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Last Updated: October 7, 2015
What is another word for abrasive?
scourer, fumigant, cleanser, abstergent, soap powder

An abrasive is a material, often a mineral, that is used to shape or finish a workpiece through rubbing which leads to part of the workpiece being worn away. While finishing a material often means polishing it to gain a smooth, reflective surface, the process can also involve roughening as in satin, matte or beaded finishes.

Common uses for abrasives include grinding, polishing, buffing, honing, cutting, drilling, sharpening, lapping, and sanding (see abrasive machining).

Abrasive minerals

Some naturally occurring abrasives are:
Calcite (calcium carbonate)
Emery (impure corundum)
Diamond dust (synthetic diamonds are used extensively)
Powdered Feldspar

Some abrasive minerals (such as zirconia alumina) occur naturally but are sufficiently rare or sufficiently more difficult/costly to obtain such that a synthetic stone is used industrially. These and other artificial abrasives include:
Borazon (cubic boron nitride or CBN)
Ceramic aluminium oxide
Ceramic iron oxide
Corundum (alumina or aluminium oxide)
Dry ice
Glass powder
Steel abrasive
Silicon carbide (carborundum)
Zirconia alumina
Boron carbide

Manufactured abrasives

How to Choose the Right Abrasive For Any Job

Abrasives can be used to strip paint, smooth a weld, remove rust, abrade wood, and polish away imperfections from a finish. Here's how to choose the best abrasive for any job.

What It Is
What It's For

Aluminum Oxide

A synthetic material derived from bauxite. The most widely used abrasive because of its toughness and versatility, it comes in the full range of grits from coarse pebblelike types to ultrafine sizes. Suitable for smoothing wood, drywall, metal and metal welds, as well as removing paint and rust. Often treated with zinc stearate to make it less likely to clog with debris when stripping paint. Its most common application, wood sanding, progresses through 120-, 150-, 180-, and 220-grit sizes, which yield a furniture-grade surface.


An industrial-duty aluminum oxide. Available in medium, coarse, and extremely coarse grits. A rugged abrasive best suited for heavy metal removal.


A natural material that combines aluminum oxide and a small amount of iron oxide. Commonly, a cloth-backed abrasive in medium and coarse grit. Best for metal polishing because of its flexibility and the fact that it is not aggressively abrasive.


A natural inexpensive abrasive. Typically used on lightweight papers in medium and fine grit. Used for light-duty wood sanding, paint removal, and metal smoothing. Good for small hand-sanding jobs.

Silicon Carbide

A combination of synthetic and natural materials. Most often used on a waterproof paper so water can be used as a cutting lubricant. Almost always a fine to ultrafine abrasive.v
Best at smoothing wood finishes, plastic, glass, ceramic, and nonferrous metal. The grits at the far end of its spectrum (1200 to 2000) are used for fine abrasive work.

Zirconia Alumina

A synthetic, industrial-duty abrasive consisting of zirconium oxide and aluminum oxide. Medium, coarse and extremely coarse grits.

Good for medium metal removal and weld smoothing.