Seeing Things at Work
Their purpose is to absorb residual oil on water after the bulk has been removed by skimmers or other means (or the whole thing in case of small spillages especially if light hydrocarbons such as gasoline/diesel*) and also to remove oil spilled on floors, various surfaces and machinery etc.
Of course in my company there always are quite a few of those around and the scraps are often used for cleaning purposes. I know these things are designed for the purpose of absorbing hydrocarbons, but I've never seen them at work in practice.
However, a few days ago I accidentally knocked over a flask full of lubricating oil and spilled part of the content on the lab bench. I quickly realized that cleaning it up with tissue was going nowhere, so I tried laying one of these absorbing cloth on top of the spilled oil.
And after a few minutes the cloth had soaked up all the oil and trapped it into its fabric so it would go nowhere. Only a trace of oil remained on the bench, and I could easily wipe it away with a dry corner of the cloth.
Positively impressed, I decided to take a piece of cloth home and try it in a more demanding task: removing frying oil spatter from a stove top. And also there the performance was great: old deposits of cooked oil were removed completely with just one or two passes and no detergent at all. And the oil stays in the cloth; it tends to seep out much less than from paper, conventional cloths or sponges.
The only disappointing feture is that these absorbent clothes are single-use only: the felt will come apart with washing. But they can be squeezed dry once or twice using an adapted laundry wringer.
So here is my story, for the benefit of mankind!
*Then there are absorbent mats and pillows and booms, and also barrier booms with a detachable absorbent element and so on.