Spill kits are a quintessential component of workplace cleanup and containment procedures. While such kits include all supplies for quarantining and disposing spilled substances, all have absorbents added. As pillows, mats, rolls, booms, and other shapes or configurations, absorbents draw in the substance and prevent a chemical, oil, or waste from making it to the drain and contaminating the environment.
Not all absorbents are identical, however. Materials cover varying surface areas and some are more absorbent than others. Regardless of configuration, however, most use a process of adsorption or absorption. What’s the difference? The former attracts particles from the spill to the surface of the material, while the latter incorporates the particles into the body of the absorbent. Standard absorbents typically use adsorption.
Mats, pads, and rolls are helpful for absorbing a liquid covering a large surface area. Because the absorbent comes in a roll or long sheets, pieces on an as-needed basis are torn off and applied to the spill. These absorbents are considered the easiest to use and dispose of, and help with cleaning up liquids in hallways or from sprays or machines.
Socks or booms have an elongated appearance, which is beneficial for protecting drains or other openings to the environment. While not used for directly picking up a substance, these absorbents surround a drain, acting as a blocker to keep the substance contained. On a smaller scale, they can additionally be used for catching sprays from equipment and machines.
As an economical option, pillows have a compact design that absorbs a large volume of liquid or over a greater surface area.
Loose absorbents are additionally helpful over large surface areas. Unlike pads, mats, or pillows, this option comes in granular form, kept inside a bucket. When a spill happens, socks or booms are first added to drains and then the loose absorbent is applied directly to the spill, from the perimeter to the center to reduce chemical splashing. The loose absorbent then turns the liquid into a gel, making it easier to shovel up into a polyethylene bag or drum, contain, and label for disposal.
Not all absorbents can be used with every substance, and for maximum effectiveness, a facility or workplace must have the right variety on hand. Universal absorbents, indicated by a gray color, can be applied to water- and oil-based substances. Oil-only absorbents, in white, should only be applied to oils, petroleum and similar substances; as the absorbent takes in the oil, it wicks away water. Hazmat absorbents should only be used for aggressive or unknown substances. Yellow or pink, these absorbents are designed to handle strong acids or bases only.