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Care of sports fields – optimal maintenance of artificial turf pitches
By Rolf Haas, Member of the DIN standardisation committee on synthetic and artificial turf surfaces / IAKS Committee Section Germany / Field Turf Consultant
- Maintenance tasks
Artificial turf pitches can be subjected to intensive use throughout the year. To ensure that the technical sport properties are maintained, professional and appropriate care is required. Regular maintenance also increases the life expectancy of the artificial turf pitch and plays a significant part towards cost efficiency of the investment.
In this regard, attention should be paid to the note given in appendix C of the standard DIN EN 15330-1:2013-12 which mentions that when tendering or during installation of sports fields, manufacturers or suppliers must provide comprehensive information about the care and maintenance measures required for artificial turf pitches as well as the kind of special equipment needed.
Too little, but also too intensive care, or the wrong kind of equipment will damage the artificial turf. For this reason it is strongly recommended that instructions from the manufacturer with regard to care and maintenance are followed carefully.
Measures which are helpful for later care and maintenance can already be made during the planning and installation of an artificial turf pitch.
2.1 Access roads: unsurfaced roads should be avoided as the loose top layer will be transferred to the playing field and cause damage to the artificial turf. In addition, small stones, gravel and stone chippings can only be removed from the playing surface with great difficulty. Use of block paving stones is recommended.
2.2 Surrounding areas: Neighbouring sport and secondary areas should not be made of clay materials or natural grass. Clay materials will damage the artificial turf surface and cut grass pack and solidify it.
2.3 Embankments: Embankments can also allow dirt to be introduced onto the playing surface when they are covered with bark mulch or loose earth and are too close to the pitch. In the case of heavy rain, the water can wash organic substances and earth onto the pitch.
2.4 Greenery: Trees and bushes cause an increased amount of maintenance work. Leaves, needles, seeds and fruit need to be removed regularly.
2.5 Regulations: Regulations for use should prevent rubbish, cigarette ends, glass bottles, cans etc. being discarded on or near the playing field. Corresponding notices and/or signs are helpful here. In order to prevent players using the pitch with dirty shoes, shoe brushes should be installed near the entry area.
2.6 Shoes: Football boots with plastic studs or nubs are best suited. Football boots with metal soles (steel or aluminium studs) are not allowed. Sports shoes with a flat sole are also unsuitable.
Furthermore, attention should be paid to the following:
- Protective measures against damage by animals, especially tunnelling by wild rabbits, should be taken.
- Installation of sufficiently wide access gates, at least 3 metres, for maintenance equipment in the fence or barrier systems
- Access roads for maintenance vehicles, equipment and rescue vehicles should be sufficiently wide and surfaced.
- Start of operations
After installation of the artificial turf, sand and elastic infill material must be distributed evenly over its whole surface area to ensure that the artificial grass fibres are covered to the same depth of filler throughout.
The correct filler height protects and supports the artificial grass fibres as well as providing optimal ball roll and bounce behaviour. It is also important for the stability and turning behaviour of the players.
After start of use it takes a further 6 to 12 weeks for the infill material to settle completely. Depending on the filler height, further infill material can then be added.
During maintenance of "newly installed" artificial turf pitches loose fibre bundles can often be seen on the playing surface. This does not indicate damage to the pitch. The bundles are winding yarn required during the manufacturing process and then removed during the first brushing of the pitch. It has no influence on the function and durability of the artificial turf pitch.
- Maintenance work
4.1 Removal of rubbish:
Dirt can blow on to the pitch from the surrounding area. For this reason it is important that the neighbouring areas such as paths and spectator stands are kept clean. Small stones, shards of glass, cans, beakers, drinking glasses, cigarette ends, chewing gun etc. must be removed regularly from the playing field and its surroundings.
4.2 Removal of leaves, needles and blossoms:
When leaves, needles and blossoms are not removed quickly enough, they become entangled in the playing surface and block draining of water. The best way to remove these is with a leaf blower or a brushing machine.
4.3 Removal of weeds and moss:
Weeds and moss grow in spring around the edges of the playing field. This is removed preferably by hand ensuring that all roots are pulled out completely.
4.4 Brushing up artificial grass fibres and levelling the infill material
During play the filler material in the pitch becomes very unevenly distributed and the artificial grass fibres are flattened or twisted. Brushing up levels and redistributes the filler and makes the fibres stand up again.
Brushing up is carried out with a strong, plastic-bristled brush pulled behind a lawn tractor with hydraulic systems. Care should be taken that the pressure of the brush is adjusted so that it does not displace the artificial turf or create "waves" in it. Particular care must be taken with the lines. The correct working height has been achieved when the brush rests on the surface of the filler material. This allows the filler material to be evenly redistributed and the artificial grass fibres straightened. The speed of the machine during brushing should be selected so that the brush does not bounce across the surface of the pitch. The direction of brushing, dependent on orientation of the artificial grass fibres, and the areas to be driven over should be taken from the manufacturer's instructions. Brushing should be carried out once a week but only in dry weather. During periods of intense use, additional brushing should be carried out as per the manufacturer's instructions.
The main areas of play at the centre of the pitch, in the two goalmouth and penalty box areas and where junior pitches are marked out across the main field, are more subject to strong displacement of the elastic filler material. These areas together with those around the penalty sport and corners must be regularly refilled with elastic filler and sand.
During refilling, care must be taken that the only material of the same type and from the same manufacturer is used as otherwise undesirable reactions may take place between the artificial grass fibres or old material and the new filler material.
- In-depth cleaning
In-depth cleaning has the following
5.1 Removal of dirt
During use of the playing field, abrasion of the artificial grass fibres and the filler granules occurs. In addition, air-borne dust and other substances and organic refuse can become mixed with the filler material. Over time, this causes packing of the material and, therefore, reduced drainage of the playing surface. Removal of dust and dirt should be carried out using professional maintenance equipment whereby a brush roller removes surface dirt and a certain quantity of filler granules. Dust and abrasion particles are removed from the filler material using a vibrating screen while the filler material is returned immediately to the pitch and brushed in again.
5.2 Loosening of the granules
Loosening of the granules is carried out using a machine with adjustable needle bars. During use, the needles only penetrate the filler layer but not the sand substrate.
Depending on the amount of use to which a pitch is subjected, in-depth cleaning should be carried out at least once a year by a specialist company.
- Maintenance equipment
Use of the wrong maintenance equipment can damage the artificial turf system. For this reason it is strongly recommended that the manufacturer's instructions are followed.
Regarding use of a lawn tractor, the following comments should be noted:
- The overall weight of the tractor and equipment should not be more than five tons
- Maximum wheel load is approx. two tons for each individual wheel.
- The wheels must be fitted with balloon tires to guarantee good load distribution.
- Vehicles may only be driven at very slow speed; abrupt braking or acceleration maneuverers should be avoided.
- Watering and surface irrigation
Basically, no watering of the playing field surface is necessary for it to be used, but in certain cases it can be very helpful. During periods of extreme heat, watering before use can reduce the surface temperature. The moisture also binds fine dust resulting from abrasion and wear of the filler granulate and artificial grass fibres. In addition, a layer of water protects the artificial turf fibres from abrasion and improves sliding properties for the players allowing severity of grazes and friction burns to be reduced.
- Clearing snow
Snow on the pitch can be cleared with snow blowers (only small, hand-operated machines) and mechanical using a lawn tractor with a shovel attachment. When removing the snow a layer of approx. 2 cm should be left to ensure that the artificial turf is not damaged by the shovel. Use of de-icing agents – salts or liquids – is basically possible, but advice should always be asked first from the manufacturer first. When snow is cleared mechanically, filler material which sticks to the snow is always also removed so that refilling of the material is necessary at winter's end.
- Covering for events
When used for other purposes except for sport, the artificial turf surface should be protected. Covers should be installed as late as possible and only left on as long as necessary on the pitch. The artificial turf will need brushing up after the covers are removed.
- Care and maintenance of unfilled systems
Unfilled artificial turf pitches are exposed to the same kind of negative influences as filled ones. These unfilled surfaces need cleaning using a penetrating wet cleaning system such as soak-suction cleaning.
- Care and maintenance of small playing fields and soccer courts
Small playing fields, and above all soccer courts, are subjected to more intensive use than large playing fields. As a rule, the same maintenance measures need to be carried out, but more often due to the more intensive use. Here also, care instructions from the manufacturer should be observed.
- Maintenance plan
The scope and type of cleaning and maintenance measures are dependent in particular from:
- the intensity of use
- the kind of surroundings (e.g. cinder running track)
- trees in the area
All care and maintenance measures and the intervals at which they should be carried out are given by the manufacturers in a care and maintenance plan. As a rule, it is also laid down which care and maintenance measures are to be carried out by the club itself, municipal services or a specialised company.
- Care and maintenance records
In order to be successful with any guarantee claims, it is necessary that the care and maintenance measures stipulated by the manufacturers are carried out and a record is kept showing when this took place. It is recommended to keep a maintenance log recording which measures were carried out and when.
Inspections of the playing field should be carried out at regular intervals:
- checks of the lines and seams
- changes in the artificial turf fibres (e.g. grey colouring)
- excessive wear and abrasion
- changes in the infill materials (formation of clumps, sticking)
An inspection report should be made each time showing:
- the date
- kind of inspection
- defects and damage determined
- measures to rectify the defects
- a deadline by which the defects should be rectified
Damage and defects determined during an inspection should be rectified with the corresponding care and maintenance tasks. In cases where there is danger of an accident occurring, defects or damage must be repaired immediately. If this is not possible, the area involved or the whole pitch must be declared off-limits.
Comprehensive information about safety management and compulsory public safety measures can be found in the German maintenance guidelines for artificial turf pitches (Sportplatzpflegerichtlinien) published by the FLL.
Forschungsgesellschaft Landschaftsentwicklung Landschaftsbau e.V. (FLL)
Sportplatzpflegerichtlinien für die Pflege und Nutzung von Sportanlagen im Freien; Planungsgrundsätze. ISBN 978-3-940 122-49-0, issue 2014, (Research institute for landscape development and landscape gardening, guidelines for the maintenance and use of outdoor sports facilities), www.fll.de.
In addition, the German RAL Quality and Testing provisions for artificial turf systems: RAL-GZ 944/6 issued by the Gütegemeinschaft Kunststoffbeläge in Sportfreianlagen e.V., Berlin, Tel. 0049 30 20314-548, www.zdb.de.
Repair work should generally be carried out by the sports facility construction company or contractual partners.
The higher the demands on sustainable playing properties are, the greater importance given to expert and correct care and maintenance measures. As these also make a significant contribution towards increasing the life expectancy of the artificial turf pitch, they should be carried out regularly and carefully according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Comprehensive information on the topic of care and maintenance of sports facilities including artificial turf playing surfaces, clay courts and natural grass pitches can be found in the new German DFB compendium "Sportplatzbau & -Erhaltung" (construction and maintenance of sports fields), 5th revised issue (2017) available from: