A dirty golf ball doesn't have a reliable flight pattern. The bits of dirt clinging to the surface weigh the ball down, causing it to wobble in the air on longer shots or even chips. The dirt might cause a perfectly struck putt to veer off its intended line. It's important to play with both golf balls and clubs that are clean. The ball may be cleaned during play in certain instances, for example when the ball is marked and picked up on the green. The ball may also be cleaned between holes and, of course, at home after the round.
On the Course
Ball washers are placed on the course, usually near the tee boxes. Ball and club washers can also be mounted on golf carts. The washer has a container that holds soap and water. With one popular ball washer design, the ball is placed in a cavity within a plunger. The golfer pushes the plunger down, and the ball is cleaned with soft nylon bristles and the soap suds.
Commercial cleaners that dissolve in water are used in conjunction with a machine that washes the balls. Washing capacity ranges from 15,000 to 38,000 balls per hour. Ultrasonic ball cleaners are available, as well.
Water alone won't remove grease, tar or stubborn stains. If the stain is superficial, it's not a problem. But if the stain has a raised surface it should be removed. A teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water and some scrubbing gets rid of most stubborn stains. Soak the balls for half an hour to let the cleaning solution do its work. Diluted vinegar is another cleaning alternative as is oxalic acid. Ammonia removes grease.
A toothbrush, nail brush, vegetable brush, or nylon scrub pad all remove dirt that sticks stubbornly to the surface of the golf ball.
During play, make sure all the water is removed from the ball by drying it with a cloth towel. Droplets of water could interfere with making good contact with the club. Paper towels could be used, too.
Don't clean collectible golf balls. Like most antiques, the original finish adds to the value of the item. It's not a good idea to wax and polish wood golf balls. And it's definitely not recommended to wash a "featherie" golf ball. A featherie is a round leather pouch that has been stuffed with goose or duck feathers. The pouch is then stitched closed. The water will rot the stitches, wet the feathers and the ball could come apart.
Scrubbing the surface with a metal brush, or harsh cleaning pad, might permanently mar the surface of the ball. Another questionable method of washing golf balls is to put them in the dishwasher. The problem is that the ball spends its time on the golf course turf where it comes in contact with pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer -- not exactly the type of chemicals you want your dishes exposed to on the next wash.