive and removed material)
Effective dust suppression. Particles easily contained & reclaimed for reuse
Abrasive Level
Generally non-abrasive (depends on pellet size and velocity)
Ranges from mild to aggressive, with the ability to leave surface profiled
Similar to abrasive blasting
Most can be used in a wet or dry formulation
Non-conductive, safe for electrical components
Potentially conductive depending on the abrasive
Application versatility
Suitable for sensitive equipment, electronics, food industry
Often avoided in sensitive areas due to abrasiveness. Baking soda and corn cob generally food safe
Versatile. Food safety depends on media
Can be more expensive than abrasive
Typically less expensive initially but carries cleanup and water reclamation costs in most cases
More expensive than other abrasive methods

Hybrid Blasting Solutions for Added Versatility & Effectiveness

Many projects require a combination of methods for best results. For example, on a historic building restoration project involving lead-paint-covered window frames, an assessment determined that the combination of a paint stripper and dry ice blasting would get the job done, with careful containment to ensure that lead paint did not spread outside of the work area.

In another demanding context, Polar Clean’s work with a refinery in Utah involved cleaning and repainting an extensive section of process piping. Achieving a specific surface texture or profile was critical for optimal adhesion of the new paint. Dry ice, due to its non-abrasive nature, cannot achieve this desired profiling. A combination of abrasive and dry ice blasting achieved the desired cleanliness and profiled surface texture to the client’s precise specifications.

The Ideal Combination: The Polar Clean Team & Your Industrial Cleaning Challenges

At Polar Clean, our solutions are built around a careful process of assessment and planning to identify the most effective results for our clients in industries where there is little margin for error, including food and beverage manufacturing, refineries and petrochemical plants, power generation plants, historic and fire restoration and more.

Our team has deep expertise and advanced training for industrial cleaning projects others can’t do, including working at heights, in confined spaces and a wide array of sensitive and challenging settings. Learn more about what we can do to solve to your cleaning challenges.

Contact us to learn more about industrial blasting services