Even if you have the best basketball, going years without proper maintenance will do it no favors. Any material can deteriorate under daily stress and bouncing on hard surfaces in the heat is definitely the type of stress to ruin your basketball. So, in order to learn how to clean a basketball the right way, we have to first differentiate basketballs into categories based on their materials.
There are three major types of basketballs out there, based on the material used for them. Those are:
- Rubber basketballs
- Synthetic leather basketballs
- Real (natural) leather basketballs
Now, let’s dive deeper into each of those and see how exactly you can clean either one of those types…
Cleaning a Rubber Basketball
Cleaning your rubber basketball is a relatively easy but lengthy process that involves a couple of steps. Those are:
- Preparing your cleaning materials
- Dealing with the small marks on the ball
- Wiping the ball
- Scrubbing the ball
- Rinsing the ball
- Wiping it and drying it off
Preparing your cleaning materials
The very first thing you should be doing when cleaning your basketball is preparing your cleaning area. The items you will need are a brush, dish soap, a bucket, and a large towel. Make sure you’re in a location that will tolerate a few water spills. Make sure that your water bucket is decently sized so that it can fit the ball inside, or at least most of it.
Dealing with the small marks on the ball
The next thing you need to do is to deal with all the small spots on the ball. These don’t have to necessarily be washed. Instead, try using an eraser. These work great with rubber basketballs and will remove almost all small spots. Don’t worry about bits of the eraser left on the ball as they will fall in the later cleaning stages.
Wiping the ball
While you can skip this step, it is good to wipe the ball before you start scrubbing it. Use a wet towel or a regular cloth towel damped in water. Don’t use dish soap yet, just wipe the ball so that it gets slightly wet and you strip more of the finer dust specs. You can also use wet wipes for this stage.
Scrubbing the ball
Next up, we are getting to the most important part of this cleaning process. Use a soft brush to scrub the ball while keeping it under running water. If you don’t have running water around you, make sure you wet it from time to time. You can also use the water from the bucket to occasionally rinse the ball. It is important to not push too hard otherwise you can damage the rubber. Try avoiding hard brushes too, as they can be damaging to the rubber dimples.
After you’re done scrubbing the ball with the brush and water, start adding soap to your water solution. Dip the ball into the soapy water and continue scrubbing at the dirtiest spots until they come off. Keep rinsing the ball with the soapy water occasionally until it looks and feels completely clean.
Rinsing the ball
When you’re done with all the previous steps and you’re satisfied with how clean the ball looks, start rinsing it. It is very important to not leave any soap on the ball as that can damage its surface once exposed to UV rays. Do a few thorough rinses of the ball until it is completely clean and you don’t feel any lubrication (from the soap) around its circumference. You can use a bucket with clean water for this step but I highly recommend rinsing it under running water or from a hose, for instance.
A lot of people will say that leaving a bit of soap will improve the grip of the ball. However, have in mind that this extra stickiness will also help the ball pick up dust easier.
Wiping it and drying it off
The last step here is as important as the rest, if not more. Using a clean and dry towel, dry out the ball thoroughly while training to leave no wet spots on it. In most cases, there will be residue moisture which can be dealt with when you leave the ball outside for a few hours. Once the ball is fully dried out, you can then store it. Remember to always store your basketballs in a cool and dry place to protects their outer shell from the damaging effects of moisture and heat.
Cleaning a Synthetic Leather Basketball
Synthetic leather balls are mostly meant for outdoor play. As such, they tend to accumulate more dust and stains over their real leather alternatives. That being said, the way to clean one is extremely similar to the way you would normally clean a rubber basketball. In fact, they are even easier to clean, as their surface is often flatter and reacts to dish soap and lukewarm better.
Another thing you can do in order to clean harder stains out of the ball is getting a synthetic leather cleaner. These will help you buff out most of the hard stains and will leave a great protective finish on the ball’s exterior.
Cleaning a Natural Leather Basketball
Just like cleaning leather basketball shoes, basketballs made out of genuine leather are a bit trickier than their synthetic counterparts. Still, just like with rubber balls, this is a five-step process that includes the following steps:
- Inflating the ball
- Wiping away any impurities
- Cleaning the ball with a special leather cleaner
- Rinsing the ball
Inflating the ball
This step is what separates this cleaning process from the one of synthetic and rubber basketballs. With real leather models, you need to first make sure they are properly inflated. Any creasing in the leather might lead to dust and dirt being stuck there, without having the option to be cleaned out. When the ball is fully inflated, it is stretched and much easier to clean well.
Inflating your leather ball is also important to keep its bounce in the proper range, and it will save you a bit of time next time you take it to the basketball court.
Wiping away any impurities
Just as with the other cleaning methods, make sure you first wipe the basketball with your ball rag thoroughly. That will remove most of the surface dust and potentially any grease from your hands. Don’t use a dirty rag, as that can make the next steps harder.
Cleaning the ball with a special leather cleaner
After you’re done inflating and wiping the ball, it is time to get to the actual cleaning. Unlike with other types of basketballs, you don’t have to use soap and water here (although you can). The best way to clean a leather basketball is to use a special leather cleaner. These will clean the leather in greater depth and will also leave a protective film on top of the leather shell. Those leather cleaners also won’t affect the grip of the ball nor will they affect the bounce.
After you apply the leather cleaner, wipe down the ball with a clean cloth until you strip any impurities you see on the surface. Don’t use brushes with hard bristles as they can scratch and damage the leather. If you prefer using dishwashing soap and water, use your hands to scrub the ball.
Rinsing the ball
Once you’re done with the leather cleaner, you can rinse the ball slightly with lukewarm water to remove anything that is left. If you’ve only used a leather cleaner, you can skip this step and just go straight to wiping the ball and making sure it is dry.
Just as with cleaning rubber and synthetic balls, at the end of the process you need to make sure that the ball is completely dry. Not only will that help it retain its grip and bounce but it will also increase its lifespan. After you are sure the ball is completely dry, you can then proceed to store it. In no case should you expose the leather ball to direct sunlight to make it dry out faster.
If you also want to learn how to clean and restore an old basketball backboard, click here!
Things to Avoid
There are a number of things that you should generally try to avoid when taking care of your basketballs. The most important of those is to never soak the whole ball in water, let alone a hot one. That might leave to faster degradation of the materials and can damage some real leather basketballs. Never dry your basketballs in a machine. Instead, use a highly absorbent cloth towel to absorb all the excess moisture after the cleaning.
Drying the ball in the sun for a short period is generally okay but try to stick to towels as much as possible. Additionally, avoid using any types of strong detergents as they can permanently damage or warp the ball’s surface, which will affect its grippability and how it handles. Lastly, as I already pointed out earlier, make sure your ball isn’t fully deflated when you clean it. Not only will that leave dirty marks in the creases but might damage the ball’s wall.
Basketball Maintenance Tips
While fairly durable, outdoor and indoor basketballs have their weak spots. In order to increase the life of your basketball, there are a handful of tips you can use to your advantage. Some of the best ones are:
- Try to limit exposure to heat and direct sunlight as much as you can. Outdoor basketballs are pretty tolerant to harsh conditions but can still use being stored away from the sun.
- If you play on different surfaces, try having more than just one basketball. Indoor basketballs excel at surfaces where outdoor balls simply won’t bounce well.
- Always set aside more time to take care of your synthetic and leather basketballs, as they need a more thorough clean than the average rubber model.
- Always store your basketballs in a cool and dry place. Moisture can promote mold while heat can damage the leather over time.
- Avoid using shoe cleaning solutions as these are slightly hydrophobic. That can lead to your ball’s ability to absorb sweat being greatly reduced.
- Wipe down your ball with your “ball rag” every time you play with it, or at least as often as you can.
Another trick that I learned over the years is that using saddle soap to clean your basketball. It is similar to leather soap but will take better care of the grip and shine of your old leather basketball. Wood polishes also work great at restoring the “new shine” of a basketball.
One common questions most beginners ask themselves is do they really need a good basketball? And more importantly – what makes a basketball good? To answer all these questions, visit my full article on the topic!
Frequently Asked Questions
It is bad to wash a basketball?
It is never a bad idea to occasionally clean your basketball. These balls take the grunt of daily usage and will deteriorate over time if you don’t take good care of them. Rubber balls are the easiest to clean and should be cleaned at least once a month.
How do I make my basketball sticky again?
Leather basketballs have one specific quality that the other types of balls don’t. They tend to lose their grip over time as they get dirty. So, following the logic of everything we just discussed, cleaning your leather basketball is perhaps your best option if you want to try to get some of its grip back.
Can basketballs get wet?
Yes, balls that aren’t meant for outdoor usage can get wet and will require some time to completely dry out. In fact, some outdoor models also tend to suffer from extremely wet and humid days. That’s why you should always take good care of them after they’ve been exposed to excess moisture.
How long do basketballs last on average?
Mots basketballs are pretty resilient, even if they lose some of their properties over time. That is why you constantly see 10-20-30-year-old basketballs lying around in closets and high school gyms. While these won’t have the best bounce ever, they will still be playable and are a testament to the resilience of some basketballs.
Learning how to clean a basketball is going to be a bit tricky if you’ve never done it. First, you have to determine the material that your ball is made from. If it’s rubber, then you can easily wash it while scrubbing the heavy stains out. The same goes for synthetic balls. After they’re clean, make sure you rinse and dry them out well. Leather basketballs, on the other hand, require a bit more care as their shells are more sensitive to hard brushes and strong detergents.