Category Archives: Absorbents

Test your absorbent granules knowledge with our fun quiz

Our quiz about absorbent granules has been designed to help you to stretch your knowledge and be prepared to deal with any spillages that occur in your workplace.

In answering these questions, you will discover just how much, or how little, you know about absorbent granules – but be warned; although it’s a multiple choice quiz there may be more than one right answer… or there may be none at all. Don’t cheat by scanning down to the answers first; do that and you won’t know what you didn’t know.


1. Absorbent granules can be made from materials containing which of the following?
a) Celluloid
b) Cellulite
c) Cellulose

2. Spill-Aid is the best-selling super absorbent in the UK, because it can be used to absorb all liquids of any viscosity, with one exception, from any surface. Which of the following is the exception?
a) Hydrofluoric acid
b) Hydrochloric acid
c) Hydrocyanic acid

3. Which of the following is a kind of clay used to make an absorbent granule product?
a) Kryptonite
b) Bentonite
c) Attapulgite

4. A 10g sachet of body fluid absorbent granules is enough to soak up how much blood, urine, vomit or saliva?
a) A litre
b) A pint
c) Half a pint

5. True or false: When absorbent granules have done their job, they can safely be swept up and dumped in the nearest waste bin.

6. The Health and Safety Executive recommends having absorbent granules to hand in case of spills when handling petrol and diesel on garage forecourts, especially during incidents when diesel has been pumped instead of petrol, and vice-versa. How many of the latter incidents take place in the UK each year?
a) Less than 10,000
b) More than 100,000
c) More than 150,000

7. Naturally-occurring organic materials used in the manufacture of absorbent granules are found in the greatest proportion in which of the following?
a) Cotton
b) Wood
c) Maize

8. Spill Control Centre offers a wide range of absorbent granules for a variety of applications. Which of the following statements about them is not true?
a) They come in a variety of pack sizes to suit your needs
b) They are all chemically inert
c) They are all equally effective on any spill

9. On Spill Control Centre, how many different product ranges of absorbent granules (other than body fluid granules) are offered?
a) Five
b) Seven
c) Ten

10. Apart from being effective absorbents, which of the following is true for the absorbent granules offered for sale by Spill Control Centre?
a) They are backed up by friendly and knowledgeable sales advisors
b) They can be delivered free when ordering over £100+ VAT
c) They’re part of a comprehensive range of spill control products ideal for keeping your workplace unhindered by spills at all times

Absorbent Granules


1. C. Cellulose, a chain of linked sugar molecules found in plants. Celluloid is considered to have been the first plastic, with the name registered in 1870; Cellulite is subcutaneous fat that causes dimpling of the skin.

2. A. Hydroflouric acid. This will eat through almost anything, including glass and metal, so storing it can be a bit of a problem. It is a valuable tool in etching glass, cleaning stainless steel, and preparing silicon wafers for use in silicon chips. Storage is in special plastic bottles.

3. B and C. Bentonite and Attapulgite are chemically similar, but have names derived from their source. The former was named by Wilbur C Knight in 1898, after Benton shale found near the Rock River in Wyoming. Attapulgite is most commonly found in the south-eastern USA. The name comes from the town of Attapulgus, Georgia, where the mineral is surface mined. Kryptonite is pure fiction; part of the Superman story.

4. A, B and C. 10g of granules can absorb a litre, so it naturally follows that the same amount can also soak up the two smaller quantities. These granules are best supplied with other equipment, such as PPE, as part of a body fluid spill kit, allowing employers to extend their duty of care to whoever is cleaning up the spill.

5. False. Absorbent granules are chemically inert, so although they have soaked up what’s been spilled, the properties of the spilled liquid have not been changed. Used granules should therefore be disposed of in the same way that the spilled liquid ought to have been disposed of, in clearly-labelled bags.

6. B. More than 100,000. The HSE believes the number to be about 120,000, or more than 325 a day.

7. A. Cotton. The material in question is cellulose, which makes up about 90% of cotton, making it the obvious choice for towels.

8. C. Although many of the products are very versatile, they are not all equally effective on every spill. Our product pages contain details of each one’s suitability for your kind of spill.

9. C. Ten. A list of our current product ranges is 1) Spill-Aid, 2) Multi Zorb, 3) Esorb, 4) Absonet Plus, 5) Organic Compound, 6) Absonet Multisorb, 7) Spill Fix, 8) Isol8, 9) Absodan and 10) Safety Tread. This comprehensive range each offers different solutions so visit our product pages to understand the best for your needs.

10. A, B and C. Spill Control Centre is the home of an extremely comprehensive range of spill control products, of which absorbent granules, in all their forms, are just a small part.

Picture: © Dtfoxfoto |

Absorbent pads: How to pick the right one for your workplace

Spill Control Centre explains the difference between different absorbent pads for different kinds of spill allowing you to select the right one for your requirements.

Like golf clubs and kitchen knives, absorbent pads are designed for different tasks, which is why selecting the right one is important. They all have the same general function of cleaning up spills (or catching them as they happen), but it’s what needs to be mopped up that dictates which is the right ‘tool for the job’.

Absorbent pads come in three basic types – to deal with (1) oil, (2) chemicals, and (3) water or general tasks. There’s a colour coding system to explain which one does what job:

  • Oil absorbent pads are white
  • Chemical absorbent pads are yellow
  • General purpose and water absorbent pads are black or grey; these are also known as ‘maintenance’ absorbent pads

White oil absorbent pads

These are made using clever polymers or cotton fibres that are hydrophobic. This means they actually repel water, making them ideal for lifting oil from the surface of ponds and streams. The benefit with this type of pad is that its entire capacity for absorption is therefore used on the spill, which needs to be cleaned up, rather than the pre-existing water, which doesn’t. The other benefit of using a white oil absorbent pad is that the absorbed oil changes the colour of the pad, so it’s easy to see when it’s ‘full’ and needs replacing. (The accompanying picture shows these pads in use during an oil spill in Thailand).

Yellow chemical absorbent pads

These are the ones to use to absorb all industrial liquids, including aggressive chemicals, like those that are corrosive or caustic, as well as coolants and any solvent-based spill. It’s important to remember that aggressive chemicals soaked up by these pads remain aggressive, as a result of which two things are worth mentioning.

Firstly, as much care should be taken with handling and disposing of the pads as would have been the case with the original chemical itself. Secondly, because of their robust polypropylene construction they won’t break up in or after use, which would make the clean-up unnecessarily awkward and potentially hazardous.

Absorbent Pads

Picture: © Kajornyot |

General purpose and water absorbent pads (otherwise known as ‘maintenance’ absorbent pads)

These are the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of absorbent pads. Their strength is in their versatility, since they’ll happily mop up oils, coolants and anything water or solvent-based. They shouldn’t be used on acid, caustic or aggressive liquids; that is where the chemical absorbent pads come into their own.

The advantage of these absorbent pads is their versatility and this makes them ideal for a general industrial environment.  The oil absorbent pads and the chemical absorbent pads have very specific properties making them ideal for their bespoke functions; but these general purpose absorbent pads offer a wider, more general solution.

Absorbent Pads: The full range at Spill Control Centre

Each colour-coded category is further sub-divided in terms of quality and pack size, offering you a comprehensive range of products to choose from. Whilst all will cope well from an absorbency point of view, you may feel that your industry dictates selection of a ‘top of the range’ product such as the ‘Gold’ range, which is ideal for aerospace and high-tech industries. Follow the link to see our ‘Gold’ range maintenance absorbent pads.

If you are after a more ‘standard’ product rather than ‘top of the range’ then these oil only pads would fit the bill; they are lightweight in nature and come in a pack of 200 pads. Whilst checking the pack size to work out the number of pads you need, it’s important to pay particular attention to the details. For instance, these heavyweight oil absorbent pads look the same as the ones mentioned in the link above and they are the same pack size of 200; however, they are more of a heavyweight product.

At Spill Control Centre, our range of absorbent pads is both clear and comprehensive but should you have any queries please do call us on 01724 281044.

Our guide to absorbents and why you need them

Having the right tool to hand removes potential difficulties in any job, making it simpler and more straightforward. But which tool for which task? I’ve written this guide to absorbents and their uses to help you make sure you have the right kind at hand when you’re faced with the clear and present danger of your own spill.

Whatever my neighbour was doing, it wasn’t going well. Crouched on his haunches peering at the hinge on his car door, I could hear only muttered curses, and couldn’t resist going over to find out what was happening.

He held up bloodied knuckles. “Look at that,” he said. “All because the people who built this car couldn’t use a conventional screw that I could tighten with a screwdriver.”

He’d been using pliers to tighten a screw holding part of his car door in position, but the screw head wasn’t of a conventional kind. It required a particular kind of screwdriver that he didn’t have, and was unlikely to need for any other application. “Over-engineered,” he said as he sucked his obviously-painful bleeding knuckles. “I’ve got all sorts of screwdrivers and spanners, but nothing to fit that.”

That need to pick a specific tool for a specific job led me to consider how customers needing spill control absorbents could pick the ones they needed. All the relevant information is on the Spill Control Centre web site, but because we’ve been thorough in presenting it, there’s a lot to get through. That’s why I’ve created this ‘pick me quick’ guide to which absorbent is right for which application. Every section contains a link to take you directly to the right part of the web site, where more detail can be found. And every situation involving chemicals or fuel needs to be considered in the context of potential consequences.

Just look at our picture – an uncontrolled spill, with associated environmental damage, just waiting to happen. I’d suggest that the dark stain on the jetty is evidence of a spill having already happened. How much of it went between the planks into the water?

Spill Control

Picking the right spill response

Containment: This should be your first priority, minimising collateral damage caused by spilled materials getting into watercourses, drains, and onto open ground. Drain covers are instantly deployable, and will protect the drains. To prevent the spread of spilled liquids larger tanks and vehicles are best protected by permanent use of temporary bunds or berms, but where these are permanent, they’ll need to be cleaned out regularly, especially in the autumn when they can fill with debris like blown leaves.

In emergency situations, portable bunds can quickly be deployed for the most effective containment. They’re available in a variety of sizes up to the Stinger snap-up berm, capable of holding more than 12,000 litres. We also have a mechanical drain cover, which is re-usable and ideal for protecting drains during routine operations like tanker deliveries, for example.

Oil: Prevention is always better than cure, so oil drum storage utilising containers with built-in capacity to catch spills is always a good idea. Bunds and berms may be appropriate, but for smaller spills and leaks the plant nappy is a most effective solution. Heavy plant can be driven onto it, and the sides will spring back into place; spilled fuel or oil will soak in, but water can escape, so there’s no danger of spilled material escaping into the environment.

Chemicals: Spills of hazardous and aggressive chemicals require instant response so we offer a range of chemical spill kits small enough to be comfortably stowed in van and lorry cabs and on fork-lift trucks. A range of sizes and refills is available, many containing more than just the spill control equipment, but equipment to protect the user too, like gloves and masks.

Water: We offer water spill kits, but that’s perhaps a misnomer, because these products are equally at home soaking up most fluid types. They can absorb oil and water simultaneously, in quantities of up to 900 litres.

Small localised spills: As for drips. Look for absorbent granules to spread over the surface of the spill and draw in what’s been spilled. Sweep up carefully and dispose of responsibly. Cellulose granules are ideal; fire retardant and effective, they’re made from wood from sustainable sources. Several sizes of bag are available.

Drips: As for small localised spills (above). In the short term, cellulose granules will do the job, but if you have a range of liquids that could spill, you might be better advised to pick Spill-Aid power absorber. It’s more absorbent than clay-based solutions, and considerably more absorbent. On factory yards clay granules are effective, since they are chemically inert, won’t turn into mush when they’ve done the job and can safely be walked on and driven over. Look for construction clay and industrial clay varieties. If you’re able to easily get to the source of the leak, a tub of leak sealing putty is extremely effective for a short-term repair.

Body fluids: Always a tricky one this, with an enhanced need to protect the person doing the clean-up role. That safeguard is included with our body fluid spill kits that are small enough to be carried, but large enough to cope with most situations, meaning they can be quickly deployed in large locations like shopping malls, sports stadia, and leisure centres, for example.

On the move: Carrying the spill containment product on the vehicle carrying the product that may be spilled needs an ADR spill kit. Our most comprehensive kit contains containment and clean-up equipment, and protection for the operator, as well as a warning triangle to let other road users that there’s a hazard ahead.

Picture: Kampee Patisena | Dreamstime

Moisture absorbent granules: where the magic happens when there’s a spill

They all do basically the same job, but picking the right absorbent granules for your potential spill requires careful thought. What might be spilled? How much spillage might there be? Spill Control Centre guides you through what’s available, and highlights what each absorbent granule is good at.

I can’t help thinking that, every time a customer buys one of our absorbent granule products, they’re ready to perform a little bit of magic because of the science behind the product. It’s as though millions of tiny sponges are deployed over the spill, which can’t be picked up, to turn liquid into a solid that’s easily and safely cleared away with a brush and shovel, or even a dustpan, for the smaller ones.

Of course it’s not really magic, unless you count organic chemistry as magic, because that’s exactly what’s happening. Key to the success of absorbent granules is illustrated by their use of cellulose, the world’s most common organic polymer, making up about a third of all vegetable matter.

It has a complicated chemical formula involving carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which makes it a kind of sugar, and we know how readily that dissolves.

Science has moved on a little way from using cellulose, though it still works well, to use sodium polyacrylate, which can hold 200 times its own weight of liquid, and is found in disposable nappies.

A range of absorbent materials

The arrival of alternative chemicals means absorbent granules can be more easily tailored to suit the spill they’re intended to clean up, but their effectiveness is quite remarkable.

Take a 10g pack of granules for mopping up body fluids; that can absorb a litre of fluid, turning it into a solid for easy and safe cleaning up. Not only that, but it works equally well on carpet and solid floors.

Cleaning up body fluids is a specialised area, and involves far less liquid than other spills such as chemicals, oils, and acids. For these, different materials are available, made from particular kinds of clay and even softwood.

Thank Attapulgus for clay granules!

The clay, one of the types of Fuller’s Earth, has diverse names like Bentonite, Palygorskite and Attapulgite, all derived from the places they are found – respectively near the Rock River in the US state of Wyoming, in central America, and the town of Attapulgus in Georgia, USA, where it’s surface mined and shipped around the world.
The absorbing powers of different kinds of absorbent granules come with a variety of other properties too. Some are suitable for use where vehicles need to go, because they are crush resistant; some are guaranteed to be non-slip, and others are suited to indoor garage areas or haulage yards.

Products may also be approved by the Ministry of Defence or conform to European Road Safety Regulations. What they have in common, apart from their absorbing capacity, is that they’re chemically inert and fire retardant to BS 476 Part 7.

A question of scale

At the opposite end of the scale from the 10g bag of granules for body fluid absorption are 20kg bags of construction clay granules, which are available on pallets of 70 bags.
Between those extremes there is certain to be the right product to deal with any kind of spill, and they are also available thoughtfully packed with appropriate PPE to keep the user safe when there’s a clean up to be done.

And finally…

Absorbent granules have a role to play in every cat owner’s home. Cat litter is just one type of absorbent granules product with a very specific use – which the kitten in our picture is just learning about.

Cat litter
Check our range of absorbent granules to deal with problematic spills.

What you have in common with your cat and the world’s astronauts

The instant you react to a spill by reaching for something as simple as a handful of kitchen paper to mop it up, you’ve become an organic chemist, because you’re creating the circumstances for a controlled reaction to take place.

The principle is the same no matter what everyday material you use to absorb the liquid that’s been spilled. It’s a principle relied on by astronauts travelling in space (who don’t have conventional toilets; enough said), domestic cats travelling no further than the litter tray, and you, every time you reach for a towel after a bath or shower.

It’s all about cellulose, which makes up about a third of all vegetable matter, with the proportion rising to 50% of wood and 90% of cotton. Cellulose is the most common organic polymer on the planet, and has a complicated chemical structure involving carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – the same elements found in sugar – and absorbs liquid very readily.

AbsorbentAnd there’s the magic. We all know how readily sugar dissolves in water (or coffee or tea). Cellulose is a kind of sugar, so draws liquid into its molecules, which happens when you mop a spill. Kitchen paper, commercially-available absorbent granules, or cotton Terry towelling all contain cellulose, and work in the same way to achieve the same objective in different scenarios. The thicker the fabric (if fabric is being used) the more moisture can be absorbed, simply because there are more fibres to do the work.

The same principle takes place when wood rots. The cellulose in the timber absorbs water over a long period, which eventually destroys the cells from within. Timber treatments are geared to prevent that absorption, and make your shed, decking or fence last longer.

The older readers amongst us will be familiar with Terry nappies for babies; the younger ones will be more familiar with disposables. The latter are based on another polymer with even greater capacity to absorb liquids. That’s called sodium polyacrylate, which can absorb more than 200 times its own weight of liquid.

Finally, if cellulose is sugar, why can’t we eat it? The answer is that we can, but the human digestive system can’t break it down, so its only value is as dietary fibre. Animals such as cows, sheep and goats have similar problems, but they digest it with the aid of bacteria found naturally in their digestive systems.