Pardon the poor English, but there ain’t no such thing as “maintenance-free.”

If a manufacturer uses that term to describe a car, a house, a toaster oven, whatever – run the other way. The reality is that every product requires care and upkeep in order to extend its life, optimize its performance and keep it working properly. Synthetic sports turf is no exception.

“When synthetic sports fields first began to be put in and there were only a few small players in the market, one of the sales pitches that some used was that the fields were basically ‘maintenance-free,’ ” explains Al Garver, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, a nonprofit industry trade association. That approach has changed dramatically now that the industry has matured and there is an array of professional, reputable companies manufacturing and installing synthetic sports fields.

Realizing the necessity of getting the word out about the importance of maintaining synthetic fields, the Synthetic Turf Council (STC) has developed its “Guidelines for Maintenance of Infilled Synthetic Turf Systems,” a resource for field owners and operators. As this document makes clear: “Proper maintenance is essential for the performance and quality of any synthetic turf system.”

While not specific to any one brand or type of synthetic turf, these comprehensive guidelines have helped to create standards for the industry; members of the STC commit to sharing this information with field owners and operators at every stage, beginning with the initial cost-benefit considerations of installing a field, explains Garver. “That way they can factor that in, because the fields aren’t maintenance free. There’s less maintenance. It’s different maintenance. But there is maintenance,” he states.

In many cases, that maintenance is pretty straight-forward. “Even a high school that has a small staff can maintain a field by raking, putting fresh infill down by hand, doing maintenance walks with 20 or 30 people spread out across the field to pick up debris – those are the types of things that even a small association or group can do,” says Garver.

For those with larger budgets or more fields to look after, there are options to purchase maintenance equipment to speed things up, as well as specialized services that can be contracted to come in and perform maintenance on a set schedule, whether it’s monthly, quarterly, etc. “And some service companies specialize in what’s called a field rejuvenation,” Garver adds. “For a small-end user that realizes they need some maintenance – they need the right amount of infill, they need it combed, they need it spread – it’s sort of like hitting a reset button and then they can maintain it themselves from that point on. Or maybe they can maintain it by hand for a year before it needs to be refreshed again.”

Beyond ensuring quality playing conditions, there are plenty of economic reasons to properly maintain your synthetic field. For starters, proper maintenance extends the life of a field. That’s important to explain to administrators or boards that may be responsible for setting the budget for the operation of a field, but may not understand the maintenance that’s required and the value of that maintenance. Plus, says Garver, field warranties commonly have specific maintenance requirements to support that warranty.

A synthetic turf field in Fairfax County, Virginia.

PHOTO: FAIRFAXCOUNTY.GOV

“Typically, a warranty will require a maintenance schedule and it will have to document what they did, how they did it and who did it,” says Garver. “That’s why it’s important to build a maintenance schedule with our guidelines, with the warranty requirements, and then customize that to their field.”

The lists that follow include some basic information drawn from the STC guidelines. These guidelines are available at http://SyntheticTurfCouncil.org and also explore in much greater detail how to perform the maintenance steps listed, including cleaning and maintaining proper infill levels; the steps involved in performing minor field repairs; specifics on special maintenance considerations, such as snow removal, repainting of lines, and how to deal with chewing gum, hydraulic fluids, metal objects, mold and even sunflower seeds. In addition, especially given warranty requirements, seek guidance from the manufacturer or installer of your field to clarify any additional maintenance practices that might be required.

Why maintain your field?

To maximize the appearance and longevity of the turf: Improperly maintained fields will degrade faster and compromise playing conditions.

To ensure maximum performance and playability: Through a combination of regular maintenance and performance testing, it’s possible to track the synthetic sports field’s performance and anticipate the end of its useful life.

To address field usage topics and special circumstances: Factors such as age, hours of use, type of usage, climate, contamination and other situations impact the performance of the synthetic turf.

To meet your field’s warranty requirements: While a maintenance regimen can support the requirements of a warranty, the details of a maintenance plan should be carefully reviewed with the field builder.

Routine maintenance practices

  • Conduct inspections and perform minor repairs to avoid playing hazards.
  • Keep the playing surface clean and free of debris and contaminants.
  • Check and maintain proper infill levels to provide a consistent surface.
  • Brush the surface to preserve appearance, keep grass fibers upright, and maintain even infill levels, making sure to use only approved bristles that will not overly abrade the fibers.
  • Maintain a maintenance and activity log.

Comprehensive maintenance practices

Over a period of time, the following situations may arise that will require the need for more thorough maintenance. This generally includes the use of specialty equipment by trained professionals. The following actions may be performed:

Professional field inspection and corrective action: Assess the field surface, especially heavy wear areas, identify weak or loose seams and inlays, and repair the damage. Sport performance testing (GMAX) may also be desirable.

Decompaction of infill: Infill decompaction is important for improving shock absorption and synthetic turf drainage. Use only equipment specially designed to decompact and create loft in infilled synthetic turf systems.

Redistribution and leveling of the infill: Measure infill depth on a grid pattern, and add and level infill as needed to return the surface to the field builder’s specifications.

Deep cleaning: Use special equipment that combines mechanical brushing, suction, and an infill return system to remove surface debris and embedded contaminants.

Metal removal: Use a magnet attached to your maintenance equipment to remove ferrous metal objects from the field.

Weed and pest treatment: Treat with herbicides or pesticides, as required.

Partial removal and reinstallation of infill material: Remove the infill, as necessary, to get rid of embedded foreign matter that has contaminated the infill system, relieve grass fibers that may be trapped in the infill, or improve drainage.

Protecting your field

  • Establish signage and local rules for the use of the field to avoid field contamination and damage.
  • If the field is in a flood plain, cover it when the threat of flooding exists with a specialized tarp designed to limit silt and debris from contaminating the field surface.
  • Encourage coaches and players to rotate activities to different sections of the field to prevent high-wear areas.
  • Provide trash and litter containers on-site and make sure there are enough containers to eliminate overflow.
  • Route field access traffic in such a way as to minimize the tracking of mud and dirt onto the field.
  • Set up drinks for players during practice breaks off the field, if possible.
  • Do not allow any maintenance or other activity that may invalidate the warranty.
  • Report any field damage to the field builder immediately to avoid an escalating problem.
  • Plan to perform the maintenance recommended by your field builder. In terms of time, you should budget one hour of inspection and maintenance for every 10 hours of playing time.
  • Keep a detailed maintenance and activity log, since it is often required by the warranty.