Emery cloth is a type of material with an abrasive quality, used primarily to smooth edges of copper piping. Every serious plumber has a roll of emery (or emory) cloth in their tool box. There really isn’t an alternative material out there; nor is it an option not to use it if you really want to do things right when it comes to installing metal piping and fittings properly.
When is emery cloth used?
When it comes to home repair and plumbing projects in particular, you will always see this stuff used when preparing copper pipes for soldering. As a plumber replaces or installs copper tubing, cuts are made and fittings applied. As with other plumbing pipe types such as PVC, you want a clean and smooth surface along any water supply run. This allows for a more secure joint when soldering and limits the amount of foreign pieces that may gunk up plumbing fixtures or filters in your home.
Emery cloth is very easy to use as it feels like a stiff sheet that easily conforms to pipe ends within your hand’s grasp. To use it, you simply rotate a freshly cut pipe end for example within the emery cloth. You can also just brush it back and forth. The point is that the abrasive surface is smoothing out any rough or uneven surfaces of the soft metal. You’ll know it’s working as the copper will shine like new, depending on how much back and forth motion you applied. In that way, emery cloth is actually used to clean and polish any other number of metal surfaces where sand paper would be overkill and leave behind to deep of scratch. Emery cloth will last a while but you’ll know it’s time to replace it when it feels smooth, is dirty or simply isn’t doing it intended job any more.
Quick fact: emery cloth is so named, because the abrasive material attached to the “cloth” is actually a mineral. This hard mineral is compounded to dust and adhered to the cloth to make… well, emery cloth. You may have also heard of emery board, which can be used to file down finger nails without damaging them.