The simple reason why more DIYers don't install and finish drywall more often is easy to understand—it's all about the dust. Even the most careful taping and mudding job requires that the joints be sanded with a sanding screen or sandpaper, and that action invariably creates dust that flies everywhere and gets into everything. It travels into the farthest regions of your home and deep into your clothes and hair. Even wearing good eye protection and a particle mask doesn't fully prevent the awful powder from entering your eyes and lungs.
Drywall dust is so incredibly fine and invasive that the warranties of some house vacuums are considered void if you use them to remove drywall dust. But there is one method that can reduce your dust output to nearly zero: wet-sanding.
What Is Wet-Sanding?
Wet-sanding is the process of using a damp sponge to smooth out and remove excess taping compound after it dries. When moistened with a sponge, drywall compound begins to dissolve and loosen, and it can then be smoothed out. Wet-sanding is normally done with a very thick, stiff sponge.
However, this process is far from perfect, and it's hardly a panacea for all drywall woes. Some pros view wet-sanding more as "joint smudging" than actual sanding since so much of the taping compound remains on the wall rather than on your sponge. But there can be real value to smudging out the edges of the joints because it makes the seams less visible or even invisible after painting.
Watch Now: How to Wet-Sand Drywall to Avoid Dust
Wet-sanding drywall compound is a slower process than traditional sanding. If you're interested in speed, you'll want to dry-sand. Nor does wet-sanding produce a perfectly smooth surface. Because you are using a sponge―which is flexible―your finished wall may exhibit gentle waves. And if you wipe down the walls too vigorously with a sponge that is too wet, you can dissolve and remove too much of the taping compound, which will require that you go back and apply more mud. But all of these drawbacks may well be worth the single important benefit—a joint-smoothing operation that is completely without dust.
Equipment / Tools
- Drywall sponge
Wet the Sponge
Fill a bucket with warm water. Dip the sponge into the water, and then wring it out. Drywall sponges can become almost bone-dry if you wring too hard, so wring the sponge so it is not sopping but still noticeably damp. The sponge needs to be damp enough to dissolve and loosen the hardened joint compound.
Sand the Joint With the Abrasive Sponge Side
Begin by knocking down any obvious high spots with the abrasive side of your sponge. Move the sponge in broad, circular strokes. Don't press too hard in any one spot, as this can create depressions in the joint compound. On this pass, just concentrate on the high ridges and the spiky areas of the dried compound.
When the sponge begins to bog down, rinse it out and continue with a newly dampened sponge.
Sand With the Smooth Side of the Sponge
Wring out the sponge, then remoisten it, and switch to sanding with the smooth side of the sponge. This is where you begin to feather the joint compound outward from the joints. This will reduce the visibility of seams after painting.
On this second pass, because you have already taken down the high ridges, you can concentrate on lowering the joint compound bump.
After this second pass, you are done. Any more wet sponging will get the drywall paper too wet. If two passes are not sufficient, you may need to dry-sand the joint compound.
Let the Wall Dry
Let the damp taping compound dry fully, and then inspect the surface. One thing that wet-sanding does that dry-sanding does not: It moistens dried mud compound, thus "reactivating" it and moving it to other parts of the wallboard.
The main value of wet drywall sanding is to smooth out and feather the ridge edges. Compare the "before" joint with the "after" joint. The "before" joint has a defined line. Running your finger across this line, you feel a definite ridge. On the "after" joint, you will notice a smooth, hazy feathering effect.
In areas where the ridge is too high and will show through paint, you might need to sand the wall smooth in the traditional manner.
What is wet-sanding?
Wet-sanding adds a moisture component—often simply water—to the sanding process. The moisture helps to lubricate the surface and capture sanded particles, so there's less of an opportunity for the particles to scratch the surface or become airborne.
Is wet-sanding drywall better?
How do you sand drywall like a pro?
How do you clean drywall dust after sanding?
With either sanding method—wet or dry—you’re going to create some dust. You can use tack cloth to lightly wipe the walls, or brush them with a soft-bristle brush. Then, use a shop vacuum to clear dust from the area.
Control of Drywall Sanding Dust Exposures. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.