Color-coded absorbents make it simpler to find what you need and use the right product for your liquids.

Editor’s note: Welcome to the second post in our series on Absorbent Training. We hope you find the series to be helpful in explaining the basics of absorbents.

Blue? Gray? Pink? White? Yellow? Does color really matter? Sometimes.

Just as a red light means “stop” and green means “go,” an absorbent’s color has an important meaning. The color tells you what types of liquid the product is optimized to absorb. But unlike traffic signals, there’s no standard color-coding index that covers all brands of absorbents in the market. So even though many brands do follow the color-coding guidelines that New Pig established, there are still some out there that haven’t caught up yet and could confuse you.

We’ve put some thought into choosing colors for our absorbents. They reflect how absorbents are most commonly used. From countless visits to customers’ facilities, we’ve learned that darker colors blend into their surroundings better, allowing the product to stay on the job longer and reach its full saturation.

We also know that bright colors help draw attention to a problem and can be used to convey a warning – and, well, who doesn’t think that a bright pink sock adds a little bit of fun and lightness to the otherwise unenviable task of cleaning up a corrosive chemical spill?

Using color-coding also helps to train employees – and helps you save money. When employees know how to select the right absorbents, money isn’t wasted cleaning up an oil spill with more costly absorbents specifically designed to work with corrosive liquids.

Gray, Blue and Yellow: Universal Absorbents

Remember the acronym COWS for gray and blue mats, socks and pillows. This stands for Coolants, Oils, Waters and Solvents – the types of liquids that these absorbents are designed to absorb. Another acronym, MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) can also be used to define the types of applications that gray and blue absorbents can handle. Their muted colors blend into most industrial settings, so they don’t draw attention to the leaks, drips and overspray that they are absorbing – which means they stay down longer, saving you time and money.

Yellow absorbent pads and rolls also absorb the COWS set of liquids, while also alerting pedestrians and workers to the need for additional caution in an area. Because the color is bright, it helps draw attention to a slippery floor near the building’s entrance, a soda spill in the cafeteria, a broken hose or pipeline, a machine that has been taken out of service for maintenance, or anything else that is out of the ordinary. When using yellow absorbents, be sure to remove them when the hazard has passed so that people don’t become accustomed to seeing the bright color and tune it out.

White and Multicolored: Oil-Only Absorbents

Universal absorbents are great for many oily messes, but when water is added to the mix — and you don’t want to absorb it — you need a product that’s built specifically for the task.

White absorbent mats, socks and booms absorb oil-based liquids and repel water (the term is “hydrophobic”), a quality that makes them float. White is a perfect choice for oily spills on water. The bright color lets you know when the product has become fully saturated so that it can be replaced.

Originally, we designed our oil-only absorbents for spill response, but we found that many customers were using them inside facilities for routine maintenance. The problem was that the bright white color drew a lot of attention to the small leaks and spills that the mats and socks were absorbing, and they were changed out long before they were fully saturated. We added tan hydrophobic socks to make absorbed oil less noticeable without affecting the product’s ability to soak in oils while repelling water. Dark absorbent booms are also ideal for use in retention ponds as a Best Management Practice (BMP) for Stormwater compliance.

Later came a different type of outdoor mat: Oil Absorbent Filter Mat. While the white dimpled products are for on-water spill response, these mats are made of a multicolored coarse material designed to lie on land and filter rainwater. You can use them to surround storm drains, catch oily outflow or remove sheen from puddles.

Pink: Hazardous Materials Absorbents

Spill responders have a lot on their minds – worrying about human safety, quickly containing spills and preventing them from reaching the environment. The last thing they need is to have to consider whether the absorbent they’re dragging into the hot zone is going to chemically react with whatever they’re trying to clean up. When we introduced our line of chemical absorbents - designed for corrosives, oxidizers and unknown-liquid type spills - we knew we needed a color that stood out and responders could instantly identify. When you don’t know what a spill is, if you have any doubt or if you don’t want to guess, you can always “Think Pink” and know that you’ve got a sock, mat or pillow made of 100% polypropylene – the most chemical-resistant absorbent available.

Some facilities also choose to use pink absorbents in all of their spill kits – even if their process fluids are mostly common coolants and oils – to discourage busy workers from making “unauthorized withdrawals” of absorbents from the spill kit instead of procuring them from designated maintenance supplies.

Download our selection poster, Match the Mat to Your Task, so you'll never have to worry about using the wrong absorbent for your mess again!