The Best Way to Clean a Pickleball Paddle

When Major League Baseball pitcher Dan Plesac was a rookie, he went to his teammates for advice. Teammate Pete Vuckovich, a veteran of five years at the time, told him, “If you take care of your stuff, your stuff will take care of you.”

This classic Scouting camp motto applies to sports equipment. Roller skates, tennis rackets, ping-pong and pickleball paddles all benefit from tender loving care. All sport equipment gets dirty over time and needs to be cleaned, changed, and eventually, replaced.

Playing sports at the highest level requires constant care. Even the most casual players will find that their equipment becomes dirty and needs cleaning from time to time. Whether you play pickleball on a weekend occasionally, or in a league, taking care of your equipment and knowing how to clean a pickleball paddle will keep it in the best condition and it will give you top performance.

An Overview Of Pickleball Equipment

Pickleball is an outdoor and indoor sport. It’s played with a spherical plastic ball drilled with 26 to 40 holes that stabilize the ball in flight. The ball is struck by a flat, solid paddle made of wood, plastic, aluminum, or a composite material. Other than shoes, optional safety equipment like volleyball knee pads, and the equipment and surfacing covering the court, those are the equipment needed for a game of pickleball.

The paddle is worthy of some additional attention. It’s the only legal way for the player to contact the ball, other than holding it in hand just before the serve. The important parts of the paddle in pickleball are the grip, the edge guard, the core, and the face.

The core of the paddle is the bulk of its material. The core is typically a honeycomb material that is thin but light and tough. Cores come in Nomex, polymer, aluminum, and wood. Aluminum and wood tend to be among the cheapest options as the materials themselves are very inexpensive, but wood is by far the heaviest of the options and aluminum extremely light.

Aluminum paddles are usually avoided because their feather-light weight means they lack power on the service line. Wood has the opposite problem. Being heavy, they’re more difficult to control than the other options. Nomex and polymer (plastic) tend to be the happy mediums of the sport.

The edge guard of the paddle is exactly what it sounds like. A typically plastic edging going around the paddle. The purpose of the edge guard is to protect the honeycombed edge of the paddle core from damage. It takes up a small amount of the surface area of the paddle, so a ball that does strike the edge guard will certainly be a mishit. This is unfortunate, but with paddle control skills, very seldom will the edge guard come in contact, any more than the frame of a tennis racket will with the tennis ball.

The grip is the material around the handle that the player holds while the game is being played. The grip of a pickleball paddle is usually made of synthetic leather. Like the grip of a tennis racket, the grip of a paddle is around 4” to 4 ½” in circumference, increasing in 1/8” increments. While natural leather grip tape is available for tennis racquets, and legal under USA Pickleball rules, few paddles come with it.

While it will seldom be a necessity for casual players, professionals in tournament play often change their grips in the middle of a tournament between games. This is because intense, high-level play can cause the grip to become soaked in sweat and become slippery.

The face is the largest amount of the surface area of a pickleball paddle. It serves the same purpose in pickleball as the strings of a tennis or badminton racket do. The face of the paddle is a textured surface that meets the ball, allowing the player to impart spin to the ball. Most often topspin, but there are game situations where backspin is also advantageous. The face is often made of fiberglass, graphite, or carbon fiber. Cheaper, entry-level paddles are faced in the top and bottom layer of the plywood their core is made from, and its texture is simply the grain of that plywood.

How Your Paddle Gets Dirty

No matter how scrupulously an environment is maintained around and on the court, dirt and dust will accumulate. This will end up on the ball. Because the paddle is used to hit the ball as the game is played, dirt and dust will find its way onto the paddle.

A player who plays consistently will notice their paddle getting, well, dirty. Grit and grime from the court will get embedded into the paddle surface and the grip from the ball, and the player’s hand from holding and striking the ball, and this will slowly make the ball less controllable and slower as it fills in the texture of the paddle surface, making it smoother and slicker.

Cleaning The Grip

The best way to clean the grip of a pickleball paddle is with a damp microfiber cloth. A microfiber cloth can hold more water than an equivalent washcloth before becoming sodden, so a dampened microfiber will have more cleaning power than an ordinary washcloth. However, if none is available, a damp washcloth will do fine. The grip should be wiped clean every time the paddle is used, to avoid the buildup of sweat salt in the microscopic crevices of the synthetic. Over time, the grip will become worn and won’t return to its original state even after wiping. When that happens, replace the grip tape with new tape.

Cleaning The Face

The face of the paddle, like the grip, is best cleaned with a damp microfiber cloth. The cloth should be lightly scrubbed with the cloth, and then left to dry. If you choose to use a cleaning solution instead of water, choose a mild cleaning solution like glass cleaner (Windex™ brand, for example), rather than a stronger cleaner that might strip away some of the gloss or graphics of your paddle. Heavy cleansers can carry away material that makes up the texture or cover it up in residue. Stubborn stains can be attacked with a Magic Eraser™ or other cleaning tool.

Cleaning a pickleball paddle, like so many cleanings, sounds easier than it is. Players will need to do it from time to time to get the most out of their equipment. Like a young man was once told, “take care of your stuff, and your stuff will take care of you.”

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