Choosing the Right Sorbents for Your Spill Containment

Click to ExpandChoosing-The-Right-Sorbents-For-Your-Spill-Containment

Leakages and spills in the workplace can have severe repercussions for employees and the environment. In industrial applications, spill prevention procedures are essential, particularly when dealing with potentially hazardous liquids. One of the most effective solutions for this concern is the utilization of sorbents for a quick containment process.

Sorbents are insoluble substances extensively used in various industries, including oil and gas, food and beverage, automotive, construction, and pharmaceutical. However, due to the wide variety of available products, selecting the best one for a particular spill containment can be challenging.

This article will cover two factors to consider when choosing the appropriate sorbent for your application.

What Are Sorbents?

A sorbent is a substance utilized to absorb or adsorb liquids or gasses. It is likely to confuse absorbents with adsorbents and vice versa.

Absorbents are substances that absorb and retain fluid throughout their molecular structure, expanding the solid by at least 50%. On the other hand, adsorbents are insoluble materials whose surfaces — such as pores and capillaries — are coated by a liquid without solid swelling by more than 50%.

Key Considerations in Sorbent Selection

The first step in selecting the proper sorbent is to ensure that it is suitable for the spill — you must determine exactly how and where it will be utilized. For instance, the sorbent required to clean up spills in a manufacturing facility differs from the product needed to remove petroleum from contaminated water.

Here are two of the most crucial considerations in sorbent selection:

Type of Liquid

Identifying the type of liquid you will be dealing with is essential to help you determine whether you require oil and fuel, a hazmat, or a general-purpose sorbent kit.

Oil and Fuel

The oil and fuel sorbent kit includes a group of sorbent products that absorb oil while leaving other fluids behind. These substances typically contain polypropylene or mineral specially treated to absorb hydrocarbons only, both of which are hydrophobic and less dense than water, making them ideal for oil recovery.

Aggressive and Hazardous Liquids

You must take extreme precautions to match a specific sorbent with its intended application. For instance, hazardous chemicals require a hazmat, odor-removing, and neutralizing spill kit. The majority of sorbent substances in this category contain  components that neutralize and solidify chemical spills on contact..

Water-Based Fluids and Other Substances

It is strongly recommended to use general-purpose and universal spill kits when working with water-based and other oil-based fluids. These contain sorbent products that are effective when multiple spills require a single solution.

Type of Sorbent Material

It is crucial to determine whether or not the liquid to be contained and cleaned is compatible with the sorbent material. Here are the three types of materials commonly used for spill containment and cleanup:

Natural Organic

Natural organic sorbents can adsorb between 3 and 15 times their weight. They are often composed of loose particles that are difficult to gather once dispersed in water. These issues can be resolved by incorporating flotation devices and encasing loose particles in mesh to facilitate collection.

Some examples of organic materials are the following:

  • Hays
  • Feathers
  • Peat mosses
  • Sawdusts
  • Straws

Natural Inorganic

Natural inorganic sorbents can adsorb from 4 to 20 times their weight. They are also affordable and readily available in abundant quantities. However, most of these cannot be used on the water’s surface unless it has been specially treated to absorb hydrocarbons and repel water.

Examples of inorganic substances include the following:

  • Clays
  • Glass wools
  • Perlites
  • Vermiculites
  • Volcanic ashes


Synthetic sorbents consist of artificial substances whose surfaces are designed to contain liquids. Typically, they can adsorb up to 70 times their weight and are the most effective at recovering oil.

The following are examples of synthetic materials:

  • Calcium carbonate
  • Epoxy
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Polyurethane

Impact Absorbents: A Leader in Spill Response and Safety

For over 30 years, Impact Absorbents has been a reliable manufacturer and source of highly absorbent and effective products for spill cleanup! We offer high-quality, custom-tailored spill response and prevention solutions to address the unique challenges you or your company experience.

Our premium product inventory includes super absorbents, paint hardeners, biohazards, absorbent pads, spill kits, and spill stations.

Contact us today for more information on our products and services!

Scroll to Top