Keep it Clean!
Serious ping-pong players are known to be a bit fanatical when it comes to choosing their equipment, often spending many hours in discussion and play testing of various gear. I think there is a small equipment junkie in all of us. But once you have found table tennis rubbers that you like, how do you make sure that they stay in good condition for as long as possible? That’s when the subject of ping-pong paddle cleaning comes up, and that’s what I’ll be taking an in-depth look at in this article.
Cleaning Your Table Tennis Rubbers
While each rubber will be nice and clean when it comes out of its packet, once you start playing it won’t take long for dust and other grime to get on the playing surface. Once that happens, you can expect the performance of your rubber to drop, since the dirt will prevent the rubber from gripping the ball properly. So you need to get that dirt off, without hurting the rubber in the process. How can you do that?
As it turns out, there are a number of ways of doing this, depending on your preferences (and wallet size).
- Sponge and water. This is my favorite method of cleaning the surface of my rubber. I have used a Slurpex sponge for many years, and it’s still going strong. My Slurpex comes in a yellow plastic container that helps keep the sponge damp, and stops it from picking up dust while sitting in my table tennis bag. Very nifty! But a regular kitchen sponge in a small plastic container works pretty well too, if you can’t get hold of a Slurpex easily.Greg’s Verdict – A damp sponge will get 99% of the dirt off your rubber with no problem, and you don’t have to worry about damaging the rubber. The price is right too!
- Rubber Cleaning Foam / Spray. A number of manufacturers have their own versions of these rubber cleaning solutions, which are applied to the rubber before cleaning it with a sponge. I’ve used the Butterfly and Nittaku rubber cleaning foams in the past, and they both worked fine. But not so much better than a damp sponge that I can be bothered paying for rubber cleaning foam though.Greg’s Verdict – They work well, but are probably overkill, especially at the prices charged.
- Detergent. Some players swear by adding a drop or two of detergent to water before dampening their sponge with it. I’ve never tried this personally, but I could see this technique being useful to help remove any buildup of oils or grease from your fingers. I haven’t heard any reports of players damaging their rubbers using a bit of detergent, so I think it would be safe enough to try if you like. I’d recommend trying it first on an old rubber that you don’t need any more just in case though.Greg’s Verdict – Potentially useful for removing grease if you often move your index finger or thumb into the middle of the rubber. Otherwise it’s probably not necessary, but it shouldn’t hurt the rubbers.
- Spinmax. This rubber cleaning solution is a bit different from most other rubber cleaning foams, in that it doesn’t just clean the rubber, it actually leaves a noticeable residue on the rubber that helps improve the rubbers grip. When I used Spinmax on my own tacky rubber in the past, I did find that it lived up to its claim of helping restore grip to a rubber, even during winter moisture or summer humidity. Sweat balls are something else though! I personally don’t like using it on non-sticky rubbers since it gives the rubber too much grip and changes the way it performs, in my opinion.Another thing to consider with Spinmax is that according to ITTF Law 2.4.7 The racket covering shall be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment. The fact that Spinmax leaves a grippy residue on the rubber surface could be considered breaking this rule by tournament officials. But for keeping old rubbers clean and grippy for local club play, it’s pretty effective stuff.
Greg’s Verdict – Perfect for players who use sticky Chinese rubbers, and want to keep them that way. Also handy for when there is a lot of moisture in the air and you want to be confident that your racket will grip the ball. Could fall foul of ITTF rules.
- Breathe and Wipe. You may have seen table tennis videos showing some of the top players cleaning their rubber by breathing on it, then wiping the rubber with their hand or on their shirt/shorts. Apparently our breath is supposed to contain pure water vapor, which can then be wiped by your hand to remove any dust from a racket. I’ve even done this myself from time to time when my rubbers were old and I didn’t have my Slurpex with me. But I’d hesitate to use this technique on a nearly new rubber, since I would feel like I’m smearing oils from my hand onto the rubber. I can’t believe that this would not affect the life of the rubber. Remember, most top players are sponsored, and probably aren’t using their rubbers for more than a week or so, so they don’t care about whether the rubber lasts very long. Wiping the racket on your shirt or shorts would be OK until you start to sweat and the sweat begins to dampen your clothes, at which point it would also start getting on your rubber.Greg’s Verdict – Use this technique only when you forget your sponge, or if you don’t mind changing your rubbers often. Or if you are sponsored, of course!
- Toothbrush. This technique is used by players who use pips out rubbers and want to keep the rubber tips and sides of the pimples clean, in order to get the maximum grip when the pimples bend. A damp toothbrush allows the pimples to be cleaned thoroughly, and it can be dipped in Spinmax or rubber cleaning foam if you are obsessive enough to bother. Personally, every couple of months I run my damp sponge firmly over my long pimples a couple of times in each direction, and that works fine for me.Greg’s Verdict – Only for those who treat their ping-pong paddles like a car nut treats his car. Too much effort for the rest of us.
- Nothing. Some players who use antispin or long pimples never clean their rubber, since they feel the more dirt and dust on the rubber surface, the more effective their equipment will be!Greg’s Verdict – This can be quite effective, although theoretically a rubber is illegal to use if it has changed from its original playing characteristics. If you really want to see a ping-pong player lose his cool, find a player who uses this type of rubber, pinch his paddle, and give it a clean before putting it back! 😉 (Warning: following this advice could lead to the risk of physical injury…)
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