Why do I need to get my synthetic turf cleaned?

Written by Mark Fisher – Turf, Track & Court LLC

Ever step on a Lego hiding in the carpet?  We all know what that feels like – a moment of painful surprise and shock, some hopping around and maybe even some blood.  And possibly cursing.  That concept is the biggest reason to consider cleaning your artificial turf.  Although it’s not a Lego, it is likely to be a safety pin, earring, pen cap, screw, nail or the snipped end off of a zip tie waiting to inflict pain into the unsuspecting football, soccer, lacrosse or field hockey player that ends up on the turf.

Artificial turf is essentially a giant carpet.  It has a base, and fibers are sown into the base to make the field.  Unlike the carpet in your house, however, artificial turf has an “infill” which is usually made up of small rubber pellets and sand to create the feeling of playing on natural grass.  The space in those pellets is where all kinds of objects can fall and take up residence until that carpet gets cleaned and vacuumed. 

Cleaning your house carpets involves plugging in the vacuum cleaner and simply going over as many of those carpet fibers as you can reach with the vacuum.  The goal is to pull up all of the “extras” and clean the carpet to make it more aesthetically pleasing, and to remove the stuff that isn’t carpet.  That stuff might be pet hair, some crumbs from that last holiday gathering or maybe some dried up mud from the kids charging into the house without cleaning off their shoes first, or even the occasional Lego.  If you consider the motion used to vacuum the carpet, it’s of a back and forth motion – essentially going over every area twice.  Once forward and once backwards.  The carpet fibers then stand up a bit more and your carpet is clean!

Cleaning a turf field requires a vacuum, too.  That’s where the similarities end, however.  Since we don’t have a cord long enough to cover a football field, our vacuum is mounted to a tractor.  A turf field requires 3 steps in the cleaning process:

1)      Pulling the fibers vertical
2)      Sifting through the infill to pull out the hard contaminants
3)      Vacuuming the soft contaminants out of the field.

That’s a bit different than just vacuuming up the debris and not worrying about pulling up the carpet.  The first of that is accomplished by using a combination of roller and tines underneath our tractor mounted vacuum.  The roller smoothes out the naturally occurring lumps in the infill and the tines break up and “fluff” the rubber to make it more loose and easier for the brush to pull it into the sieve tray.  This process helps not only the performance of the field, but the aesthetics of the field. 

The second part of the cleaning process has the infill getting pulled into a vibrating sieve to separate the hard contaminants from the infill.  The infill is pulled onto the tray where a vibrating sieve does the dirty work of separating hard and dangerous from soft and fluffy.  The safety pins, bobby pins, earrings, bottle caps, track cleats and whatever else may be lurking in that field (maybe even a Lego!) are separated out from the infill and the pellets fall back into place on the field.  This is the safety portion of the cleaning process.  Imagine your own sports star coming off the field with a gash from a lone soccer cleat on the turn that no one could find. 

Part three of the process happens when a powerful vacuum removes dust/danger/pollen/fiber/hair out of the infill.  The soft particulates get removed from the infill and held in a bag (very much like the vacuum in your house), while the infill pellets are screened out to drop down and once again be reunited with their brethren to form the soft portion of the artificial turf.  And, again, like a house vacuum, we clean out the bag frequently of everything that accumulates so we are ready for the next cleaning. 

Essentially, our equipment scoops up the top ¼ inch of material and infill, separates the pellets from the hard debris, vacuums up all the soft stuff and drops the infill back onto the field.  It then spreads the infill out by means of a rear brush.  This all happens in a single pass of the tractor, but in order to get the turf fibers as upright as possible, we go over every square foot twice in opposing directions.  This is a lot like the back and forth motions used when you (or your significant other) vacuum(s) your house. 

When it comes to artificial turf, the recommendation is to groom the turf after every 100-125 uses, and do a thorough cleaning twice a year.  A “use” is a gym class, a sports practice, a home sports game, band practice, a community based sports league or some kind of ceremony or other special event (homecoming, parade, etc.).

Cleaning the turf is an essential part of yearly maintenance for your investment.  By scheduling the recommended cleanings, the turf is made safer, it extends the life of the field and helps protect the investment of the field owner.  Please call Turf, Track & Court LLC today to schedule your cleaning!  (717) 312-3012 or email info@turftrackandcourt.com for more information.

Some examples of soft and hard contaminants are below.  You can probably figure out which is which. 

Current projects in the works for TTC:

Track & Field Athletic Facility at Big Spring School District
Running Track at Lebanon School District
Running Track at Fairfield Area School District
Stadium Turf Replacement at York Suburban School District
Turf Replacement at Spring-Ford Area School District

Upcoming Cleaning/Maintenance/G-Max
Gettysburg Area School District
Millersville University
Derry Township School District
Central Dauphin School District
Warwick Area School District
Daniel Boone School District
Lower Dauphin School District
Elizabethtown College