When shopping for artificial grass, a lot of people naturally focus on nylon fibers and often assume that nylon is always better than polyethylene. However, synthetic turf material is only one of the factors that you need to consider. Equally important are turf construction factors like density, filament type, and fiber's shape. All of these elements together determine how synthetic grass will perform and what it will cost. When shopping for artificial turf, it helps to have a general understanding of these factors to make the best decision.
The history of artificial turf surfaces began back in the 1960s when the first green carpet was installed inside the multi-purpose, domed sports stadium in Houston, Texas. Since then, the so-called AstroTurf has evolved from the turf used strictly in indoor stadiums to widespread residential synthetic lawns. The main reason of public interest in the artificial grass is its maintenance; synthetic turf doesn't require mowing, trimming or irrigation. It can withstand heavy use ideal for multi-purpose sports fields and doesn't need sunlight when used indoors. The first synthetic turf had short flat fibers and no thatching layers; infills were not introduced until the early 1970s. From the texturized nylon fibers to naturally UV resistant and durable polyethylene materials, fibers used to manufacture synthetic turf overcame a radical transformation.
The first synthetic turf was made of nylon fibers. Nylon is the toughest and the most expensive synthetic material in production, highly resilient to heavy foot traffic. The most common artificial grass today is manufactured with Polypropylene thermoplastic blended with Polyethylene thatching. An invention of polypropylene is the main reason artificial grass became available for public use. Polypropylene, or PP, is rugged, non-corrosive and resistant to most chemical solvents, bases, and acids polymer. Colorants and additives can be introduced during the extrusion process to create distinct colors or properties such as stabilization against ultraviolet light degradation. It doesn't fade over time which makes it possible to use in the variety of applications. PP is recommended for high-temperature areas and snowy climates. It loses only 10% of its strength over a lifetime, making it ultimately ideal for outdoor use. Unlike firm nylon fibers, polypropylene can be molded into different shapes allowing to create the authentic look of natural grasses. Polyethylene (PE) is a softer and more flexible polymer; it used as thatching to imitate the thatch of natural grass and add a cushion layer to synthetic fields.
Polypropylene is used exclusively for long-pile turf and looks more realistic and lush than nylon. The manufacturing process involves taking raw material, color, and UV and anti-static additives and melting them in an extruder. The melted material is formed into the shape and cooled down. The fibers can be manufactured in a dozen different shapes, and create bundles of blade designs and colors. The spectrum differs in combinations of lime or field greens, olive, emerald green, beige, bi-color green, and more shades of greens that replicate texture and varieties of natural grass. The color combinations help you choose the synthetic turf that fit your local environment. But the blade design doesn't only serve the purpose of enhancing visual appearance. The shape determines the fiber resistance, or its ability to bounce back when pressure applied.
With the natural grass, foot traffic leaves unattractive bald spots even though the grass is considered the most resilient plant on the planet. When the soil underneath it becomes compacted, water can't reach the root system leaving the slowly browning grass to die. Artificial grass doesn't need water to stay green, but if its resilience is low, the foot traffic can cause blades to flatten. The production of engineered fibers solves major challenges in one fell swoop - enhances resistance to traffic, improves durability and natural-like appearance and lengthens turf lifespan.
Various turf blades have been introduced to the market as fibers enhancing turf memory, the ability of synthetic fibers to bounce back after being trampled down.
The departure from smooth flat fibers started with the Triangle blades which initially lost to Diamond blade shape and evolved to more complex textures with one or more prominent midribs. Some of them grew into a new generation of artificial grass yarns with unique thermostatic properties. Soon it became evident that the synthetic surface's heat retention can be reduced by implementing manufacturing techniques to form fibers that under the kinetic energy principle can slow down the transmission of solar energy.
When the sun rays hit the turf surface, the complex shapes also respond better. The best cooling effect was noticed in the testing of W-shape blades fibers that can reduce the turf temperatures by 15 degrees. While these results are not a final answer to turf overheating, the evolution of fiber shapes is proven to affect the functionality of turf fields.
Note: when you have windows close to a field, the solar energy is magnified and concentrated, and if its focused light is directed on the patch of turf long enough, it may reach the melting point of synthetic materials. No fiber, polyethylene or nylon, is safe under concentrated sunlight; the same goes for natural grass, shrubs, patio furniture, and other outdoor items. Don't rely on the engineered blade to keep your turf from melting. Use a tint window film to protect your investment.
When visual appearance is added to the equation, the engineered blades do better than flats. Inspired by the natural structure of grass blades, engineered blades are broader and denser than simplistic blades. The combinations of color shades and fiber designs create a realistic look to such an exceptional degree that the human eye cannot see the difference between natural and artificial turf. The waving surface of each blade diffuses sunlight, reducing the possibility of an unnatural, white-glass plastic appearance. Durability is another advantage.
The shape of synthetic blades is a part of the artificial grass fiber equation. The PP formulas varied among turf manufacturers, as every company experiments with chemistry to balance turf softness, heat retention, resilience, and durability. The amount and quality of additives used in the manufacturing process also play a crucial role in the turf's ability to keep color, resist ultraviolet rays and reflect heat.
The thickness and denier of yarn and its orientation during the extrusion process differ from machine to machine. Heavier the face weight, for example, more yarn there is in the product. There is also the fiber's thickness measured in microns, turf construction, polymer grade, and infill choice to take into account when buying artificial grass.
The quality of synthetic turf fibers is essential for a quality surface. There are a dozen technical details to take into consideration, but the optimal shape design of synthetic turf fibers in combination with advanced extrusion technology determines the durability, resilience and extended lifespan of artificial grass.