What to Know About Artificial Grass

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Have you considered installing artificial grass instead of the real thing? Here's what you should know about this convenient, controversial product.

You might be old enough to remember the emergence of artificial grass into the American landscape. Developed in the mid-1960s as a surface for athletic fields, it was first installed in the Houston Astrodome in 1966. That’s when “astroturf” became part of the vernacular.

Here are a few fun facts: AstroTurf is actually a specific brand of artificial grass. But like Kleenex or Q-Tips, the brand name became the blanket term for all similar products. The 1971 Super Bowl at the Orange Bowl in Miami was the first played on artificial grass. And the iconic mid-century modern home of The Brady Bunch had a backyard made of AstroTurf!

Today, artificial grass has a lot more uses beyond the playing field, including residential. But it’s not without its detractors. If you’re considering installing artificial grass in your yard, here’s what you should know.

Types of Artificial Grass

Artificial grass is a synthetic ground covering made to look like real grass. It’s evolved over the decades and no longer resembles the fake-looking, plastic-y product it once was. But it’s still synthetic, still made of petroleum-based plastics. Here are the three types of artificial grass:

  • Nylon artificial grass is considered the most durable and long-lasting, but it’s also the most expensive. It’s the stiffest of artificial grass materials. So while it’s good for high-traffic areas, it might not be ideal for areas where kids or pets will be playing.
  • Polyethylene artificial grass has a realistic look and texture and is considered a good mid-range option for an artificial lawn. It’s not as durable as nylon, but its soft feel makes it suitable for play areas and zones where people will be walking barefoot.
  • Polypropylene artificial grass is the least expensive but also the least durable. Because it can’t stand up to high traffic, it’s best used for smaller areas that don’t get a lot of daily use, like putting greens.

Where Can I Install Artificial Grass?

Artificial grass can go in a lot of places where you might have natural grass or other types of ground cover. It can also be used in places where a natural lawn wouldn’t be practical. Here are some possibilities:

Pros and Cons of Artificial Grass

Like many home improvement products, artificial grass has its positive and negative traits. Let’s take a look:

Pros

  • It’s nearly maintenance-free. No mowing, fertilizing or aerating required.
  • It’s evergreen. Artificial grass gives you a green lawn year-round, and you can even choose your shade of green.
  • It looks realistic. Today’s artificial grass more closely resembles real grass, down to yellow-colored blades that simulate thatch.
  • It’s long-lasting. High-quality, well-maintained artificial grass may last 20 years or more.
  • It doesn’t need watering. You could save a bundle on your monthly water bill if you don’t have a lawn to irrigate.

Cons

  • It’s expensive. Professionally installed artificial grass costs between $5 and $20 per square foot. You can save money by installing it yourself, but the initial cost is still high.
  • It gets really hot. In all its forms, artificial grass is plastic. It heats up under the summer sun, to the point where it’s uncomfortable to stand on or enjoy.
  • It’s not as soft as real grass. Though higher-quality artificial grass looks and feels like the real thing, it’s still more abrasive than real grass, and it’s not as soft for kids to land on when they fall while playing.
  • It’s not that eco-friendly. Yes, it saves on water consumption, but the manufacture of artificial grass has a negative environmental impact. Plus, it’s difficult to find a recycling center that will accept old artificial turf.
  • It might be dangerous. Studies have shown that artificial gas emits toxic gases, especially when hot. It also releases metals and microplastics into the air and water supply.

Artificial Grass Buying and Installation

Artificial grass can be professionally installed by companies that specialize in synthetic lawns, or you can DIY it if you have a team of helpers. Whether done by pros or your crew of weekend warriors, installation involves excavating the area to be covered, removing rocks, roots and other debris, and compacting and screeding the surface. An underlay may be required.

Home centers, such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s sell artificial turf, usually in rolls that are quite heavy. Installation is not a one-person job.

Artificial Grass Maintenance and Cleaning

Artificial grass is low maintenance, but not maintenance-free. Here are the most basic cleaning and maintenance steps to prolong the life of your synthetic lawn:

  • Clean up stains and spills right away using a mild household detergent. You can add a few drops of ammonia for tougher stains.
  • If your pets do their business on your artificial lawn, pick up solid waste as soon as possible and hose down the area, as well as any places where animals urinate.
  • Hose down the lawn periodically to wash away accumulated dirt and debris.
  • Rake the lawn with a soft, non-metal rake, for cleaning and to preserve the lift of the fibers.
  • For superior cleaning, consider investing in a leaf-blower with a vacuum function.