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There was a time when choosing the type of artificial turf for an athletic playing surface was easy. In fact, there was no choice at all.
Originally sold under the name ChemGrass after it was invented in 1965, the renowned product changed its name to AstroTurf after it was installed at the Houston Astrodome a year later. The original product was a short-pile synthetic product that looked more like a rug than grass.
Over the years, the technology surrounding artificial turf has progressed immensely, and there are much more advanced and safer products on the market. These new surfaces have long blades that mimic the look, feel and performance of real grass, with the added benefit of extra durability and lower maintenance.
This is why artificial turf has grown substantially in popularity for athletic playing fields for not just professional and collegiate teams, but for high school and youth leagues as well.
When people are weighing their artificial turf options, they often concentrate on just the fibers, but doing so is short-sighted. That’s because one of the most important parts of artificial turf is the infill.
Infill is the dense, fine particle materials that are located at the base of an artificial turf system. Infill is the base that holds the entire system together – from supporting the blades of artificial grass to acting as the ballast, footing and shock absorption for the athletes running on top.
In fact, if an artificial turf system is installed correctly, 90 percent of it by weight should consistent of infill, with the rest comprised of the turf and pad. Infill has a greater impact on the performance of the artificial grass system than any other component, and pound for pound, there is significantly more infill than any other component.
Since infill was first introduced in the late 1990s, most artificial turf systems used crumb rubber as the primary material. Over time it became apparent that some field owners were not satisfied and demanded other solutions.
Today, there are a number of different options for artificial turf infill that provide a multitude of benefits to the system and to the athletes that play on them. In addition, artificial turf systems can be designed specifically for sport, sustainability, and levels of maintenance.
Coated sand is one of the best infill options for artificial turf surfaces because of its superior durability, consistent performance, and reusability. In this category of infill is our Envirofill product. It’s made of round grains of sand that are coated with a polymer that helps avoid compaction and the inclusion of Microban inhibits the growth of bacteria in the infill.
Among infill products, Envirofill provides low maintenance, high durability and excellent performance, and is a proven, clean, and safe product.
While coated sand can be perceived as more abrasive than other infill products, if the product is used with the recommended turf specification, the abrasion levels will be similar to crumb rubber. The initial perception sometimes is that it’s too firm. Gone are the days when a soft and spongy-feeling surface meant it was safe. The firmness of Envirofill will enhance performance for the ball and athletes, while the shock pad works underneath the surface to ensure safety.
There are plenty of other advantages to using this type of infill as well. First, it’s a combination of natural and synthetic materials made just for artificial turf. It’s also completely reusable for multiple lifecycles backed by a 16-year warranty. It has limited migration and provides a consistent Gmax and playing surface over the turf’s lifecycle.
Organic infill products are following similar trends in the food and consumer goods space and becoming very popular. They are mostly made from walnut shells, cork and cork/coconut blends, and are all-natural, free of chemicals and can be composted.
Some of the downfalls of using an organic product for artificial turf infill is it may require additional maintenance including some irrigation for optimum performance and may tend to float and migrate with heavy rains. However, organic infill products do play more like a natural surface.
Safeshell is one of the best organic infill products available. It is an all-natural product made in the U.S. that provides all the benefits of organic infill with much lower maintenance than other products in the category. Safeshell doesn’t break down quickly or change in hot and/or wet climates, and its round shape prevents it from floating. Its performance the same whether the artificial turf surface is wet or dry.
Unlike many other infill products, Safeshell is one of the only natural infills that doesn’t require irrigation for the warranty to stay intact. Its absorption properties help reduce the surface temperature of the artificial turf system.
Crumb rubber is a widely used infill product because it’s readily available, relatively inexpensive and is non-abrasive.
Crumb rubber is made from ground up car and truck tires, which is combined with raw silica sand to make the final product. It also might have an offensive odor in hot condition and create dust when breaking down. In addition, a crumb rubber infill will retain a significant amount of heat, potentially driving the temperature of the system to unsafe levels.
Virgin polymers are similar to crumb rubber systems. This infill category is made specifically for athletic playing surfaces, with the two main types being EPDM and TPE.
The main advantage it has over crumb rubber is it is a virgin product, meaning it is made from selected components that can be modified to enhance the product.
Other advantages of a virgin polymer infill are it’s resiliency, consistency, and non-abrasiveness. Some of the downfalls is it is more expensive than other infill options, and it can be an issue to control the quality of material sourced from abroad.
Paying particular attention to the infill you choose is essential in getting the best artificial turf system for your athletic playing surface. Infill is perhaps the most important component of the system. Whatever product you choose, make sure it fits your needs the best while also taking into consideration what the product is made from, its contribution to field performance and what impact it will have on the environment.
To learn more about what artificial turf infills are available, and which infill is best for your field, click the button below to watch our short webinar on synthetic turf infills.