If you’ve read up on how to install artificial grass, you may have been surprised to learn that the installation isn’t complete once the fake turf is rolled out and nailed down. One of the things we find that most surprises our customers is this pesky extra step called infill.
So, what is infill? Is it really worth the extra time and money? If you’d like to chat with someone knowledgeable who can talk you through the ins and outs of infill, you can contact us! Otherwise, keep reading and an equally knowledgeable person (perhaps even the same one!) will explain below.
Why Use Infill?
Infill is a term used for the sand added on top of an artificial grass installation. The infill serves several purposes in an artificial grass installation. It’s a finishing step, certainly, but a vital one. Let’s take a look at everything infill accomplishes.
Infill weighs down the entire installation
One of the biggest challenges with artificial grass is keeping it in place. By the time we’re applying infill to your new artificial lawn, we’ve already gone to great pains to make the installation strong enough to last for years to come. You may recall from our installation guide that synthetic grass is very similar to carpet. One tricky thing in the carpeting and synthetic grass industries alike is the way these giant sheets of material can get shifted around and then have wrinkles.
Wrinkles, a tell-tale sign of a lawn that is decidedly fake, are something you never want to see in your artificial grass. Despite all those nails, the elasticity of the fake turf can cause wrinkles. When artificial turf gets warm, the material becomes more pliable and loosens up. When it gets cold again, the material shrinks. If your brand new, gorgeous artificial grass isn’t well secured, those expansions and contractions can cause wrinkles.
Infill helps prevent those wrinkles by weighing down the installation. Depending on your project and the turf you’re using, a skilled installation company will use somewhere between one and five pounds per square foot of infill. Let’s say your front yard is 500 square feet. Once that yard is covered in fake grass, it’ll also have at least 500 pounds of infill holding everything in place. Between the nails and the weight of the infill, your grass is significantly more likely to stay in place. An installation that doesn’t move is going to look more natural and well manicured.
Infill protects the backing of the grass
As those 500 pounds of sand weigh down your installation, they’re performing another very important task. You may remember that artificial grass is manufactured by sewing plastic “yarn” through sheets of material. Once your fake turf is fully installed, that fabric will get some sun exposure.
It may be hard to imagine, because when you look down at your samples or your new installation you can’t see the backing. The blades of artificial turf may be very thick, depending on your grass.
No matter how dense a synthetic grass you select, however, UV rays are still getting to the backing of the turf.
Prolonged exposure to UV rays can be hard on any material. Think of the house siding that fades in color over the years or the patio chairs that over time just break down a bit. Those are examples of what UV rays can do to products over time.
The backing of artificial grass is what’s holding everything together. It’s a pivotal player. Manufacturers invest a lot of resources and energy into creating the strongest backing they can. Adding a coating of infill helps to make sure those efforts aren’t wasted. You’ve likely taken the time to make sure your fake grass is the best in the industry. Infill is how you protect your investment. Once the installation team has finished working infill between the blades, it sits right on top of the backing and takes the brunt of the UV rays. All while hidden away under the blades of grass where you can barely see it, if at all.
Infill helps keep the blades of fake grass standing up
This infill stuff definitely packs a punch and it may seem like we’ve covered everything it can do for your artificial lawn. There’s more, though! One of the benefits of infill that you may get to enjoy more is how it affects the aesthetics of the fake turf.
Artificial grass is very flat when it comes from the factory. It’s also manufactured at a slight angle, so it doesn’t stand up perfectly straight. The addition of infill helps the blades of fake grass to stand up straighter. A professional installer will rake or broom up the artificial turf while installing. Once it’s standing up straight, the infill is added. The infill then gets worked into the turf with a rake until it’s nestled toward the bottom of the blades. Once there, the infill sits between the blades of synthetic grass, holding them up straighter.
Pro Tip: If you choose an artificial grass that is on the longer side (say 2”-2.5"), consider asking your installer how much infill they recommend. If you choose to use more than one pound per square foot, which is generally the standard, it’ll cost you a bit more money. On taller grasses it can also help them stand up better and look nicer. This isn’t required for taller grasses but will certainly make them look closer to what you’re envisioning as you look at the beautiful, lush sample you received.
Great news! Infill does a lot to protect, support, and stabilize your artificial grass. We’ve got the why under control, but the question still lingers – what is infill?
Finally – What’s Infill?
The easiest answer is that infill is a sand. You may be thinking "Sand? Like my happy place?"
Sadly, not that kind of sand. But it's pretty similar!
There are many kinds of infill but all of them are comprised of tiny pellets of something. What that something is distinguishes between the options available, their advantages, and their disadvantages. While there are many name brands and other options that may exist, generally there are just a few main types to be aware of.
Silica sand is the most common infill you’ll find out there. The sand is often tan, but not always. There is a product on the market that is identical to silica sand in every way except that it’s painted green. Silica sand is a basic, cost effective option. It accomplishes everything described below at an acceptable level for many jobs. While silica is cost effect, it does have some real disadvantages.
The silica sand used by most installers is more likely to have bits break off over time because of its coarse nature, making it a weaker option.
Silica sand absorbs moisture. All moistures. This means that if you get a lot of rain in winter, the silica will suck up the rain. If you install your artificial lawn near a pool, the silica will absorb the pool water. If you open the back door to let your dog out and Fido does his business on the fake grass – well, you get the idea. If you walk on your fake grass when the silica is full of water it can cause the silica sand to compact and provide less support to the artificial grass than before. The other risk with liquid absorption is pet odors. If the silica sand absorbs pet urine, it will smell. We’ve tried, but we find washing the silica simply doesn’t work that well. Note: If you’re a pet owner, do not lose heart! There are other options coming up shortly that are better fits for your area.
Silica sand can be a health concern for anyone inhaling it regularly – it carries a Prop 65 warning in California and has a respiratory dust that can be harmful if inhaled. This is primarily a concern for installers who pour out bags of silica, which often throws particles into the air. Once silica sand is worked into the fake turf, the average adult is highly unlikely to have any issues with it. That said, if you have pets, small children, or perhaps plan to do yoga with your face to the grass daily, silica may not be the safest infill option for you to consider.
Silica sand is an industry standard product with many installers using it regularly. While there are risks for certain types of projects, it is a good option for projects where people and animals aren’t expected to use it or have their faces in the grass often. This is an especially good option for front yards, which tend to be low traffic.
Knowledge is power. Be sure to ask your installer if you have any questions or concerns about the infill being used. A team dedicated to making sure you have the best install possible will take the time to address your concerns and will make sure you feel confident in what’s happening.
There are a few different products on the market that serve the same purpose – to provide an alternative to the disadvantages of silica sand. Those alternatives involve cutting edge technology and creative problem solving. While the options described below are fantastic, they are more expensive. If your project doesn’t require any of these options, as discussed above, silica sand may be a great option for your project.
Zeolite is an infill specifically designed for pet areas. It is able to extract the ammonia from animal urine due to its ionic composition. The ammonia is stored in the Zeolite and then flushed when it next rains. Zeolite will still absorb moisture and compact. It’s also recommended to use at least two pounds per square foot for the full effect of its smell fighting capacity.
Coated, Antimicrobial Infills
There are several brands of coated, antimicrobial infills. These options take the traditional silica sand and coat it in another substance. By coating the infill, its disadvantages are impressively corrected.
Coated, antimicrobial infills are designed to significantly reduce pet odors. Instead of walking into a back yard that smells like the dog uses it as a bathroom, you can have an artificial grass installation that Fido can use, the kids can play on, and you can have friends over on.
On top of fighting the odor of pet urine, these infills will not absorb moisture from your pets, the sky, or the pool. Because moisture isn’t absorbed, the chance of odors is lowered even more. Also, the infill doesn’t get compacted and lasts much longer than silica.
The coating on these infills significantly decreases dust from them. In the state of California, these products do not currently carry a Proposition 65 warning as silica sand does.
If you have children or pets and want to create the safest possible environment, there’s no need to avoid artificial grass to protect them. Using a premium infill that is coated and has antimicrobial properties will create an environment that is significantly cleaner, safer, and easier to maintain. If you're looking at your Bella Rosa Turf installation quote, you'll see this type of infill listed as "Premium Infill".
A Note About Sports Fields
There is a great deal of concern surrounding the potential health effects of an infill called crumb rubber. This infill is made of recycled tires and is specifically designed to be used in professional sports fields. Crumb rubber is used in this environment because it does an amazing job at absorbing shock, like the shock of a quarterback getting sacked by five opposing players. While this is true, the science is beginning to suggest it may not be a safe option.
We do not use crumb rubber for residential projects like your home. If you would like to set up an area for a playground or heavy sports use and you want to make sure the area absorbs shock well, we have alternatives to crumb rubber to solve for that. Specifically, we use shock pads under the artificial turf to create a safe environment.
While crumb rubber is still the industry standard for sports fields, many alternatives do exist and are starting to be used.
Infill is a pivotal part of any artificial grass installation because it helps to weigh down the area, protect the backing of the fake grass, and support the blades so they stand up straighter. There are lots of options available from the basic silica sand to a coated, antimicrobial infill. Depending on the project and your priorities, any of the options may be the best fit for you.
As if there weren’t already too many choices – first what type of project to do, which company to hire, then which artificial grass to use, now infill? We hear ya. There are a lot of options out there on the market for you. The good news is, you’re not in this alone. The Bella Rosa team is here for you. Whether you have questions or want to request a quote, your plate is pretty full to stress about infill. Let us worry about infill and the rest – it’s what we’re here for.