Synthetic sports surface maintenance should always be considered a preventative, rather than a reactive, measure.  An active maintenance programme will not only maintain the performance standards and the appearance of the carpet, but will also maximise player safety and life expectancy of the installation, ensuring many satisfactory years of use. Nick Harris, Business Development Manager of Replay Maintenance, explains.

There are really only two simple principles which the maintenance regime of a synthetic surface needs to achieve – keeping the surface clean and maintaining the infill level. You can prevent problems from arising by regularly cleaning the surface, on a daily or weekly basis, with regular litter picking and removal of leaves, twigs and other surface debris. This can be achieved by using a combination of blowers, brushes and vacuums. As a minimum you should also drag brush the surface weekly to agitate and lift the carpet fibres whilst evenly distributing the infill.

If these preventative measures are not carried out, or not carried out frequently enough, you will find that contamination will start to build up.  Any debris and detritus left on the surface will start to decompose, break down and will accumulate in the voids between the infill particles. This contamination will then start to clog up the surface which will result in the surface not draining as well as it should and can lead to a dirty/muddy residue being left on the surface. From this you ultimately start to get vegetation growth appearing on the surface. Moss and algae are one of the biggest problems found with synthetic surfaces and with the right weather conditions, will grow and spread very quickly; generally from the perimeter inwards.

Problems will also occur with infill, which becomes compacted or migrates out of the surface, especially in high-wear areas. If and when this happens, the carpet will tend to wear more quickly. To therefore uphold the performance characteristics and protect the carpet fibres it is vital to keep the infill levels at the right height within the carpet. This is achieved by regularly brushing to redistribute and level out the sand or rubber back into the key play areas.

Once problems do start to appear, it shows that the preventative maintenance has not been effective enough and now you must react to it – often more difficult, intensive and therefore expensive to resolve. External specialists such as Replay Maintenance can offer a range a services from surveys and advice right through to emergency repairs or a full surface Rejuvenation; either on a one-off or service agreement basis.

If you catch vegetation issues early enough, a chemical treatment can be applied to kill off the plant and growth, before utilising a system of rotary and orbital brushes to remove the dead plant/root out of the surface. Similar processes can be used on hardcourt tennis surfaces, athletics tracks or water filled pitches.

Replay offer the unique AquaTrax process, which combines low pressure, high volume washing and vacuum extraction in one pass. This is designed to dislodge the dirt before the vacuum extraction system then removes the dirty water to a tank so that contaminants are not returned to the surface. It was first developed to remove accumulated contamination during the maintenance of polymeric athletics tracks but has since been adapted to clean contamination and algae from unfilled or water-based hockey surfaces. AquaCourt offers a similar service specifically for hard court tennis courts.

Established in 1898, Western Wildcats is one of the oldest and most successful hockey clubs in Scotland – and also one of the only clubs with their own pitch!  A few years ago, the club raised £450,000 to install what Club President Alastair Scott describes as “the best pitch in Scotland”. To maximise the lifespan of their investment, and to keep the synthetic surface performing at its best, Alastair enlisted the help of the AquaTrax unit.

The pitch is used all the time, with 8 men’s and women’s teams, junior teams of all ages from 8 to 18 as well as local schools and community groups calling the club their home. They are also the only club with both men’s and women’s 1st teams in European play-off places. “It really is non-stop which causes a lot of wear on our surface” explains Alastair, who like many of the staff at Western Wildcats run the club on a voluntary basis. The installation of a water-based hockey pitch was a huge investment for the facility and to get the value from it, they understand the importance of maintaining it. “On top of the heavy usage, here in Scotland it’s also often wet meaning we sometimes have problems with drainage.” To compliment the in house brushing and sweeping conducted by Alastair’s volunteer grounds team, they called in synthetic maintenance specialists Replay.

“We had Replay in a year or so ago to do a small clean of the pitch which is when they recommended we consider a full, deep clean of the surface every 3-4 years. When the surface was 4 years old, we decided it was the right time for Replay to conduct a deep clean. The work was outstanding. They advised it can take up to 4 days to do the job but knowing we had a tight window of opportunity to get them in, they managed to complete it in less than 3 which was fantastic. The 1st team played on the surface the night the works were completed and both the coach and the captain said how beautifully the pitch played, as good as it ever had. It’s effectively given us a new pitch!”

For in-filled carpets, Replay’s Revive process uses a specially developed multi-functional machine to lift and rotate the infill through an internal oscillating sieve and turbine vacuum system which separates the clean infill from the fine particles of dust, debris and broken down fibres. The cleaned infill is then regraded and dressed back into the surface. The result is reduced compaction, enhanced porosity and improved playing characteristics.

To cope with the development of new surfaces and different infill types, Replay have recently invested in a new start-of-the-art unit, Revive Pro which enables them to cope with any new materials and the maintenance challenges these may pose. It has recently been enlisted at Newmarket Town FC, who made a £750,000 investment in a full size cork-filled synthetic surface, one of the first in the UK.

Filling a pitch with cork is becoming more common throughout continental Europe as an alternative to rubber and carries a number of benefits; its 100% organic from a renewable source; it doesn’t absorb water helping to keep the surface free draining; it’s odourless and from an aesthetic point of view, it plays and looks like a natural football pitch.

To protect and maximise the lifespan of their investment, Club Secretary Graham Edwards called on Replay to perform a more thorough clean, to compliment the regular in-house brushing. “Replay have been in twice so far,” says Graham, “and each time the work has been thorough and when they’ve left the surface has looked as immaculate as it did when it was first installed – we’ve been really impressed with the work they have carried out.  All in all we’re absolutely delighted with the whole pitch and particularly the cork infill.  With the two-pronged maintenance taking place there’s no reason why we shouldn’t reach the maximum expected lifespan our investment offers.”

Replay’s Revive process is offered as a part of a proactive Service Agreement, which can also include infill top-ups, moss and weed killing, line marking etc. Service Agreements are the ideal way to ensure that playing surfaces benefit from regular and planned maintenance, which can be tailored to intervals and budgets to suit the individual facility. Replay’s Service Agreements also include regular post-maintenance reports and free annual surveys using industry standard measuring testing devices such as the Fieldman, depth gauge and prism. These reports and information allow you to see what difference the maintenance regime is making to your playing surface and enables you to plan your maintenance regime far more effectively.  Replay’s Clients can access all of this information through their online password-protected Replay Reportal, where there are other tools such as the Pitch Revenue & Usage Calculator, which can be used to log actual playing hours and maintenance requirements.

If all else fails, for even the most compacted and contaminated synthetic surface, Replay have processes which can renew most pitches back to an ‘as new’ condition for performance, drainage and appearance. Replay Rejuvenation uses unique constant air-flow plenum technology and compressed air to remove the contaminated sand/rubber, restore the pile to vertical and fill the surface again with new clean infill. The process can extract to any chosen depth, including if necessary, removing all the infill right down to the backing of the carpet. Rejuvenation can significantly extend the life of a surface restoring what may previously have been considered an unusable facility, and often doubles the playing life of a pitch or tennis court for less than a quarter of the cost of a new carpet.

In the case of Aylesbury Tennis Club, whilst they don’t have high trees to cause a problem with falling leaves, they do have some bushes surrounding the Courts. However, rather than debris, the main problem here was an age thing – they hadn’t done a lot of maintenance themselves, nor called anyone in to do it for them. The surface built up a lot of airborne dust, detritus and debris off player’s footwear that went into the infill and started to seal the carpet.

When the surface becomes non-porous the rain can’t drain through and begins to lift out the lighter dust and debris from the infill. This then travels around the court and is deposited in lower areas (called Silt puddles) of the court. Aylesbury had a lot of surface silt that had been flushed out of the carpet, moved around to the lower areas and left hazardous slippery areas. A couple of the courts at the bottom end of the club became unplayable because they were so slippery and dangerous. When Replay went in, they could see that the carpet itself was in good condition; plenty of pile depth left; good construction and no seam failure, but the contamination in the sand was the issue.

The remedial action was to run the Replay Rejuvenation process, using compressed air to extract the sand and re-dress with clean sand. To prevent this happening in the future the club was encouraged to ‘up’ their routine maintenance both in-house and external.

It is important to remember that a surface will not always look as good as it does on the day it’s installed, however with well-structured and regular maintenance its appearance and performance can be maximised helping to ensure many years of good use.