How to Sand Drywall – 2018 Guide

At first glance, it would seem that sanding out drywall mud is the easiest part of the process.

It is not.

The sanding process is dirty, long, and hard. Using power sanders can eliminate the last part of this, but it’ll just make even more mess to clean up at the end of the day. There’s a bit of an art to this process, but what you’ll need the most of is good old fashioned elbow grease and time.

As always, patience and precision will pay off at the end of the day.

Harry , Homethods Author


Suit Up Before You Sand

Before you begin, lay down a drop cloth or painter’s paper on the floor. Use masking tape to get it flush with the bottom of the wall and you’re on the right track. The tape should help to keep things off the floor, but be aware that you’re still going to be vacuuming afterwards no matter what.

For yourself, get some clothes you don’t care about and a paper breathing mask. Goggles are also used by some people, but they’re really not necessary unless you decide to go the power sanding route.

Picking the Tools Out

Step 1

There are two routes you can go here, hand sanding with a block and paper will require more time but if you use an aggressive enough grit right from the outset the time differential isn’t going to mean much because you’ll save time on cleaning.

On the other hand a power sander will make extremely short work of the mud, but the powder is going to get everywhere. This is fine when you’re first putting up a house, or working on fixing up a place before it’s used, but in a home you already live in it will be a nightmare.

DA sanders are some of the easiest to use, but require specialized disks. For most home projects, it’s not a suitable option so we’ll focus on using a sanding block instead.

If you opt for hand sanding, pick up some sanding blocks and 60 and 150 grit paper. Depending on the size of the job you might need a lot of it, but if you’ve only replaced a single panel then a couple sheets of each will do.

There are specialized sand papers for sheet rock, but if you’re feeling cheap you’re not going to be missing out on much by going with regular paper. For the best results, however, opt for a wet/dry paper. You don’t have to wet the wall down but it’s just tougher paper and will last much longer before breaking down.

You’re also going to want two more items, depending on if you have corners or if the highest place you need to sand is out of easy reach. A pole sander will allow you to reach very high, and a sanding sponge will let you make ultra-clean corner seams.

If your mudwork is particularly rough, then instead of going with 60 grit sand paper for the beginning of the job, buy a drywall grater. These specialized tools will make extremely short work of larger protrusions in the mud.

More Wall Prep

Step 2

After you’ve prepped the area and gathered your tools together, it’s time to get to work. Set aside a large block of time, estimate the time you’ll need then double it. If you finish early, you’ve opened up a long chunk of your day, but you don’t want to have to rush the job.

Start with the grater if you have one, just run it until you have a relatively flat surface to begin with. Think of the grater more as knocking things off the wall than as a sander, press down a little bit and scrape off anywhere the putty knife left ridges. This will only take a couple of minutes.

Use the 60 grit paper for this job if you opted not to purchase a grater, but don’t get too vigorous about the whole thing just yet. We have an inspection to make before we get to the job proper.

After grating off the ridges, you’ll want to take a look at the whole area with a bright flashlight. If there are any pockets deeper than 1/16th of an inch or so, you’ll want to fill them before you commence with your sanding.

Mark any problem areas with a carpenter’s pencil and use some joint compound to fill them. You can even do this for small holes in the panel if you feel it’s necessary. Let it dry, and then we’ll be getting on with the whole affair.

Get Sanding

Step 3

Once your wall is prepped it’s time to get to the real work. Sanding is about precision and persistence, don’t get ahead of yourself or go at it too hard initially because any large mistakes you make will need to be corrected later.

If the dust is causing a ton of problems, there’s a simple way around it: wet sanding. If you do things this way you’ll need a bucket of water and to periodically dip the sanding block or sponge you’re currently using in the water. It’ll also save you on paper over the course of a long job.

Wet sanding is for walls that are going to be textured otherwise you’ll have to come back over it with fine paper once you’re done.

Either way, the process is pretty much the same. Rub the paper along the mud using a circular motion, making sure to get everything as flat as possible. More than flat, you’ll want to make things smooth. This will help to ensure that the paint you lay on it looks good, as opposed to a bit rough.

The smoothness is the part that people have the hardest time with, and for good reason: it requires a precise eye for detail. Flat is one thing, but truly smooth is a whole different ball game.

Smoothness will come from light pressure and semi-random strokes. There’s a reason that DA sanders have a reputation for making the smoothest possible surface in a short time: the random orbits of the sander prevent the marks that will come with repeating the same stroke.

As far as pressure goes, if you’re pulling flakes as opposed to dust off the wall you’re pressing way too hard. All it will do is make sure you have to replace the paper on the block quicker, and possibly make you lay another coat of mud.

In order to achieve the right motion for sanding, trying out a spiral pattern is a good way to do things for most people, especially those worried about not getting it right. Start small and move clockwise in concentric circles while moving along the wall, then reverse the motion and move back.

Don’t just use left/right or up/down sanding, it’s counterproductive and won’t do you any favors since it’ll leave large marks on the wall.

Use the sponge for inside corners, it’s squishy make-up will allow you to take care of them quite easily. They’re also good for outside corners, especially if you’re planning on a slight rounding as a matter of aesthetics.

It all sounds simple, but trust us, you’re going to be there all day. It will get tedious, try playing music and remember to take breaks. If you’re dry sanding take them a little bit more frequently, the dust can build up in the air and allowing it to settle will make things a lot easier on you.

Cleaning Up

When you’re done sanding, whether for the project or just the day, make sure you clean things up. Powdered mud and drywall is a terrible thing, and cleaning it at the end of the day sucks.

If you’re still going to be working on the project and it’s in your home, you might want to try just running a shop vac over the bulk of it and leaving the cloths or paper in place. If you must get them out of the way and you’re not done yet, carefully fold them up and empty them in a trash can outdoors. Then leave them somewhere you can easily get at them the next day.

  • Drywall dust will kill your normal household vacuum, make sure to use a wet/dry shop vacuum for the best results.


Sanding sheetrock can be a lot of hard work, but if done properly it’s the final step before the aesthetic finish. Whether you’re doing a repair or replacing a wall you’ll end up having to do it at some point during the process and it’s best to do it right the first time.

With some care and loving attention, you’ll soon find yourself on the way to a professional-looking wall. Something you can truly be proud of. You’ll have to do the work first though.