Simplifying Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Shop Spill Clean-Up

New products can absorb oil spills quickly with no dangerous dust, slippery residue, or heavy lifting

Vehicle maintenance departments and repair shop floors always seem to end up as a huge mess due to spills or leaks of oil, grease, brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc., creating a dangerous slip-and-fall hazard, and interrupting work flow until it is cleaned up.


While cleaning up such messes traditionally involves using clay-type absorbents or a mop and bucket, these methods actually do an unsatisfactory, inefficient job. Not only is clay heavy, but it is extremely dusty when dry and the airborne dust can be dangerous, even cancer-causing, if inhaled.

Clay absorbents can also leave a hard-to-remove residue that typically must be scrubbed with secondary cleaning methods, including a mop and bucket. But this usually leaves slippery wet spots to dry, followed by disposal of the oily water, which may be regulated.

“Absorbents like clay can become sticky when used to clean up spills or leaks on the shop floor,” says Anthony Eid, owner of Perris Auto Repair, a repair shop in Perris, California. “Mopping can make a mess if you push spilled oil and clay absorbents around. It is not effective and people can slip, fall, and get hurt until any spill is fully cleaned up and the floor is dry.”

Fortunately, for shop safety and production managers who know what to look for, cleaning up the inevitable messy spills on the floor no longer has to be difficult or time-consuming. Now a new breed of commercial absorbents is promising to simplify spill clean-up safely and quickly so work can resume with no hazardous dust, slick residue, or back-breaking lifting of heavy bagged absorbents.

Dustless cleaning products

Commonly used cleaning absorbents such as clay or diatomaceous earth are extremely dusty in their natural form, and can be hazardous when inhaled. While water can be added to reduce dust, as soon as the water evaporates (when a package is left open, for instance), they return to their very dusty original state.

“Products like clay can dust up unless you wet them down, and they get dusty when they dry out,” says Eid. “We want to avoid any dangerous dust in our enclosed, indoor shop environment.”

Many such absorbents, like clay and diatomaceous earth, contain crystalline silica, which is listed by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same category as asbestos. If inhaled, crystalline silica can also cause silicosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal lung disease. OSHA recommends “replacing crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.”

As a solution, a growing number of vehicle maintenance and repair shop managers are turning to safer “dustless” alternatives. One example, a cleaning absorbent called Eco-Absorb, which is made from an all-natural, non-toxic earth compound and certified by NSF International for its safety around humans and food, is permanently “dustless” without adding water. Because of this, it can be used safely without worry of inhalation, and will remain dust-free even when exposed to the open air indefinitely.

“We breathe easier because Eco-Absorb is dustless without having to add water,” says Eid. “It goes down dry, and we use it to clean up any spills such as oil, coolant, transmission fluid, or even fuels.”

While clay is a poor absorbent (it is mostly coated by the spill and absorbs it quite slowly), better absorbents act much faster. This expedites the clean up, and allows personnel to get right back to work. The “dustless” absorbent, for instance, picks up spills in a quarter of the time compared to clay.

“We found that the eco absorbent soaks up spills several times faster than clay, and does a better job of clean up in much smaller quantities,” says Eid.

No “slippery” residue

To protect shop mechanics and other workers from slip-and-fall accidents, which can be costly and carry some liability, managers also need to use a spill clean-up product that does not leave water (like mopping) or an unsafe residue.

Floors left wet from mopping, of course, remain a slip-and-fall hazard until completely dry. Absorbents like clay and diatomaceous earth, for their part, leave a residue that requires a secondary cleaning process, and can be slick and remain a hazard when wet.

To address these concerns, innovations in spill management technology have eliminated the need to add water to some products, as well as handled the issue of leftover residue.

Because all natural absorbents like Eco-Absorb, for instance, are applied dry, they reduce the risk of slip-and-fall liability. As a best management practice, such absorbents can be applied dry to contain and clean up oil or other spill and leave no residue. When placed around a spill, the absorbent acts like a sponge. It quickly absorbs the spill material and binds to it. This makes it easy to sweep up the substance along with the absorbent into a dustpan, to dispose of in a proper solid waste receptacle.

“When we use the eco absorbent to clean up spills, there is no slippery residue,” says Eid. “It cleans up spills in one step, unlike clay which requires clean up after the clean up to get rid of the sticky material left behind.”

No heavy lifting

Another issue with spill clean-up absorbents like clay and diatomaceous earth is that they are extremely heavy. Because such products have relatively low absorption to weight ratios, a lot of product must be used to clean up spills of any size.

As a result, a worker could easily injure himself or herself handling multiple 50-lb bags of clay or diatomaceous earth to clean up a spill. This is another potential worker’s compensation or liability risk.

The weight and quantity of absorbent is also an issue when it comes to disposing of it after the spill clean-up.

To address such issues, innovative absorbents now pack more absorption power in a lower weight. This makes bags of product safer and easier to handle, as well as less costly for disposal since such fees are usually based on weight.

Absorbents like Eco-Absorb, for instance, weigh one-third less than traditional clay products but absorb up to 15 times more—so less product is needed to do the job. Clay absorbent bags normally weigh up to 50 lbs. In comparison, a 15-lb bag of the super absorbent could soak up about five times the amount of a spill.

Because of the product’s high absorption to weight ratio, in fact, using Eco-Absorb to clean up a spill typically costs less than 25% of the total cost of clay alternatives. This is due to the fact that much less product is required to handle the spill, and much less paid out in terms of disposal fees, not including the labor cost savings in the time it takes for an employee to pick up a spill.

Neutralizing acid spills

While the vast majority of vehicle maintenance and repair shop spills will tend to be materials like lubricants, oil, and grease, occasionally cleaning up battery acid or other caustic liquids is required and that can be an issue of worker safety.

To ensure safety, some new products can actually indicate if a substance is hazardous by changing color. This is important to prevent accidental exposure and injury.

One innovative, absorbent clean-up aid, for instance, can neutralize a chemical hazard and indicate the substance’s pH level. It does so by turning red for dangerous acids and blue for dangerous bases. When the harmful substance is neutralized, it changes back to its original natural color, indicating that it is safe for disposal.

With better spill clean-up options being made available, shop managers will keep employees safer and the service center more productive. A cleaner shop will also help the shop to pass required inspections, as well as impress customers.

For more info, call 866-820-8050 toll free; fax 909-930-2178; email info@eco-absorb.com; visit www.eco-absorb.com; or write to Eco-Absorbent Technologies, Inc. at 1360 East Locust St., Ontario, CA 91761.

Press Release

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