As synthetic turf’s popularity increases, it’s important to know the value of proper synthetic turf maintenance. Putting time into your field, even for a couple of hours each week, will keep it looking well-manicured, and more importantly maintain its safety characteristics, and add to the field’s longevity. The following is an edited version of the Synthetic Turf Council’s (STC) Maintenance Manual, published in 2007.
Synthetic turf maintenance guidelines
Maintenance of an infilled synthetic surface is essential. While the maintenance and upkeep of an infilled synthetic surface is considerably less than other designs, it must be properly applied. The basic behavioral characteristics of synthetic turf systems must be understood because they dictate the maintenance required.
In developing these guidelines, the Synthetic Turf Council has considered and incorporated, where applicable, the field experience of its members and other qualified entities. They stress that the provider of the synthetic turf system and the owner must agree on the need for maintenance.
These guidelines provide the end-user/owner/client with a means of realistically evaluating the maintenance that is recommended for a synthetic surface, based on its intended use. Routine maintenance, as well as periodic intense maintenance, is essential to the life and performance of the infilled synthetic surfaces.
By definition synthetic turf fields are, in essence, a system that provides a synthetic playing surface, cushioning, drainage, and a properly prepared base. Routine maintenance, as a practical matter, is primarily applied to the top surface where the action takes place and where it is most conspicuously observed.
Maintenance should be performed by personnel trained and knowledgeable about the specific ingredients/materials of the specified/installed system and the equipment properly used for field maintenance applications. Such personnel should be prequalified as to their expertise and knowledge of the process. When such qualified personnel can be identified, they are customarily employed by the facility management, or outsourced by facility management to a maintenance subcontractor, or contracted by the provider/manufacturer of the system.
It is the intent of this Guideline document to augment the maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer and/or initial provider of the system. In the event that manufacturer/provider instructions are provided, a review of these provisions should be made and their effect on warranties understood. Any conflict should be corrected between the parties in order to prevent the voiding of the warranties provided.
This Guideline also serves to provide an understanding of the minimum requirements by owners of a field or those who have been given the responsibility for the maintenance. It serves to make all parties to the system aware of the important role proper maintenance plays in achieving the overall performance of the synthetic turf system.
Maintenance is vital if the surface is to maintain its appearance and to provide consistency of play, permeability, and longevity. The basic objectives of effective maintenance are that:
· the playing surface is kept clean;
· airborne contaminants are removed;
· the playing surface remains level and of consistent texture so that it gives a true and predictable performance;
· the infill materials are evenly distributed;
· the effective drainage of surface water is maintained throughout the life of the field’s surface;
· the system does not become over compacted and hard;
· the facility is consistently attractive and well-kept.
Identify your system. The specifics of the synthetic surface, fiber, infill, construction, play lines, and any other basic elements or unusual features must be accurately identified so that the appropriate maintenance regimen can be applied. Your system provider should be the source for this info.
Fibers vary in length, thickness, and density depending upon the performance requirements of your synthetic turf system. Long pile systems may be filled with a combination of sand and rubber granules, rubber granules only, or a combination of other specialty materials in order to meet the predetermined performance criteria. The sand material used as infill should be rounded to sub-angular and silt free.
The rubber granules used as infill material are typically styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) or ethylene propylene dien polimerisat (EPDM.) The granules must be clean and metal free. Combinations of sand, rubber or other suitable materials in various combinations must be capable of meeting all the guidelines and environmental requirements at the installation location.
Tufted is the most commonly used process by which the fiber yarns that form the pile are inserted into a previously prepared blanket-like primary backing. Woven is the process where the surface is composed of interlacing sets of continuous yarn while knitted means the yarn fibers of the pile are tied to the backing which was simultaneously constructed in the same over and under, criss-cross process.
The permanent play lines defining the field of play can be tufted into the surface backing or are an integral part with the surface, having been inlaid or cut into the surface with designated colors. Temporary play lines are painted onto the surface but require frequent attention, repainting, or repair to maintain their appearance. Frequent inspection is recommended.
Maintenance procedures.These processes will help assure continued performance of the system as specified in relation to the declared purpose and use of the synthetic turf surface.
Airborne pollutants such as leaves and other debris should not be allowed to remain on the surface for any length of time. If not removed, they will migrate into the system, forming a drainage inhibition within the surface that can reduce drainage.
A wide soft broom can be used for removing the surface debris. A mechanical leaf sweeper or special vacuum cleaner that does not remove the fill can speed up the operation. Such equipment must be well maintained and carefully operated to avoid contamination or physical damage to the surface.
Proper grooming “freshens” the synthetic turf surface appearance and is crucial to help prevent the premature deterioration of the performance characteristics, appearance, and drainage properties. Mechanical grooming can accelerate the process when the proper equipment is chosen and operated by skilled personnel.
Drainage is essential to effective maintenance. It is possible that the bed of infill material serves as a filter. Infill can unavoidably retain inert particulate matter conveyed or blown onto the field or carried by rainfall or other air contaminants. By moving and re-leveling the upper layers of infill, mechanical grooming can delay the timeline when problems may begin to occur in the normal course of use, which could reduce the drainage process.
Accumulation of unwanted or foreign materials is inevitable. Too much grooming, or the negligence of grooming, can affect the long term turf performance, even if such does not appear in the short run. Should a contaminant have growth potential, the species and its eradication agents should be carefully identified and removal should be immediate before serious infestation occurs. Equipment designed for that specific purpose must be operated by killed personnel who have precise knowledge of its effects. Routine maintenance can reduce the long term effects of any external contaminants, making such occurrences almost a non-issue.
It is important that the synthetic turf pile is maintained vertically. Regular brushing is an important function that must not be overlooked or neglected. The surface should be brushed in a number of directions, alternating the direction in consecutive activities, but generally in the direction of the individual panels to avoid crossing over the main seams.
Equipment selection. Turf and maintenance equipment manufacturer’s advice should be sought when considering any type of maintenance operation and the use of any equipment or procedures not recommended by the manufacturer of the system. The objectives of the maintenance process must be understood. No two machines will operate to the same degree of efficiency and effectiveness. The condition of the surface will also affect the operation of the equipment. Both conditions should be evaluated.
Most maintenance equipment utilizes a brush or brushing action. It is critical that the type of brush used does not abuse the condition of the surface. Drag brushes behind the power unit are normally not recommended because they tend to flatten the pile and generate the need to implement the cleaning operation twice or more unnecessarily. If drag brushes are to be considered, a test strip should be used to determine whether or not the effect and process of those brushes are desired. Brushes that have a rotary action in a horizontal position in front of the pile unit are preferred since they agitate the blades of the synthetic turf. The simultaneous vacuuming action should remove the undesired pollutants and debris.
Power brushing equipment may agitate the infill to various degrees. The type of brushing, vacuuming, de-compacting, and final grooming should be relevant to the end result. The objective of each grooming routine should be determined prior to initiating the selection of the maintenance equipment, i.e., stand up of the pile and clean or level the infill within the pile; provide uniform performance characteristics; etc.
A change in the use patterns and the intensity of play can influence the frequency of maintenance. The manufacturer should be consulted to recommend an initial maintenance schedule. It may take up to 6 months for the infill to finally settle into the pile of the synthetic turf. Environmental/climatic and use conditions may affect the final settling. Testing of the synthetic surface should occur as noted in the “Suggested Guidelines for the Essential Elements of Synthetic Turf Systems,” available at www.syntheticturfcouncil.org.
Special conditions. A synthetic turf system would normally be supplied with permanently inlaid play lines. The number of sports to be included and whether the lines are to be inlaid or painted on the surface should be decided prior to construction. If additional lines are required for special events or changes in the sports being played, these can be painted onto the surface using proprietary or recommended paints. Some of these are more effective than others and consultation with the manufacturer is essential. Permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary effects can be determined ahead of time. Marking compounds for natural grass should not be used.
Permanent lines require no special attention other than checking how secure they are affixed. Such a check, as a minimum, should also be made at every grooming session of the seams in the synthetic turf field. Any breakdown of the seams at lines or in the main covering should be immediately remedied in order to avoid ongoing deterioration and to help prevent tripping hazards.
Most stains can be removed easily with a solution of hot (not boiling) water and a manufacturer’s approved household detergent. Removal of chewing gum can be simplified by making the gum brittle with a proprietary aerosol freezing material. Any other contamination requires the turf manufacturer’s individual consultation and determination of what course of action is to be taken.
Snow and ice are not harmful and can be permitted to melt. If it is urgent to remove the snow in order to allow play, brushes may be used. If the area to be cleared is a full field size, logistics of transporting and disposing of snow may prove prohibitive. It is not advisable to use mechanical snow removal equipment other than the equipment recommended by the manufacturer of the field.
Footwear and general care. Suitable footwear should always be used. Most shoe manufacturers make footwear specifically designed for the sport played. Most long pile systems are designed to take a normal soccer stud but, if any doubt exists, the manufacturer of the field should be consulted.
External contaminants. It is strongly recommended that smoking and the use of chewing gum be prohibited on the field. These activities can cause permanent damage and affect the maintenance process. Whenever possible, use patterns should be evenly distributed over the entire field; i.e., alternating usage patterns should be employed. The way a field is used can have a significant long-term effect on the quality of the surface and it’s playing characteristics.
When activities are concentrated in one location or a more frequently used pattern, the surface will have a tendency to harden and infill displacement can take place. This could have a negative effect or bypass the performance characteristic criteria. Such areas need a higher concentration of maintenance than areas where the surface is not used to the same extent. Even when the surface is not used, it still requires maintenance to deter deterioration. The intensity of such maintenance should be discussed with the manufacturer and/or qualified maintenance contractor. Maintenance input is dependent upon the extent to which a field is used and the effectiveness of the maintenance operations. End-users and owners of the field are to maintain a log of all maintenance operations so it can be analyzed.
Excessive brushing can cause fiber damage (splitting) which, at first, has a tendency to make the surface feel softer but in the long run destroys its performance characteristics. Insufficient maintenance contributes to contamination and compacting.
Use of the field, the quality of the system, and the geographical location will determine the type and frequency of maintenance appropriate to the fiber. This should be discussed with the designer and manufacturer when selecting a system and at the time of the completion and acceptance of the field. Any effects upon the maintenance schedule due to a change of use or condition of the field should be discussed at the completion of the installation as a contingency.
Tools and equipment. Experience has demonstrated that the longevity of the field and the effectiveness of the maintenance are very much dependent upon the use of proper tools and equipment and the skills of the operator. The criteria and specification of the tools and equipment to be used should be understood at the time the field is accepted by the owner/user.
The type and quality of the equipment should be suited to the use and construction of the field. Proper selection is an essential element to the successful application of the maintenance procedures. The desired performance of the equipment must be able to restore the characteristics of the surface without damage. It is essential that a discussion take place between the provider, the maintenance equipment manufacturer, and the owner prior to acceptance of the field. Pre-testing of the equipment on location may assist in the selection process.
Proper watering. When a field is to be watered, distribution should be evenly applied over the entire area. The surface should be dampened and not soaked or saturated. Clean water should be used at all times for this purpose.
Use of vehicles. Turning should be done in a wide radius to avoid sharp turns. The vehicle should turn its wheels only when in motion. All vehicles should circulate at
slow speeds and abrupt and sudden braking should be avoided as well as sudden acceleration or spinning of the wheels, especially on wet surfaces. Load limits to be determined by the designer/manufacturer. All vehicles must be checked before use to determine oil or gas leaks. If such are found, they should be repaired before entry onto the field.
A log of all maintenance operations carried out after acceptance of the field should be maintained by the field/grounds manager in order to facilitate the analysis of any irregularities.
It is important that each and every maintenance operation, no matter how minor, be recorded in the log.
Maintenance agreement. An agreement should be reached as to who shall have the responsibility of conducting the maintenance and who shall have the responsibility of the attendant cost of that maintenance for the synthetic field. Several options are available. Normally the responsibility is accepted by the owner, who may perform the maintenance with their own equipment and personnel.
Maintenance can also be subcontracted to a qualified maintenance contractor or the responsibility for maintenance can be contracted as an additional service with the provider/manufacturer of the synthetic turf system. Such understanding should be reached no later than at the completion of the facility.
NOTE: It should be understood that every system is unique in its design and purpose to suit the
needs (requirements) of the activities applied to the surface. This document provides guidelines for the essential elements of the maintenance process. Other considerations may present themselves outside the scope of the STC maintenance manual. Such considerations should not be ignored or minimized and can usually be addressed by industry specialists, consultants, or experienced designers/engineers.
Issues requiring attention may be: event preparation, watering of the surface, break-in
period, settling of the infill, training of maintenance personnel, specifics of unusual contaminants, assignment of field security personnel, covering (or not) of the surface due to inclement weather, extreme temperature conditions, attributes of cleaning products, cleaning of footwear, frequency of field compliance reviews, etc.
Daily: Check the field after each day’s use for distribution and condition of the heavily played areas.
Weekly: Brush the surface of the field with a static (non-rotary) double brush including simultaneous vacuum devices to redistribute the infill, maintain vertical fibers, and a level playing “use” field.
Monthly: Check infill levels, seams, inlaid lines, etc., and report failures (if any) to the manufacturer. Also check for over compaction and de-compact as may be necessary. It is essential that the appropriate equipment is used in order to achieve the specified performance criteria.
Periodically: At least once a year a full grooming session should take place brushing (rotating unit), vacuuming, de-compacting, and grooming (static brush). Topdress with new infill may be required. Contact the manufacturer if any aspect of the maintenance process is causing a significant concern.
NOTE: These are minimum recommendations. Common sense and careful observation should prevail. If any serious doubt exists about the effectiveness of the maintenance regime or the condition of the field, contact with the manufacturer.