Over time, you might find that your pool or billiard balls start to look dirty or yellow slightly. This can be frustrating, and leave you wondering if it’s affecting your gameplay.
The good news is that cleaning yellowed pool balls is relatively easy. It simply involves a process of cleaning them with dish soap, removing the stain with a specialized product, then polishing them.
In this short guide, you’ll learn exactly why pool balls start to yellow and get dirty after a while, how to clean them, how not to clean them, and the products you should be using to clean and whiten them.
Why Do Pool Balls Turn Yellow?
Anyone who owns a pool table knows that after a while, the balls can take on a yellow tinge (especially the white ones!). But why is this exactly?
Well, most modern pool balls are made from a substance called phenolic resin. This type of resin begins to naturally break down over time in a process known as ‘photo degradation’.
Exposure to UV rays from the sun, as well as differences in the air and temperature, can help to speed up this natural process and cause your pool or billiard balls to go yellow over time.
Even if you use antique pool balls made from ivory, you still might experience a slight yellowing. This is because ivory also naturally yellows over time, and the whiteness of ivory can become stained by constant friction against the green baize and cue tip.
Why Do Pool Balls Get Dirty?
This might seem like a silly question to ask initially, but many pool table owners do find themselves asking it quite frequently, considering pool balls rarely ever leave the pool table. If this is the case, then why would they get dirty, provided you’re keeping your table clean?
Much like anything else, pool balls are still exposed to dust and dirt in the air around them, despite the fact they sit on a relatively clean surface most of the time.
They can also be affected by the oils and dirt on people’s hands, and any dirt that has been transferred to the pool table by people touching it when playing.
Each of these things can cause balls to look dirty or somewhat tarnished after a while.
How to Clean and Whiten Yellow Pool Balls
To recap, there are two separate problems when it comes to pool ball maintenance: ensuring that they’re kept clean, and ensuring that they’re kept white.
While some pool balls might be dirty, they might not necessarily be yellow, and vice versa. Some might need cleaning and whitening.
In any case, if you’re looking to treat yellow pool balls, you’ll still need to clean them first. So, follow the steps below, and if your pool balls are still white, then simply omit the whitening stages of this process.
Step 1: Cleaning the Billiard Balls
The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out the composition of your pool balls, if possible. This is because you’ll want to use different methods depending on whether your pool balls are 100% resin or are partially made up of other materials.
The basic method for cleaning pool balls is to soak them for 5-10 minutes in a mixture of warm water and dish soap.
Ensure your dish soap isn’t extremely acidic or fragranced – the standard Dawn or Fairy Liquid is ideal.
If you can guarantee that your pool balls are 100% resin, then it is recommended to soak them in hot (though not boiling) water and dish soap. If you can’t verify that they’re 100% resin, or you aren’t sure, it’s best to play it safe and do the same process in lukewarm water rather than hot water.
This will ensure that you aren’t breaking down any of the potential compounds in the ball and affecting its weight or aerodynamic abilities by getting it too hot.
Some people recommend using vinegar instead of dish soap for balls that aren’t 100% resin, though this isn’t a critical step – your pool balls should be okay with a small amount of dish soap if they aren’t entirely resin-based, as long as the water isn’t too hot.
Step 2: Drying
After their soak, you’ll want to thoroughly dry the pool balls. Not drying them properly, or leaving them out to air dry on their own, can result in streaky or spotty results.
Not only will this make them look slightly dull, but it can also affect gameplay, as the streaks or spots will roll over the baize differently to those bits which have been dried properly and are thus more shiny.
The best thing to dry pool balls with is a microfiber cloth or towel. Apply a good amount of pressure and ensure that the ball is entirely and consistently dried in circular motions. This will ensure that all of the soapy water comes off and doesn’t leave residue behind.
Step 3: Whitening
Only use this step if your balls have started to yellow. If they haven’t, then skip straight to step 4 after completing step 2.
When it comes to whitening your yellowed pool balls, there are generally three recommended methods and products you can use.
The first method is using baking soda. Create a baking soda paste by adding water little by little into a tablespoon of baking soda, until it creates a spreadable paste.
Once you have created this paste, rub it in a circular motion onto your yellowed billiard balls with a microfiber towel. Do this until they appear brighter, shinier, and less yellow. It may take a little while.
Afterwards, wash off the baking soda paste with cold water, and dry with a clean microfiber towel in the same way you dried the pool balls after their initial clean.
Magic Eraser for Whitening
The second method is to use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Some people swear by these on their own without any other products to whiten pool balls again! You can use the magic eraser dry, or add a little water to it beforehand.
Simply rub the eraser around the ball until it comes up whiter and shinier. Just be careful not to miss any spots and cover the ball evenly.
To check the current price and availability of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, click here to view it on Amazon.
Professional Pool Ball Cleaner
Finally, you can use a professional product such as the Aramith Billiard Cleaner (or Restorer for extremely yellowed/marked balls). These products are rubbed on with the microfiber cloth that comes with them.
You then need to repeat this step before polishing with a clean microfiber cloth or piece of paper towel.
To check the current price and availability of Aramith Billiard Cleaner, click here to view it on Amazon.
Step 4: Polishing
Once you’ve washed and whitened your pool balls, they will need a final polish before they can be played.
This ensures that they are shiny enough to roll properly across the pool table without experiencing any drag from product residue.
If you used a professional product like the Amarith cleaner during the whitening process, then you likely don’t need to polish, provided you rubbed it off with the microfiber cloth.
Don’t use any more products for the final polish, as this once again raises the potential to leave residue on the balls.
Simply take a clean microfiber or 100% cotton cloth and roll them in a circular motion until they come up shiny and have no obvious signs of product being left on their surface.
Cleaning Yellow Pool Balls – What Not to Do!
There are a few big no-no’s when it comes to cleaning and whitening your yellowed pool balls.
Many people wonder if common household polishers such as Windex will do the job of making their pool balls shiny and white again.
The answer is no – instead, they will likely speed up the decomposition process of your yellowed balls.
They are also heavily greasy and are likely to ruin the outer layer of your pool balls, meaning they will play much slower as they’ll experience drag when hit across the table.
Some people also suggest putting pool balls in the dishwasher, but again, this should not be done. Dishwashers get far too hot, and the products that are put into them are much too abrasive for pool balls.
They will alter the exterior of your pool ball and even potentially cause them to change size, which will make for a very uneven game of pool!
It can be a shame when your pool balls start to yellow, but as long as you follow the steps above and keep on top of cleaning and polishing them, you should find that they whiten up.
Pool balls yellowing is somewhat inevitable, due to the materials that they are composed of. However, this cleaning routine will help you to slow down that process and retain the whiteness of your pool balls for longer.
Many of the best products for cleaning and whitening pool balls can be found in your own home without investing in any fancy new cleaners. Just don’t forget to follow the different steps for resin vs non-resin balls, and never clean your pool balls with Windex or in the dishwasher!