Ep 16: DIY soda blasting – build your own rig!

When Trent found out about a way of using baking soda gun to clean up bike parts we were dead keen to give it a go. All you need is an air compressor with a duster gun, some plastic line, insulation or gaffer tape and a supply of bicarbonate of soda.

A perfect project for us to test out. We love a “hack” here at Garage Night, as demonstrated by our project to put KTM forks on Richard’s BMW F650.

Soda blasting is a great alternative to sand or shot blasting, because the blasting medium doesn’t damage the underlying metal. It uses the explosive force of the tiny soda particles as they shatter on impact to knock the dirt, grease, paint etc off the surface.

So it’s perfect for cleaning, for example, the alloy parts on motorcycles. It takes you back to the original metal finish – and it leaves hard anodizing intact. I think my brake caliper bracket, as shown in the video, is the perfect example. You can strip paint from metal parts too.

Carburettors are another candidate, especially since the soda simply washes away after the job is done.

Be a bit careful though – it will remove paint. I was just about to soda blast my gold Brembo brake calipers, which look anodized but I found out are actually painted.

There are various industrial versions of soda blasting, so it is possible to get it done professionally. And you can buy home kits, but they are not particularly cheap. And anyway, where’s the fun in paying someone to do it, or buying an off-the-shelf solution? The parts we bought to make our system only ran to about US$15 at the most – that included a 5kg (12lb) bucket of baking soda, best purchased from an oriental foods supermarket.

The soda is food grade and therefore non-toxic, though eye protection is a good idea, and a face mask wouldn’t hurt either. Keep water away from your work – the baking soda is soluble so once you get it wet, it’s ruined.

We’re sure our set-up could be refined to recapture the soda and also control the flow. But for now we’re pretty happy with how it works.

A final word of credit to Air Cooled Tech, which is where Trent found the idea. Lots of useful stuff there, though I am left wondering what biker Trent is doing looking around a website for Volkswagen enthusiasts … is he thinking of building one of those trikes with a flat four hanging out the back?

– Waz

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30 thoughts on “Ep 16: DIY soda blasting – build your own rig!

  1. excelent idea, and page!!
    very very nice!
    it’s very important help for me!

  2. Note: I see you have taped over the slit where the probe enters. If you tape behind the slit so that air can also be sucked in at that location you will find the performance jumps somewhat. Also keeping the feed hose within 2 to 2-1/2 feet helps in the soda flow. Just some experience after dickering around a bit. Jim A. Tucson, AZ 89° and sunny. Been 105° the last 4 or 5 days. Good riding weather for my Velo.

  3. guys, well done.
    I’m restoring my yamaha xv750 and wondered what other areas this would bring up – forks? cylinder fins? springs? swingarm? yolks? any ideas?
    oh, and how would you refine this to reclaim the soda and to concentrate on those ingrained area?
    cheers guys

  4. Darren, basically anything you’d otherwise sandblast to clean or remove paint. It doesn’t remove anodising, apparently, and I doubt it would remove chrome etc, but as you can see it does a hell of a job of removing general grime and taking cast aluminium back to that fresh-out-of-the-mould effect.

    A note of caution, if you’re thinking of soda blasting something that’s anodised, do make sure it’s actually anodised and not painted. For example the gold Brembo calipers on my bike and many others look anodised but it’s actually paint.

    Yes I think you could definitely recapture and reuse the soda. The key is to keep moisture out. I think we’ll be refining this apparatus – I’m soon to test it out on a Ducati side case that’s got badly flaked paint.

  5. have read that soda particles breakdown on impact (like powder snow crystals after an avalanche, resulting in much smaller ice crystals and snow as dense as cement), leaving them unusable for repeat use. That said, try it and let us know how it works.

    Has anyone tried this mini-blaster with other blasting media (coal slag, glass etc) ?

    What size compressor did they use in the video…will it work with a small consumer compressor that holds just a few liters in the tank ?

    Finally,a question for Jim Abbott of Tuscon…when you say, “If you tape behind the slit so that air can also be sucked in at that location you will find the performance jumps somewhat won’t that close off the air supply.” Jim, won’t this stop air from being sucked in at this location? please claify, and keep cool in that AZ sun. Zup

  6. boyz
    i you order the larger partical sizes of soada from a media supply house you will find that its bigger and faster. Food soda is a powder and will not be as fast.

    That is why they sell ARMEX BLAST MEDIA FOR GUYS LIKE US>

  7. Hi guys,

    somthing else you can use to remove grease and grime is poly urethane foam dust.
    It totaly cleans of the grease and grime, and leaves your paint un damaged. Wil work on those brake calipers.
    You should be able to get the foam from any surfboard shapper.



  8. As much as I love this inexpensive device, I think you are leaving out one very important detail. The air compressor specs and costs. Air cool tech goes as far as to say that small compressors won’t work.

    If you start looking at the specs he recommends you find yourself into a high end, high priced air unit. If you have that, a blasting cabinet is relatively cheap from Harbor Freight or finding one used. Then you can contain the medium and reuse it or at least keep your area clean.

    I would love to hear what people are using for their air compressors and the results. Cheers.

  9. Hello Paul,

    Good point. When we made this video, I was using Trent’s air compressor which is indeed a fairly big belt-drive unit. Trent has since loaned me his small direct-drive compressor to use at my house and you’re right – the results are not as good. Though there may be other variables, like the soda in the bucket packing down over time.

    Some people say your average blasting cabinet is not directly compatible with soda blasting but a friend tried it in his with some Holley carburettors and it worked fine.

  10. Hi Guys,

    I have a 50ltr 2.5hp 116psi compressor, will this do the trick Waz? I am currently making a blast cabinet with the idea you guys had but with a transparent 160ltr container (plastic box) so the ligh comes in all around.

    I also wanted to know the dimensions of the crate that Trent used to make his sandblaster cabinet as it does look quite large and the cost of one of those on ebay is almost the same as buying a prefab blast cabinet.

    I will send a link for youtube once I have done it all and tested this principle.

    Thanks guys.

    P.S. I actually fund you guys through the aircooltech website and have had a right laugh with you guys, keep it up!!

  11. Hi Paul, I bought a $20 sandblasting kit from Supercheap Auto. It came with 3 different nozzles and is basically a gun with a venturi pipe feed into the air path and looks similar to your made up set. Now to find where I can buy soda in bulk….back to google:)

  12. Valiant, go to a Chinese grocery store/supermarket, or some sort of cash and carry. You should be able to get it in bulk. I believe it’s also sold as a swimming pool pH balancer – give it a Googling. Results may disappoint if you don’t have access to a fairly powerful air compressor. But still worth a try.

  13. ZXCharlieR, it was actually Pete who made the cabinet. It was some sort of box that something came in. He made the lid out of scrap wood and bought the perspex. Your idea sounds good. With soda blasting you don’t necessarily need a sealed box if you don’t want to recover the soda – just protect your eyes and breathing, work in an open area then hose the soda away. Don’t let the soda settle on painted cars etc. Your compressor sounds worth a try. I would suggest letting the tank fill completely and using max pressure. Experiment.

  14. Hi BKC, I’m no expert in CFM, pressure, storage tank sizes etc. Also it all depends what you’re trying to blast. In general, the bigger the compressor/air source, the better. You don’t mention what you are trying to blast.

  15. What U guys are trying to achieve here is a basic siphon gun blaster system. It’d probably work fine w/any sandblast siphon gun system, but Snap-On also makes a killer siphon gun engine cleaner that picks up the solvent like nobody’s business that’d probably work even better for the soda blasting. My air compressors out here, I’ve got 3 of them running currently @ 175-200 psi., will probably drive this soda blast system adequately, as it does everything else I run on it. And yes, being involved in the VW aircooled community, I’m familiar w/this system, but haven’t tried it yet myself, but looks like a reasonable solution to the caustic acids that I’ve been using for carb cleaning, etc. Will have to try soon, and finding a good supply of sodium hydroxide in bulk for cheap will be another hurdle that will have to be overcome. Good post though guys. :)

  16. Thanks guys. My Dad and I are looking for a DIY solution to strip finish off the inside ribs of a 1920s wooden canoe. We will try your system. Not expensive, easy to make and we have the compressor. Thanks!

  17. @Battered Bugs: It’s not NaOH, it’s sodium bicarbonate; there’s a great difference. And for others on this thread, the idea of using granular sodium bicarbonate is the medium’s size, which when it exits and “hits” the material you’re working on, it breaks down. It’s the fact of it’s granular hardness and size which is related to its force of removing corrosion/paint/grease etc. Using medium which is too small often defeats the purpose of using this setup. The big machines do all of this much better, faster…which is related to a BA compressor, r/t volume speed of the air, whic hauls the medium to the material much better. But, you pay dearly for rental or such BA compressors. Hence, you use this kind of setup for smallish tasks, you have beaucoup time on you hands to putz with it, and you’re doing it on the cheap.

  18. I built this little contraption last night, and while it took a little tweaking and practice, even with my little pancake compressor it still worked!! obviously having a huge shop compressor would be ideal, but for small jobs like motorcycle carbs it worked great. I would however recommend instead of cutting the hose, poke a smaller hole than the nozzle so its tight and not taping it. The Soda gets packed in there and taping it will prohibit you from pulling it out and dislodging the clog.

    Now onto building a tupperware cabinet… there’s baking soda all over my backyard…

  19. I too found this via the Aircooled VW Tech website. Thanks to all involved. Am going to soda blast my Dellorto 36mm DRLAs this way.

  20. also works great on greasy aluminum engine blocks, driveshaft covers, and just about anything else that is just grimy or coated with a softer paint [matte black vht came off with relative ease]

  21. For anyone still finding this page, you can’t recapture and use the baking soda over again, because the particles burst on impact like little frag grenades. This effect is what gives it the majority of its cleaning power.

    • Shaun, broadly correct as I understand it, though it assumes 100% efficiency in the ‘grenade effect’ the first time around, eg that every single particle impacts the surface and bursts. You’d probably find that it’s much less efficient than that and maybe the soda can be reused but becomes less effective each time. Not to mention contaminated with the material you removed the last time round, which is probably the last thing you want to be firing at the surface you’re trying to clean.

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