Best Sandpaper for Drywall, Tips and Tricks for a Smooth Finish

What’s the best sandpaper for drywall? You’re not alone if you’re discovering the many varieties of sandpaper. Which one is best for drywall sanding? Let’s dig right in.

In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find many interiors, commercial or residential, that are untouched by drywall. Gypsum board’s cost-efficiency and convenience are hard to beat.

With how easy it is to install and how easy it is to finish, its prevalence is understandable. Sanding is one of the steps in a drywall project that doesn’t get enough attention.

To achieve a smooth finish on your interiors and a surface ready for paint, a proper sanding job is required to even out all the gouges and joint compound.

However, since drywall is a paper-based product, it has sanding demands that differ from wood or metal for the best results.

What is the Best Sandpaper Grit for Drywall?

In order to understand which grit sandpaper is ideal for drywall, it’s important to know the basics of how sandpaper grit works. Sandpaper grit runs from as low as 40-grit up to 400-grit.

As the numbers go higher, the grit of the sandpaper gets finer, meaning that 80 heavy-grit paper is significantly coarser than a 200 medium-grit sandpaper.

For drywalling, you should aim for medium-fine sandpaper, somewhere in the 100-150 grit range.

Fine-Grit, Medium-Grit, Heavy-Grit

Finer sandpaper at or above 220-grit simply can’t sand drywall effectively. The abrasions that 220-grit and above make on gypsum board would be so fine that you couldn’t notice them.

Coarse-grit paper like 80-grit isn’t necessary because drywall joint compound nowadays is soft enough to be sanded down at up to 180-grit.

Using coarse sandpaper less than 100-grit may leave visible scratches in the drywall mud compared to a fine-grit sandpaper. Even worse, a coarse grit sandpaper might tear the drywall paper under the drywall mud.

If you’re using an orbital sander, opt for a finer 150-grit paper for better results.

3m sanding sheets medium 100 grit
100-grit sandpaper

What Tools Should I Use to Sand Drywall?

Several different tools are used in the process of sanding drywall.

Sandpaper is the abrasive material for sanding drywall mud for a smooth finish. With sandpaper, you may want a sanding device, either a hand-sander to which you can attach pre-cut sandpaper screens or an electric sander.

Power sanders, orbital sanders, and circular electric sanders are incredibly efficient and perfect for larger-scale drywalling projects.

As with many drywall jobs, but especially when sanding drywall, it’s highly recommended to have protective gear, even when sanding a small area.

Goggles will keep drywall dust out of your eyes, while a dust mask will keep you from inhaling too much drywall dust that will inevitably fill the room.

When sanding drywall, it’s a good idea to use plastic sheeting to cover all furniture, electrical boxes, outlets, or any item that you don’t want to be covered in dust.

power pro 1850 electric sander
The ultimate drywall sanding rig – the Power Pro 1850 electric drywall sander.

What is the Best Grit Sandpaper for Drywall?

120 to 150 grit sandpaper is great for sanding drywall to prepare for painted walls.

Even sandpaper as high as a 220-grit will work great for sanding dried drywall joint compound.

sandpaper under 100-grit should be avoided on drywall mud. You may damage your fine taping job with coarse grit sandpaper, leaving streaks, lines, and divots in the taping mud.

When shopping for the right sandpaper, you’re likely to run into garnet paper, silicon carbide, and aluminum oxide.

For sanding drywall, you want to choose a less coarse grit paper like garnet or aluminum oxide over silicon carbide.

Less Coarse Sandpaper for Drywall

Silicon carbide sandpaper, which is usually black, has a closed coat and a hard edge, making it ideal for sanding harder surfaces like metal or wood finishes.

Because drywall is paper-based, and modern lightweight joint compound releases so much dust, open types of sandpaper that clog much less are more ideal.

Garnet paper and aluminum oxide work well, but if you had to choose between the two, aluminum oxide might be your best choice.

The oxide paper lasts longer and is cheaper than its gemstone counterpart.

sandpaper grit
Sandpaper – from 200 grit to 40 grit.

Tips for Sanding Drywall

After your drywall has been hung, your gaps have been taped, and the joint compound has dried, sanding is all that stands between you and painting your interiors.

With that being said, sanding is no small task and the key to a smooth finish and clean interior in any residential or commercial space.

Whether you’re patching a small hole at home or finishing the inside of a newly built office space, there are several tips and techniques that can be used for many sanding jobs.

3m sanding screen 120 grit
120 Grit drywall sanding screens

Wet Sanding Drywall vs. Dry Sanding

So far, we’ve only talked about dry sanding. When you’re attaching a sanding screen to a hand drywall sander or sanding pole and smoothing out your drywall, that’s defined as dry sanding.

It’s named as such because it creates a lot of dust and involves no water. The majority of your drywall should be dry sanded.

However, there are other means of sanding called wet sanding that can be done with a sanding sponge.

The Drywall Sanding Sponge

Sanding sponges can come in different grit sizes, just like sandpaper. To finish drywall, opt for a medium grit sponge.

Sanding sponges have a ton of benefits. They’re cheap and long-lasting, much longer lasting than other sandpapers. They can be used in tandem with fine sandpaper or used by themselves. 

Wet sanding is ideal for sanding small patches of drywall or drywall corners. Using a hand sander in a corner is asking for trouble.

drywall sanding sponge
For 9 bucks, you can pick up a drywall sanding sponge like this one, and keep the dust down to a manageable level.

It’s hard to get a smooth edge, and when you push a hand sander into inside corners, you’re likely to gouge the other wall with the edge of the sander, leaving undesirable sanding marks.

Sanding sponges fit seamlessly into corners and are easy to use.

With small, circular motions, you can sand out any seam to as smooth of a finish as you could with a hand sander.

Another benefit of wet sanding is that it is significantly cleaner than dry sanding. When you dry sand a wall, it kicks up a lot of dust.

The water in the wet sanding damp sponge absorbs that dust, meaning clean-up is much less of a hassle—minimum vacuum cleaner time after the project.

drywall sander
For $30 bucks on Amazon, you can have this handy-sander with vacuum attachment. I wouldn’t say “dust-free” but it’s worth a try.

Large Sanding Projects

For drywall sanding projects larger than a spot treatment or one wall, you may want to invest in some extra equipment.

An orbital power sander will make sanding multiple drywall surfaces a breeze. Many of them come with a vacuum operation that sucks up the dust as you sand, causing less mess.

If you have high ceilings, a drywall pole sander may be necessary to reach up and extend all the way to them.

Hand Sanding Vs Power Sanding

Power sanding is great for large projects, and will save a ton of time, but proceed with caution. A power sander in the wrong hands is the fastest way to ruin a perfectly good taping job.

A power sander with an overly coarse grit or a speed set too high will cause dips, gouges, and damage to your freshly taped walls.

If you insist on using a power sander, I would highly recommend starting off on a low-power setting and being extra vigilant to not remove too much joint compound.

Gouges and Problem Areas

If you’re in the process of sanding and notice deep gouges or depressions in the gypsum board, put a light or strong lamp parallel to the wall to make spotting these problem areas easier.

Mark them down and fill them in with joint compound. Beginners often try to sand gouges or pits out. Don’t do it.

It’ll be easier to refill them with drywall mud, wait for the mud to dry, and sand those smaller areas in a circular motion.

What Type of Sandpaper Lasts the Longest?

There are six different sandpaper types to understand if you want to use the correct product for your project.

Garnet – Best for hand-sanding. Works best on wood to prep for minor scratches and dings. Small grit-size garnet particles break as sanding occurs, so it wears out fast.

Emery – Used in power sanding tools and hand sanding. Commonly used to remove paint or rust when refinishing metal. There’s also Emery cloth sandpaper for curved or delicate surfaces.

Aluminum Oxide – Commonly used on drywall, wood, metal, and plastic. Aluminum Oxide sandpaper typically lasts a long time, making it a good choice for power sanding.

Silicon Carbide – Removes material quicker than aluminum oxide but wears out faster. Common for use on drywall joints and can be used for wet sanding because of its waterproof backing. It can be used for hardened and rough drywall compound.

Zirconia Alumina – Best for metal, fiberglass, and wood surfaces. Primarily found in disc sanders and belt sanders. Longer lasting than aluminum oxide.

Ceramic Alumina – Long lasting and best for disc and belt sanders. Used for an aggressive finish that might not come off with lighter grit.

Drywall Sanding Advice – The Best Sandpaper for Drywall

It’s already been stated, but it’s worth saying again. When sanding drywall, wear protective gear, a dust mask, and goggles to avoid ingesting dust particles.

For all the DIY folks, it may even be worthwhile to wear a hat or protective headgear to keep drywall dust out of your hair.

When sanding, use medium to light pressure and sand in smooth strokes or a circular motion to create an even finish. Angle your hand sander slightly to avoid over sanding one area.

Prep and Cover

Cover outlets, doorways, and windows to stop the dust from spreading into other areas of your home improvement project.

If possible, use a sanding block with a sanding screen over regular sandpaper.

Sanding screens are more durable and allow dust to pass through them, meaning you’ll be kicking less dust into the air that you’ll have to clean later on.

For the best-looking painted drywall walls and ceilings, sanding methods should be followed, step by step.

Additional Resources –

Current Pricing for Drywall Sanding Supplies – Home Depot

Current Pricing for Drywall Sanding Supplies – Amazon

Current Pricing for Drywall Sanding Supplies – Lowes

A Comprehensive Guide to Finishing Gypsum Board Surfaces –

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