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This is one of those subjects that can be confusing for some people. The crowd is divided. Some of us are used to cheap basketballs where you just spray it off or buy a new one. But for the other half, those who seem to take pleasure in a rock that’s gathered a little moss, let’s look at how to clean a basketball without damaging it.
I play outdoors a lot. It took me awhile to get to the point of actually wanting to clean a basketball. Trying to keep an outdoor ball clean is like trying to keep an outdoor cat inside. They can come inside now and then, but why?
You may even scoff at the idea of cleaning an indoor ball on the regular, like some of these redditors. But there are reasons to do so, and if you’ve found this page, you’ve likely discovered those reasons, so in this post we’re going to break down all of the details on how to clean the various types of basketball without damaging them or ruining their feel or grip.
Only you can know exactly what your situation is, so go ahead and check the TOC here for your ball type and use case and click down. But we’ll also cover a little bit of why and when to clean your basketball in case you’re really looking to become a basketball cleaning expert. Who knows, maybe there’s a career in it for you?
Now, it is possible that some leagues are still enforcing germ-related basketball cleaning procedures. Or, they may return to this at some point in the future. If this is the case for you, the convenient and recommended solution from the CDC and from basketball manufacturers is just a quick wipe down with an available disinfecting wipe. You probably want one without bleach.
At any rate, we are basketball players, and we take pride in our game. Let’s take a little pride in cleaning our dirty balls.
How to Clean Indoor Basketballs
As dirty as outdoor basketballs get, you’re more likely to find yourself cleaning an indoor ball. You’re working on a clean court and you want to have a grip and feel that is relatively consistent. Flying a ball back and forth between greasy hands for hours at a time can start to take away from that.
But excessive cleaning is going to deteriorate your basketball in a different way. A lot of teams got in the habit of constant ball cleaning during the pandemic in an attempt to control virus spread. And that may still be a concern. But we are talking about a contact sport here, and the ball may not be the most dangerous contact point. The main concern then would be quality of play as opposed to germ control.
Now, if your quality of play is not affected, don’t worry too much about cleaning your basketball. Get out there and put up some buckets. But if you do just want the feel of a fresh ball or you want to show a little care for your tools like a true tradesman, let’s break it apart by material.
We’ll cover leather and composite balls here for the indoor section. Leather basketballs are very common in leagues, but they do get pricey, so you may be on a composite ball. I personally love a good composite ball for the feel and durability. The one thing that is a hard rule, is that whatever material your ball is made of, an indoor basketball stays an indoor basketball. If you’re trying to bring that raggedy outdoor ball into a clean gym, get out of here with that.
Cleaning Leather Indoor Basketballs
These are the balls that you want to take the most care with. Leather can be temperamental, and a good leather ball isn’t cheap, so you want to get some life out of it. These are also the balls that are most likely to appear in competitive play, in which case you might want to put on a little spit shine for the game (not a real spit shine please).
Don’t submerge this thing in water! If there’s one thing you take away from this article, let’s just not dunk leather basketballs in water.
Before cleaning your leather basketball, you’ll want to first make sure it’s properly inflated to avoid any creasing issues.
Here’s what Wilson recommends for leather basketballs:
- Get three clean towels.
- Dissolve 1 tsp of a gentle dish soap in about a half gallon of water.
- Take the first towel and soak it in the soapy water, but wring it out pretty well.
- Gently wipe down your basketball.
- Take a second clean towel and soak it in fresh water (no soap). Wring out the towel. Wipe away all of the soapy residue.
- Take the third towel and dry your basketball thoroughly.
If you really want to take this to the next level, try a little leather cleaner. Some leather cleaners can leave residue, so you want to be careful, but I’ve had good results with leather honey. If you happen to have some leather cleaner laying around, you can try it, but try a small spot first. You may not have to perform the rinse portion of the cleaning if you find a leather cleaner that works well for you.
If you’re a coach, you may find yourself doing a lot of ball scrubbing. Setup a little station and run through your collection. Now, they do make basketball cleaner for these types of bulk cases. I’ve never tried it, so I won’t vouch for it, but you may want to look into it. If you do, reach out and let me know what you think.
How to Clean Outdoor Basketballs
Over the years, I’ve had some outdoor balls take up residence in my heart and I have gone so far as to try and clean them up a bit. For your outdoor basketball, we’re probably dealing with either a leather composite or that classic rubber. I highly recommend a dedicated composite basketball for outdoor play, but I understand that rubber balls can be a little easier to come by.
If you want to clean off your composite basketball, you need to be a little more careful. If you’ve ever tried to play with a composite ball on a rainy day (or melty as is a common issue in Denver) you know that water exposure can do some weird stuff to a basketball if you’re not careful.
All you need to clean a composite ball is some gentle dish soap and towels.
Just spray that sucker off. Scrub it as hard as you want with soap and water.
Or for that matter, buy a new one. Nothing against a rubber ball, but if you care about your basketball enough to clean it up, let’s get you a real rock with a nice feel, something you can write home to Mom about.
It was probably the case at one point in the past that a rubber ball was the only thing that would hold up on a street court. At this point, composite balls are so good at combining the strength of a rubber ball with the feel of a higher-quality ball that it’s more than worth it to source yourself a good composite ball.
How to Clean Collectible Basketballs
This is an interesting one, but I thought I’d put it out there. Maybe you spilled some ketchup on your signed Kobe rock or something. Who am I to say what’s weird?
Obviously, you want to get that ketchup stain out without damaging the Mamba’s ole John Hancock. More power to you.
Now, I’d go with a leather cleaner for this one. Even if you’ve just got a ball that’s collected some dust over the years, a quick wipe with that leather honey should do it. I would not bring water into the picture here.
For more intricate work, definitely check into some sports memorabilia shops and look around for some experienced restoration experts.
Get out there and get your balls scrubbed. But not too much. It can honestly be a sensually pleasurable experience to hit the court with a nicely cleaned and conditioned ball, and I’m a big fan of getting a little extra life out of a basketball. I still remember the old days when even a 30$ ball was a pain in my wallet.