Cleaning your pinball machine

Spring cleaning… uh sorry Pinball cleaning 😊

That’s it, the big day has arrived! You have equipped yourself with all the necessary material, and your “new” pinball machine has arrived.

As you start with a nice pinball from the 90’s, this one has lived! It has frequented smoking bars and the many hours of play it has recorded make your hands dirty. When you put them in, they come out quite black, not to mention also that little smell of old tobacco, which brings back good memories of yesteryear… 😊

Well, let’s shorten this introduction, and get to the heart of the matter.

First step: cleaning the balls

This article will show you how to clean an old machine, but also to maintain your beautiful new machine acquired a few months ago because a new pinball is maintained the same way! Regularly, preferably, so that it continues to work properly, and that the vicissitudes are not irreversible.

The first thing to check to make sure your tray doesn’t get damaged over time is your balls. They must be changed regularly. They can be cleaned and polished manually, but it is a tedious and time consuming operation. For my part, I have always preferred to make a small order of new balls. You can find them at very good prices on many online sites.

The tumbler to polish the balls

If you want to start cleaning and polishing balls, you will need some additional material, especially a tumbler polishing machine. You can find one for a few dozen dollars on a well-known Chinese website, as well as polishing balls. It’s up to you to choose the media according to the condition of your parts… more or less abrasive.

Once you have the machine and the polishing balls in your hands, you repeat the operation several times and wait, because a deep cleaning takes time. The goal here is to clean your balls, or other metal parts, to remove all traces of wear, corrosion and impacts that could damage your playfield.

A ball in bad condition will mark your playfield because during their movement, they meet metal parts. The impacts generate tiny scratches that cut into their surface and make them abrasive. In addition, posts and rubbers also leave marks that will change the quality of the balls and scatter dust and black marks on the board. Eventually, even with all possible cleaners, this phenomenon leaves marks that are almost irreversible – or that you will have to rub for a very long time, hoping not to damage the platter.

Exemple de traces sur plateau de flipper
Example of traces of balls with corrosion on a playfield- very difficult to remove, you have to go gently with an abrasive sponge and household alcohol – or polishing products, but do not insist too much not to attack the filed, and the design.

Balls renewal

Whether you use the polishing machine, carefully removing all the micro scratches that are not always visible, or you change the balls, this is important to do regularly.

As for the frequency, opinions vary. Between 500 and 1000 games according to some, every year for others. In reality, the number of games doesn’t necessarily mean much: a 3 year old can play 30 games in 10 minutes without the balls touching any part of the pinball machine 😉 while a seasoned player can make a game last more than an hour. I can confirm that the balls are well stressed! It’s up to you depending on the use you make of your pinball machines.

Cleaning the ramps

Next part to clean: the ramps. Usually made of metal, they need to be polished. All kinds of options are available. Car chrome polish is the most common, but you can also use Miror, or polishing paste with a grinder. You can also use a drill with a polishing head as shown in the picture.

Tête de polissage
Polishing head to be fixed on a drilling machine

Here again, you will have to rub and be patient to get a nice result. The real polishing wheel and the polishing paste will be the most efficient, allowing you to get a mirror finish.

You will be able to give life and shine to your ramps, rails and all the metal parts of your pinball if you take the time. Be careful to remember where each part goes and especially for the screws and bolts. There’s nothing worse than having everything reassembled and finding out you still have extra screws or bolts 😊. Our advice: at the beginning, disassemble your pinball zone by zone, and use the doc in support for reassembly, to be sure that everything is in its place. You can also take pictures with your phone or laptop.

When you disassemble the ramps, take the opportunity to also clean the parts of the tray that are hidden underneath. They usually get pretty dirty too.

Exemple de rails avant et après nettoyage
Example of rails before and after cleaning and polishing

To clean the playfield, a good degreasing product such as W5 or products specialized in tray cleaning: willmax, or abrasive solutions (with different levels depending on what you are cleaning) such as Novus (1, 2 and 3) will also allow you to clean the decorations and plastics of the tray. Be careful when cleaning the plastics! Do not rub the bottom part where there is usually a white protective film, because if you remove it you risk damaging the design as well.

Prepare a few rags (chamois type) in advance. Especially if your filed is very dirty, you will use quite a few. Some people use disposable paper, but we prefer real cloths. Remember to wash them once between two cleanings and you’re done.

For the rest of the playfield: chamois, polish (not too abrasive) and patience… and it will be clean again. For black marks, there are specialized products that are supposedly “magic”. Honestly, the difference is not that obvious. The old method has proven itself!

Polishing the playfield and changing the rubbers

You can also polish the board after cleaning to make it shinier. There are several options for this: either get the heavy artillery out (as we explained in the previous article) with pro polish and screw-on heads on a drill, or use polishing wax (like the one used by antique dealers for wood). You will need to polish for a long time after application to avoid wax remaining on the board and clogging the balls or the corners of the pinball machine where the switches are. One last option, as surprising as it may seem: a pass of Miror copper and then a shine with chamois leather, and it gives the board a nice shine!

Last point, take advantage of the playfield cleaning to change your rubber bands on the playfield and flippers. New ones will give a nicer effect to your pinball, and it will prevent them from breaking and crumbling making marks on your clean set 😊.

Passionate about all retro and geek things (old video games, arcades and pinball machines), BenJN collects and plays pinball games for fun, especially with friends and family. He also likes to repair and restore his own and his friends' pins to their former glory - his gameroom has seen classics Bally/Williams as well as Goettliebs, and recent Sterns. When he's not in France, he travels to the USA for his job and takes advantage of these trips to visit all the bars and pins gamerooms around.

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