It’s an embarrassing problem that you’ll hear talked about in gyms and
locker rooms across the nation, and one that seems to get worse over time.
“What in the world is happening to my balls?”
If you’ve been playing sports long enough, you too have probably noticed how
your football, basketball, soccer ball, water polo ball, volleyball or even
your playground ball aren’t quite the same as the glorious day you first bought
them. Once bright, soft feeling and full of bounce, your ball is now a mere
shadow of itself. Once the pride of the playground, your ball now has a hard, dry,
faded and cracked cover with a bladder that doesn’t quite hold air as well as
it once did.
It’s so bad that it makes you want to hide your balls in shame. What is
going on here? Following is the short explanation, with 10 simple steps on how
you can get the most out of your brand new sports balls and keep them looking
and performing at their best. First though, let’s review some quick points on how
inflatable balls are constructed.
Your Balls are Made of
balls, be they a football, soccer ball, basketball, playground ball or others, share
many of the same components. At their
core they feature either a natural latex rubber bladder or a synthetic butyl
rubber bladder to hold air, nylon windings or fabric layers to assist in
retaining the balls’ shape and provide added performance and cushioning, an air
valve to allow for inflation and finally a top cover which provides
performance, grip, durability and looks.
balls, such as soccer balls or footballs, may feature glued or stitched-on panels,
or in the case of rubber balls and many basketballs, feature a one-piece,
seamless cover that does not require either.
on the price, quality and intended purpose, the ball’s cover may be constructed
from leather, composite leather (a mix of leather scraps and polyurethane),
synthetic leather or rubber. And while each material has their own strengths
and weaknesses, they all have the same set of enemies.
Ball’s Natural Enemies
We all love nature – a warm,
sunny day, fresh air, or a good old fashioned rainstorm, but your balls may
feel differently about it. The sun’s UV
rays cause a breakdown of materials known as UV degradation. You may notice
this effect on your balls as a faded cover with a chalky white surface, the
loss of strength, bounce and flexibility, or even drying and cracking along the
when combined with oxygen and ozone, act together as antioxidants that further
crack the ball’s surface - even getting inside and damaging your ball’s inner bladder. Because the bladders are made of latex
rubber, or more likely a synthetic rubber (butyl), they naturally absorb oxygen
and ozone as they age, and the reaction is accelerated by heat. In time, the
bladders begin to vulcanize (harden), lose their flexibility and form small
cracks and tears. The balls eventually lose the ability to reliably hold air
pressure until one day the bladder bursts.
in the form of rainfall, perspiration, swimming pools, wet grass and mud puddles,
not only get absorbed by the balls’ covers, but also slowly decay stitching and
rot the ball from the inside out. Essential oils that give the ball its grip
and feel get stripped away from the cover, leaving the ball slick or hard feeling.
– Be Kind to Your Balls
from nature, mankind can be a ball’s best friend or worst enemy. Many-a-time I
have left my balls outside in the elements, or thrown them into the backseat of
my hot, stuffy car - baking my balls in direct sunlight. At times I have sat on
my balls, using them as a convenient chair.
times I have carelessly thrown my balls against rough concrete walls, skipped
them across hot asphalt and rough gravel, or worst of all, over-inflated them, causing them to look like misshapen
watermelons rather than a beautiful round globe. Where does the abuse end!
Even Old Balls Can Look and Feel Like New with
a Little TLC
The two year old rubber basketball below was
faded and had a dry, hard cover. After two minutes of scrubbing under warm
water with the rough side of a kitchen sponge and mild soap, it not only looked
newer but regained much of the color and soft grip it had lost over the years.
Simple Solutions to Keeping your Balls at Their Best
now that we know the causes of premature ball damage, let’s look at 10 simple
ways we can keep our balls shiny, bouncy and performing their best.
- 1. Keep your balls clean: After
use, wipe your balls down with a soft cloth. Clean off any salty perspiration,
moisture or dirt to keep the essential oils from getting stripped away. Only
use mild soap or warm water, as harsh detergents may strip away the oils as
- 2. Store your balls in a dry, cool place: Keep
your ball out of the elements, direct sunlight and away from moisture and
heat. That means keeping them out of the
back of hot cars for prolonged periods of time.
- 3. Use a ball bag: A simple
ball bag will protect your balls from the damaging rays of the sun, excess
heat, rain and even ozone while not in use. A ventilated ball bag will also allow
for wet balls to dry while being stored inside.
- 4. Dry your
wet balls: If you can’t keep your ball dry during use (a water polo ball
for example), make sure you dry your balls before putting them away. Wet balls
can get rotten seams, lose their oils or cause glued-on panels to delaminate.
- 5. Don’t
stand or sit on your balls: Excess pressure can break down and
tear outer panels, stretch or rip seams, or even burst the bladder.
- 6. Use the ball only as intended: A
playground ball is not a soccer ball and will quickly lose its shape if kicked
or sat on. A basketball is a poor substitute for a volleyball and may hurt
someone. Do not use an indoor ball outdoors, as it will wear out more quickly
and may absorb unwanted moisture.
- 7. Avoid
rough surfaces as much as possible: Hot asphalt, concrete driveways and
gravel roads are tough on a ball’s cover – aside from causing premature wear,
they can cause tears, abrasions and popping.
Avoid them as much as you can.
- 8. Always
inflate and keep your balls to the manufacturer’s suggested levels: This is a biggie. Nothing can destroy a ball
and cause it to lose its shape faster than over-inflation. Use an air pressure
gauge to make sure the ball is inflated to the manufacturer’s suggested air
pressure (PSI) which is normally printed on the ball’s cover near the air
valve. Under-inflated balls do not
perform as well as properly inflated ones.
- 9. Always
moisten the inflating needle before inserting it into the ball: Use a drop of silicon oil or silicon
lubricating spray to help with needle insertion. This will prevent the accidental pushing of
the valve into the ball, ruining it forever.
- 10. Last but
not least – USE YOUR BALLS: Your balls want to be used. Just like the
tires on a car that has been in storage, balls lose their flexibility if not
used for long periods of time. Rubber that gets used regularly will retain its
flexibility longer than neglected rubber, so remember to use them before you
every inflatable sports ball has a shelf life and will one day wear out and no
longer perform at its best, these 10 simple, practical steps will help you get
the most out of your purchase, and be the envy of the playground as well.
healthy, play fair and enjoy the game!
Game to a Higher Level”