A Helpful Guide To Pool Table Care & Maintenance

Author: Curt Riedy

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So you’ve finally caved in and put down the cash for a tournament-ready, regulation-sized billiards table. Now, you may have prepped your downstairs basement into the ultimate game room (complete with a fully-stocked tiki bar and Ms. Pac-Man machine), but it doesn’t mean you’ve prepared yourself for the not-so-easy stuff. The maintenance.

That’s right, before you bring over the work crew to go a few rounds of 9-Ball with you, you’re going to need to be fully prepared for anything and everything that could happen to that table. Thankfully, we’re here to give you the complete run-down on the pool table maintenance tips and equipment you’ll need to ensure your new play thing stays in pristine condition. 

What to Expect:

When you first bring that dream table of yours home, it's easy to convince yourself that you’ve purchased the greatest pool table in the world. It looks perfect, feels perfect, and most importantly, plays perfect. Unfortunately, what you have to keep in mind is that it won’t stay perfect forever. Always keep in mind that a pool table is guaranteed to deteriorate whether it’s heavily used or not played at all. However, if you’re a responsible table owner, you can always be one step ahead of any possible dilemmas, and end up saving yourself a lifetime of billiard-related problems.

Keeping It Clean:

When it comes to cleaning your table, it’s helpful to remember this one thing. A vacuum is actually preferable over a table brush. Think about it…you wouldn’t just sweep your carpet, would you? The same rules apply to your table cloth.

Brushing will simply move the chalk, talc, and dust around your table, pushing it through your cloth and into your slate. This allows deterioration to occur, slowing game play and wearing down the cloth from the bottom up. Using a smaller hand vac (recommended on its lowest setting) will actually remove the excess dirt, ensuring that all unwanted material is not just out of sight, but entirely out of mind.

However, a pool table brush can still be an extremely convenient and essential tool to have in your game room, especially when crumbs, abrasive chalks and talc, or other forms of dirt manage to hit the table during game time. For maximum performance, it’s highly recommended that you have a soft bristle table brush on hand for light brushing, then a low-setting vacuum. Just remember, instead of brushing in circles, you should either brush toward the pockets or from one end to the other. In fact, if you brush and vacuum correctly, there’s a very good chance you’ll get at least 3 years more life out of your cloth.

Another tip: When it’s not in use, always keep the table covered. Trust us, in a room filled with dust and chalk, there are plenty of particles that could infiltrate your felt when you’re not around. We offer a range of pool table covers to ensure your felt stays safe.

Things to Avoid:

Sure, it may look like an inanimate object, but trust us…your table is very sensitive. Women (or Men) with excessive hand or wrist jewelry should remove such items before playing on the table, as even the smallest piece of metal could slash or rip your felt. The same goes for all you gamblers, too. Sure, flipping a few quarters onto the table may look pretty cool, but each of those coins can create tiny, miniscule cuts in the felt that can easily develop into substantial tears. Try sticking to larger bills…it looks more impressive, anyway.

Oh, and don’t think we forgot about all you amateur trick shooters out there. Every time you dig that cue tip into the table after that impressive jump shot of yours, you’re creating a potential tear. Also, be extremely careful when chalking. We recommend infrequent chalking, as doing it between each and every shot can impose a heavy, lingering dust that will eat its way into your cloth. If you must do it, try to chalk up as far from the table as possible.

In addition, smaller children and pets (especially cats) are highly advised to be nowhere near your billiards table. We’re all aware of just how destructive they can be, and surely we can all agree that it’s just not a good idea. Also, we shouldn’t even have to mention putting drinks on the table and the moisture damage that can occur. Coaster or not, if we catch you doing this, we highly encourage anyone around the table to give you a good hard smack in the back of the head.

The same goes for those of you who like to sit on the rails, a move that’s guaranteed to ruin the rubber cushions. This is a ridiculously bad idea.

Light’s Affect on Your Table:

Remember that movie “Gremlins”, and what happened to those little buggers when exposed to light? OK, so maybe the sun’s effect on your pool table isn’t quite that dramatic, but constant exposure can still be extremely damaging over time. Sunlight can and will fade the cloth, and can also bleach the table's finish. When deciding on the proper placement, it’s a very wise decision to keep your billiards table out of sunrooms, away from our large windows, and nowhere near a fireplace.

If you prefer natural lighting and simply must play near an open window, you may want to look into purchasing some blinds, and remember to always keep a table cover on-hand immediately after you’re finished with your game.

Maintaining the Wood & Leather:

Much like any good furniture, these particular parts of your table require a special kind of care. For lacquered surfaces, a good furniture oil or polish is highly recommended. For the leather parts of the table (the pockets being the strongest example), any type of leather conditioning product always works best. Oil-based products, for instance, will replace the natural oils in the table leather and - in time - make the leather much suppler, which can further extend its lifespan. Also, be sure to avoid typical, silicone-based house cleaners, which can eat away at your finish.

Pay Attention to Your Moisture Levels:

Always be aware of the moisture levels that make up the environment surrounding your table. This important factor makes a humidifier a vital tool to any game room. A dry climate can literally suck the moisture out of a table’s wood, creating serious cracks along the surface. This can be a potential problem during those winter months, and an even bigger problem for players living in an arid desert or high-altitude climate. The best possible climate for finer woods tends to be a humidity level between 40% and 60%.

Diagnosing Your Table:

If you’re the owner of a slate table, it’s absolutely essential to make sure it’s level. This is detrimental to your game play, considering that an unleveled slate will render your table useless for accurate play, even if off by a hair. You can check to see if your table is properly leveled by using (of course) a machinist level, or by rolling an object ball across (due to their weight and magnetization, cue balls are not recommended).

Keep a watchful eye for obvious signs of wear along the surface of your cloth, and make sure that it’s still firm and tight. Any noticeable damage on the table cloth surface can dramatically affect your game and completely ruin a shot. Simple physics can tell you that a ball cannot make a straight line on ridged ground, and the same can be said for a table surface with loose cloth.

An effective way of checking the tautness of your table is to place your open palm on the cloth, placing your entire weight on it. If you can do this without moving the fabric, then you have yourself some tight cloth.

If done on a weekly basis, this simple series of table evaluations could double the lifespan of your cloth, at the very least.

Replacing Table Cloth:

Now, this is one is a little tricky. In all honesty, if you’re recovering a table with professional cloth, our best advice would be to take it to a seasoned professional to make sure the job is done right.

Keep Your Balls Clean:

All personal hygiene jokes aside, this is actually extremely vital to the preservation of your pool cloth. As your billiard balls make their way across the felt of your table, the balls (the cue ball being the biggest culprit) pick up large amounts of dust and chalk and reapply this corrosive filth to the rails of your table. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to clean your game balls after each and every pool session. Many home users swear by “Pledge” for their ball polishing needs, and insist that you should never, ever use bleach or ammonia when cleaning…unless you’d like all of your balls to resemble the #1 and #9.

Two other great tools for cleaning your pool balls are the Aramith Ball Cleaner and Micro Fiber Cleaning Cloth. Featuring specially formulated cleaning agents, these items can be reused over and over again, and are the profession choice amongst the pros. Simple apply the cleaner, rub well with the micro fiber cloth, and buff.

Remember, Be Not Afraid:

If all this talk of potential harm to your table makes you nervous about playing the game at all, just remember one thing….don’t be scared to break it in. A billiards table needs to be played in order to keep it supple and responsive, allowing for a more controlled and satisfying game. Just as long as you remain a responsible owner and give your table the love and attention it deserves, you’re guaranteed a gaming friendship that could very well last a lifetime... or even more.