In professional tennis, perfectly decent tennis balls are produced, used and discarded in large volumes and in no time. To meet the industry standards, balls have to be in mint condition, since the slightest deviation or deformity in its curvature could lead to losing an important set, match, or even a tournament. Tennis balls get quite dirty after frequent use and yet, they are always expected to be in pristine condition, especially during high-end televised events. At competition level, balls are changed after every third or fourth game, with a Grand Slam Tournament using up to 5000 balls.
Amateur players tend to see tennis balls as short-term, dischargeable items, too. After all, they are not too expensive. Once you start making numbers, however, you will realize the number of balls you use up in one year add up. By keeping your tennis balls in good condition, you will be saving a small fortune.
That’s not the only advantage of maintaining your tennis balls properly. 300 million tennis ball are fabricated every year, 125 million of which are used in the United States alone. Unfortunately, many of those end up in garbage dumps, where they decompose very slowly, producing contaminating methane gas. By keeping your tennis balls in good shape for a longer life of usage, you will also be contributing to the environment.
When playing tennis on an amateur level, tennis balls are much easier to maintain, since they are not subjected to the same stress and forces as they are in the professional field. No matter what kind of game you’re playing, however, balls will get dirtier and dirtier with every match – especially when playing on an outdoor tennis court – to the point you may think it’s no longer worth keeping them. This is also true for the many balls that end up being recycled as pet toys that look like nothing more than a slimy ball of germs.
By following these methods below, you will be able to clean your tennis balls and make them look as good as new without affecting your game – or your pet’s health.
Hand washing your tennis balls
The first approach to cleaning your tennis ball is the most straightforward: nothing beats a good old hand-washing session.
Start by holding the balls under the tap one by one and rinsing them thoroughly. Focus the water pressure on any stubborn patches of residual dirt, and you’ll usually find you can blast it off with the help of a little gentle massage.
Fill a bucket or sink with warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot, so you don’t burn your hands when you submerge them. The amount of water will depend on the number of balls you will wash at the same time, so as to leave enough space to manoeuvre them. If the balls are very dirty, just wash one or two of them at a time. Add some fairy liquid or laundry detergent; a few drops per ball should do, but you can add more if needed. These detergents are soft enough to help eliminate dirt without damaging the ball’s surface and texture. If the ball you’re washing is your pet’s toy, you can use vinegar instead, which is completely pet-friendly.
Now it’s time to get your hands dirty: Put your hands in the water, grab a ball and start rubbing it with your thumbs to get rid of any deep-rooted dirt, then move on to the next one. Once you’ve rubbed off the muck, allow the balls to soak for a few minutes (around 5 minutes per ball; 8 if they are very dirty).
Take the balls out of the water and dry them with a cloth. The rough texture of the fabric will help remove any remaining grime from the ball as it dries. You can finalize the drying process by laying them out in the sun. You can also place them in the dryer on a low-temperature program, although this is less advisable.
Cleaning your tennis balls using a washing machine
As per the first method, rinse the tennis balls under the tap and be sure to remove any superficial dirt. Sometimes, little fragments adhere to the surface of the ball when playing on asphalt or gravel; if you frequently play on these types of grounds, you may want to reconsider cleaning them in your washing machine to avoid damage.
Washing tennis balls in a washing machine can be a tad tricky since you’re not managing the whole process manually. The balls can be affected by several aspects, namely temperatures and centrifugation, which can deform the balls beyond repair. Therefore, it is very important to use a cold wash program without a spin cycle. For the rest, it is like doing your daily laundry; use the same quantity of laundry detergent you would normally use for a small load of clothes and start the program.
Once the washing machine has worked its magic, you can dry the balls by laying them out in the sun or using a hair dryer at low temperature and at a distance, as to not damage the ball surface.
If you’re not convinced by any of the previous options, you can always use “Kleenball”, the first patented tennis ball cleaner. Created in 1905, Kleenball is a tool in the shape of an egg, with a wooden outer casing and an opening in the middle that divides the two pieces. The inside is fitted with bristle ball cleaning and reviving brushes. To clean your tennis ball using Kleenball, simply insert the ball, close the tool and use your hands to move both pieces in a circular motion, letting the robust brushes do their work. It won’t be easy to get your hands on one of these, though; there are but a few of them scattered around the world and can only be found via online auctions and the odd antique shop, with prices ranging from 200 to 300 pounds.