Coatings manufacturer Eco Chemical helps CenturyLink get back to the game

A company logo on artificial turf outside
Eco Chemical's South Seattle manufacturing plant.

Have you ever seen a carpet cleaner the size of a minivan? That’s the basic idea behind the Mantis Hydro Extractor, a 16-foot-long green machine designed to remove the paint and markings used on artificial turf sports fields.

The Mantis is the artificial grass equivalent of hockey’s Zamboni. After workers spray a special cleaning agent into the field surface, the Mantis comes through to scrub the turf fibers clean and vacuum up the paint, dirt and solution.

Why do you need to remove the markings? Sports stadiums and artificial turf fields are very expensive, and so most host more than one sport over the course of a year. CenturyLink Field in Seattle, for instance, is home to both the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders. So having a way to quickly change the markings is essential.

The Mantis Hydro Extractor washes paint off of artificial
fields, allowing marking to be changed for different sports.
Photo courtesy Eco Chemical.

The Mantis Hydro Extractor is the invention of Eco Chemical, a specialty coatings manufacturer based just a couple miles south of CenturyLink.

In the early days at CenturyLink, maintenance staff used ordinary latex paint on the turf, but getting it off required harsh chemicals and heavy scrubbing that damaged the surface. Eco Chemical created a paint called Temp-Line that stands up to Seattle’s rainy weather, but can be safely removed with an alkaline cleaner. To speed up the process, Eco Chemical built the Mantis, along with several smaller versions.

Along with being safer for the fields, Eco Chemical’s Temp-Line is safer for the environment. It’s water-based and has very low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. After cleaning, the paint and solution can be poured into the sanitary sewer system for disposal.

As the company name suggests, creating safer products is a big part of Eco Chemical’s mission. Eco Chemical got its start 20 years ago when founder and president Mark Cheirrett decided to make a clean break from manufacturing paints based on toxic chemicals.

Those toxic paints worked great, Cheirrett said, but they posed potential health risks - and they came with a host of hazardous chemical regulations. Cheirrett instead focused his attention on water-based coatings.

Eco Chemical president Mark Cheirrett climbs up to
inspect one of the company's 5,000-gallon paint mixing vats.

“In 1991, I said, ‘I’ll make waterborne paints, or I won’t do it,'" he said.

Today, Eco Chemical has 15 employees in 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Its warehouse is dominated by 15-foot tall, 5,000-gallon paint mixing vats and an array of smaller equipment. Along with its artificial turf paints, which are used in professional and college sports stadiums across the country, Eco Chemical also makes paints for natural grass fields. Instead of traditional 5-gallon buckets or 55-gallon drums, Eco Chemical concentrates its grass paints and ships them in recyclable 26-pound cardboard boxes. This packaging saves on shipping costs, fuel, and waste.

Eco Chemical’s other major business is providing stains to the pressure treated lumber industry. Similar to its sports products, Eco Chemical ships the water-based stain in concentrated form inside reusable 275-gallon totes instead of the typical 55-gallon drums.

Cheirrett sees a bright future for safer, more sustainable products.

“From where we started 20 years ago, we’re in a whole new world,” he said.