Occasionally, during a rowdy ping pong match, you may hit the ball harder than you intended, causing a big dent in the side. Instead of tossing the ball in the trash, why not repair it and save yourself some money and protect the planet?
There are four ways of undenting ping pong balls: the quick-and-easy thumb trick, the hair dryer method, the fire option, and the hot water way. With just some household tools and very few supplies, you can bring all pocked ping pong balls back into the game.
These fixes will work best on one- or two-star balls. If you’re training with three-star balls and above, they most likely will chip away rather than dent. Remember, a crack isn’t fixable and will only continue to leak air even after a fix.
The Quick-and-Easy Thumb Method
The first or last step in any in-depth ping pong ball resuscitation is to see if you can pop the dent out with your thumb. You can either try this before more complicated methods or use it as a last resort.
Some people prescribe warming the ball, either with a hair dryer or between your hands, before attempting to pop out a dent, as this can prevent cracking. With your thumb, try and work around the edges of the dent to see if you can pop it out. This may make the dent bigger, but if you want to try it as a last resort, it’s worth a go.
The Hair Dryer Trick
This method of reinflating a table tennis ball involves using heating and cooling to allow the ball to regain its former shape.
Since there isn’t a distinctive break in the ball’s surface, heating the ball increases the air pressure inside the ball as the air warms. This allows the ball to pop out to its fullest extension, becoming round and usable once more. Here are the steps you’ll take to re-inflate your ping pong ball using a hair dryer:
- Step 1: Adjust your hair dryer to a low blower setting and high heat.
- Step 2: Hold the hair dryer 7” from the ping pong ball and heat it thoroughly. As the air inside warms, it increases in pressure according to the Ideal Gas Law. As the pressure increases, it pushes outward and undents the divot in your playing ball.
- Step 3: Switch the hair dryer off periodically to let the ping pong ball cool down, and then heat it again.
- Step 4: Repeat this process until the ball is in its original round shape.
Your table tennis ball will not be perfect after some of these fixes. It won’t have quite the same crisp pop when it bounces on the table or against your paddle, but it will be serviceable. If you’re using lots of balls during practice or training, you can keep several sub-par balls in rotation, decreasing costs and enhancing sustainability.
The Lighter Technique
A less reliable solution for dented table tennis balls is to use a lighter under the same Ideal Gas Law principles. However, you may scorch the ball to an unusable state. But if you finesse it, you can easily re-round your balls with a lighter too.
The key to this method is movement; if you don’t move quickly, you may fix the dents in your balls, but you will scorch and deform them in the process. You will need a lighter (a grill lighter works incredibly well) and something with which to hold the balls, so your fingertips don’t get scorched, such as grill tongs.
- Step 1: You can use a lighter or a lit candle.
- Step 2: Very carefully, move the flame over the ball if you’re using a lighter; if you’re using a candle, hold the ball in a cloth and pass it over the flame.
- Step 3: Don’t let the flame linger on certain parts of the ball for too long as it may melt or deform it.
- Step 4: To cool it between heatings, handle it with a cloth as a protective barrier.
- Step 5: If you need to, let it cool multiple times and heat it again until it is in the shape you want.
The Hot Water Solution
This method’s basic idea is the same as the lighter or hair dryer solution: heat the ping pong’s air to increase the pressure, thereby popping the table tennis ball into form again.
- Step 1: Boil a pot of water on your stove; it doesn’t have to be a lot of water, but it should be deep enough for a ping pong ball.
- Step 2: After taking the pot off the heat, pop the dented ball on the surface of the water and hold it under with a spoon for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Step 3: As soon as the ball has retained its shape, take it out of the water and place it on a cloth or tissue.
- Step 4: Pinch the cloth’s corners together to form a pocket and hang it from a clothesline to cool slowly. Do not run under cold water to cool, as the sudden change in temperature can cause the dent to reappear.
- Step 5: When the ball is cool, play on!
A dented ball doesn’t have to stop the game; there are several ways to try and pop the dent out of a table tennis ball without a lot of fuss.
Repair, Not Replace, Your Practice Balls
It’s no fun to be in the middle of a rapid-fire table tennis game, only to be halted mid-play due to a lack of undented ping pong balls. Table tennis balls get dented from hard swings and uneven surfaces, but if it’s not cracked, you may be able to salvage it.
Using a hair dryer, a pot of water, or a lighter, you can quickly repair your table tennis balls without having to pause your tournament for long. If you see a crack starting to form, you can also use a piece of another ping pong ball and clear nail polish to fix it.
With only four or five steps, you can use heat to expand the pressure inside of the ping pong ball, popping out any dents that are causing the ball to bounce oddly. Don’t subject the balls to too much heat; let them cool slowly, and you’ll be playing again in no time.