Like equipment in all racket sports, table tennis rubbers have a lifespan, and depending on which rubbers you go for, that lifespan could be very short, or very long. There’s no saving a dead rubber.
But there are easy steps you can take to help prolong the life of your precious rubbers. In this blog post, I will be answering all your questions on how to make ping pong paddles sticky. By the end, you should understand how to properly care for your rubbers.
Distinguishing Between the Grip and Tack
Before we tackle any actionable steps, you first need to understand the difference between the grip of a rubber and its tackiness.
Grip refers to the rubber’s ability to generate spin. This is the rubber’s ability to maintain contact with a singular point on the ball without slipping.
Tackiness, on the other hand, is a little more specific. It refers to the rubber’s ability to quite literally stick to the ball. You can easily conduct a tackiness test by pressing your bat against a ball and holding it upside down to see how long the rubber can hold it without it falling.
Think of tackiness as a sub-class of grip. There are other ways of having a grippy rubber with the absence of tackiness. A soft sponge, for example, allows the ball to sink more into the sponge which increases the surface area of rubber in contact with the ball.
Ultimately, we are concerned with spin production here, and any contributor to grip will do. Do not be concerned if your rubbers are not tacky. They were likely not designed to be. The vast majority of rubbers are only slightly tacky but still very spinny.
Why You Want Good Grip/Tack
Table tennis is a very spin-dominated sport. The shots we see performed at the top level are only made possible by having rubbers with high spin capability.
Poor equipment is often blamed for weak performance in sports. Almost comically so. It’s a cheap excuse to explain why you didn’t play as well as you should have. But in table tennis, your bat is a big deal. For high-level players, there is a strong relationship between the quality of your bat and your performance.
I’ve lost to vacationers at resorts in the past simply because I was wielding some crappy unbranded bat. Now put me against those same people with my own bat and I doubt they would get more than a couple of points. It really does make that much difference.
A lack of grip limits your options and forces you to play more one-dimensional. You can pretty much kiss looping goodbye. Think of an MMA fighter who enters the cage without being able to throw any kicks. They would perform a lot worse, wouldn’t they?
The Top Ways to Keep Your Rubber Grippy/Sticky
Replace Your Rubbers
The first step to ensuring your rubber is grippy or sticky is to assess your current rubbers. How old are they? Are the rubbers eroded around the edges? Are the pimples showing through the rubbers? These can be signs that it’s time for a change.
The sure-fire way to tell is to pinch your rubbers and try pushing from left to right and seeing how much the rubbers resist. You can also try throwing the ball against your bat to strike it up in the air and product sidespin. Adjust your angle to counteract the spin so that the ball goes straight up in the air once it hits your bat. The more of an angle you can have your bat at, the more grip it has.
If your rubbers are not proving to be very grippy, it’s time to get a shiny new set. It can be tempting to try and save money by getting cheap rubbers but I would recommend spending more to get a great set.
The best rubbers will be more grippy, and they will hold that grip for longer periods of time. I, for instance, only swap my rubbers out around every year or so now because they last a long time. You can also view our guide on the best table tennis rubbers.
Clean Your Rubbers
Now that you’ve got rubbers with adequate grip, it’s time to prolong this grip for as long as possible. This starts with cleaning your rubbers.
Cleaning your rubbers regularly helps to keep your ping pong paddle sticky or grippy.
Rubbers collect dirt and dust very easily. This will be especially apparent if you have tacky rubbers. Table tennis balls frequently end up on the floor and collect whatever gunk resides there. Floors are far from clean and all of this dirt finds its way to your bat. It is therefore very important to regularly remove the dirt from your rubbers to keep them in great condition.
How to Clean Table Tennis Rubbers
Cleaning table tennis rubbers is very simple. First, purchase a rubber cleaner. These are specialized cleaners designed for table tennis bats. I’d be wary of using other cleaners as some could damage or even corrode your rubbers.
After each session use a few sprays on either side of your rubber and work the solution around with a sponge, wiping the dirt outwards. It literally takes 10 seconds so there is no excuse not to do it.
You can also just clean your rubber with water. A lot of players with tacky rubbers elect to do this. The only issue with using just water is that it is not as effective as lifting dirt. You may find that if you open a new box of training balls for multiball you will get a heavy layer of ball residue on your bat. This kind of build can sometimes be quite difficult to remove but a rubber cleaner tackles it comfortably.
Use Protective Sheets and a Case
Now that your bat is clean, it’s time to store it properly. A case is a necessity, not just to keep dirt and dust away, but also to prevent your bat from getting knocked and chipped. Custom table tennis bats are expensive pieces of equipment so it doesn’t make any sense to not store one in a case.
You can get cheap cases or you can pay more for fancier ones. I bought an aluminum case by Donic. It always got some looks from onlookers! Some cases have enough space for multiple bats. Here is such a case by Andro.
A somewhat more overlooked method of prolonging rubbers is the application of protective sheets. These are thin sheets of plastic that directly stick to your rubbers. As your bat should already be in a case, protective sheets are far from essential. The case will keep out virtually all of the dirt and dust.
If however, you’re not convinced, protective sheets ensure maximum levels of protection. You can purchase a set here. They are very inexpensive and will last a long time.
How to Make Rubbers Sticky
The final method of keeping your table tennis rubber sticky or grippy is to artificially boost them. This essentially helps to rejuvenate dying rubbers giving them a new lease of life.
You should be aware, however, that whatever you apply to your rubbers to enhance their grip will be a temporary fix. The effects could last weeks or it could last minutes. If you have truly dead rubbers I wouldn’t waste your time trying to save them. Just get a new pair.
Before I discuss the substances you can use it’s important you know how they fit in with the ruleset. The governing body of table tennis, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), forbids the methods I am about to list. This means you should not be applying anything besides rubber cleaner if you want to compete in sanctioned events.
‘The racket covering shall be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment.’ – ITTF Handbook 2.4.7
Something interesting to note is that boosted rubbers are in fact entirely legal to use in table tennis… but only if the manufacturer applies it. This means as players, we are unfairly limited. But there is not much we can do except accept it.
The best method of rejuvenating old rubbers is by using a booster. Falco Tempo Long Booster is one of the most popular kinds out there. It comes in a bottle of 150ml which should yield 40-60 layers of boost.
The way you apply booster is to the sponge and not the top sheet. The application of a booster causes the sponge to expand. This, in turn, enhances the grip of the top sheet when glued to the blade.
The effect lasts around 8-12 weeks which is the most you will get out of any rubber rejuvenation method. When the booster begins to fade you simply reapply.
Here is the step-by-step process:
- Remove your rubber from the blade if it is attached and take off your rubber protector if you have one
- Apply a thin coat of table tennis glue
- Wait 20 minutes for the glue to dry
- Apply a thin layer of booster to the sponge
- Wait 24 hours for the booster to dry
- Apply a second thin layer of booster to the sponge
- Wait 24 hours for the booster to dry
- Glue the rubber to your bat with table tennis glue as normal
You should notice that the rubber will begin to dome after you apply a few layers. This is entirely normal. Falco recommends using no more than 3 layers of booster at a time.
The final method of how to make your ping pong paddle more sticky is through the application of oil to the surface of the rubber.
This is the sort of technique you will see a lot online from people who are not as involved in the sport. I’ve seen a lot of different proposed ingredients such as lemon juice and baby oil, but the most common one I see is sunflower oil.
You apply it across the surface of the rubber with a brush and then leave to dry. The process is then repeated around 3 to 5 times.
I have never personally used this technique. Again, I like to keep things legal as I compete. And techniques such as this will not last long at all. I can almost guarantee that any effects would wear off in less than a week if they take hold at all.
As discussed, preserving grip or tackiness is important if you want to play at a high level. Whilst many people want to know how to make their ping pong paddle sticky, they should be more concerned with maintaining the grip that they have already got.
Any artificial grip you are able to induce will be temporary and likely break ITTF rules.
Instead, simply purchase good-quality durable table tennis rubbers, clean them after every session, and store them well. It really is that simple.