How to Use Wet Sandpaper

Wet sandpaper provides the smoothest finish of all sandpaper products. A mainstay of auto-body shops, it's also used for wood finishing when only the glassiest finish will do.

Wet or Dry

Sandpaper categorized as wet can also be used dry. Water or a water-detergent mixture reduces scratches by lubricating the surface. Water washes away loose abrasive grit, and in the process, prevents sandpaper from loading up with gunk and becoming ineffective.

Part of a Process

The use of wet sandpaper is part of a process in which sanding is done between each coat of polyurethane, varnish, lacquer or other top coat, with a progressively finer grit to remove surface imperfections.

Starting From Scratch

Step 1 Apply The Top Coat

Apply a finish of your choice to wood. High-gloss products sand to a brighter, glassier finish than semi-gloss or satin. Allow the product to dry according to label directions, or overnight.

Step 2 Mix With Soap

Pour about a 1/2-inch of water into a small tray. Add two drops of liquid dish soap and stir lightly.

Step 3 Sand with 500-Grit

Attach a strip of 500-grit wet sandpaper to a hand-sanding block. Hard rubber sanding blocks work best. Dip the block into the soap and water solution. Sand the wood lightly with a circular motion. Continue dipping the block into the water to keep the surface of the wood wet.

Step 4 Dry and Examine

Periodically wipe the surface of the wood dry to inspect it. When the surface has a uniform, consistently dull appearance, wipe it off and allow it to dry.

Step 5 Second Coat of Finish

Apply a second coat of your chosen finish, and allow it to dry overnight, then sand and wipe it again. Apply a third coat of finish and allow it to dry for at least 48 hours. It's essential that it's dry.

Step 6 Sand with Lighter Grits

Attach 1000-grit sandpaper to the sanding block. Repeat sanding as in Steps 3 and 4. When the surface is consistently dull, attach 1500-grit and repeat sanding and dipping. Finish by wet sanding it with 2000-grit sandpaper. Buff it dry with a soft cloth.

Step 7 Polish if Desired

Polish it to a bright sheen with woodworkers paste wax or an automotive wax if desired.


Wade Shaddy

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.