The Great Equalizer
Synthetic ice has been the great equalizer when it comes to access to ice skating.
It can be placed anywhere, and indeed, homes and businesses across the country are creating their own ice-skating experiences that can be enjoyed all year round.
You wouldn’t have expected to see enthusiasts gliding on ice at the height of summer, yet, as the New York Times profile of some of the most exciting new rinks in NYC shows, rooftop ice skating parties are in vogue.
Furthermore, innovations in synthetic ice by companies like PolyGlide Ice have brought the artificial skating experience closer to water-based ice than ever before.
There is one hazard with homemade and amateur setups and indeed larger synthetic setups – and that’s cleaning.
Veterans of the industry will have extensive experience in the management and maintenance of their rinks.
That experience lends itself to noticing the signs of dirt or wear and tear, at the first instance.
In particular, water ice management requires constant and careful management to maintain the surface – something that isn’t as present in synthetic ice.
Hygiene and maintenance are an important part of operating any form of rink, and especially so if you intend to have friends come and enjoy ice-skating with you.
However, keeping them safe and healthy requires a little planning.
Of course, there are certain advantages to synthetic ice that give you a head start on the health and safety front.
Real ice, in that it’s water-based, presents a significant number of challenges purely due to its nature.
Some obvious problems, like slips, trips and falls, are exacerbated by the natural deterioration of ice as skates ride over it and reduce friction on the ice; cleaning away this slush, or draining it as water, is part of a daily challenge.
This is something synthetic ice rinks can skip entirely.
Furthermore, the water itself runs the risk of carrying diseases and bugs that can potentially impact general health.
Making a real ice rink a sanitary environment can be very difficult, especially when fluctuations in the climate control occur.
Slight changes in humidity control create problems, and, furthermore, the use of gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide to sustain the ice can impact spectators.
One British Medical Journal article expressed concerns over the long-term impact on ice rink spectators for this reason, especially in enclosed environments.
The Main Risks
All of the moving parts associated with water maintenance are removed when it comes to synthetic ice.
However, there are several new factors that come into play.
Operators of synthetic ice are concerned with three main things:
- - Accumulated surface shavings from the skating boot.
- - Residue from panel conditioners.
- - General dirt and wear and tear.
These are relatively easy to remove but they do require careful monitoring.
Neglect of any one factor can lead to further issues down the line.
Of these, surface shavings can be the most problematic.
Cleaning Surface Shavings
Every time a boot skates across the ice, it will kick up some amount of matter from the synthetic ice tiles, even given the hardness.
These are only minuscule amounts, but they accumulate over time and will have an impact both on the safety of the rink and the amount of fun that people can have.
Anything that impacts on the contact between the boot and the tile will, after all, result in a change in exactly how the skating is experienced.
Managing this is, thankfully, quite simple – sweeping.
Using a soft brush to twice a day remove residue from the rink will help to keep it safe, slick and fit for use.
Be sure to wear shoe covers or appropriate boots when heading onto the synthetic ice in this manner – this crucial step will protect the tiles and should also be observed when conducting any other part of the maintenance.
Cleaning up the Conditioner
Over time the surface of the tile will start to scratch-up from the skate blades..
That’s a testament to the fun times spent on the ice and isn’t something to worry about.
Simply mix with water and spray on the surface with a hand pump sprayer or cordless electric buffer to keep your surface clean and slippery!
So it’s imperative that this is checked afterwards for both infusion and for the durability of the tile after treatment.
Any residual liquid does need to be cleaned afterwards, however.
This can be achieved by simply moving the water off the rink and into troughs for collection or using a device such as a Vax.
Just be careful, again, that you are using materials that can’t damage the surface of the tile – this will create more problems in the long term.
Dirt, Wear and Tear
There will, of course, be dirt built up on the rink. This is inevitable of anything seeing regular human use.
There are fine bits of dirt on everyone, and the tiles make a good environment on which to cling and build up.
Similarly, trips and falls are part and parcel of skating, as are the occasional scratch or bruise, and so there’s always the potential for scuff marks on the ice.
Just as residual chemicals must be cleaned up, so must dirt.
Noticeable patches will give your rink a shoddy appearance and will also have the impact of reducing ease of movement across the tile.
Wear and tear also require attention – there is the potential for deeper gouges to be cut into the tile, and these must be remedied in order to maintain safe operation.
Of course, synthetic ice still provides advantages for the owner over the water-based alternative.
A Columbia Material Science and Engineering Overview report recongnizes the synthetic ice indistry as rapidly growing sector in future technologies.
If there’s a large amount of dirt to contend with, using a synthetic ice cleaning machine is easier and safer than conducting the same work on ice, which can easily be damaged by the brushes and chemicals used.
Synthetic ice is simply more hard wearing than natural.
Reaping the Rewards
The benefits of maintaining synthetic ice are clear to see.
According to an article by Interesting Engineering, "The goal of any synthetic ice is to have the lowest friction coefficient, or "gliding degree", and to have good grip (on the surface") which will result in better performance for every person on the ice.
Tricks can also make it appear and feel cleaner; for instance, mixing Dawn into the cleaning solution can provide a blue tint that gives it that super wintery feel.
There’s also the matter of environmental impact.
Climate change is a fact of life for every single individual, including those operating ice rinks.
So how ice-skaters can reduce their ecological impact, and whether synthetic rinks play into that is an important factor in developing and maintaining artificial rinks.
Maintaining Problematic Ice
Consider what it takes to maintain an ice rink.
First, water is required to freeze the surface.
Then, to maintain the freezing atmosphere rinks demand, a combination of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter-based aerosols are used to support the atmosphere.
Similarly, the Zamboni rink surfacers responsible for resurfacing ice rinks also contribute large amounts of greenhouse gases.
As Inhabitat highlights, all of these factors contribute to a fairly serious environmental impact when it comes to ice rinks.
Furthermore, Inhabitat also notes the wide range of chemicals used to maintain the ice.
Ammonia and brine are commonly used concurrently to maintain ice temperature; the former is a big contributor to emissions, and the latter can cause untold environmental damage when improperly controlled.
More rink operators are moving to ethylene glycol, but this comes with toxic properties, too.
All of these substances risk entering the ecosystem when cleaning is undertaken, and even small emissions will, over time, contribute to significant environmental impact.
Synthetic ice is largely sourced from plastics, and this means there aren’t the same volume of gases being pumped out in order to maintain it, nor the water and chemical requirements.
However, the impact of plastics on the planet is well understood, from the emissions created by the production cycle through to the byproducts of cleaning.
So how can synthetic rink owners mitigate this risk?
Improving Your Process
Keeping the quality of your rink up to scratch is best achieved through regular cleaning.
However, it’s far too easy to discount the impact of plastic and chemical-based shavings when combined with water overflow.
Minimizing plastic flows into water is an important task; according to the Natural History Museum, London, between 5.2 and 14 million tons of plastic enters the journal every year, much of it microplastics.
Synthetic rinks have an important role to play in reducing this burden.
For indoor properties, the most important step is to separate out cleaning tasks.
Brush your surfaces to remove dirt, residual plastics and shavings, and then bag them up; you can use a conventional vacuum cleaner for this, too, either by sweeping and then collecting or by hoovering the entire surface.
If you do, just be careful not to damage the surface; be gentle with the hoover.
Outdoors, it’s a little tricker. If your rink is not properly bounded, you can easily end up scattering residue into the natural environment or washing it over during cleaning.
The best way to mitigate this risk is to install a rink cover when not in use to ensure very little can escape.
If that’s not possible, consider cleaning from the outside in, to minimize the level of particulates being spread.
Minimizing Water Use
According to the EPA, American homes waste 900 billion gallons of water every year nationwide – that’s roughly 300 washing loads, per week, per household.
Part of being a responsible house owner is keeping that number down.
As ice-skating enthusiasts, you’ll already have made a significant improvement by eschewing water-based ice for synthetic surfaces, but there’s always more to be done.
One important way is by minimizing the amount of water used when cleaning.
Aside from resurfacing, which has a specific demand for the conditioner/water balance, it would help if you looked to be economical with water usage.
Clean in an organized manner, rather than simply blanketing the surface with water.
You’ll do a better job of keeping particulates controlled this way, and you’ll minimize your water usage.
How Cleaning Machines Help
A cleaning machine provides two key functions – it can hoover, and it can wash.
This kills two birds with one stone when it comes to cleaning your synthetic ice surface and in helping to save the environment.
The hoovering action, especially if used with a HEPA filter, will effectively remove particulates from the synthetic ice and ensure that the surface is properly fit for skating once again.
Secondly, the washing action of rink cleaning machines will be more exact than handwashing.
Being able to control the amount of water and detergent, and indeed conditioner for resurfacing, will minimize waste and also reduce the chance of any residual water being left on the surface that could, at a later time, impact your experience of the ice rink and create dangerous slicks.
Synthetic ice has significantly closed the gap when compared with the water-based alternative nowadays.
The experience that can be enjoyed by skating on plastic-based tiles is being enjoyed more and more worldwide, and that’s good news.
With the scalability of synthetic rinks, the experience is being opened to a wider range than ever before, too – who would have thought skating under tropical temperatures would ever have been possible?
Synthetic ice has the maintenance and ecological safety edge on its predecessor, too – if managed properly.
So when you invest in synthetic ice, make sure that you invest in proper maintenance and cleaning protocols at the same time.
This will ensure you can safely enjoy the ice, allow it to perform to its best potential, and finally provide the planet with a little breathing space.