How to Clean a Basketball – Rubber, Synthetic or Leather

There’s a common saying in life which articulates that “cleanliness is next to godliness”. 

The meaning of this phrase can be taken into the most abstract and profound discussions of our existence, but there’s a practical sports application that can be extrapolated here as well. Here in this athletically inclined area of the Internet, we’ll stick with the latter.

As it relates to basketball in particular, this foundational belief holds up. 

Players want their basketball sneakers to be clean and free of particles that will impact their ability to start and stop on a dime. Officials want a clean game, free of unnecessary and excessive contact that creates animosity between opponents. Coaches will clean their whiteboard during timeouts and draw up meaningful plays that will lead their team to victory. 

Of course, all parties want the basketball court to be spotless and dry for optimal playing conditions.

With that being said, there is one item in the proceedings that often goes overlooked from a cleaning perspective.

What about the basketball itself?!

Perhaps moreover than some of the other elements of a basketball game, the ball might warrant the most scrubbing of all. Let’s think about the exposure the basketball has during a game. 

In a 5 on 5 matchup, there are at least 10 sets of player hands that touch it, plus those of any substitutes that enter the contest. There are also officials who handle the basketball throughout the game. 

The ball is dribbled countless times on the court, which is subjected to whatever residue is on the bottom of everyone’s sneakers, and sweat dripping from players giving it their all.

Even though its maintenance probably doesn’t get enough attention, the ball should be well taken care of. This upkeep will allow the basketball to maintain its grip for years to come.

There are a few different ways to clean a basketball depending on the type of material it is made from.

2 Ways To Clean A Rubber Basketball

It’s easy to forget that most seasoned players usually end up starting to play basketball with a rubber ball when they are children. Fortunately, there are a few methods to keep the ball in great condition so our younger players can get the best experience on the floor.

1. Bucket of Warm Water 

Warm water is the not-so-secret main ingredient from cleaning a rubber basketball. 

Placing the ball into a bucket full of warm water will help loosen the dirt and dust particles that may be stuck on it. This may even be sufficient enough to remove grime entirely as an efficient first pass.

As a secondary measure, you can also prepare a separate bucket or container of warm water mixed with soap. Take the ball out of the initial setting of warm water and place it into the soapy water concoction, which helps eradicate more stubborn stains.

For any lingering soot or dirtiness, use a moist washcloth to gently wipe down the basketball.

It might be tempting, or even logical to some, to throw the basketball in a washing machine, followed by a drier or a mechanism that produces a lot of heat. That would likely irreparably damage the ball due to its material and high temperatures created in that environment. 

Additionally, the amount of noise the ball will make in these machines are likely to annoy your friends and family at home.

2. Eraser or brush  

In addition to more conventional methods involving water and sensible washing products, there are a couple of other alternatives that can be considered when washing a rubber basketball.

Since rubber basketballs are most commonly used amongst children, there is actually something they might use in school all the time that can help maintain the ball. Erasers have been known to help get rid of scuff marks on rubber basketballs. Just as a student would erase an unintended final answer on an exam, a player can erase a mark on a rubber ball.

A basketball’s surface will also determine what type of recourse a cleaner has. Since rubber exteriors are generally tougher than other basketball materials, it is fine to use a brush to try and extract dirt from the ball. 

Start with a soft brush, and only use a more inflexible option if other attempts are met with limited success.

2 Ways To Clean A Synthetic Basketball

Synthetic, or composite, basketballs are commonly used amongst players of all ages. This is because they are well equipped to handle games regardless of whether they take place indoors or outdoors. 

This versatility is helpful, considering that some players in certain parts of the world like to play at the park when the seasonal weather allows for it, and compete indoors when colder temperatures or precipitation prohibit outdoor games.

1. Bucket of Warm Water 

The bucket methods described in the rubber basketball section can be utilized for synthetic basketballs as well, but the bucket and soapy water concoction can only be used in cases where obstinate dirt refuses to come off. 

Most times, a rinsing of the basketball, followed by a wipe down using a cloth should be sufficient as a cleaning method. Another option for more tenacious grime can be using a hose or nozzle to focus a high level of water pressure to a specific spot on the ball that needs to be cleaned.

2. Synthetic Leather Cleaner

There are actually products designed on the market to help maintain the quality and cleanliness of a synthetic leather basketball. 

Appropriately named synthetic leather cleaner can be purchased and applied to the ball as a customized solution to keep the basketball spic and span for a bunch of future games. They don’t tend to be too expensive, so it might be worth investing in one as an effective time-saver.

2 Ways To Clean A Leather Basketball

At long last, we arrive at the type of basketball the professionals in the NBA and WNBA use. 

Leather has been the primary material used at the highest level of the game, and it has been that way for the majority of the NBA’s history. 

In fact, when the league tried to change to a synthetic version, the players responded with such passionate feedback against it that they went right back to their leather roots.

This type of basketball is primarily meant to be used for indoor competition.

1. Leather Cleaner

Unlike synthetic and rubber basketballs, using water to clean a leather basketball is not highly recommended. The most effective way to clean a leather basketball is to use one of the many leather cleaners on the market.

Before applying a cleaning solution to a cloth to circulate around the surface of the basketball, ensure that the ball is filled with air at its ideal pressure point. This will help prevent any cracks in the surface that may develop over time. 

If the leather basketball is especially dirty, a leather shampoo may be used as an escalated mechanism for cleaning.

2. Disinfectant Wipes

It is highly likely that in the middle of competition, there may not be ample time or resources present to clean a leather ball in an ideal fashion. 

In a pinch, disinfectant wipes can be used to tidy up the basketball, and will be effective in order to continue the game with a clean ball. Be sure to wipe the ball down with a towel after this is done.

However, frequent and repeated use of disinfectant wipes is not recommended, as the basketball will deteriorate more quickly if this method is utilized often.

Photo of author

Andrew Pistone

Andrew has gravitated towards basketball ever since he was a child. Whether it was spending hours in his parents' backyard practicing shots from various angles, participating in spirited CYO games, or playing pickup at the park, he has always had an affinity for the sport. That passion for the game persisted as he got older, playing at the high school level, and coaching via instructional programs that promoted fundamental skill development.