Owning A Pinball Machine 101 – Cleaning A Pinball Machine Playfield

So, you are thinking of owning a pinball machine. That’s great and of course, the first step to actually owning a pinball machine. A common feeling is one of dread when you look in the back box of one of them, or under the playfield. All those flashing lights, moving parts and… well at first you aren’t even sure what half of those things are. Owning a pinball machine will mean that things will go wrong. It will happen. However through these series of articles, I hope to share my knowledge (and I am sure that many more will chip in) on owning a pinball machine. So for a start, we will cover some basics. Maintenance of your pinball machine. In this article, we will look at cleaning a pinball machine playfield and then applying a coat of wax. As always, if you have any comments or different techniques, please leave them below.

Pinball 101 - Cleaning and Waxing a Playfield

Cleaning a Pinball Machine Playfield

You would think that having a big sheet of glass on top of the game would keep the game in pristine order, wouldn’t you? However, that just isn’t the truth. There are a couple of things that will make a playfield dirty and over time, require the playfield to be cleaned. The two most common issues with grime getting onto the playfield are debris from the rubber and also carbon dust from the solenoids. Mix this with the wax on the playfield (we will get onto that in just one moment) and you have a build up of black lines and grime. Over time that can really build up on a playfield. Look at this example from a CSI Pinball Machine in Great Yarmouth. Notice the black mottling effect over the wording in the centre.

CSI  Pinball Great Yarmouth
To Hoover?

I have head that people use a little hand held hoover to pick up the rubber crumbly bits and dust and other bits and bobs. I don’t personally as I think the methods below cover all angles, but if your game is particularly dirty with dust, or crumbs of rubber. Or biscuit for some reason, then hey… go for it. My advice would be just to be careful when doing it.

Cleaning Electro Mechanical and Non Clear Coated Games

When talking about EM games and games without a clear coat, what we are essentially doing when we clean is taking off all of the old grime and dirt and wax, but also if using any kind of abrasive product, taking up some of the paint. That sounds shocking, but really it isn’t. It does however mean older games and ones without clear coat should use a different method. You will know if your game is clear coated, as it will have a polished shine over the entire playfield. If you are not sure, feel free to contact me today and I will let you know.

The paint used on older games as well as the exposed amount of wood, one common approach is to clean the playfield with Naphtha. Naphtha evaporates very quickly but also cleans very quickly to a good standard too. It will remove the majority of dirt and also take up any old wax on the playfield, all the qualities you are going to be looking for in a pinball cleaning product.

Millwax Pinball Cleaner

Another product that is used heavily in EM pinballs and is designed to be used as such is Mill Wax (pictured to the left) – the cheapest I could find in the UK, at the time of writing, was for a 16oz bottle and is available from Pinball Mania for £14.50, although you will have to pay for postage of the item on top of that.

Mill Wax promises to clean, shine and protect your non clear coated game. This means, as obvious in the title that it has a certain amount of wax in the product too. I personally Naphtha then wax separately so am unsure if a second run of wax would be required. Knowing me, I would put a layer down too if you have some wax also, but that is just me.

Cleaning Modern Games – Clear Coat Onwards

When it comes to cleaning a clear coated pinball machine playfield, you will want a Novus pack. Everyone I have met in the community and spoke to about cleaning their playfield uses Novus. Sometimes a foam cleaner is needed, but that is generally on tear downs and whilst we can talk about that at some point. This is a 101. So… let’s talk about Novus.

The Novus Products

Most of the time you are going to want to only be using Novus 1 and Novus 2 – which can be bought from stockists on their own. This is a 101 though and we want to cover all angles. On top of that I don’t know the state of the game you will be buying is. As a new entrant into the hobby, I recommend grabbing the three pack to get you started.

These are available in two types, either the 2oz bottle pack, the cheapest found was Pinball Heaven – £9.95. Or the 8oz bottles, which I have personally purchased and lasted me well over a year. These are cheapest at Pinball Mania for £17.50. Again, don’t forget with both you will need to pay postage on top of these.

Novus 3 – Heavy Scratch Remover

This is an abrasive product. So when you use this, you will be taking a small layer of the clear coat off of the game. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It does mean you shouldn’t use it every single time you clean your game. I would use this on the above example of CSI. Chance are that balls have been used in that game that aren’t of the highest quality, possible scratching up the clear and ultimately, it is going to cut through that ground in dirt. Apply a layer of the product over the playfield with a lint free cloth (or kitchen roll – if you like). Work this over the playfield – you will notice most of the muck starting to come up from the application. Once you have it down to a decent level of cleanliness, which may have taken some reapplication, leave the Novus to dry.

Once it has dried up, it will turn a little hazy on the playfield, using a clean piece of cloth once more just to take it all off, you will be amazed with the difference I am sure.

Novus 2 – Fine Scratch Remover

You guessed it, this is also an abrasive product, but not to the same extent as Novus 3. Novus 2 is a much more commonly used cleaning product, I use Novus 2 when doing a clean on my clear coated games. This is for general wear and tear and build up. Once again, apply a layer of the product over the playfield with a lint free cloth (or kitchen roll – if you like). Work this over the playfield – you will notice most of the muck starting to come up from the application. Once you have it down to a decent level of cleanliness, which may have taken some reapplication, leave the Novus to dry.

Once it has dried up, it will turn a little hazy on the playfield, using a clean piece of cloth once more just to take it all off.

How Often Should I Clean?

This is a very fair question, but one with with a bit of a sorry answer. It all really depends. The way I look to clean my games though is this. When you start to notice that there are ball trail marks on the in-lanes. They will appear as slightly dark lines leading down to the flippers. That is the time to clean the game.

Cleaning Plastics

Most modern games will also have plastic ramps on them. So these will need cleaning too. Of course that Novus kit you have purchased has something in there to do just that. Novus 1 is a dedicated plastic cleaner. I personally spray this straight onto the cloth of choice. Then, simply clean the plastic as you would expect. Simply by wiping it to remove any ball trails and filth .

Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does

Just a heads up from me on some things I have seen (and done) when cleaning a pinball machine playfield:

  • Don’t squirt your product all over the place – especially around the posts that hold plastics, or the mechs in place. The Novus or Millwax will dry all over them and make them look awful when it dries on.
  • As above, but also all over rubbers on the playfield.
  • Less is more with all cleaning product and wax – more cleaning product, more to take off. More wax, and that’s more for dirt and grime to stick to and gum up.
  • It isn’t advisable to use ordinary cleaning products, the products listed here are used for pinball application and yes there are others out there to use. Don’t however start using some crazy products you just have in your cupboard because, why not.
  • Don’t use WD40 to make things work better, a machine doesn’t need WD40 anywhere near it, they are designed to run dry. I won’t make your playfield better in any way, nor your mechs on your playfield work more efficiently. In fact, it will gum them up and stop them working eventually.
  • Take your time, rushing around the process will potentially end up with broken plastics all over the place and you will have cuts all over your arms. Some of these places are tricky to get with with big clumsy hands. Take your time and you will have better success and a happier pinball machine. If you are taking the time in cleaning a pinball machine playfield, take the time to do a great job.

Waxing a Pinball Machine Playfield

Now you have that gorgeous clean playfield, you want to put a little protection over it too. This is going to keep that playfield protected, but it is also going to make it play fast. Super fast compared to a dirty playfield. Trust me.

Gerlitz GNO Carnuba Wax

The wax I personally use is Gerlitz No.1 Carnuba Wax, it is made for guitars, but trust me when I say this is great for waxing your pinball playfield. Neither of the UK Suppliers stock this wax, nor any specific playfield wax to be honest. Given this, I turn to my old favourite, Amazon. You can find this for the princely sum of £7.75 +£3.20 delivery. It has to arrive from the USA, but should fall under any tax for importing it. Due to its low value.

The application falls under the same bracket as above, apply to your cloth, you will only want a small amount. Once applied you will feel the playfield become noticeably smoother, apply an even coat over the entire playfield, leave for 10 minutes then with a dry and clean cloth, simply run over and remove the excess. Job done.

So.. just like that there you have it, how to clean and wax you pinball machine playfield. If you have any comments, hints, tips or tricks, please leave them in the comments below. You can find more pinball 101 articles right here.

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