In order to learn how to clean billiard balls, you will need to first understand why and how they go bad. Another important thing is to create a habit of polishing and cleaning them frequently, as well as storing them properly. Most beginners will neglect ball maintenance and will often have their pool balls turn yellow or lose their shine in just a few years. In reality, with proper maintenance, you can prolong some ball sets’ life to over a decade!
If you want to know more about billiard balls and find the best set, make sure you check out my buyer’s guide on the best pool balls for this year! Before we dive into the specifics of cleaning your pool balls, let’s first answer the most important question here…
Why do pool balls turn yellow?
Different materials turn yellow for different reasons. Most cheaper pool balls will turn yellow due to oxidation. Phenolic resin, on the other hand, will turn yellow when exposed to sunlight. Polyester resin balls will never turn yellow but instead will turn grey as they get old. Lastly, ivory balls turn yellow simply due to their aging process. The only thing you can do to prevent, or at least prolong, the yellowing process is to store the balls away in a dark and dry place. Having a wooden box for them is ideal. Also, try keeping the box away from high temperatures.
While your pool balls turning yellow isn’t the ideal scenario, the discoloring effect won’t affect your gameplay. That is important to mention, as some beginners tend to think that this affects the ball’s performance and they often swap out entire ball sets before they even consider cleaning them.
How To Clean Your Pool Balls
Regardless of the reason, most balls can be cleaned when they turn yellow (without the ivory ones). Based on the materials used in the ball, you can use different techniques. For instance, resin balls can be cleaned in a dishwasher as they will basically react just like glass will. Polyester and other types of pool balls, on the other hand, require a different procedure. The things you will need to clean these types of balls are:
- A bucket
- Warm water (can be hot for resin balls)
- Powdered laundry detergent (not too harsh)
- A soft sponge
- A soft towel
Start by filling your bucket with lukewarm water until it is 3/4 of the way full. If you’re cleaning resin balls you can increase the water temperature as much as your hands can handle. Once you’re done with that, add laundry detergent. If it’s powdered, add 1 part detergent for every 10 parts of water. If it’s liquid, add 2 caps to the entire bucket.
After that, soak all the pool balls in the bucket for around 5 minutes before you take them out. When that time elapses, put them on a dry towel next to each other. Then, start picking them one by one and polish them with a bit of powdered detergent and a soft towel. Don’t push too hard as that might damage the ball’s surface or ruin its finish.
In the end, dry each ball individually until it is perfectly dried out and polished. If you have a finishing agent for pool balls, now is the time to use it.
If the balls have already turned a bit yellow, you can either use a special ball restorer or add a bit of baking soda into your water and detergent mix.
In addition to the simple cleaning methods, you can also use specialized ones such as:
- Using a special ball restorer or cleaner
- Using a pool ball cleaning machine
Using a special ball restorer or cleaner
As we will discuss in a moment, you should try to avoid using chemicals that aren’t specifically designed for ball cleaning. Instead, look for ball cleaners, ball restorers, or ball polishers online as there are plenty of good products out there. Aramith, as the logic would command, creates one of the best polishing and cleaning solutions out there. These are a bit expensive but are definitely worth it in the long run, especially if you want to keep your 100$ ball set in pristine condition!
Using a pool ball cleaning machine
Pool ball cleaning machines are amazing and they do a lot of things in one. They will remove any dust and grime from the balls if you haven’t cleaned them in a while. They can also whiten some balls that have turned a bit yellow. Lastly, these machines have programs that can restore the balls’ finish which is something rather difficult to do on your own using detergents only. The obvious drawback, however, is the price. While they are great to have, these machines are still a big investment, even if there are some cheaper options appearing nowadays.
For some of the best pool tables on the market, visit my full Buyer’s guide! Now, let’s mention a few things that you should definitely not be doing when trying to clean your pool balls…
Things To Avoid
There are a lot of common mistakes that people do when they try to clean their pool balls. The most common one is putting them in a dishwasher. While this will definitely clean them thoroughly, you also risk damaging their finish as well as their coloring. Resin balls like the Aramith ones are good for dishwashers, though, and a lot of people prefer doing that instead of buying special ball cleaning machines.
Bleach is another common chemical used to clean balls. Maybe people think that the bleach will whiten the balls perfectly but that isn’t the case. It will create a chemical reaction with most ball materials used out there. That will lead to discoloration and in most cases – small pink dots on the white surface of the balls.
Lastly, avoid all abrasive chemicals and cleaners! Those will also clean the ball well but will also leave micro scratches along its surface. These scratches will accumulate over time and affect the ball’s performance, stability, accuracy, and consistency.
If you also want to learn the dos and don’ts about how to clean your pool table’s cloth, click here to read my article on that topic!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you clean pool balls in your dishwasher?
As I previously mentioned, putting your pool balls in the dishwasher isn’t recommended. While it might do a good job of cleaning them, the higher temperatures and corrosive dishwashing substances might strip away the paint off some of the balls. Balls like the ones from Aramith have their colors embedded in the resin so they are pretty resilient to all sorts of abrasive chemicals.
Are old pool balls worth keeping?
While older pool balls won’t hold a ton of value for obvious reasons, they can still be used. Moreover, if you take good care of your old billiard balls, they might be surprisingly accurate and consistent even after 5-10 years of playing.
Are billiard balls hollow?
Even though some pool balls were hollow in the past, all of the ones that are sold nowadays aren’t. Just like pool balls were made out of combustible plastics before, materials and times progress, and so does the science behind the perfect pool ball.
Knowing how to clean billiard balls properly is something you should definitely learn. In the long run, almost any set of balls will require maintenance and at least a few good cleanings. The major issue of your pool balls turning yellow can be prevented by storing them properly and cleaning them as often as you can.