Do Tennis Balls Expire?

Expired tennis balls are also usually referred to as “dead balls’ by tennis players, but the meaning remains the same. They’re balls that have expired or are otherwise unusable in a professional setting. Whilst expired tennis balls aren’t considered to be a massive issue for casual tennis players, they play differently compared to fresh tennis balls, and are mostly discarded by professional tennis players. As a result, the chances of seeing a visibly expired ball in a professional tennis game is nil. 

Tennis balls can indeed expire, and can do so fairly quickly depending on how much they are used. 

Why do Tennis Balls Expire?

An expired tennis ball refers mainly to a tennis ball that has lost some of its pressure, but can also refer to a ball that is scuffed, damaged, or plays differently than intended to. 

Expired tennis balls are ones that have lost their pressurisation because the air has leaked out of the ball slowly over time. This can happen in a variety of different ways, but the most common way in which a tennis ball will lose pressure is simply by being played. This leakage happens at a molecular level, as the rubber encasing the ball cannot simply contain the particles securely indefinitely, thus causing a leakage (albeit, a slow one).  

How Can I Tell If My Tennis Balls Have Expired?

Tennis balls can expire based on their usage, but can also degrade naturally over time. Whilst you can sometimes tell that your tennis balls have expired based on appearance, that isn’t always the case. 

One of the easiest ways to check if your tennis balls have expired is by giving them a squeeze in the palm of your hand. If the tennis ball feels like it gives too easily, it’s likely that it has expired. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be able to pinch both sides of the tennis ball together either.

You can also bounce the tennis ball as a test. One reason why expired tennis balls are discarded is because of their unpredictability and subtle changes to how a fresh tennis ball should react when used in a game of tennis. A quick way to test this is by bouncing the ball on a hard surface to compare against another, fresher tennis ball. If the new tennis ball bounces higher, then the old one is likely expired. Of course, to try this method of testing you require a fresh tennis ball to compare against.

The sound of an old tennis ball is also distinguishable from that of a new tennis ball. Whilst this third method of testing isn’t as reliable as the others, it is definitely something to listen out for. The sound of an expired tennis ball is noticeably flatter and can be described as a “thud” when compared to a fresh tennis ball. 

Can Unopened Tennis Balls Expire?

Whilst tennis balls are stored in pressurized cans to decrease their likelihood of expiring, they can expire after extended periods of time, regardless of whether they’re in an unopened tube or not. It can take around two years for an unopened can of tennis balls to expire, and that is mostly due to the miniscule holes in the packaging which can decrease the essential pressure within the can. Two years is a long time, however, and if you intend on playing tennis regularly you’ll be replacing your tennis balls fairly frequently. 

How to Keep Tennis Balls Fresh

The aforementioned method of keeping unopened tennis balls in their tube may be a fruitless endeavor, but it will keep tennis balls fresh for over a year. There is really no way to keep tennis balls completely fresh for an indefinite amount of time. You can maximise your tennis ball’s lifetime by, ironically, not playing tennis frequently. A can of fresh tennis balls should only be opened when you’re about to play, to ensure that they retain their pressure for as long as possible. 

However, the condition of your tennis balls shouldn’t matter too much if you’re playing recreationally, unless they’re genuinely affecting your performance. 

Why are Tennis Balls Pressurized? 

Tennis balls are pressurized to help them retain their bounce. A pressurized tennis ball behaves much better on the court than a ball that is expired or not pressurized. A high level of pressure ensures that the ball is much more predictable and will react similarly to other tennis balls that are pressurised. Using expired tennis balls potentially takes that predictability away and can negatively affect a player’s performance, especially if they are used to using pressurized tennis balls during their games. 

What are Pressureless Tennis Balls?

Pressureless tennis balls are exactly what they say on the tin. Their cores are designed differently to enable them to last longer, and to ease the minds of those who are cautious of their tennis ball’s pressure. 

There are noticeable physical differences between pressurized and pressureless tennis balls. For instance, a pressureless tennis ball has a solid interior and a fuzzy exterior, which feels different to the touch from a pressurized tennis ball. Due to their interior, they are also heavier to play with than regular pressurized tennis balls. Professionals often complain that pressureless tennis balls are harder to play with due to their density. As a result, they’re never used in professional tennis tournaments or games. 

Pressureless tennis balls are ideal for beginners or people who play tennis casually as they’re a more cost-effective alternative to pressurized tennis balls.  

How Often are Tennis Balls Replaced?

Professionally, pressurized tennis balls see about 1-3 hours of gameplay before they are replaced. This is to ensure that the quality of the tennis balls remain high throughout the match or tournament. 

On the contrary, pressurized tennis balls may be replaced after 1-4 weeks of casual play. It’s speculated that a tennis ball will go bad after two weeks, but constant professional play can speed the expiry process up, and the casual nature of recreational play means that the exact condition of the tennis ball isn’t monitored as closely as a professional player would like it monitored. 

Uses for Old Tennis Balls

Whilst the waste created by expired tennis balls may be daunting, there are a bunch of uses for them – some more unconventional than the others. Whilst a lot of expired tennis balls are used by casual players for as long as possible, there are other ways to ensure that your tennis balls see further use once they’ve been retired from the court. 

  • Dog toys – Tennis balls are the perfect toy for dogs who like playing fetch, chasing things or catching things. The rubbery texture and durability of an old tennis ball is perfect for dogs to bite down on and play rough with. If you don’t own a dog, check if any local animal rescues or charities will take them as a donation for their animals. 
  • Packing Material – The use of expired tennis balls as a shock absorber has become much more popular recently with the rise of upcycling, but the idea behind using them as packing material makes perfect sense. However, if you’re considering using tennis balls as a packing material in a shipped package, make sure to consider the weight of the package. Tennis balls are notoriously expensive to ship as they can be quite heavy. 
  • Dryer Sheet Replacements – This is a hack that has been circulating online for a couple of years. The belief is that old tennis balls can make a perfect replacement for dryer sheets. If you put a couple tennis balls in your dryer, it’s believed to dry your clothes quicker – thus saving you money. (Just make sure you don’t add too many and damage the drum!) 
  • Prevent Scuffs on the Floor – Making a hole in a tennis ball to attach at the end of your chair’s legs is an ideal way to minimize damage to hard floorings. Whilst a little unsightly, this method is a cheap alternative to other methods on the market and is great for rentals or other spaces where the condition of the floor matters. 
  • Cleaning – The fuzzy exterior of an old tennis ball is surprisingly ideal for removing cobwebs or giving a room a quick dust. The logic behind this is that the exterior will collect dust and cobwebs easily. Additionally, tennis balls are easy to clean and they can be reused for this purpose.