How To Clean Sports Trading Cards For Grading

Sam Hayes
Written By Sam Hayes
Sam is a sports journalist and lifelong sports trading card enthusiast. Sam aims to share his expert knowledge of sports cards to help others make smart buying and selling decisions.

Sports trading card grading has become huge business in recent times and collectors are constantly looking for those small percentiles that will enable them to maximise their profits.

Whilst sports cards are seemingly endless in their appeal to enthusiasts, the more money that is now within the industry is forcing more people to run a fine tooth comb over each card, when looking to value it.

The sports card grading industry is seen as the oracle within the marketplace, with cards being sent to internationally reputable grading companies such as PSA and Beckett, with their expertise and opinion often defining the potential resale value of every single sports trading card ever created.

However, all grading companies are not obliged within their service fees to look after the maintenance of a sports card, meaning all offerings are judged at face value and are graded accordingly.

As a consequence, sports card collectors who do make the effort to clean and look after their card collection, generally make more money than those who don’t – because the grading is done to the value of how the card appears today, not what it may have been worth in the past or even what it may be worth in the future.

Sports card cleaning isn’t an exact science and each collector will inevitably approach the subject differently, both in terms of its importance and how impactful they believe it to be in terms of sell on value.

Regardless, it has become an important facet of all sports cards collection and here is a rundown of how to clean sports cards for grading:

Be Prepared

Like most tasks that involve cleanliness, being prepared is key – as a failure to do so will not enable any card collector to clean their cards efficiently.

One note of caution here is to always understand that most sports cards, especially some of a certain vintage, are fragile – so heavy duty cleaning products or methods are certainly not necessary – less is often more.

Microfibre cloths have become the go-to weapon of choice for most card collectors, as they do tend to react well to the composition of most sports trading cards and they don’t leave any dreaded scratches or marks.

Adding any products to the microfibre cloths should always be done with a distinct degree of caution and often, just breathing on the card to create moisture can give it a fresh look when wiped with the cloth.

Should the card be in a real need of a spruce up, both window cleaning solution or an alcohol equivalent will invariably do the job. Once more, the amount of solution here should be minimal, as the last thing anybody would want to do is damage or burn away any of the card’s make up.

If marks and/or stains are visible at this point, looking to gently work away at them will enhance the card’s appearance and in turn its sell on value but not all stains are visible straight away.

All sports cards will be given the once over by a magnifying lamp when being graded, so why not get ahead of the trend and inspect all sports cards with the assistance of a magnifying lamp from the outset.

Identifying stains and marks can become a lot easier with a magnifying lamp and it can help identify any faults or potential forgeries too.

Invest in New Materials

An awful lot of hard work often goes into maintaining the cleanliness and appearance of a card collection, with most collectors embracing the sense of OCD that a collection can bring.

Cleaning all sports cards is something that should be done regularly but all of the hard work can come undone, if not backed up by the right materials.

One of the most common mistakes collectors make centres around the penny sleeve, where hours of cleaning instantly become unstuck by an unsuitable or old penny sleeve, which only adds further discrepancies to the card.

Investing in a reliable stock of penny sleeves and even a pincer to help remove the card from the old penny sleeve and add it to the new one, will always pay dividends in the end.

Similarly, all microfibre cloths should be updated regularly to ensure that the personal standards are met when cleaning any sports cards.

The fragility and instantaneous nature of scratches on sports cards can have huge impacts on resale value, so being extra vigilant when it comes to which cloths are being used and how regularly they are replaced or maintained is key.

Don’t Rush and Get the Right Technique

Very few people would openly say they enjoy any cleaning tasks and whilst there is a sense of nostalgia and pride associated with most sports card collections, very few enthusiasts would actively want to clean their cards regularly.

As a result, when a collector does decide to go ahead and give their cards a spring clean, taking their time over the task is key.

Looking to cut corners in terms of the materials used or speed up the cleaning process can add to the list of problems a collector would have when sending their card to be graded, rather than fix them.

Applying solution to the microfibre cloth and using soft, circular motions on the card in question, is the most effective way of cleaning it – with more pressure to be applied in the event any stains appear.

Referring to the aforementioned magnifying light is also key here and adhering to self-appointed standards of cleanliness and care will enable collectors to feel confident that each card has been cleaned properly, before it goes to be graded.

Send the Card off Properly

Investing in a sports card grading service is a significant move for most collectors, as it is not only costly business but it can also yield significant returns further down the track.

As a result, grading services such as PSA and Beckett are meticulous in their approach to sports card grading and ensuring basic standards are met is key.

Use a new penny sleeve and cardholder when sending a card to be graded and ensure all cards are packed properly and safely.

Sending off any card to be graded is a big deal and spending a few minutes on giving it a spring clean can give it a serious financial boost when it goes under the grader’s lamp.