Choose the right absorbent for the job.

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first post in our series on Absorbent Training. We hope you find the series to be helpful in explaining the basics of absorbents. Links to the previous and next post in the series, if applicable, are at the bottom of the posts.

Absorbent mats, absorbent socks, absorbent booms and more. There are so many choices of absorbents, it can seem a bit intimidating to pick a single one that’s best for your application. So, today, we’re going to help simplify the process.

Consider a toolbox. It usually contains a hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, duct tape… All of the items are tools, but each one has a different job. A similar analogy can be made about absorbents: They all absorb liquids, but each type will work best when it’s used in the right application.

For starters, it helps to know that absorbents really come in four basic forms: mats, socks/booms, pillows and loose/granular. Read on to learn how to pick the right one for your job.

Mat Pads and Rolls

To keep things simple, it sometimes helps to envision absorbent mats as super-thirsty, mega-durable paper towels. Of course, they’re not usually made of paper, but we’ll cover that topic a bit more on another day. Absorbent mats have several primary uses: to line aisles/walkways, soak up puddled spills and catch leaks that may happen around machinery.

Mats rolls come in many widths and are often used to capture leaks, drips, spills and overspray that could hit the floor, making aisles and walkways slippery. Some mats are designed to be extra durable so they can hold up to foot, cart and even forklift traffic for weeks or months at a time – even when fully saturated. Other types of mats are optimized for soaking up larger volume leaks and spills and may be less well suited for heavy foot or cart traffic.

Once you’ve decided you need an absorbent mat roll, there are still some decisions to make. You’ll need to choose based on what liquid you need to absorb, where you’ll use it and levels of absorbency and durability.

Mat pads are pre-cut into rectangle shapes and are designed to be fast and easy to grab and use. They’re most often found in spill kits, production areas, loading docks, and even in cafeterias and break rooms. When picking a mat pad, think about the liquid volume of the leaks or spills you’re most likely to encounter. Mat pads (and rolls) come in light, medium and heavy weights. If you’ll only be cleaning up a dribble, don’t waste money on heavyweight pads. If you’ll mainly be soaking up bigger spills, choose heavyweight.

Socks and Booms

Some people call socks and booms “snakes,” “sausages,” “hot dogs” or “tubes.” And, because we invented the absorbent sock, to this day many just call them “Pigs.” (We’re honored, by the way!) Whatever you choose to call them, you know that you’ve got the right tool for the job if you’re using them to stop a leak or spill from spreading.

Absorbent socks are a first line of defense for containing large spills. They create a dike to keep spills from spreading – and the sooner you can contain a spill, the less area you’ll need to clean up – so you can get back to work faster!

If a spill gets really big, it’s usually time to call in the sock’s big brothers: booms. Booms are socks that are longer and larger in diameter than socks. They are most often used to contain and absorb oil-based liquids that have spilled in a river, lake, ocean or other bodies of water, but they can be used to contain oily spills on land as well. They’re especially useful when the spill is outdoors and it’s raining.

Socks can also snuggle up against the base of leaky machinery to catch leaks and drips before they get into walkways and create a slip and fall hazard. They’re also great for sucking up rainwater and snowmelt on windowsills and in doorways. Lots of people in the hurricane belt swear by using socks to keep storm waters out of their homes and apartments.


If you’ve already contained a large spill, pillows help soak up the corralled liquid fast. Pillows are similar to mat pads in that they cover a large area and soak things up quickly – they just soak up a higher volume per area covered than a mat. Pillows are also popular for soaking up persistent drips from a single source – like a leaky pipe coupler that no one has had time to fix.

Loose or Granular Absorbents

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes mats, socks and pillows just don’t fit the bill. For example, sometimes they won’t fit into a nook or cranny that the leak or spill has found. Because loose absorbents “flow,” they can get into hard-to-reach places where other absorbents can’t.

Loose absorbents have been around forever, so some people are just more comfortable using them. Whatever the reason – tight spaces or habit – be sure to choose one that does not contain crystalline silica to help guard your workers against lung diseases.

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