Wick it up, Bud!

One of the many benefits of being an instructor is learning from my students. Usually it’s regarding some cool product. Such was the case in January. During my Tread Trainer class, a student mentioned oil-absorbent sheets. It sounded like a great product, so I stopped by West Marine (www.westmarine.com) and picked up a few.

Designed for boats, these oil-absorbent sheets soak up engine oil so you can safely pump out the bilge. Turns out the sheets work quite well on dry land, too. A recent experiment proved that.


My experiment with an oil-absorbent sheet

West Marine’s oil-absorbent sheet comes in one size, 17” x 19”. You can buy them individually at about a buck a piece or a five pack for $4.49.

According to their website, each sheet absorbs 13 to 25 times its weight of #2 oil. Unfortunately, we don’t know from the label how much that is. Because they’re designed to absorb petroleum products, these sheets will not work on any water-based liquids. So, if you spill anti-freeze, use a paper towel.

With the gracious support of my friend Bruce at Bogart Engineering, whose garage floor provided the ideal surface, I was able to experiment with an oil-absorbent sheet.

The result was quite impressive.

At 17” x 19”, the sheet was a bit large for my use, so I cut it in half. I poured about 8 ounces of 10W30 on the garage floor. It created a circle about 5” wide. (See image – notice I had already used the sheet to wipe up a few drips.) I laid an oil-absorbent sheet on the oil spot, and within seconds the oil was wicked up. the next image shows the oil stain on the underside of the sheet. It wicked up all that oil in just a few seconds. Notice how clean the floor is above. I didn’t even wipe up the floor. That’s where the puddle of oil was. The oil-absorbent sheet worked that well.

As my next experiment, I dumped the entire remaining contents of the quart of oil on to the same sheet. It held most of the oil. I should mention, though, that the sheet was dripping oil. I must’ve maxed out its capacity. Remember, this was only half a sheet.

How often can you use each sheet? I don’t know. According to their web site, you can wring out the oil – into the proper receptacle, of course – but I believe the sheets are best for single use the way we use them. I don’t want to ride around with one partially soaked in oil any longer then I need to. Make sure you dispose of them properly.

When you might need oil-absorbent sheets

With all the abuse our vehicles take while off-road, it’s a wonder they don’t drip more than they do. Oil absorbent sheets should be placed on the ground any time your vehicle is dripping oil products. They are handy for spills, as well.

Use oil-absorbent sheets at home, too. Place one under any vehicle that drips oil, and you won’t have that ugly stain to contend with.

Packing oil-absorbent sheets

Because they are so effective, I highly recommend you pack a supply of oil-absorbent sheets. The West Marine sheets are quite large, whereas most spills are rather small. Cut your sheet(s) into halves or quarters, and place in a plastic zip lock bag. Leave at least one sheet full size. One advantage to a large piece is you can hold it down with rocks or other objects. That will keep the wind from blowing it away.

With over 300 retail stores in North America, it is easy to pick up a supply (or replace your stock pile) and they are quite inexpensive. Other oil-absorbent products are available. These include an oil-absorbent bilge pillow from 3M (www.3m.com) and Spill-Sorb (http://spillsorb.com), which is specially activated peat moss.

Regardless of which product you purchase, it’s important to add an oil-absorbent solution to your spill kit. As good stewards of the land, we take care of the property we drive on. Leaving an ugly oil stain on the ground is no different than dumping your trash.

Oil-absorbent sheets and similar products are cheap and effective. Pack a supply so you’re prepared for your next off-road adventure.

For related reading, see, “Clean Up Toxic Spills Promptly, Thoroughly”.

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