Pinball Cleaning Tips
This is a set of tips for making your pinball clean, fast, and
First, you need to clean the machine ... here's how:
- Remove the glass and as many ramps and habitrails as
possible. If you are going to do a major cleaning, also
remove any mini-playfields (ala powerfield on TZ or Path
of Adventure on IJ) or other plastics / playfield parts
that may get in your way. Make sure you unplug the
miniplayfield or any other lights and switches from their
wiring harnesses (turn the power off first!)
before removing any restraining screws.
- Remove all the pinballs from the game. Make sure you
check for balls in various lock mechanisms or traps
(Swamp on TAF, Lock on TZ, Idol on IJ). Cycling the power
or switching into then out of test mode will usually
clear the playfield of missing pinballs.
- Check the entire playfield surface for burned out bulbs
(use the Test mode to activate all the lamps or cycle
through them one at a time) and replace any burned out
bulbs. Also remember to check the flashlamps. Now check
for hidden G.I. lights that may be burned out. These will
usually lurk under some hard to get to piece of playfield
plastic. Replace as needed. Remember to make a note of
any lamps burned out that reside under the playfield as
you will need to replace them when you raise the
- Double check that you got all the burnt out light bulbs
-- some may have been just 'loose'. Raising and lowering
the playfield will reseat the sockets. Replace any
suspect bulbs (so you don't have to come back after them
- Raise the playfield and check for any loose screws. Any
nut or screw laying in the cabinet body has to have come
from somewhere ... loose screws and bolts mean loose game
pieces. Loose solenoids will bind and burn out. Tighten
all the solenoids. If you can't find where a screw comes
from, check for loose things above the playfield ... it
is not unheard of for screws or nuts to work loose from
playfield features (Indy's Path of Adventure, for
instance) and fall through playfield wiring holes or
switch cutouts to the cabinet floor. If a tunnel isn't
working it is likely a screw, nut, or something else has
fallen into the tunnel. As an example, broken electric
chair light bulbs on The Addam's Family tend to fall into
the swamp tunnel.
- Lower the playfield and remove all rubbers (including
flipper rubbers) and clean with Wildcat RC-88. If they do
not clean well or are worn, then replace them. Clean the
flipper paddles themselves with rubber cleaner (this will
get the rubber gunk off). If the game has a manual
plunger, be sure to check the plunger tip for wear. Don't
forget to rotate the flipper rubber when you reinstall it
so the worn spot at the tip is on the backside of the
flipper, providing fresh rubber for the tip.
- If the playfield is Mylared or Diamondplated (ie:
virtually any game within the last five years), use Novus
#2 plastic polish. If the playfield is bare paint, use
Wildcat 125 or Mills Wax. Use a soft cotton rag or towel
to spread the polish thinly and evenly over the whole
playfield. Novus may be used on plastic ramps, but not
Wildcat 125 -- Wildcat will damage ramp plastics!.
After it dries, buff it off. Make sure you get it all as
the liquid will seep under metal rails, into screwholes,
etc. Be sure to get down the inlanes, outlanes and into
the drain area. Take extra care around any jet bumpers as
these are high traffic areas. This is like car wax -- the
more you buff, the slicker the surface. Don't skimp here
... this will be your polished playing surface.
- On Diamonplate playfields, an optional final coating of
Novus #1 may be applied at this point -- this will cover
any fine scratches the #2 may have missed.
- On other playfields, an optional final coating of Mills
Wax may be applied at this point -- this will cover the
playfield with a protective wax coating.
- Use diluted glass cleaner to clean each ball. Check each
ball for damage and wear. Damaged or worn balls should be
replaced as they will damage the playfield. Note that
special balls such as Twilight Zone's power ball will
almost always look dirty -- the trick here is to check
the surface to see if it looks smooth and polished. Any
scratches, pits, gouges, or scrapes indicate a damaged
and worn ball that needs replacing. Don't gamble on your
playfield's life -- if the ball looks scratched, dull, or
is damaged, then replace it. New pinballs are only $1.25
or thereabouts ...
- Reassemble the playfield making certain that playfield
parts with solenoid shafts sticking through them (ie: the
back ramp on IJ with the ball stopper shaft sticking
through it and ball diverter shafts) don't bind. Use a
dry cloth to wipe down any fingerprints you may leave on
the playfield as the oil from your fingers will attract
grime. Be sure to make sure each and every post, nut, and
screw is tight and secure. Loose things will come loose
and mess things up.
- Reinstall the balls and play a test game. After checking
ball travel, grab the ball and try each ramp,specialty
item, and tunnel for proper operation. If you rack up too
many points in doing so, be sure to slam tilt prior to
the third ball to avoid messing up game statistics.
- Clean both sides of the playfield glass, reinstall the
glass and lockdown bar and you're done !!
Preventative Maintenance : any of the following should be
performed as needed depending on machine use.
- Remove the flipper solenoids and wipe down the flipper
shafts and check the shafts and sleeves for wear. Replace
as needed. Wipe the solenoid down and reinstall. Check
the E.O.S. switch and rubber for wear and replace as
needed. The flipper should move smoothly without any kind
of resistance other than the spring. Any resistance felt
should be investigated and corrected as it indicates
something is binding somewhere. Fix it before you have to
- Check near the flippers for things coated in flipper
dust. This includes playfield inlays, light bulbs, and
just about anything else within 10 inches or so of the
flipper solenoids. Make sure you check near every
flipper. Wipedown anything badly coated. Use a Q-TIP and
Windex on the inlays to prevent scratching the plastic.
Note that a coating of flipper dust on bulbs and inlays
will make them very dim ... just wiping the bulbs and
inlays will often restore an impressive amount of
brightness to a dark, dim game. Replace any
blackened/burnt out light bulbs and flashlamps. Flipper
dust creates heat, is conductive (ie: short circuit) and
is generally not good.
- Use a small plastic bucket to keep loose hardware or
(even better) reinstall nuts and screws back in their
holes/posts after removing whatever they were fastening.
This will help you avoid the "where'd this screw
- Use soft cloth -- standard industrial paper towels will
scratch most playfields. Rag on a Roll (or ROAR) or
chamois cloth work fine.
- Be sure to rotate flipper rubbers to keep the flipper
tips from wearing thin.
- Check the leveling on your game often -- well used games
will wear down carpet and shift on floors causing changes
in the leveling. Even a slight slant left- right can
cause big problems, especially on modern games like No
Fear and Theatre of Magic.
- Flaky Opto switches are often caused by one of two things
: dirty optics and loose wires. For the former, use glass
cleaner and a Q-TIP to clean the emitter and detector.
For the latter, heat the solder joints to correct any
small cracks and reattach any broken wires. If in doubt
as to where a wire goes, do not attempt to figure
it out unless you know what you are doing -- hooking up a
12 volt detector source to a 5 volt emitter supply will
blow the emitter and you will have to replace it.
- Never use cleaning spray or compressed air on an
opto-switch. These blow cold air (frigid air if the can
uses freon) that can and will damage sensitive opto
- Keep any eye out for delicate playfield parts. For an
example, it is really easy to damage the Powerfield
switches on Twilight Zone's mini playfield while removing
the rubbers for cleaning.
- Make sure you reattach anything you remove from the
playfield exactlyas like you removed it -- some
games, like Twilight Zone, have idential plugs on some of
their parts (ie: TZ's powerfield coil and opto plugs) !
Reversing these when reinstalling can cause MAJOR damage
- Make sure you don't bend slingshot switches when removing
slingshot rubbers for cleaning or replacement.
- Never use anything other than a leaf switch adjustment
tool to adjust a switch. Bending it with your fingers is
just asking to have to replace the switch down the road.
- Pay close attention to your game's diagnostics --
Williams/Bally games especially are very good about
reporting game malfunctions and bad switches. Watch for a
"." after the credits number as this indicates
a problem the game wants you to check out. Note that some
recent games have permanent problems -- prototype TZ and
Judge Dredd machines had a nonexistant switch marked as
bad. This is generally not the case, however, with
production machines (or even prototypes with production
ROMs). Note also that sometimes a switch can be marked as
bad but is still good if nobody has hit the switch
recently. A perfect example is BigFoot Bluff on White
- Finally, play your game often ... a sudden difference in
gameplay will alert you that something has gone wrong --
this is often the best way to find a problem with your
game. Your game sense is usually sharper than the game's
Document converted to HTML by David Gersic email@example.com
And further editted by Jonathan Deitch
Back to Kudzu Central