Disinfecting Sports Fields – Natural Grass and Synthetic Turf

The CDC reports that the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Spread can occur when people are in close contact (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus does not spread easily in other ways. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but scientists are still learning about the virus. (1)

Coronavirus can last for long durations on different metal surfaces, ranging from hours to days. Recent studies show that the coronavirus can last about three days on a plastic surface as well as on stainless steel surfaces. It can also sustain for a period of one day on cardboard, while it can only sustain for about four hours on a copper surface. (2) While human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces at room temperature for up to 9 days, temperatures of 30°C or more can decrease duration. Additionally, surface disinfection procedures can inactivate the virus. (3, 4)

With the public restless to get back to recreational activities, safety concerns about the presence of the virus on athletic surfaces have been brought to the attention of sports field managers.

Research conducted by Dr. Andrew McNitt, Penn State University, investigated the presence and survival of the bacterium Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This research may give us clues of how to approach concerns regarding COVID-19. The results of the study showed that most of the indoor natural and synthetic surfaces inoculated with the MRSA bacterium showed a less than 4% survival rate after 240 hours and that for most treatments listed with detergent applications resulting in no living staph bacteria after 4 hours. On outdoor natural and synthetic surfaces in the study, within 3 hours after applying bacteria to the surfaces, the number of bacteria surviving was below 1% for most treatments and by 72 hours after inoculation, S. aureus was detected in only one treatment out of 30. No living bacteria was found on any other of the 29 treatments. (5)

Additionally, the S. aureus research suggests that the bacterium is inhibited or destroyed by relatively short exposure to UV light found in sunlight or applied using UV light emitters. (6)

There seems to be consistent information regarding degradation of COVID-19 under sunlight. Intense UV light is being investigated as a way to disinfect subways and buses in New York City. (7) Although this research is inconclusive regarding COVID-19, sunlight seems to be a good disinfectant.

Based on a combination of information from the CDC and existing MRSA research, if the field has not been used for several weeks and is outdoors, treatment likely is not required as the virus will not live that long on a surface and UV light may inhibit or destroy it.

To allay public fears, you may be pressured into taking action to disinfect your fields. Know that any treatment that we are aware of will at best only kill the virus that’s there and will not prevent future deposition.

Detergent or soap has been shown to work according to the list of approved disinfectants released by the EPA (access the list here). In the research conducted on MRSA, a rate of 8 gallons of a liquid detergent per 140 gallons of water sprayed over an entire field followed by brooming has been shown to be effective.

Before treating a synthetic surface, check with the synthetic manufacturer. People should be cautious with what they use to disinfect synthetic turf. Some of the disinfectants can break down the glue that holds the fibers to the backing and may void their warranty.

The pandemic is an everchanging situation as continued research brings new information to light. Athlete safety is at the forefront of every field managers mind when making decisions on how to open and maintain sports facilities. While there is no conclusive evidence on the length of time COVID-19 can survive on athletic field surfaces or its transmission, we can still educate the public on scientific findings and the safety measures we are implementing to keep users safe.

Contributions for this article were made by Dr. Andrew McNitt, Penn State University, and Dr. John Sorochan, University of Tennessee


(1) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32377058

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32035997

(4) https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article/S0195-6701(20)30046-3/fulltext

(5) https://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/documents/staph-survival-on-synthetic-turf.pdf

(6) https://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/documents/uv-light-staph-report.pdf

(7) https://news.psu.edu/story/621783/2020/06/01/research/killing-coronavirus-handheld-ultraviolet-light-device-may-be?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_term=621831_HTML&utm_content=06-01-2020-21-47&utm_campaign=Penn%20State%20Today