All materials that that pick up and retain liquids that are distributed throughout its molecular structure as termed as absorbents. Absorbents are 70% insoluble in excess fluids and cause the solid material or stain to be removed to swell to at least 50% that results in stain removal.

Absorbent varies in nature depending on the material components used in manufacturing. They also rely on the quality of the stain to be removed.

We have three types of absorbent that can be used to clean up oil spills. These are synthetic adsorbent, organic sorbents, and natural inorganic sorbents.

Natural adsorbents

The natural sorbents include feathers, sawdust, peat moss, hay, readily made carbon-based product among others. Also, we have environmentally friendly granular absorbent, which is in powder form and used in the absorption of oil spills in on the floor.


Natural sorbents can absorb up to 15 times oil weight though they have some notable disadvantages. They tend to take up water together with oil, which results in the sinking of the absorbent. Bearing in mind most organic sorbent is in powder form, it becomes difficult to collect once they spread in a solvent such as water.

Synthetic absorbent

Synthetic sorbents include human-made materials like plastics. Such type of plastics includes polyethylene, polyurethane and the polypropylene which are strictly designed to take up liquid on their surfaces.

Other such materials include cross-linked polymers and materials from rubber which absorbs oil spills into their solid structure. Synthetic adsorbents can take up oil spills up to 70 times their weight and hence mostly preferred.

Natural inorganic adsorbent


These are materials that consist of clay, glass wool, perlite volcanic ash, vermiculite and among others. They absorb up to 40 times of oil spills than their average weight. Like organic adsorbent, inorganic absorbents are less expensive and readily available in large quantities. However, these types of sorbents can’t be used in water as they tarnish it.


When deciding on absorbent to use in cleaning oil, its vital to consider the nature of the oil spillage and the absorbent to use. The best absorbent should be able to take up to 70% of the spillage, which ensures regular cleaning.