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Why are absorbents in different colours?

Unlike fashion, absorbents don't come in different colours to give nice options. (Does blue look better under this fluoro lighting or pink?) The colours are a very quick way to tell what type of liquid that absorbent optimised to absorb. And in an emergency, “quick” is good…

However, the tricky thing is that the colour coding is not mandatory, so it’s not consistent across different brands. Unlike traffic lights, say. The world over, “red means stop” and “green means go”, so whether you’re in Bali or Europe you don't need traffic lights explained to you. There are a few brands that follow the color-coding guidelines New Pig established, but not all, which can be confusing.

So how did New Pig choose absorbent colours? Well, not according to fashion, but they did put lots of thought into what looks better (keep reading to see why) and the result reflects how absorbents are most commonly used.

From truckloads of site visits, it was obvious that darker colours blend into the surroundings much better, which means the absorbent can stay on the job longer and reach full saturation. (This translates to good cost savings and value for money.)

On the other hand, bright colours draw attention, so indicate to people there’s a problem over there, so don’t go and dance in that liquid. (We also have it on good authority that New Pig, which doesn’t always take itself too seriously, thought using a bright pink sock may throw in a bit of fun to the otherwise un-fun and unenviable task of cleaning up a corrosive chemical spills – so there you are, now you know what pink is for.)

There’s another benefit here too: it’s very quick to teach employees which colour does what task, so when they use the right absorbent, your company’s money isn’t wasted cleaning up say an oil spill with more costly absorbents that are actually specifically designed to work with corrosive liquids.

Let’s look at each colour.

Blue and grey

You may remember in last month’s blog that we spoke about COWS. This acronym stands for “coolants, oils, waters and solvents”, which are the types of liquids blue and grey absorbents are designed to wok with. And because we like acronyms, here’s another: MRO or “maintenance, repair and operations”. This defines the types of applications blue and grey absorbents can handle. Picking up the opening comment, these muted colours blend into most industrial settings, so they don’t draw attention to the leaks, drips and overspray that they are absorbing. This saves you money and time because they stay down longer, plus it keeps your facility looking neat; also a goal of absorbents.


As you read just above, pink absorbents are designed to deal with chemicals. So in the case of a corrosive, oxidiser or unknown-liquid spills, “think pink”. New Pig chose pink because these types of spills need instant attention, and pink stands out. These socks, mats and pillows are made of 100% polypropylene, which is the most chemically resistant absorbent available. So when you aren’t sure what a spill is — and logically don’t want to guess — then “think pink” and know the absorbent you use will be the right one.


Just like yellow tape cordoning off a no-go zone, yellow-coloured absorbents alert people to be extra cautious in an area. The bright colour helps draw people’s attention to anything out of the ordinary, such as a wet floor near the door, hot water all over the staff kitchen, a broken pipeline or hose, or a machine that’s been taken out of service for maintenance. Of course, to keep the colour having its “alert” effect, it’s important to remove these absorbents when the hazard no longer exists.

Brown and white

White absorbents are hydrophobic, so they repel water and absorb oil-based liquids, making them the ideal selection for oily spills on water. A great example is an outdoor spill that’s occurred when it is raining. Being white, you can easily see when the absorbent has become fully saturated so you know when to replace it.

While New Pig actually originally designed its oil-only absorbents as spill response, they discovered that lots of customers were using them inside factories for routine maintenance. The only problem was that the nice bright white drew everyone’s attention to all the small leaks the absorbents were soaking up. The other problem was that people were changing them out long before they were fully saturated. So New Pig began making a brown hydrophobic mat and sock, which camouflaged leaks and drips perfectly. If you have a retention pond, these brown absorbents are also a great choice as booms for stormwater compliance.

So whether it’s a sock, pan, boom, pillow or spill kit, just follow the colour coding!

  • blue and grey = universal (or COWS)
  • white = oil only
  • pink = chemicals

For guidance in choosing the best absorbents for your factory or business, call us on 1800 HOT HOG (468 464). Or get in touch with us.

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