If you’ve owned a pool table for more than a year or two, you may have noticed that the felt isn’t quite as bright or as smooth as it used to be. Maybe it even has a few minor scratches or scuffs from a wayward cue tip or a misjudged jump shot. The reality is, no matter how well you care for your felt or how often you clean it, it will eventually get worn out from gameplay. And when the felt gets worn, gameplay starts to suffer. So how often should you change pool table felt?
As a general rule, you should change your felt every 2 to 5 years if you play more than 4 days a week. Those who play only occasionally can go anywhere from 5 to 15 years without refelting. But the look, texture, and playability of the felt may also indicate that it needs replacing.
A Quick Word On Cloth Material
The term “felt” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to pool tables since pool table cloth is not actually made from felt. Most commercial and at-home tables feature cloth made from a blend of wool and either nylon or polyester. The texture of these cloths closely resembles felt – hence the name.
Very high-end and tournament-level tables use worsted wool cloth, which does not have the same fuzzy texture as felt, allows for smoother, faster ball movement, and tends to last quite a bit longer than traditional pool table cloth. However, both terms generally refer to the same thing, so I’ll use them interchangeably.
A Note On Pool Table Types
This article will focus primarily on slate bed tables. Some of the basic principles apply to other table types, but there are points where they differ.
Not all MDF pool tables can (or should) be refelted. The lifespan of most MDF tables is about the same as the felt that covers them, provided you’re not playing for several hours a day, every day. In most cases, the cost of refelting approaches the cost of a whole new table. If you have a nicer MDF (or Accuslate) table that’s still holding up well apart from the felt, check with the manufacturer or dealer to see if a refelt is possible.
Outdoor pool tables are not surfaced with traditional cloth but instead feature a waterproof and UV-resistant fabric (usually acrylic-based) that is designed to withstand a lot of punishment. While it is possible to refelt an outdoor table, it likely won’t be necessary until the table itself is approaching its final days. But again, if you’re dead set on refelting an outdoor table, it’s best to consult the seller or manufacturer first.
Related Article: Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Pool Tables
What Causes Pool Table Cloth To Wear Out?
There are multiple causes of wear and tear on pool table cloth, from environmental factors to accidental mishaps. But the most prevalent cause is friction.
As the balls roll across the table, they cause friction against the cloth. The most common pathways will eventually develop “tracks” where the balls have worn down the fabric. White marks called “ball burns” are essentially the same thing, only smaller. Naturally, the effect of ball friction is heightened when English is imparted on the ball.
Chalk residue, whether on the cloth or the balls themselves, makes matters worse. Because it has a somewhat abrasive texture (on such a tiny scale, anyway), it grinds against the cloth fibers and shreds them with the help of ball friction. Dust and other grit that collects on the table will act the same way.
Moisture and Sunlight
The main danger with direct sunlight is that it causes the felt color to fade rapidly. But prolonged exposure can make the fabric very hot, which ages it prematurely.
Moisture is even worse in this regard. Moist cloth tends to deteriorate faster anyway, but the balls will also roll slower on it, exacerbating the effects of friction.
Nicks and Scratches
While this counts more as tear than wear, errant cue tips from things like miscues and jump shots can grind or rip the cloth. The likelihood goes up when using a cue with a missing tip or cracked ferrule.
How To Tell Your Felt Needs Replacing
Since the age of your felt is less of a factor than how much use it gets, it’s helpful to know when enough is enough. Here are a few telltale signs it’s time to refelt:
- The felt is covered in ball burns and tracking marks.
- The felt has an abundance of rips, nicks, and scuffs.
- The balls roll slowly, lose momentum quickly, or change direction abruptly (make sure this isn’t due to a leveling issue or slate misalignment).
- The felt is rough or bristly to the touch.
- The felt is fuzzy or furry (you can easily pinch and pull off bits of nap).
- The felt moves, bunches, or wrinkles when you press your fingers against it.
Can You Refelt a Pool Table Yourself?
Just about anyone can save some money and refelt a pool table in bold DIY fashion. The question is: is it worth it? Refelting is a very intensive and time-consuming process, especially if you’ve never done it before. One novice mistake at the finish line can undo hours of work or damage the cloth or the table.
That being said, if it’s a task you’re willing to tackle, it pays to do plenty of research beforehand and check your table’s owner’s manual for detailed instructions (and follow them!). Here’s a great video to give you an idea of what a typical refelting entails:
For most people, however, hiring a professional is the way to go, even though it can be expensive.
How Much Does It Cost To Have a Table Refelted?
The cost of having a pool table professionally refelted can be anywhere from about $200 to $600. The cost factors include the size of the table, the quality of the cloth material, whether or not you provide the cloth yourself, and the refelting method (whether the cloth is glued to the bed or stapled to the wooden backing).
If you’re moving from one house to another and hire a pool table mover, you may be able to save a little money on refelting by having it done as part of the reassembly process. The cloth will need to be removed and refitted anyway, so it should be no problem if you provide the new cloth.
Of course, this is only necessary if the cloth is worn enough to warrant replacement at the time you move. However, even if it’s not very worn from play, it’s a good idea to replace billiard cloth after it’s been re-stretched twice, as the fibers will be strained and loosened.
Can Pool Table Felt Be Repaired?
It is possible to repair small tears and holes in pool table felt using inexpensive patch kits or even a needle-and-thread. But the spot in question will never be perfectly smooth and it will interfere with ball movement.
Protecting Your Felt
Clearly, refelting, while basically inevitable if you plan on keeping your table for more than a few years, is not something you want to do very often. Here are a few ways to make it last as long as possible.
- Keep the table in a climate-controlled environment and out of direct sunlight.
- Keep a cover on your table when it’s not being used.
- Keep the felt clean – brush it after every session and vacuum it with a gentle brush attachment after every 5 sessions.
- Don’t chalk your cue over the table.
- Don’t put food or drinks on the felt or rails.
- Don’t allow people or pets on the table (nothing ruins felt faster than cat scratches).
- Be careful with jumping or trick shots (or skip them altogether if you’re not fairly sure you can avoid gouging the table).
How often you need to change your pool table felt is primarily a factor of how often and how long you play, how well you maintain your table, and the environment your table is in.
Many pool halls have their tables refelted every 3 to 12 months due to the sheer volume of traffic they get. Fortunately, unless you’re truly a beast who does nothing but play pool, you can wait much longer than that – especially with proper care and attention.