Dustless Sanding Systems: A Complete Guide

As a professional decorator, having an efficient dustless sanding system is almost a prerequisite for making your job much quicker and easier.

Sanding down surfaces is an essential part of any decorating job and anyone who has worked in the decorating industry will know just how much of a mess can be made when sanding down different substrates.

Of course, if you fail to remove that dust before painting, all sorts of problems can occur, with flaking paint the most common issue caused by standing dust.

But is a dustless sanding system really necessary? What are the pros and cons, and are they a worthwhile investment? We’ve put together a simple-to-follow guide so you’re armed with all the information you need before deciding on whether to bite the bullet or not.

What Is A Dustless Sanding System?

A dustless sanding system is a combination of a sander and a dust extractor. The idea is that when you sand down a substrate, the dust extractor sucks up the dust instantly and thus stops the dust from getting into the air and onto the surface you want to paint.

Do Dust-Free Sanders Work?

Dust-free sanders certainly work. Whilst the cheaper set ups might not capture all of the dust given off after sanding, the more expensive systems such as Mirka and Festool won’t leave a speck of dust behind.

What Are the Pros of a Dustless Sanding System?

  • Saves time. The most obvious benefit is having the dust extractor instantly suck up any dust that leaves the substrate you’re sanding down and thus saving you lots of time that can be used on other projects. Dusting down can take about half an hour without a dustless sanding system and this all adds up. Let’s say you’re working 260 days a year and spend half an hour every day dusting down, that’s 130 hours a year. Based on the average decorator’s salary, that equates to just under £2000 of saved time per year.
  • Stress-free. As decorators, our main aim is to make our clients happy. Dusting down can be taxing mentally as you never know if all the dust has been removed. As dust interferes with the final product, you can spend less time worrying about potential dust-caused issues.
  • It’s healthier. Sanding down can create a host of health issues if you’re regularly breathing in these particles. Furthermore, not all substrates are created equally and certain substrates such as those painted with old lead paint could have severe consequences on your health.
  • Better prep. It’s no secret that dustless sanding systems not only remove all of the dust when sanding but the sanders are usually of much better quality. This means you’re preparing the substrate to its maximum potential which will ultimately lead to a better finish. You simply won’t get the same results when sanding by hand.

What Are the Cons of a Dustless Sanding System?

  • You’ll need a power outlet. Whilst this isn’t a con if you’re working in residential buildings, using a dustless sanding system on new builds can sometimes be impossible. If you can’t find a power outlet, and oftentimes this is the case with site work, you’re not going to be able to use your equipment.
  • They’re expensive. A good quality dust-free setup is going to cost you £800 minimum. Whilst I believe this is a worthwhile investment, you might think otherwise.

Should a DIYer Invest in a Dustless Sanding System?

In my opinion, I don’t think a costly dustless sanding system is worth investing in if you’re only going to be using it on the odd occasion. The main benefit of having a dustless sanding system is that it saves professional tradesmen time and ultimately money. If you’re only going to be painting on a rare occasion, it wouldn’t be considered as a worthwhile investment.

However, if you’re going to be doing a complete redecoration of your entire home then it might make more sense. Especially as you can probably gain some of the money back by selling it after you’ve finished your project.

Best Dustless Sanding System for Every Budget

Low Budget Option

Whilst it’s not generally recommended to go for a low-budget dustless sanding system if you don’t have the capital to invest right now, there are some worthwhile options available to help you whilst you save.

My advice for people with a low budget would be to pair up a cheap sander such as a Mikita from Toolstation with a Karcher Wet and Dry vacuum cleaner. The total cost should be around £125 with is as cheap as you’ll get whilst still having a degree of quality.

Mid-range Budget Option

If you have a bit more capital available but not enough for a Festool or Mirka, I’d recommend sticking with pairing up a sander with a vacuum cleaner but spending a bit more money on the sander. If you can afford a system in the £500 range then you won’t regret going for a Metabo SXE 150 sander paired with the Nilsfik Aero 26 vacuum cleaner. The Metabo SXE 150 sander obviously isn’t as good as a Festool or Mirka but it’s still a workhorse and gets great results.

High-end Budget Options

The creme de la creme of dustless sanding systems are Festool and Mirka setups. North of £850, they’re expensive but definitely worth the investment. And which one you choose is entirely down to personal preference.

Professional decorators will often recommend one over the other but it’s usually because they love their model so much that they will vouch for that one!

In my opinion, there are some key differences between the two setups. For example, a Festool setup is usually better for hard-wearing jobs such as sanding down woodwork as it’s got a bit more grunt than the Mirka setup. On the other hand, if you’re mainly sanding down walls, the Mirka with its lighter stature and bigger sanding pads makes that particular job easier.

Both will be expected to last years but I’ve found that Mirka setups tend to have a few more technical issues than Festool. Furthermore, Festool’s customer service is second-to-none. On that basis, I’d probably recommend a Festool setup but you won’t regret buying either.

I don’t think you’ll be content with the low/medium-budget options and personally see it as a waste of money that you could’ve used on purchasing a Mirka or Festool setup.