Rubbers in Table Tennis have a limited lifespan. Contact with the ball causes the rubber to lose friction, and after some time, your racket won’t perform as it did when it was new. So how do we know when we should replace our rubbers?
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How long should a rubber last?
Firstly, we’re going to determine how long our rubbers should last. There are a wide variety of factors that can cause our rubbers to degrade more quickly. To help your rubbers last longer, you should clean them properly after every session.
We suggest following these tips to extend the life of your rubbers:
- Play in an environment with lots of dust, for example, a garage with a dirty floor. The ball will catch dust and pass it on to the rubber, and hitting a ball with dust in it will kill your topsheet pretty fast. Make sure that both the floor and the table are clean before playing.
- Play with new balls all the time (they leave residue on your rubbers)
- Leave your racket out of its case or in direct sunlight.
As long as you’re doing these things correctly, then your rubbers will last as long as they are designed to.
How long your rubbers last, under normal conditions, depends on:
- The rubber model. For example, DHS Hurricane 3 is one of the longest-lasting rubbers. As long as they maintain their tackiness, they will be spinny. I had a sheet that lasted me 2 years. On the other hand, Tibhar Evolution MX-P is known to be one of the shorter-lasting rubbers where some players switch them out every month or two.
- The stress you’re putting on them. If you only play recreational matches for 1 or 2 hours a few days a week, then your rubbers might last up to 1 year. Conversely, if you’re an advanced level player who trains 5 days a week, you’ll need to change your rubbers every 2 months or so.
- Your strong and your weak side, provided that you have one. I find that I go through forehand rubbers pretty quickly, needing to change them every 4 months or so, but my backhand rubbers last a lot more, around 8-10 months, because I hit nowhere as hard as I do with my strong side.
You should take these variables into account and accommodate them with your budget in mind. If you don’t want to spend too much and you play for fun, then you can get a sheet of Hurricane 3 and it’ll last a long time without needing to be replaced. You should have an idea how durable a rubber is before making any buying decisions.
A good rule of thumb is to take how many times a week you play, and that number is approximately the number of times you’ll need to change your rubbers yearly. For example, if you play 3 days a week, then you’ll change your rubbers 3 times a year, once every 4 months. I find this formula to be a bit conservative, but it gives a rough estimate of how long rubbers last.
What does a worn-out rubber feel like?
A worn-out rubber will be noticeable in play and upon visual inspection. You’ll notice your rubbers will lose their colour, like my old racket below.
If your rubbers look like this, then you’ll find that their performance is significantly worse than when they were new. This change happens slowly over time so it can be hard to notice. If you notice they’re starting to look like this, then it’s an indication that they’ll need a replacement soon.
Upon playing, you’ll notice occasional (or frequent) ball slippage. This means that when you try to hit the ball with more closed racket angles, the rubber won’t catch the ball as it should. It will also be a lot harder to perform open-ups. You’ll also notice that passive serve receive will actually be easier to execute since your rubbers won’t receive as much spin.
It’s very important not to play with worn-out rubbers over long periods. If you do so, you’ll acquire bad habits, since you will compensate with your technique to make up for your faulty equipment. Most players with worn-out rubbers become more passive because it’s hard for them to attack with equipment that has no grip.
A good way to tell if your rubbers are worn out is to rub a ball across the rubber, and if it slips more in the middle, then you should switch out your rubber (or paddle).
You should also change out your rubber if it has suffered substantial damage from hitting the table. Whilst small nicks/cuts on the edge won’t impact your in-game performance, they can quickly develop and spread easily.
Pre-made vs custom rackets
When comparing pre-made and custom rackets, we should mention that professional rubbers will generally last longer. Most pre-made rackets don’t have as much grip, even if they wear out, they’ll still play approximately as they originally did. So there’s less of a need to change them as there is with professional rubbers, where performance varies considerably. Ping pong paddles from sports shops tend to last around 6 months to a year but it’s not as noticeable when they are worn out.
Replacing your rubber
Once you’ve selected the right rubber for your playing style, you’ll need:
- Table Tennis glue
- A roller or a hard bottle
- Scissors or a knife
- Edge tape, if you want
When taking off your old rubber, you want to peel it diagonally, for example from the bottom left to the top right part of the rubber. Doing it this way helps prevent the blade from splintering. Take the rubber off slowly and carefully, so that you don’t rip the sponge.
It’s a good idea to donate these older rubbers to your club or to players who can’t afford them, so don’t throw them away! If you like to change your rubbers when their performance is just starting to drop, you can also sell them.
As for the new rubbers, apply some glue in the middle (don’t put too much, it only has to be a thin layer. If you use too little, you can always put more).
Then, grab a sponge (you can cut a kitchen sponge into little squares and it works perfectly), and even out your layer of glue. After that’s done, grab your blade, take off any glue residue by rubbing your hands on it, and apply the glue, spreading it evenly with another sponge.
You’ll notice that the glue starts off white-colored. It’s important to wait a few minutes until the glue layer in both the rubber and the blade is completely transparent. How long this takes depends on the temperature and humidity in your room. It’s better to assemble your rackets on hot, low humidity days. In these conditions, it will take around 5 minutes for everything to dry. If you do it on cold, high humidity days, however, they might take upwards of an hour to dry.
When your rubbers and your blade are dried up, take your rubber and align the bottom of the rubber with the center of the handle. Fix the lower part of the rubber in place, and use a roller or a bottle to gently roll the upper part into place. Then give it one or two rolls to make sure there are no air bubbles left. After this is done, cut your rubbers with scissors or with a utility knife. Now your racket is ready to play!