What are Absorbents?

by Lawton Brothers | Aug 24, 2023


Spills of oils, fuels, or chemicals can happen at any time in workshops, industrial sites, and auto shops. Since it isn’t always possible to prevent a spill, it is important to be prepared for a quick and efficient response when one does occur. Absorbents form an important part of any spill response. They soak up the spill, making it possible to safely dispose of it. However, there are many different types of absorbent and different absorbent products too. 

Sorbents can be divided into three basic categories: natural organic, natural inorganic, and synthetic.

Natural organic sorbents include peat moss, straw, hay, sawdust, and other readily available carbon-based products. Organic sorbents can absorb between 3-15 times their weight; however, some tend to absorb water as well as the contaminant. Natural inorganic sorbents consist of clay, perlite, sand, volcanic ash, and glass wool. These sorbents can absorb 4-20 times their weight in oil and are inexpensive and readily available in large quantities. Synthetic sorbents include man-made materials like plastics, polyurethane, polyethylene, and polypropylene and are designed to adsorb liquids onto their surfaces. Most synthetic sorbents can absorb up to 70 times their own weight and have the advantage of a long shelf life. 

Absorbent products can be used in socks, booms, pads, rolls, pillows, or floor sweeps to contain a spill. These various containment/usage options allow for a range of deployments.

  1. Socks are short cylinders filled with absorbent material that can be molded to any shape. These are ideal for preventing a spill from spreading while absorbing at the same time.
  2. A boom is a larger version of a sock, with a similar containment use. You can often see booms in ponds or near drains to prevent chemicals from reaching the environment.
  3. Pads can be used to clean an existing spill or placed under equipment where a spill is likely to occur. Oil and fuel pads can be used on water as well, to absorb hydrocarbons without soaking up any water.
  4. Rolls are a continuous length of pad that you can unroll to any length needed and can also be cut to a specific size.
  5. Pillows are also like pads but have a much higher capacity for absorption. These are used for larger-scale spills or to catch equipment leaks where the expected volume is high. Pillows can be squeezed into tight spaces or floated on the surface of tanks.
  6. A floor sweep is not contained like the other options, as it involves spreading the product around and over the spill. As you sweep the product back and forth, it absorbs all the residue and can be collected in bags for disposal, once finished.

Keep it Clean

There are many industries that don’t need oil or fuel absorbents, but did you know that they also make absorbents for vomit and other bodily fluids? You can use them to absorb spills, clean up after guests who get sick, line shelves to reduce grime, barricade, and direct large puddles toward a drain, and catch leaks and drips from machines.

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